Life

Go see Ex Machina

Just got back from seeing Ex Machina, the directorial debut from British filmmaker Alex Garland, and my mind is racing. Here’s the trailer:

I went into the movie knowing very little about it beyond the most basic tenets of its premise, and it was great fun to watch it all unfold. I’m going to refrain from a review to give you an opportunity to experience the same sense of discovery. But if you absolutely feel the need to learn more before deciding whether or not to see the film, I’d recommend the critique from New Scientist magazine, which was written by Anil Seth, a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex. Here’s a snippet from his review—and, don’t worry, it’s entirely spoiler free:

It’s a rare thing to see a movie about science that takes no prisoners intellectually. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is just that: a stylish, spare and cerebral psycho-techno-thriller, which gives a much-needed shot in the arm for smart science fiction.

So, in short, if you have even a passing interest in the influence of technology on culture and humanity, see Ex Machina. And, after you’ve seen it, let me know if you think it’s a brilliant piece of speculative fiction or a documentary sent to us from the near future. Shoot your thoughts to @edotkim on Twitter, and we can each try to determine whether the other is human or machine.

Why Steve Prefontaine would have loved Urban Meyer...

I should start by noting that I’ve lived in Oregon for the better part of the past decade and, having come to love my adopted state, I was pulling for the U of O Ducks to bring home the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship (just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?).

As you might imagine, the Ducks’ flaccid performance on Monday night was a letdown—so much so that I did my best to avoid any post-game coverage. Consequently, I didn’t realize there was any controversy over Ohio State’s final touchdown until I came across this headline in yesterday’s The Oregonian, the paper of record here in the Beaver State: “Poor sportsmanship by Urban Meyer? Should Ohio State have taken a knee on final drive?”

Being that this was in The Oregonian, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that the author’s question was largely rhetorical. To whit, the piece quotes a range of pundits from across the Intarwebs calling Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer everything from a poor sport, to class-less to a God-less hypocrite (you can’t make this stuff up).

It seems clear that my take on this is in the minority—particularly amongst Oregonians—because when I read the piece, the first thing that jumped to my mind was this:

Image source: The RUN5KADAY Blog

Image source: The RUN5KADAY Blog

For those who aren’t able to see the image above, it depicts Steve Prefontaine, a distance running phenom from Coos Bay, Oregon who, coincidentally, ran for the University of Oregon in the early ’70s under famed coach and Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman. The image includes one of Pre’s best known quotes: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

Pre absolutely lived by that credo: Much to Bowerman’s chagrin, he ran his guts out from start-to-finish of every race. The concept of ever going easy on his fellow competitors was completely alien to Pre. In his view, doing so would have been disrespectful to himself, his competitors and his sport. It was this attitude, and Pre’s ability to back it up on the track, that made him a legend.

As an Oregonian, as an athlete and as a fan of sports, I believe Pre had it right. So, to those who exclaim that Urban Meyer exhibited poor sportsmanship by encouraging his athletes to go all out for the full 45 minutes of the National Championship game, I say you’ve got it upside down. Taking a knee would have been the most disrespectful thing he could have done to the Ducks, his own players and to college football. It would have said that it’s okay to give less than your best in a game that the 122 other Bowl-eligible Division I teams spent the past season bleeding, sweating and crying to be a part of.

So, bully for you, Urban Meyer! You exhibited a spirit of sportsmanship that would have made Pre proud, even though I’m sure he would have been pulling hard for his Ducks.

And to those who view Meyer as a class-less, God-less hypocrite for not taking a knee, do you apply the same standard to other facets of life? For example, do you think Nike should shut it down for a month to give adidas a chance to catch up? Or should Google’s search engine team stop development for fear that Microsoft’s Bing team might start feeling inadequate? I’m guessing that most Meyer haters would answer no to both of these hypotheticals, which leads me to one last question: Why should the values you live by be different from the values you play by?

I’m genuinely interested in hearing viewpoints that are contrary to my own, so let’s keep the conversation going on Twitter @edotkim.

A look back at 2014 in pictures

With 2014 coming to a close, many publications have highlighted their picks for photos of the year. My three favorite collections are from The New York TimesBuzzfeed (yes, Buzzfeed) and Reuters.

The Reuters set is the darkest of the three, which is perhaps an accurate reflection of the overall tenor of the year, but it’s worth a visit because every image includes a note from the photographer explaining the moment behind the shot.

Here are some of my favorites from each of the collections...

January: Tyrone Siu for Reuters (Hong Kong)

January: Tyrone Siu for Reuters (Hong Kong)

March: Ben Nelms for Reuters (Kamloops, Canada)

March: Ben Nelms for Reuters (Kamloops, Canada)

March: Bulent Kilic for Agence France-Presse/Getty Images (Istanbul, Turkey)

March: Bulent Kilic for Agence France-Presse/Getty Images (Istanbul, Turkey)

March: Christian Veron for Reuters (Caracas, Venezuela)

March: Christian Veron for Reuters (Caracas, Venezuela)

July: Damon Winter for The New York Times (New York, USA)

July: Damon Winter for The New York Times (New York, USA)

August: Robert Cohen for MCT/St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri, USA)

August: Robert Cohen for MCT/St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri, USA)

August: Xu Kangping for EPA (Hangzhou, China)

August: Xu Kangping for EPA (Hangzhou, China)

September: Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times (New York, USA)

September: Béatrice de Géa for The New York Times (New York, USA)

October: Toby Melville for Reuters (London, England)

October: Toby Melville for Reuters (London, England)

October: China Daily (Jinhua, China)

October: China Daily (Jinhua, China)

November: Yves Herman for Reuters (Brussels, Belgium)

November: Yves Herman for Reuters (Brussels, Belgium)

November: Al Bello for Getty Images (New Jersey, USA)

November: Al Bello for Getty Images (New Jersey, USA)

Interstellar review

I saw Interstellar last night and can’t get it out of my head.

