Special Delivery

23 03 2007

Note: Today is a beautiful day in Guelph. I’m sitting at my desk (aka my footrest) with the window open and blasting some of the happiest tunes in my library. Today I cleaned up my room some and bought groceries. Tonight I’m going to see a contemporary production of Romeo and Juliet over on campus. Tomorrow morning I’m heading back to Hamilton for awhile, which will hopefully be a quiet place to learn my Acting monologue. Anyway, last night handed in this review for the film “300”. It’s actually been out since March 9th, so this is a little behind the times, but here it is anyway. Because of time constraints (procrastination) I didn’t get time to edit it, and still haven’t done so, but upon a second reading it seems a little flowery with the language. I don’t usually write with so many adjectives. Feedback appreciated.

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300 is the ultimate guys-night-out film. Dripping testosterone out of every pore, this is a flick that delivers what it promised without a lot of extras. Co-written and directed by Zack Snyder, (Dawn of the Dead remake) the movie is based on Frank Miller’s (Sin City) graphic novels of the same name. It is classified under the genre of Historical Fiction as it depicts the ancient Battle of Thermopylae with much accuracy, but also with splashes of fantasy thrown in for flare. The number 300 comes from the number of elite Spartan soldiers who step up to defend Greece from the Persian war machine over one million strong. It is the story of their sacrifice.

The film is not a “good” one in the traditional sense. That is, where other films like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy excel in many aspects of the medium, 300 selects only a few. The rest is left by the wayside, which is why not everyone can enjoy this work. The plot, for instance, is fairly simplistic and predictable. It could even be called weak at points when you consider certain details, such as the fact that these Greek people, who founded democracy and believe in honor and justice, are also throwing away babies who don’t look strong enough to grow into Spartan warriors. The character development is also extremely lacking. When one of the “good guys” is decapitated in a surprise attack, we do not feel the remorse for his death that we should – or could.

Luckily for 300, most people going to see it probably won’t care about its failings. Snyder knew exactly who his audience would be and curved every essence of the film’s being to cater to his demographic. For instance, the main feature of the piece is its exquisite visuals, manufactured with blue screen technology to mirror the colour and form of Frank Miller’s artwork. Then of course there’s the action. The film pulses with riveting fight scenes, relentless and visceral, that occupy most of the running time. That said, the gratuitous violence does not come off as being overly extreme by virtue of its highly stylized nature. Films with less killing, like Apocalypto or even Reservoir Dogs, actually leave a bloodier trail in memory than 300 does. They didn’t forget to include a generous helping of sex into the film either, further tantalizing a male audience already drooling with bloodlust.

Yet, above all its other successes, 300’s most potent feature is its steadfast, explicit sense of virility. From the very notion of going up against insurmountable odds, to recklessly ignoring warnings from the wise, to throwing a boy on the threshold of manhood into a fight for survival with a wild winter wolf – all are drenched in unabashed masculinity. It is features like these that call upon the dormant wolf in every man, satisfying some primal lust for blood and glory. Snyder understands this well, and therefore 300 is riddled with these countless virile contrivances.

This focus makes the film very strong in what it attempts to be. Given the context modern films are put in – that is, one that dictates everyone that goes to see 300 knows what to expect – it is unlikely that very many people have been or will be disappointed with it. If that is so, then it must be somewhat “good”, even if it’s only in a certain sense. The bottom line is that it’s not a film for everyone. It’s a film for a particular audience, and for them, (you all know who you are) it will surely be excellent.


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Thoughts on Net Neutrality

12 03 2007

While perusing Amber’s blog, I came across this article by Lee-Anne Goodman of the Canadian Press. It examines and discusses some Government documents that suggest the Tories have few objections to giving ISPs more control of the Net.

If you are unfamiliar with the issue of Network Neutrality, which I have mentioned briefly on this blog once or twice before, here’s the rundown:

As long as the world wide web has existed, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have provided equal, unbiased access to all content. However, over time we have seen that certain web-based phenomena have been very successful. (Read: Google) So naturally, big telecom companies feel like they deserve a piece of the pie. (That pie isn’t an easy number to pin down, but Google bought YouTube for 1.65 billion dollars – so you get the idea. They’re rich.) The telecommunications guys in both Canada and the US have been pushing to be given more control of the Net. If this control was given to them, they could do just about anything they want. They could say to Yahoo, “Hey, if you pay us so much we’ll make sure all Yahoo pages and queries load faster and more reliably than anything from Google.” That probably wouldn’t happen because Google would be able to offer more money than Yahoo for this service, which means bad things for Yahoo. So this example illustrates two problems already: the little guys will be muscled aside by the bigger players, and the rest of us effectively have one less option to choose from.

