Film Review: Hunger (2008)

I thought I knew how I felt about Hunger, which won British artist-turned-filmmaker Steve McQueen the Camera d’Or at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.  But after reading J. Hoberman’s review, I don’t feel as confident. Damn those good critics who are smarter than I! 😛

I suspect, however, that I’ll retain my position. Hoberman was enthralled with the “spectacle of violence, suffering, and pain”; however, the fact that it can indeed be thought of as spectacle makes me suspicious. His intellectual position is that the film eschews extensive exploration of the political ramifications of the 1981 Belfast Maze Prison protests, thus allowing for a more visceral, Passion-like presentation of an existential hellhole. To me, however, this was to the film’s disadvantage. It’s so easy to get lost in (maybe even enamored with) the film’s technical virtuosity that one can forget to ask what purpose the heavy formalism serves and also whether that formality achieves its objective.

I heard the director — the other Steve McQueen — speak at the IFC Center in Manhattan following a screening, and he said his goal was to portray the microscopic world of the prisoners, removed from the larger political realities outside the prison walls. Maybe, but after hearing his enthusiasm in describing the technical assemblage of several scenes (free from any political considerations), I got the impression that much of the film’s brutality exists as an end onto itself. That’s not a problem on its own, provided that such is unequivocally the method behind the madness. But here, it seems the pretension of addressing individual struggles within a larger political context acts as a veneer to conceal a morbid fascination with not only suffering and torture, but also the method by which they can be made most unpleasant on-screen.

Other members of the audience swooned over the film’s sound design and cinematography (rightfully so), but seemed unable to remove themselves from the grip of its cinematic legerdemain and examine whether the film actually had anything interesting to communicate. If it’s the importance of individual stories, I knew that. If it’s that physical suffering can be unbearably unpleasant, I knew that too. And returning to Hoberman’s argument, I’m having trouble interpreting the refusal to address greater political significance as a positive.

The film’s most conspicuous attempt at intellectual engagement comes during a massively distended dialogue between Bobby Sands, the most notable of the hunger strikers, and a wise-cracking, world-weary priest. If this scene can’t be thought of as an entire third of the film, it is certainly a protracted interlude that bridges two halves of hellacious human anguish. It’s by far the best stand-alone scene, and it’s filmed mostly in a single two-shot. But it’s also the first real exposure we get to Sands, who is ostensibly the centerpiece of the film, and by now, it’s too late to expect significant emotional investment from the audience.

As we hear Sands expound upon his philosophy, it becomes clear that McQueen is pleading with us to invest in Sands’s martyrdom, so that we’re even more moved when we subsequently see Sands writhing in malnutritive agony, his emaciated frame covered in sores and lesions. But it’s tough to feel emotional attachment to a man we hardly know, especially with all those artful sound edits, dissolves, and superimpositions.

At the film’s conclusion, McQueen can’t avoid giving us the ubiquitous post-narrative intertitles. (Why do filmmakers insist on this haphazard method of narrative closure?) There are several of these text blocks, and each made me wonder not only why we’re told and not shown, but also why they’re necessary if the film is supposed to focus solely on the visceral nature of the prison strikes.

Never mind that we don’t feel like reading after an extensive sensorial flogging.

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Talking Heads Moment

Another random moment of music.  I’m on a Talking Heads kick as of late.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Amanda’s doc on the web

Amanda’s final NYU documentary is now on the web!  Thanks to Neil Houghton for the web work.  It’s password protected, so if you want access, leave me a message, and I’ll provide you with the necessary info.

Here’s the link:

THE STAINED-GLASS CEILING

TV pilot for a nerdirific show!

My friend Jen Dziura, who co-hosts both the Williamsburg Spelling Bee and the Chelsea Mind Games, recently filmed a pilot for a Sci-Fi Channel reality show involving brainy people channeling their cerebral powers to solve everyday problems.

In the pilot (included below), Jen shows you how you can use logic to hog a dessert and still come across as considerate.

She and her fellow nerds also tackle the ins and outs of finding the perfect parking space in a Los Angeles parking lot.  I enjoyed that part, but mostly, I was glad that I no longer live in Los Angeles, where I suffered endless headaches from navigating through small, crowded parking lots (and got more practice parallel parking than I ever thought possible).

Among Jen’s teammates are a man with a 190+ IQ, a woman with a Ph.D. in Robotics and Engineering, another with a Ph.D. specializing in human behavior, and a tech entrepreneur.

Check out the pilot and bump up the view count!  Sit back and enjoy…

BRAIN TRUST!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Math Problem Cracked, Part 2

As you recall from my blogpost a few days ago, I found a few solutions to the following fun math problem:

Solve this problem, using each of the digits 1 through 9 exactly once:

_ _ _ + _ _ _ – _ _ _ = 0

**Note: There’s more than one answer. Can you come up with all of them?? Or at least one of them?**

I noticed that the digits of the largest of the three numbers always added to 18, and I set about trying to prove unequivocally that in ALL solutions to this problem, the largest number’s digits must add up to 18.

Well…I finally did it!  Here’s the proof:

I called the hundreds digits of the smaller two numbers a1 and a2, then b1 and b2 for the tens, then c1 and c2 for the units. Then I called the hundreds, tens, and units digits of the biggest number x, y, and z, respectively.

So it looks like this:

a1b1c1
+ a2b2c2
———-
= x y z , where each is a distinct digit 1 through 9

The formal equation would be…

Equation 1:

100(a1 + a2) + 10(b1 + b2) + (c1 +c2) = 100x + 10y + z, where each variable is a  distinct digit 1 through 9.

It’s also true that…

Equation 2:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) + x + y + z = 45

(since the first 9 positive integers add up to 45)

First, I’m going to prove by contradiction that we can have one and only one column in which we’ll end up carrying a 1 (you’ll see why later)…

And for the record, only a 1 can end up being carried, because the greatest possible total for a column happens if the second column is 8 + 9 plus a carried 1, which is less than 20.

We can’t end up carrying three 1s, since the hundreds column won’t add up to anything 10 or greater. That means we can potentially carry zero, one, or two 1s.

So, let’s assume we never carry a 1. That means that:

a1 + a2 = x
b1 + b2 = y
c1 + c2 = z

Combine those to form:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) = x + y + z

But we know from Eq. 2 that:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) + x + y + z = 45

That would mean that x + y + z = 22.5

But we know that x, y, and z are all integers, so they can’t add up to a non-integer, and we therefore have a contradiction.

Similarly, let’s assume we carry two 1s. That means that:

a1 + a2 = x – 1
b1 + b2 = (y + 10) – 1 = y + 9
c1 + c2 = z + 10

Combine those to form:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) = x + y + z + 18

Again, from Eq. 2, we know that:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) + x + y + z = 45

That would mean that x + y + z = 13.5, and we have the same contradiction.

So we know that the only option is to have one and only one column in which we’ll end up carrying a 1.

Okay, with that out of the way…

Since there is only one column in which a 1 is carried, there are two scenarios:

1. b1 + b2 > 10, in which case, the one would carry to the hundreds column, and:

a1 + a2 = x – 1
b1 + b2 = y + 10
c1 + c2 = z

2. c1 + c2 > 10, in which case, the one would carry to the tens column, and:

a1 + a2 = x
b1 + b2 = y – 1
c1 + c2 = z + 10

In both cases, the resulting combined equation is:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) = x + y + z + 9

Substitute in Eq 2:

(a1 + a2) + (b1 + b2) + (c1 + c2) + x + y + z = 45

(x + y + z + 9) + x + y + z = 45

2(x + y + z) = 36

x + y + z = 18 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Done and done!!!!

Epilogue:  In that last blogpost, I also listed the 34 three-digit numbers that I thought fit as solutions:

981 972 963 954 945 936 927 918
891 873 864 846 837 819
792 783 765 756 738 729
693 684 675 657 648 639
594 576 567 594
495 486 468 459

It turns out that four of them (765, 756, 684, 576) don’t work for some reason.  The other 30 do, and I showed in the blogpost why each of those 30 has four unique solutions:

For each one of these, there are 4 unique ways to solve the problem (or 8, if you discount additive commutativity). This is because you can switch the hundreds, tens, and units digits of the two smaller numbers. For example:

235 + 746 = 981
236 + 745 = 981
245 + 736 = 981
246 + 735 = 981

746 + 235 = 981
745 + 236 = 981
736 + 245 = 981
735 + 246 = 981

I’m guessing most wouldn’t count the second four as unique solutions.”

