Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Way Back

Um... so there's these guys, yeah, and they're like stuck in some, y'know, Gulag or somethin', out in, like Russia during World War 2? And they like escape and, like, have to walk a long long way to, um, freedom? And so we see them walking, and walking, and then... walking? And I'm like, why is there an American in this movie again?

Nice to see Peter Weir back at the helm directing again after a long break. And this is a pretty decent film, though not a great deal happens except for the walking. And boy, but do they walk!  Occasionally they fall over, to be fair. But then they get back up, goddamit, and... start walking again.

Some fine performances by Ed "grizzled" Harris and Colin "Sovietski accentski" Farrell, and all in all the time passes amiably enough. Apparently there's all manner of hoo-hah over whether or not it's a true story, but it doesn't really matter. The grimness of life under Stalin is well portrayed, and you do care about the characters.

Yes, but what about the mathski, tovarisch?
Niet, overall.  It does strike me that we could all be working out just how long it takes a man/woman to walk from Siberia to Tibet, but I'm not sure multimap or Tom-Tom does that route for you ("at the next inaccessible and impassable mountain peak, turn right"). Suffice it to say, it's a wee while. The whole film, in fact...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Tourist (part two)

OK then, first up, to the film itself.  Well, we can get rid of this pretty quickly.  It's pretty much a heap of hooey.
Damn, where the hell did I leave those jotters?

Which is not to say that it's all that bad, mind you - I mean, it's meant to be a bit of fluff, after all.  The time passes amiably enough, and I felt generally well-disposed to the movie.  But it could have been so much more.  Clearly they were hoping for some great chemistry between Depp and Angelippy, but their scenes together don't exactly sparkle.  If the idea was to go for the kind of on-screen sparring and quick-fire quippage of, say, Howard Hawks in his prime, then we're definitely talking null points here. If, on the other hand, they were looking to nod in the direction of Hitchcock and North By Northwest (and I think they were - mistaken identity and all that) then it all needed to be much more thrilling and exciting.  Which it wasn't.

I don't want to give away much of what is a slender plot, but I will say that the movie ends on quite a wrong note for me.  Not convinced at all.

Show Me The Maths Teacher
But enough of this - we're here to see how JD performs as a maths teacher, aren't we?  Hell yeah.  So let's see...

First up, and we can't avoid this, and it pains me to say it, but: he probably has way too much fashion sense.  I mean, just look at that picture, what with the co-ordinated colours and everything.  Can you see any leather patches on that overcoat?  Where's the Wallace and Gromit novelty tie?  And of course he's way too good looking.  I'm all for building up the image of math(s) teachers but this is setting the bar way too high.  Shouldn't he at least have specs?  (Later on in the movie we see JD's character Frank wearing blue pyjamas with a white stripe, but even this doesn't help, as the Deppster is a man who can look cool even in cotton jim-jams.)

Secondly, and more importantly, does he act like a math(s) teacher?  In three words: nope, nope, (and) nope.  Not once in the movie does our hero mark any jotters.  Not once.  We first meet him on a train, where he has a table to himself and he's sat reading a book.  Hello?  Shouldn't he have some orange jotters about him, and be half-way through a back-log of Higher homework?  I think so.  And while we're here, that book he's reading?  Crime novel.  Crime novel.  Shouldn't it be The Doctor Who Episode Guide?

I hate to say it, but I think someone somewhere plucked "math teacher" out of a list of random occupations, when the question was asked regarding JD's background, and that was it.  There is not one bit (I'm actually being serious here) in the film where anything at all is made of him being a teacher, let alone a Queen of the Sciences one.  So, um, why bother?  If you're going to make him a math(s) teacher, then at least do it properly.

Yes, Frank, but what if it's not a right-angled triangle?
Far be it from me to suggest script changes, but when they first meet on the train, couldn't we have had a bit where Johnny explains Pythagoras' Theorem to Angelina on the back of a napkin?  Would that have been so hard?  As things are, we don't even see him doing so much as dividing by two when working out the bill.  Yeesh.

So, final mark: 3 out of 5, and see me for more homework.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Tourist (part one)

What? What?? What???

Yes indeed, laydees an' gennelmen, we are indeed back. The year-plus-long hiatus is finally over. "Maths teacher goes to the movies" is now indeed, in da house. Oh yes.

"But, why?" I can hear you ask. "What could possibly have happened, to cause maths teacher to take arms up again against oppression, and fight for truth, justice and the mathematical way?"

Why, indeed, my friends. What can I say, but there are times when you simply have to answer the call (stop sniggering at the back there); times when there is nothing else to be done, but to come - however reluctantly - out of retirement, and pick up the red pen of mathematical righteousness, the graphic calculator of movie worthwhileness, the protractor of somewhat fading shabbiness, and say, as have so many before me, those simple four words:

"Johnny Depp - maths teacher?"

