Thursday 30 June 2011

Movie Preview: Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

This coming December 16, 2011, we will all be privy to Mission Impossible IV, now known under the title Ghost Protocol. While information about the production has slowly leaked out - the trailer is now out - it would seem that who's who and what's what may not be 100% certain. According to IMDb, the story is credited to Tom Cruise and J. J. Abrams and the screenplay to Josh Applebaum and André Nemec. Tom Cruise of course is back as Ethan Hunt along with Ving Rhames who has also been in all of the M:i movies in the role of Luther Stickell. Sitting in the director's chair is Brad Bird whose claim to fame lies with animation notably The Incredibles.

Filming has supposedly taken place in Dubai, Prague, Moscow, Mumbai, and Vancouver. The trailer shows Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world's tallest structure at 828 m (2,717 ft).

Details about the movie's plot are negligible if not non existent. While the Wikipedia entry on the film has a section on the plot, this is merely a retelling of what's in the trailer released on June 29, 2011. It contains no other details. MovienewZ writes: This is not just another mission. The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in a global terrorist bombing plot. Ghost Protocol is initiated and Ethan Hunt and his rogue new team must go undercover to clear their organization’s name. No help, no contact, off the grid. You have never seen a mission grittier and more intense than this.

By the numbers
In looking back on the series, the first three films, we see the following figures:

Mission Impossible (1996)
Budget: $80 million
Gross: $458 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 56%

Mission Impossible II (2000)
Budget: $125 million
Gross: $546 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

Mission Impossible III (2006)
Budget: $150 million
Gross: $398 million (worldwide)
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%

It's interesting to note the jump in the film's rating on Rotten Tomatoes for number three in the franchise. Was the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the bad guy that much of a plus to change the quality of the entire film in the eyes of the critics? I also note that J. J. Abrams was involved in the creation of the story for number three and directed the movie, his first involvement in the series.

Uploaded by trailers on Jun 28, 2011
Official Trailer


Wikipedia: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (also known as Mission: Impossible IV) is an upcoming action film. It is the fourth film in the Mission: Impossible film series. It stars Tom Cruise, who reprises his role of IMF agent Ethan Hunt. The film, directed by Brad Bird, has been written by J. J. Abrams, André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum. It is produced by Abrams, Cruise and Paula Wagner and will be released in the United States on December 16, 2011.

Wikipedia: Mission: Impossible (film series)
The Mission: Impossible films are a series of action films based on the television series of the same name. The films feature Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, an I.M.F agent.

Wikipedia: Mission: Impossible (film)
Mission: Impossible is a 1996 action thriller directed by Brian De Palma and starring Tom Cruise. Following on from the television series of the same name, the plot follows a new agent, Ethan Hunt and his mission to uncover the mole within the CIA who has framed him for the murders of his entire IMF team.

Wikipedia: Mission: Impossible II
Mission: Impossible II (also known as M:i-2) is a 2000 action film directed by John Woo, and starring Tom Cruise, who also served as the film's producer.

Wikipedia: Mission: Impossible III
Mission: Impossible III (also known as M:i:III) is a 2006 action film.

IMDb: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Wikipedia: Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa ("Khalifa Tower"), known as Burj Dubai prior to its inauguration, is a skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and is currently the tallest structure ever built, at 828 m (2,717 ft).

official web site: Ghost Protocol
[This web site as of this writing only has the trailer, nothing else.]

Wikipedia: J. J. Abrams
Jeffrey Jacob "J.J." Abrams (born June 27, 1966), is an American film and television producer, screenwriter, director, actor, and composer. He wrote and produced feature films before co-creating the television series Felicity (1998–2002). He also created Alias (2001–2006) and co-created Lost (2004–2010), Fringe (2008–present), and Undercovers (2010). Abrams directed the films Mission: Impossible III (2006), Star Trek (2009), and Super 8 (2011) and produced the films Cloverfield (2008) and Morning Glory (2010).

Wikipedia: Tom Cruise
Thomas Cruise Mapother IV (born July 3, 1962), better known as Tom Cruise, is an American film actor and producer. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards and he has won three Golden Globe Awards.

official web site: Tom Cruise
[Biography, photo gallery, blog]


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Wednesday 29 June 2011

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Clocking in at 2 hours and 34 minutes with a reported budget of $195 million, expectations seemed to be running as high as per the thrill ride depicted in the trailer which has been making the round these past months. I was out for the very first showing in Toronto in Real 3D at 9pm EDT, Tuesday, June 29, 2011 at Empress Walk in North York in the Empire Extra Theatre. - I'll explain all that in a second. - The showing was not sold out but there were a number of people present. According to the movie posters, the real opening is July 1st so we're all seeing over a couple of days something of a preview?

Before seeing the film, I scanned down the various articles on the Transformer series to confirm I'm not going out to a favourite with the critics. Rotten Tomatoes handed out 57% to the first film Transformers then 20% to the second film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Movie number three in this series wasn't off to the best of starts as I saw a score of 36%. Don't forget than anything under 60% is not considered a winner. In fact, my advice would be to never bother wasting your time, never mind your money for anything less than 60%. At 37%, you're looking at something one step above dog crap.

