Tag Archives: entertainment

Lucy

Dixie and I watched Luc Besson’s new film Lucy a couple of days ago.

The philosophical question behind it is interesting: what would humans be like if we used more of our brains? This question is based on the suggestion (which my oldest daughter tells me is false) that humans only use about 10% of their brain capacity.

Lucy addresses this question with the story of Lucy, who unwittingly and against her will finds herself involved with a Chinese drug ring, who surgically implants a bag of a powerful new drug in her stomach. The bag is unintentionally punctured and the high concentration of the drug entering her blood stream begins to “awaken” her brain to its full capacity.

Besson’s answer to this question is, unfortunately, the standard fare. In film, more of our brains for some reason always means what we (in our current state of minimal brain usage) would consider superpowers—telekinesis, telepathy, etc. I’ve never understood why such an assumption is made. I suppose it makes for a more “exciting” film, but what possible connection could there be between neural synapses and moving inanimate objects from a distance?

Even more curious, in Besson’s vision a human with increased brain usage becomes increasingly robotic. This gift—if it can be called that—is ultimately about gaining knowledge, even to the point of omniscience and a godlike status. At the same time, this “super”-human is almost completely without compassion. This new god-creature is only interested in passing on its vast newly-gained knowledge, even as people are dying violently around it.

Beyond the superpower clichés, the film lacks direction. It’s never clear exactly what Lucy is doing or why: is she saving the world? is she seeking vengeance for this unwanted gift of brains? or is it really unwanted? Who knows. There are interesting hints at a new stage of evolution/new creation, which have potential, but they are never explained or explored.

I found it to be quite a bleak vision. Perhaps that was the point. Or perhaps Besson simply needed an interesting plot-line to fuel some CGI fun. I’m not sure. I’d like to see a film in which increased brain power results in more compassion and a human simply becoming more human.

Concert review: Dylan with Knopfler.

So I went to a Bob Dylan concert and I could barely understand a word he said.

No surprises there, of course. Dylan came through Edmonton with his band and Mark Knopfler last Tuesday, and I went with a friend. Dylan played an outdoor show in Lloydminster in August which I had wanted to attend, but that didn’t work out. I think an outdoor show would have been better, but I wouldn’t have seen Knopfler.

It wasn’t clear to me whether Knopfler was opening for Dylan or playing with Dylan and his band. As it turned out, it was more of a double-billing. Knopfler essentially played his own full-length concert before Dylan. And that’s perhaps how it should be. Dylan may be a legend, but Knopfler’s no slouch either.

The Knopfler set was excellent. I didn’t come to see Knopfler; he was a bonus and I had no idea what to expect. He played what was as far as I could tell mostly new material. Only his encore went back to his Dire Straits days. That song (“So Far Away”) sounded vaguely familiar, but it was the cheering from the audience that clued me in. Knopfler’s sound (new album released just a couple of weeks ago, I think) these days hovers around the Celtic–mandolins, flutes, fiddles, etc–with a touch of country blues, but always with his signature finger-picking stratocaster sound. The Edmonton Journal Review said that “Their flute and fiddle tunes sometimes bordered on Zamfir and Titanic cheese.” False. This is only cheese if you have something against the flute and fiddle in the first place. Don’t bring Zamfir or Titanic (i.e. the James Cameron film) into this. There was no cheese in Knopflers music. But there was bittersweetness, melancholy, and much beauty, and at times it bordered on the spiritually moving (I may or may not have closed my eyes prayerfully at one point).

Knopfler was appreciative of and engaging with the audience–thanking us, telling us he was having a great time. Whether he was or not doesn’t matter. He engaged us (you can probably anticipate where this is going). His sound was tight, crisp, and well-mixed, and their technicians made good, mood-appropriate use of the stage lights. After Knopfler’s show I was that much more of a Knopfler fan.

Dylan… I went in with high expectations, low expectations, and not knowing what to expect. I had various stories about how Dylan does not interact with the audience at all, that I wouldn’t recognize any of the songs, that he is either on or off and if he’s off he’s really off. So here’s the lowdown: it was underneath a number of issues, a great concert. Actually, it was really only one issue: sound. It was way too loud. This is a common problem at concerts, but Knopfler managed to be loud without having all his music become a wash of lows. I wish I had remembered to bring earplugs–I don’t know how many concerts I’ve been too where it was clear that plugging my ears provided the perfect filter, presenting me with crisp, balanced sound and distinct instruments. But I didn’t want to sit with my fingers in my ears all night. Well there was also the lighting–which mostly had kind of a streetlights-in-Paris kind of feel, which is nice, but does not work well in such a large setting–and the fact that when Dylan was sitting at the keyboard he was nearly indistinguishable from the stage set.