You might be wondering why an ISP would choose to give preference to anyone. Well, surprise surprise, it’s the same old culprit that’s always at the bottom of everything: money. Twelve years ago, internet users weren’t creating a fraction of the content we are now, and all the mp3s and podcasts and online game data we’re throwing around these days is eating up a lot more bandwidth – and thus it’s become much more costly to keep us happy. Narrowing our options cuts their costs a lot.

In the article I linked above, it points out some of the groups such changes would affect:

Googlers and Startups, as I already explained. (Muscling out startups is particularly upsetting. YouTube marked such significant changes in media and their influence on society – because of hard work and proverbial elbow grease. You can’t go from zero to hero in a non-neutral internet.)

The rest I’m just going to copy and paste because I’m lazy.

iPod listeners – Companies could slow access to iTunes, steering you to higher-priced music services that they own.

Online shoppers – Companies could pay Internet providers to guarantee their online sales process faster than their competitors with lower prices.

Small businesses – When Internet service providers favour their own services, you won’t be able to choose more affordable providers for online video, teleconferencing, Internet phone calls, and software that connects your home computer to your office.

Bloggers – Costs will skyrocket to post and share video and audio clips, silencing citizen journalists and putting more power in the hands of a few corporate-owned media outlets.

I also read someplace that ISPs could start applying new fees to companies like Microsoft, (for Messenger, possibly) that would drive them to start applying new fees to us. Paying for every instant message sent, for example. (Similar to the current situation with text messaging on mobiles.) I haven’t exactly been keeping track, but I’m sure the number of IMs I’ve sent number in the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Something like this would be devastating.

Why would the Canadian government allow this? (Especially when the US has already passed over this issue and declared the web a neutral playing field indefinitely.) The most likely answer is that the telecom industry in Canada is far more concentrated than it is in the US, with Bell and Rogers being the two big kids on the block. I’ve never accessed the internet through any other provider, and I don’t believe I know anyone who has either. (In contrast, the American ISPs are more numerous.) Since Bell and Rogers are so huge, they’re pretty important to the economy, and according to that article, the Tories feel it’s in their best interest to appease them.

Normally I’m fairly apathetic to political issues, but this one has really grabbed my attention. I’ve always thought I’d like to remain in Canada, aside from possibly spending brief periods in other parts of the world for the sake of experience. That said, if even a few of these things start happening, it would give me very good reason to consider leaving Canada for someplace with more democratic access to the world wide web and all its utilities. (Call me a Geek all you want, but I was practically coddled on the good ol’ fashioned world wide web, and that’s that.)

If you’d like to learn more or help me do something about it, follow the banner link in my sidebar (neutrality.ca) and sign the petition. There’s also a lot more information there. They suggest writing to your local MP to say that you support Net Neutrality, which I’m strongly considering doing. (Possibly to David Sweet for Hamilton, and another to the Guelph guy, whoever it is.)

Edit:
Mirrored from Amber’s blog: Interview with Prof. Andrew Clement of U of T; more of an explanation:

Also, this is an older episode of my favourite podcast, Ask a Ninja, in which they endorse Neutrality and explain it (albeit from an out-of-date, American perspective) in fairly every day language:





Critical Muse

12 03 2007

Well, I didn’t do too badly on that list – and I’m still working on it. So far:
-Took steps in finding apartment
-Took steps in finding job
-Clothes/room cleaned? Er…
-Five Alive has been bought! And drank! Now I need more.
-Shirt and light obtained, although due to modifications to our plan, I no longer need them
-Facebook not stayed off of. (why does that look so wrong? Sarah, help.)