Michael Bay has managed in this third installment of the Hasbro toy chain brought to life - yes, this is based on a toy - to create a pummel your senses, toyish, brute form of entertainment that is going to be lapped up by the teen slash early twenties demographic. This is a cinematic version of a plate of suicide hot chicken wings. After one, never mind finishing the plate, your senses are so on overload I defy you to be able to detect anything less than a slug of Tabasco sauce.

I saw the first film in the series and had forgotten my reaction to it. It's a toy. For kids. Like really young kids if I'm not mistaken. I'm betting the target age group (males 8 to 14?) are not even allowed into the theatre to see the films. I'm sorry. I'm an adult. I like adult films. Not something based on what an eight year old would like. At least the makers of Toy Story or Kung Fu Panda managed to bridge the gap providing entertainment which works for the two groups of adults and kids at the same time. But this? It comes back to what I've said before: you have to accept the initial premise. Whether it's the X-Men as mutants with special powers or Thor being a Nordic god or Green Lantern with his ring, you have to accept the premise or the rest of the story doesn't cut it. Without the premise the rest of the story makes no sense.

The fan sites are awash with analysis and details about the film. I'm not going to bother to repeat what you can read elsewhere. I'm here to say that you shouldn't bother to see this film unless you're a diehard Transformers fan, you love special effects or you're so desperate for entertainment, you'll go see anything. The American actor John Malkovich has a small part in this film. John Malkovich. What the heck? Why is he in this film? What a sec! This guy can act, really act and he's in this film? Frances Louise McDormand? She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1996 for her role as Marge Gunderson in Fargo. How did she manage to say any of her lines in this film without cracking up? The screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who also wrote Transformers #2, managed to weave the Apollo moon landing into the plot (no spoilers). Who shows up for a cameo? Buzz Aldrin, the lunar module pilot of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing in history and the second human being to set foot on the moon, following mission commander Neil Armstrong. I have to chuckle though. Who under the age of 30 or even 40 would recognise him?

By the numbers
In looking at the three films of the series, I had to say, "Wow" when checking out some of the figures.

Transformers (2007)
Budget: $150 million
Gross: $710 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Budget: $200 million
Gross: $836 million
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Budget: $195 million
Gross: TBA
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%

Okay, nobody can argue with the grosses. Holy Hannah, are these films money makers or what? I and all the critics in the world can diss these films but nobody, absolutely nobody can criticize how much money they're making. Good lord! Who cares what rating Rotten Tomatoes gives them. The public doesn't seem to be checking with Rotten Tomatoes.

Production Accidents
I quote from the Wikipedia article on the movie:

Filming was temporarily delayed on September 2, 2010 in Hammond, Indiana, when an extra was seriously injured during a stunt. The accident happened when a steel cable snapped from a car being towed, owing to a failed weld, hitting the extra's car and damaging her skull. The extra, identified as Gabriella Cedillo, had to undergo brain surgery. The injury has left her permanently brain-damaged, paralyzed on her left side and her left eye stitched shut. Paramount admitted responsibility for the accident, and covered all medical costs incurred by Cedillo. Nevertheless, on October 5, Cedillo's family filed a lawsuit, which cites seven counts of negligence against Paramount, D.W. Studios and several other defendants (not including Bay), with total damages sought in excess of US$350,000.

On October 11, 2010, while filming a chase scene at 3rd Street and Maryland Avenue, SW, a Washington DC Metropolitan Police K9 Unit SUV struck the CamaroCamaro was severely damaged.

Empire Extra Theatre
We all know IMAX: big theatre, big sound system. The Empire theatre chain has gotten on-board with a new idea to spice up the joint and offer us movie goers a better cinematic experience. Empress Walk in North York has one dedicated theatre, cinema number one, which offers cushier seats, a better sound system and an all digital projection system. Amusing enough, just like IMAX, they have a short "pre-show" designed to show off the capabilities of the theatre. This show doesn't involve lasers but they do have two side projectors to give a bit of a light show.

For me, the big, big feature of this new experience is reserved seating. Yep, I bought my ticket on-line and got to choose my seat. That seat was reserved so I didn't have to worry about showing up early enough to rush in when the doors opened to get the best seat. Now here's something even odder: my ticket was $11.99. What? That's the cheapest I've paid in the evening just about ever. Was this a special introductory price? I don't know but I'm going to keep my eyes open about that one.

Final Word
The CBC published a review of the movie by Eli Glasner. I had never heard of this gentleman so I looked up some of his other work and he seems to do film reviews. He's a good writer. But here's the curious thing: I thought his review of the movie was more entertaining than the movie. Plus, he published his review at midnight oh one so he must have rushed home from the cinema, pounded out his nine hundred words and clicked Send. Heck, I got tired and went to bed. This can wait until the morning. I'm not getting paid for writing a review and I'm guessing Mr. Glasner is.

This film is just dumb, dumb, dumb. - Roger Ebert gave it just one out of four stars. - It is pretty much a pound your senses special effects extravaganza which in the end doesn't leave you wanting more, but leaves you uncaring and wanting to get on with the rest of your life. This is the film equivalent of empty calories. Ten minutes after I had left the theatre, my attention had turned to other things and for the rest of today, I will not be mulling over the film nuances of Michael Bay's subtle handling of the inner struggle of Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader at discovering his former mentor Sentinel Prime having become a baddie. A "baddie"? *laughs* Yes, that's the perfect term for an eight-year-old kid.