He didn’t really interact with the audience. I was suprised to see him get up from his keyboard and walk around stage singing. He may have even gestured at the audience, though with my eyesight at my seats I couldn’t really tell. He even spoke outside of introducing the band: he bleated something about not playing his best or something (which I later learned was an apology for a poor cover of a Gordon Lightfoot song).

It was true what they said about not recognizing the songs: pretty much every song had a new arrangements. The only songs remotely close to the original were “Watching the River Flow” (the opening number) and “Summer Days” (from Love and Theft). With the rest of the songs it took some careful listening to Dylan’s semi-intelligible, and in the words of the Edmonton Journal writer, “raspy, cram-all-his-lyrics-into-one-sentence delivery” to discover what song he was doing. The set included “Things Have Changed,” his Oscar-winning 2000 song, but with a polka beat; “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”; “Tangled Up in Blue”; “Thunder on the Mountain.” The set included 15 songs total. I recognized most of them, but here’s perhaps the biggest oddity of the evening: he did not play a single song from his recently released album Tempest. Sort of bizarre, but then maybe by the time an album is recorded an artist is sick of those songs. Only slightly less disappointing than the mix was his one-song encore. It was “Blowing in the Wind,” mind you, but one song? Not a good encore.

I think the Edmonton Journal headline was right–“Knopfler outshines Dylan at Rexall Place concert”–but not because Dylan and his band played a poor set. Underneath the poor mix was a great band playing some excellent arrangement of classic Dylan songs. I’m glad I got to see Dylan. I even bought a t-shirt. And you know what? I’d go to another one of his concerts in a heartbeat (but maybe I’d opt for an outdoor show), though I have the feeling there won’t be many more of those.

But Knopfler earned an album sale or two from me.

Project Grizzly

I didn’t realize that Project Grizzly, one of my favourite documentaries, was a National Film Board production.  It is, and it’s available in full, for free, online.  In fact, here it is:

It’s just over 70 minutes long. It’s a documentary about one man’s mission to build a bear-proof suit (for the purposes of study at close proximity). The guy, evidently some kind of bushman, seems just a little crazy. It’s very entertaining.

Some things you will see in this documentary: some impressive footage of two grizzlies fighting; the guy, besuited, getting hit by a half-ton at 40mph. Good times.

(via Jordoncooper.com)

A book and a movie

I handed in a paper today, one which has been looming over my semester, bogging me down, for several weeks now. Contrary to what I had expected, the “loominosity” hasn’t lifted.  This might be because the paper was fairly open-ended, so I had to set boundaries to it which seemed somewhat arbitrary to me.  It feels incomplete, but it probably would feel that way no matter how long I worked on it. So I handed it in.

Maybe that looming feeling relates to something else. Whatever it is, I don’t like it.

Maybe it’s the time of year. Strangely enough, I find early spring kind of depressing and bittersweet.  The melting snow, the mud, the cool temperatures.  I went for a bit of a walk the other day which was actually uplifting.  Maybe in spring my soul longs for solitude. Maybe that’s it.

Anyway, last week I managed to watch one of the Academy Award contenders for Best Picture: A Serious Man. It’s a modern retelling of the story of Job and the film is as open-ended as that Biblical book (as well as their film, No Country for Old Men). But the lack of clarity or resolution is, I suspect, partly the point of the story, so it didn’t frustrate me as it might have.  It’s a darkly funny film and the acting is terrific.  It’s entertaining and thought-provoking and bears repeated viewing.  4/5 stars.

Also, last week I read most of James Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church. It was an excellent book, which argued for what has been called “ancient-future” worship: appropriating the traditions and practices of the ancient (or even simply premodern) church into a postmodern context.  Smith is a proponent of “Radical Orthodoxy“, which is a position he argues for in the book, and he has piqued my interest in that movement.