Aye, that'll be chocolate
In our house, where JD is known as "The Gorgeous Johnny Depp" by the Good Doctor, there was a fair bit of excitement at the news that Jack Sparrow was going to play a maths, sorry, math teacher in the movie "The Tourist". Excitement from the Good Doctor, for all the usual reasons (mainly to do with that wispy beard thing he tends to sport, and the smouldering eyes, and - heck, work it out for yourself, or ask a nearby female), but also of course excitement from me. The Deppster as a maths, sorry, math teacher - yah beezer! Just think of the kudos that will now attach itself to our humble profession! Think of the sales of patched-at-the-elbow tweed jackets which will ensue! The respect which pupils will show us, as they gaze in wonder at their maths, sorry, math textbooks! Teacher recruitment crisis be gone!!

But, wait a minute, what's that you say? Angelina Jolie is also in the movie, playing a woman who looks exactly like Angelina Jolie? Well, gosh darn it, and excuse me while I do my best not to make the immediate gag about there now being three reasons to see the film. Oops.

And hey, who cares if the reviews seem to have been a tad in the dumpster for the Deppster over this movie? How can I not see it? And how can I not comment on it?

Jings, but this is exciting. So exciting, in fact, that I'm going to end here, and post my actual, proper, answers at the back of the book review a tad later on.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Broken Embraces

So, un film de Almodovar, yet again starring Penelope Cruz.  What's not to like?

Hmm... well, for once this is all a bit meh, to be honest.  Cruz is very good, don't get me wrong, and the film is very nice to look at, but it's all a bit staid, and left me with an overall feeling of "hang on, is that it?"  The whole plot is a bit sub-standard soap opera fare, but that doesn't have to be a problem - in the past Pedro has run with some pretty OTT plotlines, but directed with such vim and vigour that you end up with something not unlike Coronato Streeto, but on acid.  Dare I say that Alomodovar is getting a bit old, or bored?

Si, claro

-although of course it is always nice to pick up the odd Spanish phrase here and there, so I shan't complain too much.  But in my search to find foreign language films to recommend to older students, I'm afraid that this one's a nada.  (Call it a minor mission, or obsession of mine - to persuade a 6th year pupil that they can cope with reading the wee words at the bottom of the screen, and will emerge the richer for having been immersed in the joys of another culture.  Mind you, maybe I should just tell the boys that Penelope Cruz gets 'em out...)

How is la Mathematica?

Well, obviously there's less maths going on than in my other recent Spanish effort, Fermat's Room.  But it's interesting to note that this is yet another film (a la Time Traveler's Wife) full of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey backwards-and forwardsness, as we nip back and forth through time to unravel the secret of the main character's  doomed love-affair with PC.  So I guess you could play with negative numbers yet again... or maybe you could pose the question, which year should we take as the starting point (or Origin, if you will), for the movie?  If we take the earliest event as x=0, then we won't need to worry about negative numbers at all - the benefit of a change of axes, or rather axis, what with time being one-dimensional.  At least I think it is.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Inglourious Custards

Ah, dear old Quentin... what's to be done with you?

I know I'm really late to the party for this movie, and everyone else has said their bit a long time ago, but all the same, this is a bit of a mess of a movie. I enjoyed most of it, don't get me wrong, but I can't help but feel that somewhere inside all this self-indulgence there's a truly great movie trying to get out. Mind you, I feel the same way about The Beatles' White Album, yet these days people rave about it. Perhaps time will be kind to QT on this one.

The main problem is that there seem to be two competing movies for most of the film. On the one hand (and in the great opening scene) we have high tension and slow-burning drama, with Christopher Waltz putting in a movie-stealing performance as the evil Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, whose job it is to round up Jews in Nazi-occupied France. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Brad Pitt leads a band of renegade misfits and erstwhile custards (hey, this is a family blog), in the shape of crack Allied soldiers who somehow - Lord alone knows how - manage to rampage behind Nazi lines, killing Nazis (and scalping them) seemingly at will. Let it be noted that Brad is actually not too bad in this role, but it's a comic book performance, and I feared the worst as it became apparent that these two plotlines were headed for a crash in the last reel. Which film would win out?

Sad to say it's the doofus-brained OTT extravaganza which carries the day, at the expense of any semblance of reality. And with that goes any remaining nuance in Waltz's perfomance, which is the biggest crime - to see him acting down to Brad's level is a crying shame.

How is the maths?

Not much to report here, though weirdly at one point Waltz talks about a 999.999 chance in a million of survival... I think QT surely meant "in a thousand", yet Waltz seems to say "millionen" and not "tausend". Much more interesting however is to learn - by way of a crucial plot point - that Germans hold up a different combination of fingers to signify "three" than do we Brits. You learn something new every day.

Final kudos to Quentin, though, for having easily half of the film spoken in a foreign language - the idea of American audiences having to actually read subtitles is very, very appealing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

Oops - well behind, once again. Evidence, if any were needed, that maths teacher is back at the electronic chalkface.

Anyway, The Time Traveler's Wife, based on the highly successful (and enjoyable) novel by the somewhat unfeasibly named Audrey Nifenegger. A tale of love and time travel, which takes the route of seeing time as being non-linear... a sort of big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Quite right too.

The main idea is of course that when our Time Traveler (minus an L for reasons known only to Americans) Eric Bana meets the always watchable eventual Wife Rachel McAdams for the first time (in his timeline), she's in her early twenties, yet has known him since she was about eight. Much to-ing and fro-ing ensues as their romance blossoms, and blossomed, and will blossom, to great joy and sadness. Why is she never visited by a particularly old version of EB? Uh oh.

The film is a decent effort at fiming a complicated book and manages the romance side of things pretty well - hankies at the ready, folks! But it doesn't really generate enough tension and perhaps gives away too much too soon.

Overall, a watchable effort. But I wouldn't travel back in time to watch it again.

How's the maths?
Well, it would be interesting to try and do a timeline for the two lovers, but as with any time travel or flashback movie, it's really all about the additive inverses within the integers. So if we head back, say, 15 years (negative fifteen) and then want to come back to the present day, then that's adding 15 to -15 to get 0.

But you spotted that already.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fermat's Room

Well blimey o'reilly, if this isn't just the sort of film that we maths teachers going to the movies have been waiting for. Not only does it have a mathematician in the title, there's even four mathematicians in the film (some of whom are even not-too-bad-looking) - all trapped together in a room trying desperately to solve maths problems before the four walls close in and crush them. And yes, so it is in Spanish, but even then - what's not to like?

Oh yes, I had high hopes for this one, you can tell. Perhaps too high, in fact. Truth be told, Fermat's Room is a decent wee movie that doesn't outstay its welcome (around 100 mins, if I recall correctly) and more or less does what it says on the tin. And that's no bad thing.

If I have one complaint, it's that the film doesn't really deliver much in the way of suspense: despite the set-up, you're not really gripped by what is going on, or anywhere near terrififed. Contrast this with the total brown-trouser job that is Cube, and you can see that the film does seem to fall short in the terror or thrills department.

Overall, I'd award the film pi stars out of five, as an overall movie-going experience. But then of course there's all that lovely maths... speaking of which:

How's the maths?
Well, there's a fair bit here, I must say. Early on things are looking very good indeed: a young, unfeasibly attractive mathematician is busy finalising his "proof" of the Goldbach conjecture (that's when he's not signing copies of his best-selling maths book to swooning young lay-dees - aye right!); and discussions between other characters manage to quickly clock up references to such hard-core maths as Godel's Incompleteness Theorems, and the fact that quite a few famous mathematicians have committed suicide. When our quartet of mathematicians first arrive to be greeted by the eponymous Fermat in the equally eponymous room, they are given mathematical code-names too: Pascal, Galois, Hilbert and Oilva (that's Oliva Sabuco, apparently, a famous female mathematician from the 16th century - news to me too). There's even a fair bit of banter about how mathematicians work, and some laughs to be had throughout the film at the difference between "applied" and "pure" mathematicians. Well, I laughed...

And of course this is All Very Good and manages to go a long way to erasing previous cinematic crimes against mathematics such as Jeff "weird specs" Goldblum's ridiculous turn as a "chaos mathematician" in Jurassic Park.

The only trouble is, when the "ooh we're trapped in a room and will die if we don't solve these problems" bit kicks in, the script-writer seems to have abandoned The Penguin Guide to Dead Hard Maths in favour, say, Maths In Action Book 2B. For it breaks my heart to have to report, the problems they are set are way, way too easy and way, way too well-known to cause supposed high-powered mathematicians any difficulty whatsoever. Quite seriously, they are the sort of puzzles that MIA2B did set as "brainstormers" for 2nd year pupils back in the day. They even dig out the Liar's Paradox, which was used as a plot device by none other than Doctor Who way back in Tom Baker's day (Pyramids of Mars, episode 4, for those taking notes).

I appreciate the difficulty the film-makers face here - after all, the problems need to be reasonably accessible if a general audience is going to make any sense of them, and their solution. But I do feel they could have tried harder. Still, maybe they're preparing a special edition, or DVD extra - Fermat's Room: The Mathematician's Cut - where our heroes have to solve much harder fare?

I'd buy it!