Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Madagascar 3 (movie review)

This movie was rewarding because of personal imagery I'd concocted, wherein a tiger jumps back and forth, from perch to perch, through a ring.  This was my rendering of the Jitterbug Transformation, something talked about in Synergetics, the transcendentalist philosophy I sometimes traffic in.  I used to fill my notebooks with doodles, including of this tiger jumping between positive and negative Universe through cosmic zero.

Madagascar 3 has such a tiger.  True, this isn't a movie on Synergetics perhaps, but synergy happens nonetheless.  Also thematic (for me) is the Russian theme, as I've sounded like some exKGB guy in some of my confessions, though I'm not claiming the requisite accent.  This might be Wittgenstein's influence, hard to say.  Having this all be a circus adds a touch of Le CarrĂ©.

The characters in this animal story are pleasantly multi-ethnic, which goes with their being different species.  Their personalities were strongly sketched in the first two of this series, such that the third gets away with a lot of coasting, taking advantage of saved capital.  I don't begrudge the film makers this choice, as giving character development some R&R leaves plenty of room for world touring (we go to Rome, New York, London, Monte Carlo though not necessarily in that order).

Nor is it that we're leaving character development entirely out of it.  On the contrary, some new characters are added, including a village idiot of a circus seal, an Italian.  The naive belief of these has beens, in some Circus Americano is to some extent a self-booting fantasy, like America itself, always self-reinventing.  Now we like the Russians, a lot.  Afro, polka dots...  quite the melting pot of freedom-loving tricksters.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (movie review)

The most obvious thing to say at the outset is:  there are lots of ways to tell the story of film and this is just one guy's account.  Such introductions should be unnecessary but not every reader is so fluent in the humanities as to remember what it means to give a work the floor:  that means you let the storyteller tell a story and don't always interrupt with the obvious thought:  but you're not the only storyteller around.  Like, duh.

And a gifted storyteller he is, this Mark Cousins, and fluent with the camera, talking about editing techniques, lighting, while building a vocabulary, an unvarnished travelogue.  He needed to go to these places, interview the directors, a few actors.  He films what might be considered mundane parts of town, amidst the more touristy, but that just adds to the realism, and helps establish a consistent background for framing, for telling the story of film.  The other glue that holds this movie together is the lilt and cadence of the narration itself.

The film is self aware and shows the tradition of film and artists manifesting self awareness through this medium.  The scope is global.  We don't just look at "international films" in some section; we keep circling the globe, coming back, updating.  Iran, Japan, Korea, Russia... we keep revisiting.  The Hollywood sign is given lots of closeup treatment, supports the reverie.  As our view keeps rolling around the planet, our vocabulary grows.  Italy, Nordic countries... China.

My own trajectory took me through Rome's English language theaters, mainly two, one far away in Trastevere and the other within walking distance, not far from Piazza Euclide (I was closer to Piazza Ungheria, on Viale Paroli).  Steve McQueen, James Coburn, the 007 films... spaghetti westerns.  I watched a lot in the Philippines too.  I was pleased when he hit films I'd seen, made me feel culturally literate, but on balance I'm more reminded of what a small fraction of these movies I've seen, and all of them are but the tip of an iceberg.  One gets the same feeling in a library or bookstore:  way too many for one lifetime, where to begin?

The focus is very much on directors and innovation.  What was cutting edge at the time, where were the most copied ideas coming from?  How do you show when two people are talking to one another, what is your angle as onlooker?  We become habituated to conventions, such that when a different approach is taken, we notice, but how well may we articulate what's different?  Films like this one, 15 hours in all, spread over five weeks of viewing, help build that shared global literacy and ability to discuss and appreciate, as well as make, films.

What I'd say The Story of Film does not have much time for is animation / cartoons (Fantasia, Yellow Submarine, The Simpsons), television and advertising, and the kind of literary ideas being bandied about in wider culture.  The TV sitcom and soap opera, news coverage, the ecosystem between Netflix, Internet and film.  He talks about the move to digital, but less in terms of what this means in terms of distribution / copying.