My only critique of the book is that it focuses too much on the “emerging” church and the “postmodern” church, which, in my mind, seems to pin the movement to an “ism” rather than as an authentic form of church without strict ideological allegiances (such as “we are a postmodern church”). However, I suspect that one of the reasons he insists on doing this is because part of function of the book is a critique the so-called “postmodern church” which Smith argues is actually thoroughly modern (simply a revamped version of the “seeker sensitive” model).

I highly recommend this book, particularly for those who are skeptical of postmodern thought and its relation to the Christianity and the church.

From Avatar to theories of the atonement

I went with some friends to see Avatar on Friday.  I had been pretty annoyed that it got so many Academy Award nominations, but I had not actually seen the film, so my annoyance was based on absolutely nothing.  I no longer feel that way.  It is an absolutely stunning film, in terms of immersive special effects–James Cameron has created a beautiful, convincing world, which, quite frankly, I wouldn’t object to living in.  And the film entertains: it’s nearly 3-hours long, but it doesn’t feel that long for a moment.  It deserves the nominations for these reasons alone.

Story-wise, however, it’s nothing special.  But you’ve probably heard that.  You may even have seen this hilarious Avatar Plot Fail:

epic fail pictures
see more Epic Fails

I’ve never seen Pocahantas, but that sounds about right.  I saw a lot of Dances with Wolves (and therefore also The Last Samurai) in the film.  I made a prediction based on the Dances with Wolves Connection, but thankfully it did not happen.

(I am now also put in mind of a film I saw as a child, in which a First Nations boy is hustled to the top of a mountain by a group of other  boys from his tribe. On the mountaintop, they stick eagle feathers into him–actually piercing his skin–and then he either jumps off the cliff or is pushed off.  But instead of falling to his death, he turns into an eagle.  Does that sound familiar to anyone?  I have no idea what that it could be.  But I digress…)

Critiques: “Unobtainium”?  Really?  We are on this planet to mine for this highly profitable mineral.  However, we are not able to get access to the most concentrated stores, due to the presence of the Na’vi people.  This mineral, which we are unable to obtaindue to these people, is called…er…”Unobtanium”.

Momentary de-suspension of disbelief: During the final fight scene, when the huge robot operated by the general loses his gun and then HE PULL A BIG KNIFE FROM A SHEATH!  Seriously? Am I crazy to think that in the future, knives will not be standard issue for combat robots?

That aside, I heartily suggest that you watch this film in theatres and in 3D.  In fact, I’ll go one step further than suggesting: I urge you to see it in theatres and in 3D.  But only because of the captiviating 3D world.

After the film I opined to my companions that the solution to violence and oppression in both film and reality is inevitably more violence.  Can the Na’vi (essentially a representation of the First Nations people before the arrival of Europeans) ever return to their peaceful, in-tune-with-the-natural-world lifestyle after experiencing a battle of high-tech weapons of if-not-mass-then-still-pretty-big destruction?

I suggested that what was unique about the story of Christ’s efforts against the forces of oppression and suffering was that he did not meet them on their terms, but on entirely different terms. One of my companions was intrigued in a “I’m not sure about that” kind of way.  I agreed that there was a lot of violence in the Gospels–the crucifixion being its ultimate example–but suggested that it was one-way.  My companion wondered about the wrath of the Father poured out on the Son.  And for the first time in my life, I think, I was really hit by the fact that there is not one Theory of the Atonement, but several theories, and that I really have no clue about what they all are.

I started writing something here about why I’m uncomfortable with the penal substitutionary atonement theory, but I quickly realized that if I continued I would be blowing a lot of hot air, because I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about.  Happily, I notice that for the next two weeks, we will be discussion atonement–or more accurately, “soteriology”–in my theology class.

Are you the singing bush?

Around junior high, The Three Amigos was one of my favourite movies (along with Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors).  It’s a classic slapstick comedy starring Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin (who, Dixie notes, would have been the Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell of that day).  I could quote it nearly back to front.  It made a resurgence in my college years out tree planting, where every now and then someone would shout, “It’s a sweater!”.

I made a mistake when Dixie and I just started dating.  I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow I found myself renting and watching The Three Amigos with a group of Dixie’s high-school-aged girlfriends.  It was a bit of a humiliating experience. I would guffaw every now and then, but they sat through the whole thing stone-faced. One of them fell asleep.

I recently was reminded of the film and looked it up.  I can get it for $7 on DVD from Amazon.  I’m thinking it might be a worthwhile addition to our collection, regardless of what Dixie (and her friends) may think.