Judging by the grosses of the other films, it stands to reason this film is going to make a ton of money. I have to ask myself who is going to see these films. There has to be a lot of eight year old kids at heart who love playing with Hasbro toys and eating suicide hot chicken wings.


Rotten Tomatoes: Transformers: Dark of the Moon: 36%
Its special effects -- and 3D shots -- are undeniably impressive, but they aren't enough to fill up its loud, bloated running time, or mask its thin, indifferent script.

Wikipedia: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (also known as Transformers 3) is the 2011 American science fiction/action film in the Transformers film series, directed by Michael Bay and produced by Steven Spielberg. It is the sequel to Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and was released on June 29, 2011. The film is presented in regular 2D, Real D 3D and IMAX, featuring Dolby Surround 7.1 sound.

Wikipedia: Transformers (film series)
Transformers is an American film franchise produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by Michael Bay and based on the toys created by Hasbro and Takara Tomy. The series is distributed by Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, and United International Pictures. The first film, Transformers, was released in 2007 and the second and latest film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in 2009, with a third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon released on June 29, 2011. Despite Michael Bay's confirmation on Dark of the Moon being his final installment in the franchise, Hasbro's CEO Brian Goldner has expressed his hopes for further films to be made with or without Bay.

Empire Theatres: Empire Extra
[The theatre has been redone with different seats (spongier, slightly bigger than normal seats), a more powerful sound system, and an introduction somewhat like what IMAX always shows to demonstrate the theatre's capabilities. The big thing, however, is being able to buy reserved seats. Yep, just like a live show you can pick your seat and it's reserved. You don't have to show up early to get a good seat. That to me is a big selling point.]

Dynamic Sound
Our custom designed, multi-channel sound system provides even, balanced coverage to any seat in the auditorium. Lose yourself in the dynamic sound with rich, clear, dialogue.

Optimal Viewing Experience
We offer Digital Projection for the brightest, most vivid image on screen and stunning 3D. Our massive, high-impact, wrap-around screen is curved and positioned for the optimal viewing experience so you always have the best seat in the house.

Reserved Seating
Select your seat in advance with reserved seating and your high back rocker seat will be waiting for you.


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Tuesday 28 June 2011

Mariah Carey: Touch My Body

MC, uh, uh, uh In the place to be
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah

I know that you've been waiting for it
I'm waiting too
In my imagination I'd be all up on you
I know you got that fever for me
Hundred and two
And boy I know I feel the same
My temperature's through the roof

If there's a camera up in here
Then it's gonna leave with me
When I do (I do)
If there's a camera up in here
Then I'd best not catch this flick
On YouTube (YouTube)
'Cuz if you run your mouth and brag
About this secret rendezvous
I will hunt you down
'Cuz they be all up in my business
Like a Wendy interview
But this is private
Between you and I

Touch my body
Put me on the floor
Wrestle me around
Play with me some more
Touch my body
Throw me on the bed
I just wanna make you feel
Like you never did.
Touch my body
Let me wrap my thighs
All around your waist
Just a little taste
Touch my body
Know you like my curves
Come on and give me what I deserve
And touch my body.

Boy you can put me on you
Like a brand new white tee
I'll hug your body tighter
Than my favorite jeans
I want you to caress me
Like a tropical breeze
And float away with you
In the Caribbean Sea

If there's a camera up in here
Then it's gonna leave with me
When I do (I do)
If there's a camera up in here

Then I'd best not catch this flick
On YouTube (YouTube)
'Cuz if you run your mouth and brag
About this secret rendezvous
I will hunt you down
'Cuz they be all up in my business
Like a Wendy interview
But this is private
Between you and I

Touch my body
Put me on the floor
Wrestle me around
Play with me some more
Touch my body
Throw me on the bed
I just wanna make you feel
Like you never did.
Touch my body
Let me wrap my thighs
All around your waist
Just a little taste
Touch my body
Know you like my curves
Come on and give me what I deserve
And touch my body.

I'm a treat you like a teddy bear
You won't wanna go nowhere
In the life of luxury
Baby just turn to me
You won't want for nothing boy(Nooo)
I will give you plenty joy

Touch my body
Put me on the floor (throw me on the floor) Wrestle me around
Play with me some more
Touch my body
Throw me on the bed
I just wanna make you feel Like you never did.
Touch my body

Let me wrap my thighs (let me wrap my thighs, around your waist for just a little taste)
All around your waist
Just a little taste
Touch my body

Know you like my curves (I know you like it)
Come on and give me what I deserve (Give me what I deserve babe)
And touch my body.