On course selection: It turns out that I can’t register for my courses yet, according to WebAdvisor. However, I can make a little course wish-list so that all I have to do is hit “Register for All” when they become available. Right now I’m planning on taking:

Reading the Past (First year standard English course)
Europe and the Early Modern World (First year standard History course)
Intro to Technical Theatre (Second year, small, exclusively hands-on class)
Acting II (Third year, requires audition…second part to my current Acting I)

These selections are based on my recent idea that I should seriously consider doing a double major in English and Theatre. Nothing’s set in stone yet, but that’s the direction I’m leaning in.

The fifth course is still up in the air. The one I should take, Intro to Computer Applications (for one of my science compulsories) is looking pretty unattractive right now because one of the labs is at like 8am on a Thursday. I’ve found out this year that anything starting before 10 doesn’t really jive with me, so I try my best to avoid those. (Where I live now, a class at 10am means getting up at 8, and that’s usually without breakfast unless I’m being very speedy.) The other science course I’m planning to take is Zoology, which I investigated for this reason last week by attending a lecture with a friend. It’s available next semester too, but at the exact same time as Acting II. Anyhoo, I’m rambling. Sorry.

What I actually wanted to talk about here is the Critical Thinking midterm I just wrote. I did quite a bit of studying last night, and learned more from one single concentrated effort than I have all year in the course. (My fault of course, not theirs.) Although I may be alone on this one, I find this content pretty darn interesting.

For example, I’ve mentioned here before the concept of valid arguments. Despite what you probably think, a valid argument is technically an argument whose conclusion can’t be false if the premises are true. That’s it. This, then, is a valid argument:
“All zebras eat airplanes. Zack is a zebra. So, Zack eats airplanes.”

We’ve heard this before. But, did you know that it is impossible by definition for a valid argument to also be strong or weak? A valid argument can also be bad. Conversely, an invalid argument can be (and often is) strong, and also a good argument. Confused yet? I was. As it turns out, “strength” is a scale that marks how well the premises support the conclusion, regardless of whether they are true. Consider:
“A girl in my Logic class, Lisa, normally wears tattered old shoes. Today she is wearing nice new-looking Prada shoes. So, Lisa bought new shoes.”

This argument is invalid because there are ways the conclusion is false even if both premises are true. Lisa could have stolen the shoes or borrowed them from a friend. However, the most likely case is that she did buy them. (And it’s correspondingly unlikely that she stole them, being as it is that she’s a university student and has presumably been making good decisions thus far in order to get where she is. You get the idea.) So, from all this we can conclude that the argument is strong.

Determining whether the “Lisa Argument” is Good or Bad is more difficult because it’s just a story. Let’s see if I can think up a strong, good argument…
“University is expensive. Most university students can not work full-time while in school. So, most university students are poor.”

So. I’ve come up with this, but I’m not 100% sure about how I should classify it. I know it’s invalid for sure. I think it’s also fairly strong, but one could argue that most university students are not poor, despite the premises being true. (Due to receiving financial backing from parents, banks, and so forth.) But for the sake of enlightenment, let’s just accept this as a strong argument. The argument’s premises are also true, and they are more plausible than the conclusion. These are the criteria for a Good argument, so the argument is Good.

Does your brain hurt? Did you stop reading long ago? That’s ok, I understand. I should look into professions involving this kind of thing, I guess. I’m assuming people as weird as me are hard to come by. I was about to tease myself here for exhibiting wishful thinking, but it occurred to me that wishful thinking is also a technical fallacy in logic. An example of wishful thinking is: “My plan to crawl out of here through the pipes is going to work, because I can’t stand being in prison any longer.”

Anyhow, I guess I’d better call it quits before anyone decides to commit to never reading my blog again.





To Do

10 03 2007
  • COURSE REGISTRATION
  • FIND APARTMENT
  • FIND JOB
  • Study for Critical Thinking Midterm
  • Do online Linguistics quiz before Monday
  • Clean room (again)
  • Do laundry
  • Obtain vacuum
  • Vacuum room
  • Buy more Five Alive
  • Buy black shirt and flash light before Tuesday
  • Go see “300” ASAP and write review
  • Stay off Facebook
  • Eat

I probably missed something, but that about sums up my weekend right there. Last night I crashed at Rockwell’s, and we watched Nausicaa, an Anime classic by renowned director Hayao Miyazaki. (This is one he did before Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.) I swore off Anime years ago, having become seriously tired of most of its trademarks and the stigmas attached to it. Yet, there are a few select pieces that still stand out as gems in my mind, and Nausicaa has been added to that list. In the English version Pete and I watched, one of the main characters was voiced by Patrick Stewart, which was quite a treat.

