Movie Review: No Good Deed

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Interesting premise with poor execution.  The surprise twist is somewhat far-fetched.  Idris Elba is still pretty awesome.

If you go to see this movie, pay close attention to Idris Elba’s face.  A difficult task, I know, especially for the ladies.  This is especially true during the intro scene which shows convict Colin Evans (Idris Elba) facing a parole board after serving five years for manslaughter after killing a man in a bar brawl, but we also learn that he was suspected, but never tried, of killing multiple women too.  The parole hearing seems to be going well, one of the guards seems to be on his side and he gives a nice speech to the board members.  Then one of the members starts talking about Evans’ past and comes to the conclusion that Evans is a malignant narcissist.  As the man is talking, you can see Evans’ cool exterior slowly crack until he bursts out an objection.  His parole is denied.

Evans then makes a beeline for his ex fiance.  It is at this point that I know we are in for a bad movie.  An escaped convict who murdered two guards then proceeds to stalk his ex and no police think to stake her out?  Unlikely, to say the least.

Evans eventually falls in to meeting Terri (Taraji P. Henson) after crashing his car in a rain storm.  The two have a very spooky dynamic together.  I am not familiar with Taraji P. Henson, but she seems to be a person to watch.  I’d love to see her with better material.  We know Evans is a killer, but he’s all Mr. Nice Guy with Terri.  He opens up to her and her friend Meg (Leslie Bibb), but once again his exterior cracks when Meg calls him on a ridiculous lie while they’re catching a smoke together.  Again, a danger sign.  The ridiculous lie used to move the story forward because the writer couldn’t come up with a good way to transition to the next act.

The rest of the movie from that point on is your typical maniac horror movie.  You have Terri almost escaping only to be caught again by Evans.  Hit him once.  Run away.  Get caught.  Hit him once.  Run away.  Get caught.  We eventually get to a surprise twist that is laughably unlikely given the personality of Evans, but the movie has to be named “No Good Deed” for some reason I guess.

As an interesting side note, the theater was surprisingly full and was majority Black.  I think it goes to show how much of a dearth of films featuring primarily Black actors there is and how much demand there is.  Come on, Hollywood, give the viewing public what they want!  Only make it a better movie than this one.

My advice to you is to skip this movie and go watch Idris Elba in “Luther”, another fine BBC show.  Or “The Wire”.  I’d also give advice on seeing Taraji P. Henson in something other than this movie, but I haven’t seen her in anything else except the recent remake of “The Karate Kid”, but I don’t really remember that movie.

Rediscovering i

No, this is not going to be a post about me reacquainting myself with my inner child.  This is going to be a post about imaginary numbers!  Yay!

Yesterday, during a conversation with friends, we somehow got onto the topic of i.  I know what you’re thinking, how can you NOT have a conversation with friends and have the topic turn to imaginary numbers?  Am I right?  You remember i, right?  i = \sqrt{-1}?  Of course you do!  We were trying to remember what i^2 equaled.  Having worked with imaginary friends much more recently than I’ve worked with imaginary numbers, I was leaning towards i^2 = 1.  A friend, who happened to be a math major in another life, was leaning towards i^2 = -1.  Neither of us were confident in our answer, though, so I did what any smartphone wielding dork would do and looked it up.  Yeah, i^2 = -1.  Never doubt a math major.  About math.  Doubt them about everything else because they thought it was a good idea to be a math major.

This whole exercise, of course, got me thinking about one of my favorite subjects; how we teach our children.  Given the way we learn about squares and square roots, it would be perfectly natural for someone to think that i^2 = 1.  After all, we have it drilled into our heads that the square of any number results in a positive number.  I had that in mind when I was leaning towards i^2 = 1.  I remembered enough about all the stuff that we were taught were rules that turned out to be more like generalizations to be unsure that I was right, but someone who was never exposed to imaginary numbers would likely encounter a cognitive dissonance that would be difficult to overcome after years and years of believing one thing.

So why don’t we teach children about imaginary numbers immediately?  We don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of how to figure out that i^k = i^{k\mod{4}}, but it sure would be nice to stick something into the back of those sponge-like minds that there are these things called imaginary numbers that they may run into someday that don’t fit the mold that is being taught.

The big problem, of course, is that we teach children individual things and we require them to understand that one individual thing as quickly as possible.  If you can’t add two numbers together after second grade, you are a failure.  If you can’t multiply two numbers together after third grade, you are a failure.  Our standardized tests show it to be true.  Nonsense, I say.  I cannot count the number of times I attempted to learn some math subject only to have it make complete sense after something in another subject made the pieces all fit together and I would wonder why these discrete pieces weren’t taught together as part of a whole.  We need to stop teaching children answers and start teaching them solutions.