Oh yeah oh yeah oh yeah (Yeah, yeah)
Oh yeah oh yeah (every little way you like to touch my body baby)
Touch my body (yeah Yeah ooh ooh baby... Oh Oh, ooh ooh baby)
Touch My Body (uh Uh ooh ooh ooh)
Touch My Body (come on Give Me what I deserve... Oh)


Uploaded by MariahCareyVEVO on Jun 16, 2009

Wikipedia: Touch My Body
"Touch My Body" is a song co-written by American singer Mariah Carey, Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, Crystal "Cri$tyle" Johnson and The-Dream for Carey's eleventh studio album, E=MC². Produced by Carey, Stewart and Nash, it was released as the lead single of the album. The song is Carey's eighteenth number 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and it gave Mariah her 79th week at number 1 on that chart.

The music video starts with an employee of a fictional company called "CompuNerd" (with logo reminiscent to Geek Squad) arriving at Carey's mansion, played by Jack McBrayer. As she leads him up the stairs, she removes her robe revealing black lingerie and begins to sing. She warns him that any camera footage is leaving with her and better not end up on YouTube. The following scenes are a fantasy of the computer technician, including a pillow fight, laser tag, frisbee, Guitar Hero, slot cars, a unicorn, and Carey in various sexy outfits. Carey is apparently a willing participant in the antics. The video ends with Carey waking the computer technician from his daydream.

The music video was directed by Brett Ratner. Carey reported that Ratner was commissioned to direct and film the video because he also directed Carey's videos for "I Still Believe," "Heartbreaker," "Thank God I Found You," "It's like That," and "We Belong Together." In an interview with, Ratner said, "Mariah is musically at the top of her game and has never looked better... This will be our 6th music video we have collaborated on and definitely the best one yet visually, as well as musically. The video for "Touch My Body" is the perfect combination of fantasy and comedy with Mariah looking more beautiful than she has ever looked, ever." The video was filmed at Lenny Kravitz's house. The video also stars Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock, a show that Carey is a fan of. Carey appeared on MTV's Total Request Live and BET's 106 & Park on Wednesday, February 27, 2008, to premiere the video for "Touch My Body"; BET also played the video all day, every hour on the hour, until 106 & Park. VH1 posted a 45-second sneak peek on their blog on February 26, and subsequently posted the video in its entirety at midnight on February 27, 2008; the video was also posted on the Island Records website. The music video topped the U.S. Billboard Hot Videoclip Tracks chart.

Wikipedia: E=MC² (Mariah Carey album)
E=MC² (abbreviation of Emancipation=Mariah Carey²) is the eleventh studio album by American singer Mariah Carey. The album was released on April 15, 2008 in the United States. It debuted at number 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 with 463,000 copies sold, making it the biggest opening week in sales of her career. It became Carey's sixth number 1 album on the Billboard 200. The first single from the album, "Touch My Body", reached number 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, surpassing Elvis Presley for the most number 1 singles by a solo artist. Other singles include the U.S. top twenty song "Bye Bye", and U.S. R&B top forty song "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time", as well as the US No. 1 dance hit ballad "I Stay in Love". The album experienced success, selling over 3 million copies worldwide, however it failed to match the sales of its predecessor, The Emancipation of Mimi.

Wikipedia: Mariah Carey
Mariah Carey (born March 27, 1970) is an American R&B/pop singer-songwriter, record producer and actress.

official web site: Mariah Carey


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Sunday 26 June 2011

Suminagashi: Painting on Water

When I saw the words, I at first thought there must be another meaning, a double meaning, or some sort of interpretation of "water". Well no, this is actually what the artist does: he or she literally paints on water. Now there's a canvas I had never considered before.

The artist works with a shallow pool of water in a rectangular container. He drops paint onto the surface and it spreads out in a circular pattern. Using a stick, he spreads the paint out or swirls it around forming shapes. Of course, the results are in no way permanent so the artist spreads a rectangular piece of paper, the same shape as the container on the surface of the water where the paper absorbs the paint. Voilà, you now have a painting which has involved no brush and the most unusual of techniques.

The following video demonstrates this art. Personally, I find this gentleman, coupled with the music, to be quite hypnotic. Enjoy.

Published on Jul 11, 2010 by bitbocs
Painting on Water

Decorating paper with inks in this manner is known as paper marbling and apparently dates back over 2,000 years ago in China. The Japanese technique called Suminagashi, literally "ink-floating", involved dropping ink on water then having the artist blow across the water to create swirls and patterns. The use of a stick to displace the ink came afterwards and seems to be the preferred method in modern times for transforming the circular spots of ink into other patterns.

As a sidebar, the term marbled paper may not be familiar today but was previously used quite frequently in book binding. It served mainly to hide the binding itself. You would find marbled paper on the inside of the front and back covers hiding the spine to give a more aesthetic look.

In following video, the artist takes a different approach to creating his canvas. He creates several intermediary drawings which he then wipes out to create something else. This strikes me as an interesting aspect of some live art. The desired results are not necessarily the end product, the canvas, but the process of doing. In other words, the filming of what the artist is doing becomes the art. We watch him make a drawing; we look at the results; he wipes it out and starts another one. It is only at the end with the final drawing that he lays down the paper to capture this final image.