First, should you see it? My answer to that question is easy: Yes. If you have even a remote interest in cinema, Interstellar is worth watching in a theatre on the biggest screen you can find. The tougher question is whether you’ll enjoy it. The current 73% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is indicative of the mixed opinions of professional reviewers, and I can understand their lack of consensus. Many movie-goers will actively dislike the film, while many others will love it—very few will fall in between. Such a dichotomy of opinion is generally reserved for those rare films that cloak a deeply personal story within the gilded folds of a grand epic, and that’s Interstellar to a T.

Two reviews that I think fairly and effectively encapsulate the positive and negative views of the film are from Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times (positive) and Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post (negative). Here are key excerpts from their reviews...

Turan: Much less of a B picture dramatically than last year’s “Gravity,” [Interstellar’s] exploration of the ways in which love, mendacity and the core nature of humanity are informed by the physical and psychological demands of outer space ensures that this story will stay with you, its themes taking permanent residence at the back of your mind.
Hornaday: Once Cooper and his colleagues cross back and forth between the space-time continuum, “Interstellar” falls into the talky trap, with the filmmaker trying to overcome plodding, drearily explanatory passages with Hans Zimmer’s basso profundo organ-music score and pummeling sound effects.

Indeed, your opinion of Hans Zimmer—and particularly his contributions to previous Nolan films—is probably the best indicator of how you’ll react to Interstellar. If you liked his work in Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, chances are better than good that you’ll enjoy Interstellar. But if you found the scores for those films overbearing, you’ll likely share Hornaday’s less positive take. And she is by no means out on a limb: Complaints that the dialogue in Interstellar is too often overshadowed by its score and sound effects are already widespread.

Perhaps I’m being a Nolan apologist here, but, after seeing the film, I’m fairly certain that what some are describing as sound mix issues were actually conscious directorial decisions. In the scenes in which the score washes over the dialogue, the intent is not to convey information through language, it’s to engender feeling through a combination of sight, sound and the physicality of over 10,000 watts of audio power vibrating the air around you. Nolan seems to hint at this in a fantastic interview with The Guardian:

“What I’ve found is, people who let my films wash over them—who don’t treat it like a crossword puzzle, or like there is a test afterwards—they get the most out of the film,” he said. “I have done various things in my career, including, with Memento, telling a very simple story in an incredibly complex way. Inception is a very complicated story told in a very complicated way. Interstellar is very upfront about being simple as a story.”

The Guardian piece also discloses an interesting tidbit: “No green screens were used during Interstellar, the majority of which was shot with real locations, miniatures, or sets using massive projectors.” Though highly unusual for our modern era of film-making, I think Nolan’s insistence on physical models and practical effects is of a piece with his desire to make audiences feel his films rather than simply viewing them. The “reality” of his sets and scenes coaxes the viewer into letting our guard down—into suspending disbelief just enough to allow the otherwise unbelievable things we’re seeing scratch beneath the surface of conscious thought to touch our emotional cores.

At left is a bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Gianlorenzo Bernini, circa 1635—a masterwork of representational sculpture. At right is a sculpture from Pablo Picasso’s Cubist period called  Head of a Woman , circa 1909. Both are powerful and affecting works, but they deliver their impact in fundamentally different ways. Whereas a movie like  Gone Girl  benefits from David Fincher’s Bernini-esque hyper-reality,  Interstellar  is more in the vein of Picasso’s visceral symbolism.

At left is a bust of Costanza Bonarelli by Gianlorenzo Bernini, circa 1635—a masterwork of representational sculpture. At right is a sculpture from Pablo Picasso’s Cubist period called Head of a Woman, circa 1909. Both are powerful and affecting works, but they deliver their impact in fundamentally different ways. Whereas a movie like Gone Girl benefits from David Fincher’s Bernini-esque hyper-reality, Interstellar is more in the vein of Picasso’s visceral symbolism.

I know I’m getting pretty highfalutin here, but the best way I can think of to describe Interstellar is to say that it is to conventional cinema as abstraction is to representational art. Both are mechanisms that humanity has developed to communicate across time; one takes a more literal approach to that communication, while the other is more visceral. If you go into Interstellar looking for that more literal A leads to B leads to C form of storytelling, you’ll leave disappointed. But if you open yourself up to the film as something you process with your feelings as much as your intellect, I think you’ll find it a deeply rewarding experience.

Agree? Disagree? Either way, let’s continue the conversation on Twitter @edotkim.