Today, we teach kids that 123 + 321 = 444.  Add the ones and carry the remainder, then add the tens and carry the remainder, then add the hundreds and carry the remainder.  It works, but it’s not getting kids intimately familiar with numbers like they need to be if they want to succeed in more difficult subjects.  Kids need to learn that numbers can be split apart and replaced and moved around using a set of very simple rules.  Yes, 123 + 321 = 444, but it also equals 100 + 20 + 3 + 300 + 20 + 1 = x + 300 + 20 + 1 = x + y = 444.  I don’t think things like this are too difficult for the second grade mind to be able to grasp even if it takes them years more to fully grasp the implications.

Here’s A Litmus Test For Obama Derangement Syndrome

Forbes Magazine has an article out showing that President Obama’s term in office has economically outperformed President Reagan’s in pretty much every category.  Oh, and he also has shrunk the deficit and reduced government.  The deficit grew dramatically under Reagan and the size of government increased as well.  I don’t see this as a “take that Reagan lovers!” article as much as it’s a “take that imaginary history!” article.

Here’s the problem with idols; your image of them is grossly distorted from their reality.  In fact, your image of them is more a reflection on yourself than reality.  Reagan is the epitome of this.  Everything good under the sun is attributed to Reagan even though a very simple analysis of the data would show that he wasn’t really that great.  Lots of bad stuff happened under his watch.  Unforgivable stuff.  Some good stuff happened too, but most of the good stuff is made up from whole cloth.

Maybe twenty years from now, the image of Obama will be like that of Reagan today.  Who knows?  I doubt it, though.  Obama will likely go down in history as the perfectly adequate politician that he was.  A pragmatist to Reagan’s idealism.  And that’s the story of Republicanism in the United States these days.  Idealism divorced from reality.  It works wonderfully for short-term gains.  Everyone loves people who pretend to be idealists.  The next Presidential election will be full of them.  Pretty much everyone that is expected to run for the Republican ticket is a pretender and so is likely next POTUS Hillary Clinton.  Sadly, that’s how you win elections.  Even Obama ran on a very idealist platform while all the time showing himself to be a pragmatist’s pragmatist.  The results have been mostly good with some bad thrown in.  Seriously, ignore the faux-scandals and make a list of all the stuff that was accomplished.  You know, stuff that was passed.  Here, let me help you (caution, swears).  List them in two columns, ones that are good and ones that are bad.  You would be hard pressed to come up with a list containing more bad than good.

Movie Review: The November Man

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Weak, confusing plot.  Some half decent action.  Every spy thriller trope known to man is thrown at the screen and nothing sticks.

Spy thrillers require a suspension of disbelief.  Violence is used at a drop of a hat.  Near misses are just around every corner.  Complicated plans are used to solve complicated problems that would never exist in real life.  “The November Man” contains all of that, but the plot makes it very hard to suspend your disbelief.

Spy thrillers seem to come in two varieties these days; master versus student and come with me if you want to live.  With “The November Man” we get both.  Pierce Brosnan plays Deveraux, the master spy, and does a decent enough job of it for the material he is given.  Deveraux is calm, cold, and collected.  His student, Mason (Luke Bracey) is bold, brash, and something else that begins with the letter B.  In the intro, Mason does something bold and brash against the instructions of Deveraux, who is pretending to be a high value assassination target despite not looking anything like the target.  Assassins must be hard to find these days because one would think the number one rule of assassination is to know the face of your target.  This sets the stage for a recurring theme in the movie about people’s motivations being completely unclear almost all the time.

We then fast-forward some years to Deveraux in retirement and being visited by his old handler who wants him to do just one more mission (trope!).  The mission is to help a woman escape (come with me if you want to live) from Russia with valuable data that will jeopardize Federov’s (the next Russian President) political ambitions.  During this rescue attempt, Deveraux runs into his old student, Mason, and events put them on opposite sides.

Deveraux leaves Russia with only the name of the woman who has the information to bring Federov down.  This leads to yet another come with me if you want to live situation.  Unlike the first damsel in distress (trope!), this second one has absolutely no reason to believe Deveraux and yet she follows him lambishly.  What then follows is a series of chases and plot twists that don’t really make much sense.  You have bad guys being put back into power on the flimsiest of excuses, good guys turning against the bad guys and suffering no consequences despite the bad guys being in absolute power, women making extremely poor decisions so we can have yet another damsel in distress situation, information that has been kept secret for decades suddenly being brought to light afer a very brief database search, and yet another damsel in distress used to bring everyone back together.