Uploaded by iamgood119 on May 30, 2010
Chinese Water Painting
Artist: Zhu Lin
Music: 'Blue-White Porcelain' by Jay Chow

Final Word
Off the top of my head, I don't remember if I had ever seen this painting technique before. Maybe I have but I've just forgotten. Whatever the case, this "new" introduction to the art is quite mesmerising. Having an overhead camera film the artist's movements as he drops his inks then swirl them around is delightful. It is surprising to watch these deft actions transform blobs of ink into recognisable objects such as flowers, mountains, and even faces. Ah, how wonderful are the skills of a painter to convert the raw materials of paint and canvas into a picture of beauty.

Take a video of the artist working on his water canvas; add some interesting music and you have a hypnotic and relaxing "new age" film. I have visited various workshops of artists where you can watch them execute their craft and it can be fascinating to watch their skilled hands carry out their creative trade. Watching them do this can be as interesting as the final product, the work of art itself.

I have left some Google searches below, both for web pages and videos. There are a lot of materials out there and numerous videos so you can further explore Suminagashi and while away some hours watching various artists practise this most ancient of paper marbling techniques.


Suminagashi is the ancient Japanese technique of decorating paper with inks. It is believed to be the oldest form of marbling, originating in China over 2,000 years ago and practiced in Japan by Shinto priests as early as the 12th century. Suminagashi (sue-me-NAH-gah-she), which means literally "ink-floating" involves doing just that. Japanese Sumi-e inks were originally used, dropped carefully to float on a still water surface and then blown across to form delicate swirls, after which the ink was picked up by laying a sheet of white rice paper atop the ink covered water.

The practice of Suminagashi remains much the same today, although now artists also use acrylic paints that flow and spread over a liquid water surface. Combining the knowledge of fluid mechanics with artistic talent, the artist controls the floating pigments through the viscosity and surface tension of the water to create images suggestive of mountain ranges, landscapes, clouds and animals before printing them on a sheet of paper. The europeans had their own version of marbling also called Ebru or Turkish-style marbling.

Suminagashi: Decorative Papers
Marbling, as it is known to bookbinders, is a method of making patterned paper by transferring colour from the surface of a liquid to paper. These papers are then used for the endpapers, to hide the lumps and bumps caused by leather turn-ins and cords, or to cover the sides of books where patterned papers don't show marks of wear so easily as plain papers.

The traditional manner of marbling paper is often called "Turkish" marbling or ebru because it originated in the old Ottoman empire of the 15th century. Water-based inks containing ox gall (bile) as a dispersant are floated on the surface of water thickened with gum tragacanth or carragheenan moss (actually a seaweed). The colours are then drawn into patterns by means of sticks or combs, specially-prepared paper is laid gently on the surface, left for a few seconds, and just as gently removed, rinsed (to wash off dirty size or excess colour), and hung to dry. Papers used should be fairly hard-surfaced and treated with alum as a mordant to take the pigment and to improve colour tone and colour fastness.

Wikipedia: Paper marbling
Paper marbling is a method of aqueous surface design, which can produce patterns similar to smooth marble or other stone. The patterns are the result of color floated on either plain water or a viscous solution known as size, and then carefully transferred to an absorbent surface, such as paper or fabric. Through several centuries, people have applied marbled materials to a variety of surfaces. It is often employed as a writing surface for calligraphy, and especially book covers and endpapers in bookbinding and stationery. Part of its appeal is that each print is a unique monotype.

Google search: painting on water

Google video search: painting on water


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Saturday 25 June 2011

Movie Review: The Tree of Life

An art film. A psychological drama. A movie which spans time and space and shows the vastness of eternity then stoops to look at the mundane. Okay, and this radish represents man's struggle against the hidden urges of his primordial instincts. You either "get it" or you sit there asking yourself, "What the heck is going on?" You either walk out of the theatre saying to the rest of your group that the film maker is a genius or you let them wax laudatory while trying to follow the aphorism "If you haven't anything good to say, say nothing at all." Then again, you could be keeping quiet out of fear of portraying yourself as an ignorant Neanderthal.

In a nutshell the film covers a period in the life of a family circa 1940 - 1950. It is a different era; it is a simpler time, then again it is probably no different from any "normal" family. The flow of the story jumps between father Brad Pitt and family, the one grown up son Sean Penn, and an interspersed visualization of the eternity of time made up of special effects, photos of the cosmos, erupting volcanoes and some CGI dinosaurs. Oddly enough, about 30 minutes into the film, we went off on a tangent of esoteric abstract filming which so much reminded me of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, specifically the part after Dave goes through the monolith and is transported God only knows where. In 2001, this seemed to fit in with the narrative and served well to impress the audience by visually representing something, some force, beyond our comprehension. Here, well, after - what? - fifteen minutes of this stuff, I started asking myself when it was going to end. In fact, with the running time of the film clocking in at two hours and eighteen minutes, there were a couple of times the word "interminable" came to mind.

Don't get me wrong, the story of the family was superbly done. Brad Pitt as the father and Jessica Chastain as the mother and the three boys doing what boys do reminded me so much of my own upbringing. Yes, it was truly a different time. Fathers and mothers did what they did as parents and there wasn't any training or any manual to guide them through the trials and tribulations of being parents or for that matter, being husband and wife. For a younger movie goer, the era probably seems totally foreign, but for me, I grew up with those cars, that type of house with those clothes. You succeeded and you failed while trying to do your best.

