Archive for May, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 17th, 2013

TheByteDaily

Star Trek Into Darkness

3.5 Ignored-Federation-Directives out of 4

 

The last time J.J. Abrams had his name attached to a Star Trek movie, he managed to reboot the entire film franchise while finding a way to introduce new viewers to the original series that captivated and entertained audiences for years. He was able to craft a well-written movie that focused on its characters and their relationships to each other, while insuring that cinematography, special effects, sound direction, and editing were all treated with respect and admiration. Utilizing the original series as a framework, Abrams insured that the rebooted film would have its roots planted firmly in the original franchise, meaning that though the film would be exist in its own universe, it still treated its source material with respect, admiration, and honour.

 

This time, with the ironically named Star Trek Into Darkness, he managed to do all of that again, recreating what was amazing about the original series in a fresh, interesting way tying characters, plot, and the original mythos into a single comprehensible and incredibly comprehensive beast of a movie.

 

With Klingons too!

 

The Enterprise crew is tasked with finding and eliminating John Harrison, a man at the heart of a terror attack on a Federation records facility in London who ends up killing Kirk’s mentor and the man who encouraged him to join Starfleet. The plot concerns itself with revenge, and thanks to the presence of Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, there’s quite a bit of discussion regarding the moral and ethical virtues of revenge.

 

What made the original Star Trek series so amazing was the way each character fulfilled a role on the Enterprise, all while existing beyond their titles. Each character received fair treatment, and their characterization did not begin and end with their positions onboard the travelling vessel. The importance of the entire crew of both the Enterprise and the actors starring in the show tied the show’s plot together with the overarching themes of exploration, adventure, and science.

 

In order to insure the new franchise succeeds, Abrams expertly tackles the disjointed unity the crew shares in their infancy by having them constantly bicker, banter, and crack jokes with one another in a realistic and human way. Kirk is Captain of the Federation vessel, but he is still young and naive despite his experiences. Spock, the analytical, logical Vulcan mind shows his humanity with his friendship with Kirk, romance with the ship’s communications officer Uhura, and the relationship he shares with the rest of the crew. The loss of even a single central character marks the loss of a family member in the mind of both the remaining crew, and the audience. This familial importance is central to the second Abrams helmed Star Trek film, with the movie actually beginning in media res with Kirk almost losing Spock at the risk of violating the Federation’s infernal Prime Directive.

 

This mention of the Prime Directive marks the beginning of an onslaught of nods, references, hat tips, homages, and callbacks to the original series and the original films. Which is to say nothing of Leonard Nimoy’s brief cameo as Spock Prime.

 

A common criticism of the original Abrams Star Trek movie was that the film spent too much time stopping mid action to quote the original series in a self-referential way. As a way to insure the audience realizes it’s watching a Star Trek movie, many believed the script was interrupted to bring back a kind of nostalgia. The detractors who felt the first film’s script was weaker because of the Original Series nods will not enjoy this Star Trek movie. The only critical solace I can provide for those detractors is insisting that Abrams does a masterful job of uniting new and old in a single interesting package.

 

I realize that my defence may fall on deaf ears.

 

Star Trek Into Darkness features remarkable performances from each member of its crew, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as the rogue Federation officer turned terrorist John Harrison is brutal, terrifying, and, quite simply, fascinating. He plays a character at odds with the Federation (just like literally every Star Trek villain ever) who embodies everything Starfleet stands against. His horrific brutality is fascinating because it invokes a performance that is both the antithesis and a parallel to that of Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk.

 

Suffice it to say, Cumberbatch’s soft spoken terror is played to great effect, and he is a worthy adversary to Kirk, the Enterprise’s crew, and the entire Federation as a whole.

 

Fascinatingly, the latest Star Trek film is everything that a good episode of Star Trek should be. It focuses on the characters, the villain, the Federation, and on the USS Enterprise’s evolving nature as both a peacekeeping vessel and the unifying force that brings together the assortment of personalities that form its crew. Abrams has crafted a sequel that is equal to its original film and the franchise from which it deviates. There’s a kind of consistency that isn’t always afforded to sequels – which many feel should bigger and bolder than the originals. Abrams takes this notion and spins it on its head, creating a sequel that is neither bigger nor bolder, but is, instead, simply amazing Star Trek.

