Archive for December, 2010

How to approach 2001: A Space Odyssey

December 28th, 2010 No comments

“I don’t really get it, but I can tell it’s a movie for grown-ups”.

That’s what I thought of 2001 back in 1968 at the Glendale Cinerama. Sure, along with most young boys of the era I was into the space hardware, but there was something else about the movie that I’ve found eerily compelling to this day. Maybe it was the silence, the emptiness of the sets, the stark art direction or just the sheer deliberateness of it all. As a result, it has become one of my favorite films, so I thought I’d share with you some ideas that can help the average filmgoer to appreciate a movie that at first two-and-a-half-hour glance, appears quite boring and indulgent.

  1. Approach it as an essay, not a movie. Think. If you want to go to a movie without thinking that night (don’t we all), avoid this one.
  2. Kubrick and Clarke wanted to make a film about humanity’s first contact with extra-terrestrials. That’s what this movie is all about. It turns out that it’s actually about humanity’s first and second contact with extra-terrestrials, I suppose.
  3. Imagine how real adults (or your parents) would react to these situations. They wouldn’t react like Superman, Bruce Willis or Captain Kirk. They’d react like your colleagues, your teachers, your managers or University Professors. This explains why the dialogue isn’t dramatic, or actiony. If you’ve been in the corporate world, it might make more sense. As for Bowman and Poole, Doug Trumbull stated that the characters were supposed to be very cool under pressure, not suppressing wild emotions but simply being naturally calm. It would take a lot for these guys to get emotional. Though killing one of your best friends (or seeing the other one killed) might do it.
  4. Just about all other portrayals of extra-terrestrial life have been anthropomorphized, grounded in our reality or extrapolated on previous fictional incarnations. Now when we recall the big black monolith with the accompanying Ligeti music, we might think “what the hell?” This is exactly the point, and Kubrick was not being random and indulgent. Any serious portrayal of an extra-terrestrial life-form, millennia beyond us, is quite likely to be so beyond us that we have no frame of reference with which to apprehend it. In other words, Kubrick’s portrayal is just as valid as any other portrayal that doesn’t elicit a “what the hell?” response.
  5. Place this movie in context with the science fiction movies of the sixties.
  6. Sure, there are some things in the stargate sequence that might not work. But reconsider points #3 and #4 in this context.
  7. See it on Blu-Ray or 70mm in a theatre.
  8. A lot of things that would be played up are underplayed in this movie. For example, note that Dr. Floyd is alone on two undoubtedly expensive charter space flights. Why? How would an action movie play this up? Would it be realistic? Grown-up?
  9. SPOILER: The story is very simple: Early humans live hard life. Alien artifact appears, teaches them how to use tools, sets early humans on path to civilization, for better or worse. Jump cut – ancient weapon to modern weapon. Future guy involved in a bit of hush-hush. Turns out we’ve found another monolith on the moon. It sends out a signal when the sun hits it, like a burglar alarm, and we’re the burglar. Dave and Frank follow the signal to Jupiter, wacky mixups ensue. Dave goes it alone, gets taken on wacky alien ride and ends up in alien zoo. Aliens speed up his life and remake him into a new life form.
  10. Look at the weird parts of the story with point #1 in mind. What might really happen if we met extraterrestrials …? Now try to imagine it again, without thinking of every other way that such an encounter has been portrayed in science fiction.

Two friends of mine aren’t into jazz: one said she “hates jazz” and the other just said he “doesn’t get it”. It’s the same for 2001: A Space Odyssey: I’d take the latter opinion over the former. In the end, if someone just doesn’t get it, that’s fine.

But I had to try.

(Here’s Roger Ebert’s review, if You’re interested.)

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Secrets of weight loss #1

December 12th, 2010 No comments

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been losing weight. Hopefully, I’ve only lost fat, but I don’t think the loss has been so extreme as to worry about losing muscle mass. I don’t think that losing twenty to twenty-five pounds over a year is very drastic, but I suppose that keeping is off is pretty nice. Over the next little while I’ll share with you some things that worked for me, because I’ve lost fat by doing them, but also because I’ve gained a bit back by not doing them.

Case in point: Know the difference between staples and treats.

Mentally, we often view staples as forming the bulk of the meal, while we see the treats as the dessert: the “fun” part. I seem to recall that the staples were characterized as meaty and salty, while the treats were sweet. Many of us have taken our cues from restaurants that package their meal that way. For example, a fast food meal would include burger and fries as the staples, a coke as the drink (gotta hydrate!) and a sundae or fruity pie as dessert. There: a complete meal. For those of us who either grew up that way or came to survive that way post-secondary school, we may have come to believe that you package a meal that way.

Burgers and fries = staple.
Sundae = treat.

From a taste-bud perspective, considering that many of us grew up associating “sweet” with “treat”, it makes sense. However, for your consideration, may I present a different way to categorize “staple” and “treat”:

Healthy = staple.
Tasty, but not so healthy = treat.

In other words, a staple is something that keeps us healthy. The body needs it. It doesn’t hurt the body. We don’t need to compensate for eating it by working it off at the gym, nor do we need to insert something healthy into the meal to balance the guilt. Anything that a good nutritionist would recommend is a staple, in my opinion. We eat staples often, and often begin the composition of the meal with a staple. Treats, on the other hand, we eat for taste, not nutrition. We eat treats less often than staples, hopefully.

Here’s how it works: to get healthier, we change many of our former staples into treats. For example, a hamburger might have been a staple beforehand, but if we want to be healthy, it has to become a treat. Why? Because a) we like the taste, so it’s a treat b) it’s not very healthy, so it’s not a staple and c) we should eat less of it in order to get healthy. One result of this, in my situation, is that instead of grabbing a quick McDonald’s for dinner when I’m in a hurry (which could add up to three times a week) I now indulge in a Johnny’s hamburger maybe once every two weeks when I visit Scarborough. So now, a hamburger has become a treat.

(Note that a great situation would involve eating tasty staples (such as an apple as a treat), and a lot of the healthiest people live that way, where the treats taste good and are good for the body. It’s a process, though — one step at a time to help ensure the new habit sticks.)

As we make this change, we become more discerning, where more and more food items that previously were staples become treats. For example, we can “treatify” pancakes (once a breakfast staple), muffins, danishes, lattes, deli sandwiches, anything on white bread, butter, lasagna, pasta with cream sauce, anything with gravy and so on. Imagine how many restaurant meals are presented as staples (implicitly, where “main course” = staple) but are best approached as treats. Try that the next time you’re reading a menu. Of course, there can be a sliding scale to this, where the “stapleness” or “treatness” could be determined by the food’s (admittedly qualitative?) health value … or where it stands on the scale between “medicine” and “poison”. But more on that potentially incendiary topic later.

At any rate, besides the potential for weight loss, an upside of all this is that we would now place more responsibility on the hamburger to behave like a treat: it better be good. When it was a staple, it didn’t have so much pressure on it to satisfy our taste buds. This leads to the possibility that we might actually figure out what that burger really tastes like … and it might not be as good as we thought it was.

But not Johnny’s, of course. It still remains a tasty treat, for an old Scarborough boy, at least.

(But it ain’t no staple.)

Categories: nutrition, weight loss Tags: