Saturday, June 21, 2014

Girls Rule the World

I had been hearing about this book, Lean In, for a while now.  At first, it didn’t play any differently than any other self-help book, to be honest.  The stories became more familiar as I continued reading and I realised that while I may never like Sheryl Sandberg (the flaunting of riding an e-bay plane stuck out in my mind), she makes some very valid points.

Sandberg chronicles her own experiences throughout her career and touches on a lot of issues that we, as women, face in our daily work lives.  Gender roles dictate a great deal of our behaviour and those traits are sometimes hard-coded from birth.  The key, Sandberg espouses, is that we must both recognise this and act upon it.  The trouble is that not only are we as women guilty of it, which is bad enough, but it is compounded by what we already know.  The crux of the message is to not only be aware of it, but to make others aware of it as well.

With each story, Sandberg shows the reader how a situation is shaded by the assumption of gender-based roles, men being better at women at certain things and the reverse.  A recurring image is women working outside the house and men being stay-at-home dads.  The goal being that neither should strike anyone as strange and it is incumbent upon all of us to shake off what we might want to assume and help enable people, no matter their gender, and allow them to be their best, in whatever role they choose.  In many ways, her teachings of equality would fall in great with the LGBT community as well.

To say that this is recommended reading isn’t quite enough.  This book didn’t change my life, not as the Mistake book I’d mentioned a few blogs ago, but it certainly will help me reflect upon things I am capable of changing.  Therein lies the issue, there is what you can change, and the many things you can’t.  If we all do our best to alter our perception, ever so slightly, we might find success a lot closer than we thought.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficient

It seems that Disney has somehow created a Renaissance for themselves, the rest of Hollywood should really take note.  Instead of rehashing the same tired story, how about taking a new spin on an old story?  This movie takes the story of Sleeping Beauty and gives the vantage point of what made the witch evil, as has been done in Wicked.

The story follows a fairy, both strong and beautiful, who befriends an ambitious young man.  Instead of returning her affections, he spurns her, cutting her wings off and giving them to the king so he can be king.  The witch, in all her rage, curses the small child.  The curse is not to take effect until her sixteenth birthday and in that time, the witch befriends the child and her three nurses (who are actually fairies).  In time, the audience sees the witch soften her heart, growing fond of and caring for the child as a mother would.  When the curse is about to take effect, the witch realises her mistake and tries to undo it, but to no avail.  She then goes in pursuit of a prince to awaken the young girl, but the kiss has no effect.  It is only when the witch kisses the girl does she awake, as only a kiss of true love, not necessarily romantic love, breaks the curse.  The king tries to kill the witch, but ends up dying instead.

What made this movie so intriguing was the idea that the evil witch might not be so evil after all.  The idea that the story is told from the ‘good’ perspective is something we often take for granted.  I saw this with my cousin, who mentioned a famous quote I’ll be paraphrasing now, history is written by the winners.  In that sense, this movie was told by the loser, so to speak.  The unfortunate thing is that the retelling completely debunks the original ending, if I remember it correctly for the cartoon.  I doubt there was a way to give a happy ending in addition to being true to the original.  While this movie comes in 3D, I saw it in regular definition and it was wonderful as is.  This one is well worth seeing no matter your age.

Movie Review: White House Down

When you’re spending time with the family, you can’t always select the movie being watched.  When I first saw the trailers for this movie, it didn’t interest me.  I watched it this past weekend and my interest didn’t increase.  The only thing that could have saved this movie might have been shirtless Channing Tatum, or possibly a new idea.  I think RedBox was all this movie was worth.

The story, try to act surprised, is a man (Channing Tatum), takes his daughter on a tour of the White House and it gets attacked by terrorists.  There is some more story to unfold here, but ultimately he ends up having to save the president and his daughter from the terrorists and gets a job out of it.  That’s it, pretty much.

In a nutshell, this movie is about guns, blowing things up and all things manly and making women weak and in need of saving.  I think I’ve just described ninety percent of what Hollywood has to offer.  It was like every tried and true idea was used and abused and while Channing Tatum is easy on the eyes, and Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of ‘Obama’ was entertaining, that can’t save a bad movie from an overused ending.  Not worth seeing, except free or for a dollar, maybe.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pop Culture and Philosophy: Ultimate HP

I still remember the first pop culture and philosophy book I picked up, the Simpsons one.  To this day, almost without exception, if I’m familiar with the pop culture, I pick the book up if it is made.  In some cases, the books are exceptional, in other cases, less so.  The first Harry Potter themed book was published before the final Harry Potter novels were released, and I felt it was incomplete and lacked punch, much like the Twilight book (though, in fairness…look at the source material).  This Ultimate Harry Potter book makes up for any shortcomings from the first edition, providing fresh takes on the same theories.