In news unrelated to me, one of my favourite bloggers, Jessica Hagy, has gotten a book deal. Actually, her blog, Indexed, is more like a webcomic than anything else, but is quite enjoyable nonetheless and now her hard work has paid off.

Now. About that list…





Hooray

7 03 2007

Critical Thinking Midterm moved to MONDAY. Life is good.





Prelude to More

5 03 2007

Time to play catch-up.

Ok. WHAT?!! I just found out something my Grade 9 English teacher taught me was wrong, and I’ve been thinking this wrong thing all along. What the deuce Mrs. Morissey, what the deuce. You told my class that “pathetic fallacy” is when, in literature, the weather mimics the current mood of the main character(s) or somehow reflects the events of the plot. (For example, the protagonist is sad and it rains.) I remembered this because I thought it was funny that such an obscure thing was given an official technical term. But it crossed my mind today, and I realized it didn’t even make sense. According to this Wikipedia entry, Pathetic Fallacy is basically just a fancy way of saying “personification” as I understand it. This is a groundbreaking discovery.

Yes, so clearly, I have quite a lot going on in my life right now. Ahem.

In all seriousness though, things have been pretty laid back. The highlight of last week was going to Toronto on Wednesday night with some folks from my acting class. We saw The Overcoat, a Canadian production that’s been garnering international attention at various festivals and such across the world. I think it’s an accurate evaluation of my feelings to say that it was…the most impressive show I’ve ever seen performed on a stage in my life. The play is based on short stories by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, and its premise is simple enough: a poor man leads a sad, mundane life. He wears a tattered overcoat for which his coworkers harass him daily. One day he is randomly inspired to spend all his savings on a beautiful lavish new coat, custom-made for him by “an army of overcoat geniuses”, as Trevor called them. (Tailors.) Upon his return to work, he makes an immediate and triumphant ascension from zero to hero, and proceeds after work to enjoy a night of much debauchery. Somewhere along the way that night, he predictably loses the coat. Devastated, he goes insane and ends up in an asylum. The end.

The point of going to see The Overcoat, however, is not the plot. The play contains no dialogue whatsoever. It’s a story told entirely through movement to music. Like a ballet perhaps, but less twirly. The actors’ timing is impeccable. The tiniest flourish in the background music is acknowledged in some way by the actors, thereby creating scenes that are constantly squirming with life and rhythm. If there’s any possible way you can get out to Toronto to see this one, I promise you it’s worth it.

What else happened last week? Not much. Classes were easy going, with things of imminent importance still being pretty far off. I’m enjoying Acting as much as ever, in which we’re currently figuring out ways to represent ideas in a non-traditional fashion. Tomorrow I’m supposed to submit in writing a detailed account of a dream I’ve had since Thursday’s class. The way to do it is of course setting the alarm for some ungodly hour and then writing down the main points so you can remember it later. Unfortunately nothing’s come to me yet, so if worse comes to worst, I’ll just have to relate a dream I remember from my childhood that involves being kidnapped by a man made of green tissue paper who sold me to the Energizer Bunny. But hey, it’s better than nothing right?

Last week I also watched two films that contained dangerous amounts of awesome. First is The Prestige. Not to be confused with The Illusionist, which came our around the same time, is quite similar, but apparently, not nearly as good – sadly. There’s not a lot to say about The Prestige, except that it reminds me quite a bit of Memento. I’m a fan of films that let you think you know what’s going on until the end, when they suddenly take the plot and stand it on its ear. Anyhow, it may not have obtained “classic” status but it’s entertaining and I recommend it.

The other gem is Stranger Than Fiction. In Will Ferrell’s classiest role yet, the guy actually manages to win our hearts instead of hoping a monkey scratches his face off, as with his characters in Wedding Crashers and Old School. (Although I can’t hate on Ron Burgundy, sorry.) Stranger Than Fiction is one of those films that’s funny in a subtle way, but the most impressive thing it does is make you care about the main characters a lot. So yeah, check it out if you can. Awesome stuff.

I have a Critical Thinking midterm on Wednesday. Not so awesome stuff. More to come!