As you can see, “The November Man” is quite the mess.  My recommendation is to go see another Pierce Brosnan spy movie.  “The Thomas Crown Affair”, for example.

Everything You Wanted To Know About The Ukranian Crisis*

*But were afraid to ask…

Max Fisher over at Vox has a pretty good summary of what’s going on in Ukraine and who all the players are.  I’m in the “Putin’s dug a hole he can’t get himself out of” camp myself.  Things in Russia have been pretty crappy since the Great Recession and there’s nothing like a little nationalism and a bit of war to distract the people from their problems.  Putin’s approval ratings are through the roof since Russia “annexed” the Crimean Peninsula.  It’s kind of creepy how easily world leaders can use unabashed nationalism to get citizens to completely ignore facts and fall in line with what the leaders want to accomplish. *cough* Iraq War *cough*

Movie Review: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

Bottom Line: A mess of a movie.  The only draw is the stylized violence and that isn’t even very good in most cases.

Wow, talk about your box office bomb of the summer.  As of this writing, “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” has only grossed $12M.  And with good reason too.  The storyline is a complete mess.  I remember liking the first “Sin City” movie, but watching this second incarnation, I was reminded at how little of the actual story stayed with me.  We are introduced again to Senator Roark, who I do not remember from the first movie at all, who you may (or may not, like me) remember, is the father of that yellow-faced guy who was the main baddie from the first movie.  The dude had a yellow face and when he was shown in a picture, I had only a vague recollection of him being in the first movie.  All this leads me to the conclusion that the first movie was all style and very little substance.  But still, at least the style was there.  “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” contains a piddling amount of style and absolutely no substance.

As with the first movie, we have a few different story lines that somewhat converge on each other in that everyone tends to gather at the same stripper bar and cross paths there.  There are three basic stories going on.  One of them is incredibly boring and completely useless except to make the script an acceptable movie length.  It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a gambler with the best luck in the world, able to take a dollar and turn it into a suitcase full of cash in no time, who decides that he needs to take on Senator Roark in a gambling match and humiliate him by taking all his money.  There’s a reason for it, but there is no build up to it or allusions to it until it’s spat out as a throw away line by Senator Roark which you could easily miss if you weren’t paying attention, which is likely because of how slow this story plods along.

Story number two is the only one that really holds any water (Ha!  This is funny because of the inordinate amount of time spent on the femme fatale climbing naked in and out of bodies of water).  The entire movie is supposed to have a noir-ish feel to it, but this story is really the only one that succeeds.  It has the classic theme of a damsel in distress who turns out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It also features the best stylized violence, but only in bits and pieces.  Mostly, it’s still just severed heads rolling of bodies in black and white cartoonish fashion.

Story three is kind of meh and suffers from the same problem as the gambler story in that you could easily miss the motivations behind what follows if you aren’t paying attention.  In it, Marv (who I am guessing is creator Frank Miller’s id) helps Nancy exact revenge on Senator Roark for Hartigan’s death from the first movie.  Again, some decent stylized violence in this one, but I got tired of rolling my eyes the amount of times that Marv walks slowly towards people with guns who seem to forget how to use them for the exact amount of time it takes Marv to come and bash their heads together.

When I see a movie that is this bad I like to think up a more apt name for the movie.  My best so far is calling “There Will Be Blood” “There Will Be Boring”.  This one, I think I will call “Snooze City: A Movie to Sleep Through”.  It really is that bad.  Luckily, with the anemic box office draw, we have likely seen the last of the “Sin City” movies.

Book Review: The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

Jean-Paul’s rating: 5/5 stars

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is a children’s book in the same way that Grimm’s Fairy Tales are for children.  Ok, maybe not that bad, but Gaiman has a particular gift for seeing adult themes through the eyes of a child.  There is a matter-of-factness in children when confronted with things that stretch the boundaries of their knowledge.  There almost has to be since they are constantly assaulted with new information.  And even though there is a suicide and nudity and sex in this book, I would still consider it a children’s book just because Gaiman captured a child’s spirit so well.  That isn’t to say that what we have here is only a children’s book.  Far from it.  “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” should appeal to just about everyone.  All the characters are fully flushed out and entertaining.  The story is compelling and dreamy and thought-provoking.  Gaiman’s descriptions make it seem like you are there witnessing the goings on in the story.

What I like best about the book is that even though the protagonist is a young boy, he is helped along his journey by a triumvirate of strong women in the Hempstock family.  Even the main villain is female.  This is such an unusual occurrence in literature or any form of art that it is worth pointing out.