If you’ve never read any of these novels, there is a certain cadence that they all carry.  Most essays, and each book is broken up into twelve or more essays that range from any and all topics that are considered in any one series.  In the Harry Potter series, as with the novels, there are a myriad of topics that can be broached.  The editors tried to separate them based on similar subjects with mixed results.  In each book, there are always essays that are far superior to others.  In this novel, I found one out of every two or three essays were outstanding, while a few were uninspired.

The most compelling essays in the novel dealt with Harry’s brush with death and his moral character, citing his flaws and abilities to learn from them.  With this edition covering all seven Harry Potter books, it became clear that all most all the essays ultimately ended up spending great amounts of time on the sacrifices of characters like Snape, Dumbledore and Harry, spending far less time on any other characters.

I feel like I can never do an adequate job of summarising why the overall book is good or bad, relying on the feeling I got once I was done.  For the most part, the essays made me think, and that is what any good philosophy will do.  It isn’t about convincing you to change how you think, but to make you think at all.  This novel makes you think, and if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, then you will find the examples compelling enough to hear out, but may get stuck when some essays drone on about the same thing.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Movie Review: X-men Days of Future Past

Nerd Alert!  I am going to warn you now before you get too far in.  I am a nerd, especially when it comes to the X-men.  I don’t advertise it, but I used to have quite the impressive comic book collection.  Thanks to e-bay, that collection has dwindled and fuelled my passion for watching live sports, but I digress.  If you read any further, there will almost, without a doubt, almost for a fact, will be SPOILERS ahead.  You have been warned.

There have been more X-men movies than I can recall.  I had started by watching the cartoons in the mid-1990’s and falling in love with the stories, thus turning to the comics for the full stories.  The characters were so accessible, someone for everyone to identify with.  I had my favourites.  Like most people, I loved Wolverine, but I identified more with Rogue or Kitty Pryde, I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a super hero, regardless?  When the first movie came out, it captured the essence of X-men while mangling the origin story for pretty much every single character.  This was the beginning of the end of my love for the movies, yet I continued to see all of the movies in theatres, not wanting them to stop making them.  Years later, what they did with the Phoenix saga really should have clued me in.

If you need to be caught up, in the first X-men movie, the audience is introduced to the X-men through Rogue and Wolverine as they join the X-men after being loners.  In the second movie, a focus on Wolverine, the movie shifts giving more background to the relationships between the various characters and shows that Professor Xavier isn’t so perfect after all.  The second movie also reveals a garbled version of Wolverine’s (Logan) origin.  In the third movie, the story takes a turn for the odd when Jean Grey (having died at the end of the second movie, presumably) comes back and doesn’t come back quite right.  She kills Cyclops (Scott Summers) and Professor Xavier with the power of her mind alone.  It is here again we see Xavier’s past being somewhat checkered.  After this third X-men movie, there were several off-shots, mostly Wolverine focused.  There was a recent movie, X-Men First Class, which tells the story of the beginning of the formation of the X-men, so to speak.  The multiple Wolverine movies were fun, but they never really grabbed me or made me feel any sort of authentic connexion to the storied character.

I realise that was a rushed primer, but there is the Internet to help you as well.  The key to this movie, The Days of Future Past, it is a well-known comic story that is now being retold on the big screen.  As the name should imply, it takes place throughout time.  The movie starts in the future and most of the original cast from the first X-men movie are there, coming up with a plan to stop the dire situation they are currently living in.  A risky procedure is started and it is Wolverine who is sent back in time to find Professor Xavier and Magneto to stop their mutual…friend Mystique from killing someone.  Some people think a time-travel movie cheapens the adventure, but I would disagree, just because most everything that you see gets undone because of the story doesn’t make it less of a story, it is just one more piece to the adventure.

Needless to say, Wolverine does manage to get his point across and while Professor Xavier does buy into the story, Magneto can’t be trusted and endangers everything more by getting involved.  I think what kept me focused in the movie was seeing the story unfold in a way that the stories hadn’t unfolded since the very first movie.  The sequels always felt like just that.  Even X-men First Class wasn’t compelling.  This movie almost stands on its own two feet, bringing in almost everyone from the X-universe into the story.  The question I had leaving was why Xavier’s death in the third movie was neither explained nor addressed, save that he was alive and well at the end of the last Wolverine movie, but that doesn’t tell you much.

If you’re a superhero fan or an X-fan, then you should stop what you’re doing and go out and see this movie.  I didn’t bother seeing it in IMAX or anything.  I’m not throwing money away hand over fist, if I can help it.  This movie won’t necessarily stay with you, but it does bring the lustre that we saw from the first movie and the newness you might feel when watching the Avenger’s movies.