So, with 30 possibilities for the largest number and 4 unique solutions each, there are 120 unique solutions to this problem.

I guess the only thing left to do is prove just why the aforementioned four numbers don’t work.

But this was fun!  It was nice to re-exercise my logic prowess.

Happy π Day!

It’s 3/14.  Happy π Day!  Recite all the digits you know!  (3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816…)

Don’t forget to celebrate Pi minute at 3:14 and Pi second at 3:14:15.

Or some people say Pi minute is on 3/14 at 1:59 (3.14159), making Pi second at 1:59:26.

Here are some Pi-themed pictures and a video:

cartman1

Math problem cracked!

I have to brag about a solution I outlined for a fun math problem that was posted on the Facebook page Free Weekly Math Problems.  That page, by the way, was started by my friend Soce to promote Math Bee week at the Chelsea Mind Games.

The problem was this:

Solve this problem, using each of the digits 1 through 9 exactly once:

_ _ _ + _ _ _ – _ _ _ = 0

**Note: There’s more than one answer. Can you come up with all of them?? Or at least one of them?**

Below is my solution.  Now, I understand the what of this solution, but not the underlying why.  Any math fiends are welcome to offer their wisdom.

I got a few answers, and I noticed that in all of them, the three digits of the largest number added up to 18, while the remaining six digits added up to 27 (still teasing out the exact reason why…of course, it just HAD to be something involving multiples of 9!). So I started looking at all the three-digit numbers whose digits add up to 18.

For this problem, the hundreds digit of the largest number has to be at least 3, since the smallest that the remaining hundreds digits could be is 1 and 2. None of those possibilities works, I’m guessing because of the restrictions on the hundreds digits.

There are 34 other three-digit numbers whose digits add up to 18:

981 972 963 954 945 936 927 918
891 873 864 846 837 819
792 783 765 756 738 729
693 684 675 657 648 639
594 576 567 594
495 486 468 459

For each one of these, there are 4 unique ways to solve the problem (or 8, if you discount additive commutativity). This is because you can switch the hundreds, tens, and units digits of the two smaller numbers. For example:

235 + 746 = 981
236 + 745 = 981
245 + 736 = 981
246 + 735 = 981

746 + 235 = 981
745 + 236 = 981
736 + 245 = 981
735 + 246 = 981

I’m guessing most wouldn’t count the second four as unique solutions.

So, with 34 numbers whose digits add up to 18, my guess is that there are 136 (or 34*4) unique solutions to this problem. Or 272 solutions, if you count repeats.

Extra note: Just to show that I did work to find some solutions to this problem, here are a few more…

659 + 214 = 873
546 + 192 = 738
478 + 215 = 693
394 + 182 = 576
293 + 175 = 468

Poo to you, NYU!

Are these people kidding me?! I was in the NYU Career Center today, looking at brochures of upcoming events, when I saw the following:

financialplanningaftergraduation

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry . . . an event on financial planning co-sponsored by Citi.

“Put your money in the hands of Citi, and someday, you too can know the pratfalls of complete fiscal disintegration!”

During my year-and-a-half as a grad student, NYU impressed me with its dizzying variety of callousness and incompetency, but this is really the topper. It’s an insult to students, to financial supporters of the university, and to any NYU employee with half a brain trying to preserve the illusion that institutes of higher education are actually institutes of higher education. (Come to think of it, anyone trying to preserve that illusion has no brains at all.)

This is a little tangential, but I’m in need of a good, cathartic release of simultaneous anger and laughter, so I’ll throw in the clip from a few days ago in which Jon Stewart takes apart the media, financial institutions, and billionaires all in one segment…

Some Watchmen Alternatives

Yes, the day has finally come.  The long-awaited Watchmen movie arrives today.  Reviews from my favorite critics have been lukewarm.  And I’m trying to forget the few minutes of 300 I caught on TV, which were more than enough to shake my faith in director Zack Snyder.  I suspect I’ll end up wondering what might have been had Darren Aronofsky (who directed π, Requiem for a Dream, and The Wrestler, and was at one point attached to Watchmen) ended up in the director’s seat.  I can’t really take anything away from Alan Moore’s dissociation from the film, since his snubbing yet another adaptation of his work seems more a formality than any statement of ideological or artistic differences.  At any rate, I’m still holding out some hope.

In the meantime, here are a couple of terrific alternatives (a pictorial reimagining followed by possibly the greatest video ever):

charliebrownwatchmen1

Oscar Predictions 2009

I realize I’ve done next to nothing with my blog as of late, so what better way to break the drought than by listing my picks for Oscar winners (along with my choices for “should wins”).  Many years back, I went through an Oscar boycott phase, when I suddenly realized (gasp!) that the Oscars are superficial, political, and entirely unmotivated by artistic concerns.  I also convinced myself that this “sudden” revelation was somehow profound and original.  But now, I realize that it’s more fun, productive, and ultimately satisfying to just laugh at the Oscars and try to get what entertainment I can from them (most likely from unexpected improv moments and slip-ups).  I also came to the conclusion that it’s still fun to bet on them, because you get to see how well you’re attuned to the year’s Hollywood-herd zeitgeist.

This year, it’s especially fun, because it’s damn near impossible to take any lavish awards show seriously amidst recessional turmoil.  The Academy might as well be pissing on the houses of Michigan auto workers.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther story.  Let’s get to the picks.  I’m listing the major categories first.  Here goes…

BEST PICTURE:

Will Win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Milk

Should Win (anyone):  Man on Wire

BEST DIRECTOR:

Will Win:  Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire

Should win (of the nominees):  Gus Van Sant, Milk

Should win (anyone):  Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Flight of the Red Balloon

BEST ACTOR

Will win:  Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Should win (of the nominees):  Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Should win (anyone):  Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Will win:  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Should win (of the nominees):  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

Should win (anyone):  Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

BEST ACTRESS

Will win:  Kate Winslet, The Reader

Should win (of the nominees):  Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Should win (anyone):   Melissa Leo, Frozen River

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Will win:  Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Should win (of the nominees):  Viola Davis, Doubt

Should win (anyone):  Tilda Swinton, Benjamin Button

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Will Win:  Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon

Should Win (anyone):  François Bégaudeau, The Class

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Will Win:  Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Should Win (of the nominees):  Andrew Stanton, Jim Reardon, Pete Docter, Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, The Dark Knight

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Will win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should win (anyone):  Silent Light (Stellet Licht)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Will Win:  Man on Wire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Man on Wire

Should Win (anyone):  Man on Wire (but a close runner-up goes to Up the Yangtze)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Will Win:  Waltz with Bashir

Should Win (of the nominees):  The Class

Should win (anyone):  The Flight of the Red Balloon

EDITING:

Will Win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  The Dark Knight

Should Win (anyone):  Man on Wire

BEST ANIMATED FILM

Will win:  Wall-E

Should win (of the nominees):  Wall-E

Should win (anyone):  Wall-E

ART DIRECTION:

Will win:  Benjamin Button

Should win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should win (anyone):  Benjamin Button

COSTUME DESIGN:

Will win:  Benjamin Button

Should win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should win (anyone):  The Dark Knight

MAKEUP:

Will Win:  Benjamin Button

Should Win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should Win (anyone):  Benjamin Button

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE):

Will Win:  A.R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Thomas Newman, Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Thomas Newman, Wall-E

MUSIC (ORIGNAL SONG):

Will Win:  “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire, A.R. Rahman

Should Win (of the nominees):  “Down to Earth” from Wall-E, Peter Gabriel

Should Win (anyone):  “Down to Earth” from Wall-E, Peter Gabriel

SOUND EDITING

Will Win:  Slumdog Millionaire

Should Win (of the nominees):  Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Wall-E

SOUND MIXING:

Will Win:  Benjamin Button

Should Win (of the nominees):  Wall-E

Should Win (anyone):  Silent Light (Stellet Licht)

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Will Win:  Benjamin Button

Should Win (of the nominees):  Benjamin Button

Should Win (anyone):   Benjamin Button