Thanks to Trevor, I'd seen some of that Scotsman climbing the Guggenheim, and that single 90 minute movie shot by Sakahrov in Russia.  The Stalker, I've seen it.  So pleased he gets all the way up through Avatar and Moulin Rouge.  Romeo & Juliet by Baz Lurhman. No slacker.  Tight script.  Really interesting personas.  Nothing about Mishima and Schrader's make of it, that I can remember anyway.  Nothing about Aliens, but lots on James Cameron.  Good awareness of documentaries.  No mention of the Qatsi movies.  No mention of IMAX or 3D.

I was fascinated by TV series theme songs and opening sequences, a connoisseur one might say.  Six Feet Under's was brilliant and bleak.  Advertising, and jingles, really got my attention as well.  We used to record commercials for each other, back in Rome.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Factory of One (movie review)

I've not been to the annual Burning Man Festival, which is about to start up again in a couple weeks.  I'd become peripherally involved, as "burners" (as they call themselves) had a kind of "decompression party" at Circadia, a kind of art colony (like Milepost 5).  Lindsey, new in Portland, had been attracted to that spot as a likely place to perform (which panned out).  I was her chauffeur / roadie at the time, exploring another side of Portlandia.

This movie, A Factory of One, is about the artistic seriousness of one particular individual who likes to make the large multi-purpose structures that characterize Burning Man.  People feel inspired to make prototypes and also to show off lifestyle ideas.  They do this in blazing heat, wind, terribly challenging conditions, which is its own kind of field testing.  In some ways, new generations are giving birth to themselves in this event, even though it only lasts for six days.

The film starts out months ahead of time and teases us through months of tedious welding and metal work in the garage.  Computer graphics spin around, showing the Emerald City that's planned (hexagons and pentagons, a kind of "Stockton stockade" (per global matrix)).  A story unfolds.  Not everyone who planned to go ends up going.  No keys to the city this year (spoiler?).  Free haircuts are a big hit, great idea.

This was a debut public showing of a smartly edited interestingly scored documentary.  Not only was it set in Portland, but the producer, director, main star, and musician were all on stage to answer questions afterward.  I asked if they'd considered showing more of the film-making process as a part of the film.

I've been watching The Story of Film, fifteen hour documentary, and am hip to the idea that an artist doesn't always try to paint him or herself into the canvas.  By keeping a certain psychological distance, even in intimate settings, the film becomes a parallel project with its own pattern of interfacing with the public, such as this occasion at Hollywood Theater, one of Portland's finest and an historic venue for great films.

Friend Timothy Travis was there, and also shared a statement.  He thought people could relate to the solo labor of love, the private passion, that people bring to their work.  He expected the movie would be a big success because people would resonate with the main character.

I was there with Matt, more of a skeptic and less blown over by the Burning Man culture, which was great for contrast.  We're used to getting cues from the music as to how we're supposed to feel about a scene, and sometimes those cues would seem at odds.  I got used to the style though and don't blame the craftsmanship.  This is a well designed film that makes innovative use of time lapse and speed up, to show a project progressing.

People who like Myth Busters and This Old House, other crafty DIY shows, will likely like this film.  Make: Magazine should do a rave review.

Matt's older brother's son, Nathaniel, was the producer and one of the cinematographers, also the editor (director: Sage Eaton).  Talk about a labor of love.  I hope this film gets to the viewers who would benefit most from seeing it.  There's much to learn from its simple story against a somewhat extraordinary background, like the birth of a new nation (but different).

Monday, August 13, 2012

Of Quaker Schools and Descartes

Although I resigned my membership some years ago, to bolster the position of "attender" more whole-heartedly, I've continued to serve on Oversight as well as other committees. Insofar as most branches keep the membership idea alive, it needs to be nurtured and our Meeting has been doing some of that homework.  The quality seems pretty high.