We come back to the interspersed visuals. The film maker is trying to impart the idea of eternity which involved lots of orchestrated choral music. That seems to be the cue we should be feeling the vastness of the cinematic vision. Sorry, it didn't quite come across. In fact, I'd say the film maker could reduce the 2 hours and 18 minutes substantially if he dropped this Ooo and Ah special effects. One minute we're in Waco, Texas in the 1950s, the next minute we're looking at dinosaurs and volcanoes. Yes I get the connection; I'm just saying it didn't impress me.

Final Word
I'm torn. The film is well made. The cast is terrific. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 86% and Roger Ebert decided on four stars out of four, but, and there's my but. Years ago, I saw the film Death in Venice, all two hours and ten minutes of it. This was an art film, a psychological drama and I walked out with the impression that nothing happened. Yes, my recollection was that there was literally no action. Nevertheless, I sat through the film absolutely mesmerised. In The Tree of Life, I loved the scenes with the family but the abstract visuals which broke up the narrative didn't come across at least to me as impressive and thought-provoking as I imagine the film maker intended. Okay, maybe that's just me.

As I said in the beginning, this is more of an art film. You have to have a certain taste and you have to be in a certain mood. If your bag is something like X-Men or Thor, you are probably not going to take to this one. If you enjoyed Midnight in Paris, you should probably go for this one but it ain't no comedy. So, good film, well done, but with a caveat.


Rotten Tomatoes: The Tree of Life: 86%
Terrence Malick's singularly deliberate style may prove unrewarding for some, but for patient viewers, Tree of Life is an emotional as well as visual treat.

Wikipedia: The Tree of Life (film)
The Tree of Life is a 2011 American drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick, and starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain. Malick's film chronicles the origins and meaning of life through the eyes of a 1950s Texas family, while also featuring sci-fi and surrealist themes and imagery through space and the birth of life on Earth. The film premiered in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d'Or, after being in development by Malick for decades, and experiencing a delay from its original release in late-2009. It later opened in limited release on May 27, 2011 to positive reviews on its technical and artistic merits, yet also received polarizing reactions in response to Malick's directorial style and, in particular, with the film's fragmented and non-linear narrative.


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Friday 24 June 2011

Sex: A billion wicked thoughts

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Thursday 23 June 2011

Coffee: our favourite drug

Mr. Colin Gregory Palmer Grey is a time management consultant working out of London, England. As well as his day job, he also produces on occasion short videos about different subjects. Today, I ran across his latest cinematic opus called "Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever". How could I resist? Ah, coffee, my favourite drink. And it would seem just about the favourite drink of a zillion other people as well. Who hasn't regretted not buying shares in Starbucks or Tim Horton's?

Of course, using the word "drug" along with the drink refers to its active ingredient, caffeine. Wikipedia writes:

The stimulant effect of coffee is due to its caffeine content. The caffeine content of a cup of coffee varies depending mainly on the brewing method, and also on the variety of bean. According to Bunker and McWilliams (J. Am. Diet. 74:28–32, 1979), coffee has the following caffeine content:

* brewed: 1 cup (7 oz, 207 ml) = 80–135 mg.
* drip: 1 cup (7 oz, 207 ml) = 115–175 mg.
* espresso: 1 shot (1.5–2 oz, 45–60 ml) = 100 mg

Red Bull has sometimes stirred up a bit of a controversy about its caffeine content; however it contains no more caffeine than coffee. A single can, the normal size, contains 80mg of caffeine (Wikipedia).

I add here about the pros and cons of this drink. Scientific studies have examined the relationship between coffee consumption and an array of medical conditions. Findings have been contradictory as to whether coffee has any specific health benefits, and results are similarly conflicting regarding the potentially harmful effects of coffee consumption.

The same Wikipedia article goes on about cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, etc.:

Coffee consumption has been shown to have minimal or no impact, positive or negative, on cancer development; however, researchers involved in an ongoing 22-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health state that "the overall balance of risks and benefits [of coffee consumption] are on the side of benefits." For example, men who drank six or more cups of coffee per day were found to have a 20% reduction in developing prostate cancer. Other studies suggest coffee consumption reduces the risk of being affected by Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. A longitudinal study in 2009 showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee or tea (3–5 cups per day) at midlife were less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer's disease in late-life compared with those who drank little coffee or avoided it altogether.

Uploaded by CGPGrey on Jun 22, 2011
Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever
[This short video offers a number of interesting facts about this most popular of beverages. Mr. Grey's web site has the complete script of the video which is reproduced below.]

The web site Just About Coffee says that coffee is:
* The second most widely used product in the world after oil.
* It was worth 6 million tonnes per year in the mid 90's.
* It is worth €30 billion per year to the producing countries.
* It is a living to more than 100 million people.
* It is consumed at the rate of 1400 million cups per day.
* The world's second most popular drink after water.

Coffee Facts from the Gourmet Coffee Zone adds:
Regarded as the largest retail coffee chain, with over 15,000 stores world wide, Starbucks actually sells more milk by volume than coffee. Starbucks has established a brand based on strong, bold dark-roasted coffees. Some even consider the roasting style over-done, pushing the respectable and popular dark-roast preference too far into the burnt category. While the milk products comprise the significant component in the Starbucks coffee drinks (lattes, cappuccinos, etc. ), perhaps another driver behind the volume of milk sold is a customer preference to tame or tone down the Starbucks over-roasted, strong and bold coffee profile.

Final Word


Wikipedia: Coffee
Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted seeds, called coffee beans, of the coffee plant. Coffee beans are found in coffee cherries, which grow on trees in over 70 countries, cultivated primarily in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. 'Green Unroasted' coffee is one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. Coffee can have a stimulating effect on humans due to its caffeine content. It is one of the most-consumed beverages in the world.

Wikipedia: Economics of coffee
Coffee is an important commodity and a popular beverage. Over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed in the world every day.] Over 90% of coffee production takes place in developing countries, while consumption happens mainly in the industrialized economies.

Wikipedia: Caffeine
Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid and psychoactive stimulant. Caffeine was first isolated from coffee in 1820 by the German chemist Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge and again in 1821 by French chemists Robiquet, Pelletier, and Caventou. Pelletier first coined the word "cafeine", which became the English word "caffeine".

Wikipedia: Health effects of caffeine
The health effects of caffeine have been extensively studied. Short term side effects such as headache, nausea, and anxiety have been shown as symptoms of mild caffeine consumption. The long term consequences of moderate caffeine consumption can be reduced risk of developing Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, hepatic diseases, and cardiovascular disease.

Colin Gregory Palmer Grey
[Mr. Grey is a Time Management consultant working out of London, England. He has an ebook called "30 Days to a More Organized Life".]

YouTube: CGPGrey's Channel
[As well as this video on Coffee, he seems to have put together a number of educational video speechs on a variety of topics

Grey's Blog: Coffee: The Greatest Addiction Ever

The Script (from the above video)

The world’s largest buyer of coffee, the US, has to import nearly all of this as the coffee trees from which caffeine is harvested will only grow at commercial levels between the tropic of cancer and the tropic of capricorn in an area called the coffee belt. Only a single state, Hawaii, is within the belt.

However, the United States is only the largest buyer because it’s so populous. The most enthusiastic coffee drinkers per capita are, in increasing order, the Netherlands, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and, the world champions, Finland, where they drink three times as much coffee a day as the average American. All of these countries are outside of the coffee belt and must import 100% of their caffeine supply.

To get this caffeine, first bees must pollinate the flowers of a coffee tree and these flowers develop into bright red berries. Unlike more cooperative domesticated plants, the coffee tree does not ripen all its berries at the same time so they need to be hand picked and sorted.

Once picked, the coffee bean is removed from inside the berry. This young seedling of the tree is then dried, heated, ground and submersed in boiling water to get out the precious, precious caffeine. It takes about 40 coffee beans to make one shot of espresso.

But why is caffeine in the coffee beans in the first place? It’s not like the coffee trees want to have humans cutting bits of them off and committing a holocaust of their offspring.

Well, the trees, of course, don’t want or feel anything and originally evolved caffeine for their own benefit. Caffeine is an insecticide that effectively paralyzes or kills bugs chomping on the tree.

Whether or not the insects go out experiencing the greatest caffeine high ever is not known.

While caffeine is technically lethal, it’s adapted for for 1g bugs, not monkeys 100,000 times more massive. So you’d really have to try to win this Darwin Award.

But, if you must: to calculate the dose of caffeine you’ll need to ingest to have a 50% of death, take your mass in kilograms and multiply it by 150mg.

Or in terms of coffee, for every kilogram of mass you have you need to drink one latte to get a visit from the grim reaper.

That’s a lot of coffee so it’s not surprising that there are no recored deaths in healthy adults from this method and it’s doubtful that it’s even possible. Because, while you’re busy getting the coffee in, your body is busy getting it out by one way or another.

The rare recorded deaths from caffeine are from diet pills, pep pills and crazy people who eat the drug in its pure form.

Poison though caffeine is, you do still develop addiction to the stuff. And it’s is a real physiological addiction not a wimpy psychological addition like people claim for videos games and the internet.

But caffeine isn’t heroine – rapid withdrawal won’t kill you – it might make you cranky and give you a wicked headache – but since caffeine releases dopamine to make you happy and it gets rid of headaches there’s really no reason to ever stop using it.

And who would want to give up the stuff anyway? I mean, aside from converts to Mormonism and Rastafarianism. Caffeine is the world’s most used psychoactive drug – and with good reason it’s pure awesome.

It increases concentration, decreases fatigue and gives you better memory.

This isn’t just a placebo – these are real effects replicable in a laboratory.

And, contrary to popular belief, drinking coffee isn’t a faustian bargain where the devil gives you the ability to work faster but in exchange makes your life shorter.

For normal, healthy humans there are no medical concerns. Coffee and the caffeine within it may even has medical benefits such as protection from cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Parkinson’s.

Caffeine can even get rid of migraines, but the amount required and the and method of ingestion is… uncomfortable.