 

As far as Star Trek movies go, that’s an accomplishment all unto itself. As far as movies go, that’s a compliment of the highest magnitude.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (TheByteScene Review)

Date: May 16th, 2013

TheByteDaily

The Great Gatsby

3.0 Pink-suits-and-yellow-cars out of 4

 

Let it never be said that Baz Luhrmann’s directing lacks in style, or subtlety. Certainly, a few odd choices, and perhaps a few unnecessary slips and tumbles, but let it never be said that Baz Luhrmann cannot produce an entertaining, enthralling, and enchanting film that captivates and connects with its audience on an intrinsically emotional level.

 

For all the modern film techniques that Luhrmann utilizes to great effect, for all the modern, edited, remastered, and remixed tracks that make up the bulk of the film’s soundtrack and score, and for all the special effects and CGI the film splashes on screen, the heart of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic burns on with a passion that only rivals Gatsby’s. Surrounded by no small amounts of pomp and pageantry, the film’s core characters exist in a vivaciously raucous stage that stands to parallel everything Fitzgerald intended to stand for in his criticisms of the decade, its decadence, and its people.

 

For those unfamiliar with the story of the eponymous Great Gatsby: kind, trustworthy, and considerate Yale graduate Nick Carraway realizes that there’s money to be had in bonds and Wall Street, throws away his aspirations to be a writer, moves into a home in Nouveau-Riche West Egg, befriends the mysterious bachelor Jay Gatsby, and finds himself being the confidant of a parade of characters each subsequently more wealthy and extravagant. All over the course of a single summer.

 

Written into an almost soap-operatic love story, Gatsby is hopefully in love with Nick’s cousin, old money Daisy Buchanan, who is married to old money Yale graduate – and former polo player – Tom Buchanan. Nick finds himself involved in their lives through a series of hushed whispers and quiet voices, eventually becoming a part of a magnificent tapestry of lies, deceit, and infidelity. All over the course of a single summer.

 

For those unfamiliar with the story, Baz Luhrmann’s bombastic rendition serves as a perfect entry point to understand the plot’s underlying themes, and to enjoy the characters in a slightly more abridged version than would be expected. For those familiar with the story, the latest revisioning of the classic plot is a reminder of why the book is so highly regarded, and before I continue, praise must be paid to Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Joel Edgerton for their respective portrayals of Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan, and Tom Buchanan. Each actor, through some subtle and some not-so-subtle reveals, portrays minute details of their character in an almost spiritual way. Suffice it to say, DiCaprio is the Great Gatsby, as much he is a great choice for the role of Gatsby.

 

The film’s special effects, CGI, and cinematography must be equally lauded for producing a genuine portrayal of the parties that Gatsby throws. Onscreen, the parties are a regal mess, muddy and chaotic in a calm, serene, and methodical fashion. Music, lighting, fashion, people, and effects create a blissfully tormenting view of the parties that are described as being wildly extravagant and sublimely gauche. It’s impossible to view the chaos on screen with anything less than a yearning desire to be a part of the rambunctious display of excess that make up the mystery surrounding Gatsby.

 

Remarkable that the windows are intact, let alone the house not caving in on itself after the first hour.

 

Despite the ceremony and fanfare awarded to the party sequences, The Great Gatsby was in no need of the post 3D conversion. While quite pretty to look at in the added dimension, this is not a film that demands to be viewed with the depth spectacles. It’s evident that certain sequences were edited specifically so someone would have an excuse to demand the conversion (and the added price tag that goes along with it), but viewing the film in the original 2 dimensional format is more than satisfactory to enjoy the entire experience. In summation: This time, 3D literally adds nothing to the experience.

 

The soundtrack, an eclectic combination and remastering of current hip hop, rock, jazz, and R&B tracks, edited and produced by Baz Luhrmann, Anton Monsted, and Jay-Z add a modern twist to the film’s Roaring Twenties backdrop. It’s fascinating watching characters do the Charleston to a will.i.am produced and performed beat, if only to realize that music is timeless. All it really takes is the careful application of imagination for the arts to work harmoniously coalesce, and it’s unnecessary to say that the soundtrack is the perfect anachronistic juxtaposition for the film’s 1920’s framework. Some will leave dissatisfied with the musical selections, others will marvel at the fusion jazz that infuses the film with charm.