At work, we have changes in refund policies and new stresses around bottlenecks.  Then there's the enigma of such a low profile and skeletal crew.  A big contract might sink us.  I'm glad we're so small.  Having strong math skills is an interpersonal asset in many cases.  If you don't glaze over, when talking to the boss, that's a plus.

Although we're not under water (figuratively speaking, in Manila this might be more literally true), the extended family is feeling the pinch.  I was delving into Neal Stephenson's Reamde (not a typo) recently, and enjoying the long dose of family he opens with.  Were my high desert school or schools to materialize (Caldera an influence), I'd be looking to place my people, no question.  I'd be looking for good fits.

As a "director of my own movie" character (what they teach you in est, no?), of course I'm most familiar with the characters around me, many of them characters in this blog.  So of course I'm not hesitant to put them forward, where I think they might shine.  I'm not some boss with a whip though.  People aren't worried when they don't pander to my every whim, and that's how it should be.  I'm just another guy in the gym.

Like I'd always wanted to have a safe haven for Nick, full of domes, plenty of bandwidth.  He'd be the old bardic historian, the narrator, the auto-poises guy.  He didn't live to see the day.  I've felt behind schedule.

Am I talking about boarding schools then?  Where would they (the Global U students) go next?  How do all these bases link up, these campuses?  What is their purpose, whom do they serve?

These are all excellent questions, and these blogs weave in and out around some answers, giving my personal vision of how it could work (bizmos play a role).  Call me a science fiction writer -- as well as a spin doctor (complementary skill sets).

I've also been reading about Descartes' in that book I believe I first learned about from Glenn Stockton, Descartes' Secret Notebook.  I've finally finished it on my Kindle (lots of typos, I must say -- the OCR output is not double checked by a human very carefully).

Whatever Cartesianism maybe is, maybe isn't, lets circle the lifestyle, somewhat like Wittgenstein's, in terms of wandering, sometimes with a military operation, a lot of time alone, a solitary soul.  He kept wanting to escape his "friends" because, lets face it, many "friends" are really "frenemies".  The more jealous people got, the more was he their target.

He suffered some heart wrenching breakups and stupid feuds.  He died when he was about my age, trying to educate a young queen to assume her duties for Sweden.  Not an easy job, as he was surrounded by a jealous court of people this book calls "grammarians" (WTF?).

Anyway, I'm not planning to be a Descartes basher, whatever I think of "cogito ergo sum".  The fact that his skull got separated from the rest and ended up in some Museum of Hominids, representing the Sapiens, is really quite hilarious on some level.  Lets assume he'd be amused.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Adventures in Teaching and Driving

I was just coming to the Y where I-405 sweeps over the Willamette on Fremont Bridge, a high arching double decker taking traffic through downtown, a branch off of I-5.

I-205 is the other branch, feeding the east side of town, rejoining I-5 south of Oregon City.  I-405, in contrast, rejoins right on the south edge of downtown.

Branching off the Fremont Bridge though, if you don't want to circle south, is Hwy 30 to St. Helens and Astoria.

My destination:  University of Portland, on a Friday afternoon in the blaze of summer, after 3 PM.  At 4:05 my classroom would be brimming not just with my students, but their siblings, guardians, parents, grandparents... the place would be packed, and I wouldn't be there if I stuck to I-5.

That was the calculation anyway, as I veered at the Y, over the Fremont.  I-5 was hardly moving.  I'd be stuck.  I'd drive north to the St. John's Bridge, and come back south through St. John's.  The plan worked.  Hwy. 30 was relatively light, except for the queue to cross the bridge itself on a long uphill grade.

This bridge is dramatic, an historic landmark.  Next week, they'll be Bridge Pedaling  over it.

Coming back I've mostly been enjoying the parapets of Willamette Boulevard.  I've seen geodesic domes on both sides of the Willamette.  The ones on the ship are more like golf balls, radomes, or are those for natural gas of some kind.  I'm thinking radome.

The ones next to the highway are the usual fuel tank covers, a commonplace in the fuel distribution network.