Moving right along…

You know what else you can thank caffeine for? A little thing called the enlightenment. In the 1600s people drank more beer and gin than water. But with the introduction of coffee and tea, people switched from a depressant to a stimulant. It’s not surprising then that this time was an intellectual boon compared to earlier centuries.

Ben Franklin and Edward Lloyd loved their coffee for the same reason that modern workers and students do. It’s invaluable for staying awake and concentrating when you need to finish a TPS report or to get through that boring physics class.

Coffee is the fuel of the modern world, so go grab a cup guilt-free and get working smarter and faster.


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Wednesday 22 June 2011

We're wired for gossip

Apparently, our predilection for gossip is built-in and we pay more attention to those nasty things said about people. Unflattering gossip about our friends, family members — even down-and-out movie stars — shapes our visual perception of these individuals and provides a looking glass into how we subconsciously protect ourselves from harm, according to a new study led by a neuroscientist at Northeastern University.

“You are more conscious of a face if you know something bad about that person,” says Distinguished Professor of Psychology Lisa Feldman-Barrett, who led the study. “Gossip,” she says, “has an effect on how the visual system works.”

"The Visual Impact of Gossip" published in the June 17, 2011 edition of the journal Science delves into how people react to faces according to the circumstances surrounding those faces. A team of researchers led Barrett discovered that their test subjects unconsciously paid more attention to the faces of people about whom they had heard in defamatory or disparaging terms. They believe the reason stems from evolution when it was important to know who to avoid and to keep an eye on them. Humans could live in groups and learn from others, not just from direct experience.

Two experiments were performed. In the first, 61 people looked the images of faces. The participants in the study were presented with images of visually neutral faces that were paired with three kinds of gossip: negative (“hit a dog” or “stole money”), positive (“helped an elderly woman cross the street” or “volunteered at an animal shelter”) or neutral (“mailed a letter” or “went shopping”). The faces were then paired with an unrelated image.

The second test saw the researchers using a technique that exploits what's known as "binocular rivalry". This presents each eye with a separate image, and allowing the two to compete for attention — only one of the two images will consciously be seen at any given time. The participants were presented with an image of a face in one eye, and a picture of a house in the other. Compared the faces linked to neutral or positive information, those linked with negative gossip were perceived for longer.

As Barrett puts it, “If gossip helps predict who is friend and who is foe without first-hand experience of that person, then this strategy may have evolved to protect us from liars and cheaters. If we see them for longer periods of time, then we can gather more information about their behavior.”

According to Barrett, we don’t interpret the world through the exclusivity of our senses. “Usually we assume that what you see influences what you feel, but here we have a case where what you feel about someone influences what you see visually. This has immediate use for translational science.”

NPR in a May 20/2011 article reports that other scientists have said the results make sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. was reported as saying, "I was actually pretty excited to see this paper. For years, people like me have been saying that our intense interest in gossip is not really a character flaw. It's part of who we are. It's almost a biological event, and it exists for good evolutionary reasons."

We return to the phenomenon of humans living in groups. McAndrew explained that people needed to know things who might be a threat and who might be after a particular mate and learning those things through personal experience would have been slow and potentially dangerous. Gossip was a shortcut.

"People who had an intense interest in that — that constantly were monitoring who's sleeping with who and who's friends with whom and who you can trust and who you can't — came out ahead. People who just didn't care about that stuff got left behind," he said. A brain which pays special attention to negative gossip makes sense. "If somebody is a competitor or somebody is higher than you in the food chain, you want dirt about them. You want negative information; because that's the stuff you can exploit to get ahead." (Gee, this almost sounds like politics!)

Another description of this emphasis on the negative as opposed to the positive is that you're more likely to survive if you mistakenly respond to a stick as though it were a snake than if you make the opposite error. This may be a concrete example of Darwin's theory of evolution. Those who remain today are those who always jumped whether it was a stick or a snake. Those who are no longer with us are those who always thought it was a stick.

Final Word
We love to gossip but to imagine that this behaviour comes from evolution. While empirical evidence shows that we pay more attention to those about whom we've heard bad things, the reasoning behind our selective focus makes sense from our survival instinct. Pay attention to what's bad; avoid getting into trouble.


news@Northeastern - May 20/2011
Gossip triggers defensive response

Science. 2011 Jun 17;332(6036):1446-8. Epub 2011 May 19.
The visual impact of gossip.
Anderson E, Siegel EH, Bliss-Moreau E, Barrett LF.
Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
[The full text of this study is only available for a fee.]
Gossip is a form of affective information about who is friend and who is foe. We show that gossip does not influence only how a face is evaluated—it affects whether a face is seen in the first place. In two experiments, neutral faces were paired with negative, positive, or neutral gossip and were then presented alone in a binocular rivalry paradigm (faces were presented to one eye, houses to the other). In both studies, faces previously paired with negative (but not positive or neutral) gossip dominated longer in visual consciousness. These findings demonstrate that gossip, as a potent form of social affective learning, can influence vision in a completely top-down manner, independent of the basic structural features of a face.

The Visual Impact of Gossip

Out of sight, but not out of mind

Northeastern University
Lisa Feldman Barrett
1992: Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, University of Waterloo

NPR - May 20/2011
Psst! The Human Brain Is Wired For Gossip by Jon Hamilton


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