 

Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is a film that doesn’t lack charm, panache, flamboyance, or subtlety and is made better for it. The acting, directing, cinematography, editing, plot, effects, and parties are all a reminder of what talent can produce. They’re also a steady reminder of what achievement can be found if just the right amount of hard work mixes with talent.

 

Gatsby would be proud.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

The Student’s Dilemma; A Discussion of Intellectual Understimulation, Workaholism, and Boredom

Date: May 14th, 2013

TheByteDaily

The Student’s Dilemma; A Discussion of Intellectual Understimulation, Workaholism, and Boredom

 

The average undergraduate school year in the province of Ontario lasts eight months, with the remaining four months dedicated specifically towards “Summer holidays.” Two semesters divided between eight months, produce four grueling months of education, filled to the brim with tests, assignments, projects, papers, and lectures. Understandably, the summer months come as a quiet respite, though students will find themselves either continuing their educations by taking summer courses, or finding some form of work or internship to occupy their time by beginning a career and entering the workforce. Finally, how a school determines their credit count is arbitrary and irrelevant, with schools requiring varying amounts of “Credits” to graduate a degree program.

 

The provincial government determines a single university school year as containing 10 classes; engineering, and certain other programs require more classes, but the consensus is that no degree program requires less than 5 courses between two semesters.

 

Comparatively, the average high school year in the province of Ontario last ten months, with two months specifically dedicated towards “Summer holidays.” Depending on the school, and excluding the Catholic school boards (of which I have absolutely no knowledge), ten months are divided between two semesters, with a total of five months per semester dedicated to a yearly total of eight classes. One can immediately notice that the most obvious difference between University and High School isn’t just the length, but the two extra classes that University students are expected to take.

 

From a purely academic point-of-view, high school students are afforded more time to work on fewer classes, which is normally why the hardest transitional change for first-year university students is getting used to having less time to work on more subjects. “Normally,” because the hardest transition isn’t something that is tangibly there, but something that all but disappears into a narrow void.

 

Two months of schooling and education are eradicated in the transition between university and high school.

 

For many students these extra two months provide momentary peace and respite to prepare one’s self for the inevitable onslaught that a return to university entails. For many students, the total four months allow an individual time to relax and enjoy time as something more than a frail reminder of how much work is left, how little work has been done, and how much more work it’s going to take to finish.

 

For many students however, these four months serve as a form of intellectual understimulation, and for those unlucky to not have any plans, unlucky enough to be unable to find work, and unlucky enough to not have the advantage of travelling, these four months serve as an intellectual prison-sentence where boredom is one’s jailer, and apathetic complacency is one’s cellmate. I find that therein lies a paradoxical dilemma with being a full time student and having so long a break to relax in. Working – the mere act of doing something with an end result or an ultimate goal in mind – becomes the norm, and while I’m not arrogant enough to claim that the stress of activity becomes an addiction, even minor amounts of inactivity are agonizing.

 

A four month intellectual alienation is an all-consuming, harrowing, almost torturous test of sanity.

 

For a final comparison, the average Ontario work year provides approximately three to six weeks of paid vacation, with certain civic holidays providing additional time off. Certain Christian holy days also produce time off, with Christmas and Easter being two notable dates. Though the average work day is from 9-5 for full time wages, the Ontario government requires a mandatory 48 hours of work a week, with everything else being regarded as overtime. Those who work more than the government mandated 48 hours – for whatever reason – do so to accomplish certain goals and make sacrifices to achieve them.

 

Compared to the average student, even the least productive worker is an unabashed workaholic.

 

I suppose the truth is that the experience is universal, and it transcends all individuals who take pride in work, in action, and in doing. The mere act of not doing or not working, the mere notion of not accomplishing a task – regardless of how simple it may be – is daunting and, quite simply, mind numbing. The term workaholic is a colloquial concept and refers to someone who is enamored in their work; one’s life revolves around their work, and the term hints at the numerous personal sacrifices one has to make in order to accomplish their goals.