Trevor once did a geocache on this theme.  I helped out by chauffeuring.

Speaking of Trevor, he's got some new Kindle ebooks out there, low priced and enticing, and suitably esoteric.  We met at Greater Trumps again, though no cigar smoking this time.

I was somewhat anxious about Tara's oral surgery early next morning, and how that would go (wisdom teeth extraction), and would I be hitting my marks at University of Portland by 10:50 AM -- an earlier start on this Friday, as we were having an open house in the afternoon.  Could be a day from hell.

The operation went smoothly (only Novocaine, no nitrous).  I read in TIME (about polygamous families) and Newsweek (about people going crazy using the Internet).  We'd switched venues because I was for the first time getting some dental coverage from insurance.

Healthnet paid big bucks on Dawn's terminal illness but we could never afford any coverage for mundane stuff under $5000 -- those were always out of pocket expenses, if affordable.

As it happened, our family had just become eligible for assistance with this medically necessary procedure after a six month waiting period.  This was new insurance.

These are the language games we had in place back then, somewhat in place when I got here, though the rules have kept changing.  People mostly only had a dim understanding of the games, with TV a weak link in not being able to explain them.

Banking was especially opaque, with the scandals around Barclay's attracting little evening news attention -- too complicated, too close to home.

My class ended at 12:35 PM and rather than wait around until 4:05 PM I elected to drive home.  That was easy enough on I-5, in the middle of the day.  Interstate, a street, not an interstate freeway, is another way to go north and south, on the east side of the river, and I'd done that the day before.  The Max (light rail) takes that route. 

Anyway, the real traffic didn't start until closer to rush hour, when I was on my way back.  I'd found Tara to be well after the procedure, resting and recovering.  I enjoyed some time with the family before skedattling back.

What was I teaching?  Martian Math and Python Programming we called it.  They ended up needing to use Notepad in Win7 as their code editor, with Python 2.7 in terminal mode.

We did have access to VPython though, on a Q: drive.

I recycled movingballs2.py and some others from the Reed College version of this class, plus added some news.  We rolled our own.  Students each had a directory in which to write, but that had to be added to the Python path, so:

>>> import sys
>>> sys.path.append("c:/users/SAstu1")
>>> import sa1   # copied from the Internet or USB memory stick

The Mandelbrot Set was more important this time, and I made the connection to the Mandelbulb, in terms of aesthetics, computer fly-throughs.

Given we could darken the room (a "lower blinds" switch) and project on a big screen, I was sure to take advantage.  During the open house, a switched the lights off several times, so they could appreciated the theater-like ambiance (the seats were also tiered).

On the Math Forum, I used the opportunity per usual, donning my lobbiest hat and strutting on stage on behalf of a STEM curriculum that's deliberately integrating, and considers TCP/IP a worthy topic for middle schoolers, why not?  We watched Warriors of the Net.

What's not to understand?  True, we didn't get into DNS and BIND, but this was just a week's course.  The goal was to become more enamored with what geekdom has to offer, in terms of toys that morph into tools as one grows older.

We talked about the Internet's history.  Thanks to Trevor, I was able to share the first picture transmitted over the WWW at CERN.  I mentioned Tim Berners Lee having some role in the Olympics.

Given this generation has little first hand experience with WW2, or even that genre of movie, Code Guardian might have seemed a little strange, as it looks like a Nazi attack on Pearl Harbor (never happened).

My point, though, was how few people were needed to make this film, given technology being what it is.

I also mentioned August 6 was coming up.

We also looked at Blender quite a bit, not hands on, but in terms of what it could do.  That included watching the movie Sintel.

When the open house was over, by 4:30 PM (some had come early, but I was there first), I drove back to St. John's.  Rather than add to the rush hour traffic, I settled in at the McMenamins there, for some beer, food and wifi.

I was actually able to catch up on the day job for a couple of hours, and catch some Olympics, before wending my way home, over the St. John's Bridge and along Hwy 30 again, a dramatic way to get back through Portland.