The story itself is best described as a fairy tale if one were to assign such designations to books.  The Hempstocks are aglessly old.  Even the youngest, Lettie, is aged beyond description despite appearing only thirteen.  One of the best lines is when the boy first realizes it.  “How old are you?”  “Thirteen.”  “How many years have you been thirteen?”  The entire book is filled with dialogue like that.

This book draws you in and doesn’t let go.  Dream and reality are combined.  Oceans fit in buckets.  The world is filled with monsters who mean well but cause havoc anyway.  It is a complete delight from start to finish and I’d highly recommend you all read it.

Dream Fluid Dynamics

Normally, when I remember dreams they are wisps of memory floating away from my newly awakened body that I must reach up and grab before they escape me.  This morning, I had absolutely no recollection of my dream from last night and it was only later as I was reading “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” on the train that the wisps came floating back to me and coalesced back into memory.  (Great book, by the way.  Neil Gaiman.)  That my dream was water based and one of the main themes of the book is water may be a coincidence, but it’s a striking one nonetheless.  On to the dream.

I was in a bathroom washing my hands.  The bathroom was all white.  In the process of washing my hands, I discovered that the sink was leaking from somewhere and water was pooling on the floor.  There was a compartment of some sort located just under the sink.  To open it, you just pulled off the door.  Kind of like it was only held on just by magnets only not.  I pull the door off and water comes out, only not like you would normally expect water to behave.  It came out in a cube formed to fit the dimensions of the compartment.  After it had fully escaped the compartment, it behaved exactly like normal water and fell to the floor.

I decide to take this opportunity to teach everyone else in the house about fluid dynamics.  I gather everyone around and put the door back on and let the compartment fill with water.  I position a garbage can under the compartment to catch the water and then I pull off the door.  The water comes oozing out as before.  As this is happening, I explain to everyone assembled that the water holds its form because the water molecules bond with each other when in an enclosed space and the resulting surface tension is strong enough to hold the water’s shape until it clears the container.  I reposition the garbage can slightly and the water clears the compartment, starts behaving like normal water once again and every drop gets caught by the garbage can.

The end.

Ideas In Radical Democracy

There are two things wrong with our system of elections; the people who run for office and the people who vote the people into office.  The former is true because it is an almost universal truth that anyone who puts so much effort into seeking power is distinctly unsuited to hold such power.  The latter because it is impossible for a member of the general public to make an educated decision on which candidate is truly qualified to hold a position.  The answer is usually “none of them” but we have to go with the system we have.  Or do we?

I am a much higher information voter than the general public and I am woefully unqualified to pick a good candidate for, I would say, 80% of the votes that I cast.  Judges?  Forget it.  Metropolitan Water Reclamation District?  Pshhht.  President of the United States?  Please!  Ok, I’m joking about that last one, but I do seriously believe that the sheer act of running for President of the United States automatically makes you one of the worst people to be allowed to be President.  

But if the people who run suck and the people who vote suck, what’s a Democracy to do?  How about we stop having candidates and stop having votes?  If we want a truly representative democracy, we need a larger pool of potential office holders.  And by larger pool, I mean everyone who is constitutionally qualified to hold that specific office.  You say you’re from Illinois, are 30+ years old, and a citizen of the U.S. for at least 9 years?  Guess what?  You have a chance to become the next junior Senator from Illinois.  How in the world would we manage voting for such a large pool of candidates?  Simple.  We don’t vote.  We hold a lottery.  Your name gets picked, you’re elected.  

Holding office should be a burden, but it should be a burden that everyone is willing to accept if called.  In this way, it would be similar to another burden we all must bear as upright citizens; jury duty.  Jury duty is wholly necessary to our justice system and its one major flaw is that it’s ridiculously easy for people to get out of doing it if they so choose.  With this new system of elections, it would be nigh impossible to shirk the duty.  In fact, I’d change jury duty to be the same way as elections.

Goodbye two party system!  So long good ole boys network!  Ta ta money’s corrupting influence on elections!  See ya dynastic political families!  Au revoir voter suppression.

Sure, there will still be corruption.  Yes, there is a chance that you may get some bad apples elected as a result.  But I believe those odds would be dramatically lowered with this new system.  And with an almost zero chance of being re-elected, those bad apples will be able to cause much less damage than your 18 term Congresspersons of today.

It would certainly be a hard sell.  Voting is so ingrained in our mind as a necessary component of a thriving democracy that people will rail against the idea just on principle.  It would require changing the Constitution at both the Federal and State level and likely also require additional prerequisites for certain positions like judges.  In the end, it all boils down to one idea: A person who has power thrust upon her for a period of time is much more likely to use that power to achieve what they believe in than they are to abuse it to achieve their own ends.