 

Perhaps it’s merely a colloquial paradigm, or perhaps it’s a human need to do better, to create more, to accomplish greater things. Perhaps the idea is something far more simple than the human need to advance; perhaps boredom and intellectual ennui are so harrowing, that the mere thought of inactivity is terrifying enough to elicit action. I can’t be so bold as to state that I know how people can stand to throw their time away by doing nothing and remaining complacent, but I do know that the urgency produced by complacency is often enough motivation for action.

 

The issue then becomes finding something to fill one’s time. In an understandable twist of events, I’ve noticed that it’s difficult to determine whether the colloquialism is meant to be an insult or a great compliment.

 

Though I’m lucky this summer; I actually have something to do.

 

As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

 

-EK

 

Shaving; An Article About Neanderthalic Behaviour, Laser Hair Removal, and Genetic Fitness

Date: May 9th, 2013

 

TheByteDaily [Guest Article]

 

Shaving; An Article About Neanderthalic Behaviour, Laser Hair Removal, and Genetic Fitness

 

I was in the shower – and no that’s not where this is going, get your head out of the gutter. I mean, that is where I, like many other people, do some of my best thinking.

 

There I was, holding my razor and thinking, “Why am I doing this?”

 

“Why do we spend so much time primping ourselves? So much time altering our natural visages?”

 

And it is true. In today’s day and age, we view smooth, hairless skin to be desirable. Women shave their legs, they pluck out eyebrows, and they pull out stray growths. Anything to be a flawless beauty.

 

And don’t get me wrong, it isn’t just women. Men too, have even begun to preen themselves. Men shave their face, and now the practice of ‘manscaping’ – of men de-hairing their genitalia – has become commonplace.

 

So if hours are spent making sure that we are smooth as can be, and this doesn’t even account for the time spent on applying makeup or doing one’s (remaining) hair,  why do we do this?

 

We are mammals after all – we are supposed to have hair. It protects us, keeps us warm, and keeps us clean. It’s there for a reason. After millions upon millions of years of evolution, we Homo sapiens appeared as a well-designed result of good ol’ survival of the fittest. Mammals started multiplying and taking over niches after the dinosaurs went extinct, and took the giant reptilians’ place as the dominant predators on the planet. Our unique features have allowed mammals to survive in a plethora of environments: Look in the arctic, the tropics, the desert, or even the ocean and you’ll find mammals. And humans by themselves have been able to adapt to live all over the world.

 

So why, when this hair is a part of our identity, do we rid ourselves of it?

 

Well, really. That’s just it. We are mammals. We are a type of animal. And in today’s world, that is the last thing we, as a developed and dominant species, want to be viewed as. So I see our primping as a technique of distancing ourselves even further from what we truly are. So now we view hairy individuals to be undesirable.

 

Imagine if a Neanderthal saw what we have turned into. They wouldn’t see us as attractive at all. This smooth skin would make us appear genetically weak and unfit (in the evolutionary sense). No self-respecting caveman would give one of today’s modern women a second glance.

And don’t get me wrong.  I am not one of those hippies who thinks that we should just let our hair grow free. I still am just like the majority with my constant shaving and plucking and wishing for some goddamn laser hair removal to make my life a million times easier, but I just feel like it is something interesting to think about.

 

Because when we look at cavemen, with all their glorious thick fur, we are disgusted with what we evolved from! They were animals! How could we have descended from the likes of that?

 

The fact is, if some reason (for instance, an energy crisis *cough cough*) were to cause us to lose the use of our precious innovations, our shaven asses would be screwed. And yes, at the moment our hair would grow back (unless you are one of the lucky ducks who can afford the lasers, of which I am very jealous). But what if, in time, we start to evolve and lose our hair? Because if we keep selecting those with less hair, we shall probably start to have children with finer hair – maybe eventually no hair at all with the help of a few handy-dandy mutations.

 

Now I’m off to go pluck my eyebrows, I have a date tonight.

 

– Guest out –