Archive for category art

Two movies you need to see (with me)

Most sci-fi out there sucks, regardless of the medium. The main characters have stupid names like “Dirk Steelhammer”, and the plots are either ruined because they require you to have read the “Quantum Mechanics of Star Trek” book the author ripped his science from, or because they’re painfully formulaic – usually involving stock characters like an emotionless, lone-ranger-type main character and a beautiful and scientifically-minded woman with a tough-as-nails exterior that hides her desire for love. This is why I don’t read much sci-fi or watch many sci-fi movies, even though sci-fi is probably my favorite genre.

But, this year my sci-fi intake is going to spike dramatically because there seems to be a rise in the number of talented story tellers who care about the human condition, and who are interested in making sci-fi movies that have not only brains to them, but hearts as well. Big, bleeding hearts.

So here are previews for two, really interesting-looking, soon-to-be-released “soft sci-fi” movies (that is, sci-fi movies that focus more on the ‘fi’ than the ‘sci’).

The first is from a guy who might be my new favorite director – Lars von Trier. He’s the guy responsible for Antichrist, which caused such a ruckus at Cannes last year. I thought that movie was really excellent (certainly one of the most affective movies I’ve seen). He also did Dancer in the Dark, which is a sledgehammer-to-the-chest of a film if there ever was one (it also won the Palm D’or, which is sort of the yearly “Best Movie In The World” award). In fact, he’s known for making movies that seem to aim (though not, I think, in a contrived way) at devastating the viewer. And, at the debut of the film below, he simply said that, from here out, his films would have “no more happy endings”.


This next film seems a bit more hopeful, though still heavy. I don’t know anything about the director or anyone else associated with the film.

The plot seems to depend on this idea popular among some cosmologists that, since the universe is infinitely large (which it actually isn’t), and contains an infinite amount of matter (which it actually doesn’t), every possible combination of matter will occur an infinite number of times. Thus, there are an infinite number of planets just like this one, with people on them with the same names and appearance, and who make the same choices, as this one – as well as an infinite number of planets exactly like this one with very minute to very large differences in the choices, names, looks, etc. of their inhabitants. I only say all that to give you some background on what looks like an important idea to the film. But the fact that that idea is just plain wrong (for reasons to do with the pure mathematics of the theory) shouldn’t affect our judgement of the film, I think, even though it’s sure to create some discussion on the science it relies on.

But I’ll shut up. Here’s Another Earth:


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What do I need to add to my list of ‘books to read’? (list below)

Books I Want To Read


1984 – Orwell
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Alas, Babylon – Pat Frank
Animal Farm – George Orwell
At the Mountains of Madness – Lovecraft
The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
The Brothers Karamazov – Dostoyevsky
Contact – Carl Sagan
The Crucible – Arthur Miller
The Death of Ivan Ilyich – Tolstoy
Dhalgren –  Samuel Delany
The Divine Comedy – Dante
Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Engines of God – Jack McDevitt
Faust – Goethe
Fear and Trembling – Kierkegaard
Frankenstein – Mary Shelly
Galapagos – Kurt Vonnegut
Gateway – Frederik Pohl
A Good Man Is Hard to Find – Flannery O’Connor
Great Expectations – Dickens
Hamlet – Shakespeare
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
King Lear – Shakespeare
Leaves of Grass – Walt Whitman
Light in August – Faulkner
Lolita – Nabakov
The Luzhin Defense – Nabakov
The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
The Master and Margarita – Bulgakov
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Moby Dick – Melville
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Nausea – Sartre
The Odyssey – Homer
The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway
One Day in the LIfe of Ivan Denisovich – Solzhenitsyn
Pale Fire – Nabakov
Paradise Lost – Milton
The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett
The Plague – Camus
The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Rainbow’s End – Vernor Vinge
Ubik – Philip K. Dick
The Rama Series – Arthur C. Clarke
The Road – McCarthy
The Sirens of Titan – Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five – Vonnegut
Song of Kali – Dan SImmons
The Sorrows of Young Werther – Goethe
The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell
Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Nietzsche
The Stranger – Camus
Stranger In A Strange Land – Heinlein
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
The Trial – Kafka
The Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Watership Down – Richard Adams
Wizard – John Varley

[“(VSI)” indicates that the book is part of Oxford Press’ “Very Short Introduction” series.]

After Religion – Vattimo
After Theory – Terry Eagleton
Authentic Happiness – Seligman
Beyond Good and Evil – Nietzsche
Beyond the Pleasure Principle – Freud
The Birth of Tragedy – Nietzsche
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
The Brain (VSI)
A Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
A Brief History of Time – Stephen Hawking
A Brief History of Western Philosophy – Robert Solomon
Christ – Jack Miles
Christian Spirituality – Alilster McGrath
Civilization and its Discontents – Freud
Confessions – St. Augustine
Consciousness Explained – Dennett
Critique of Religion and Philosophy – Walter Kaufmann
De Anima – Aristotle
The Death of God and the Meaning of Life – Julian Young
Desire – William B. Irvine
The Ego and the Id – Freud
Either/Or – Kierkegaard
The Elements of Style – Strunk and White
Enchiridion – Epictetus
Existentialism, from Dostoyevsky to Sartre – Kaufmann
Existentialism is a Humanism – Sartre
Finite and Infinite Games – James P. Carse
Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Freedom Evolves – Dennett
Freud and Beyond, a history of psychoanalysis – Mitchell and Black
God – Etienne Gilson
God, a biography – Jack Miles
The God We Never Knew – Marcus Borg
Godel Escher Bach – Hofstader
The Good Life – William B. Irvine
Greek Mythology – Edith Hamilton
Hegel – (Solomon or Kaufmann or Singer)
A History of Christian Thought – Paul Tillich
A History of Christianity – Paul Johnson
A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell
I Am A Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstader
I and Thou – Martin Buber
Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis – Freud
Jesus, a biography – Paul Johnson
Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes – Bailey
The Koran
Man and His Symbols – Carl Jung
Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl
The Many Faces of Realism – Putnam
Mathematics (VSI)
Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
Metaphysics and the Idea of God – Pannenberg
Modern Philosophy – Roger Scruton
Modernism – Christopher Butler
Naming and Necessity – Kripke
A New History of Western Philosophy – Anthony Kenny
New Seeds of Contemplation – Thomas Merton
On Belief – Zizek
On Writing – Stephen King
Paul – N.T. Wright
A People’s History of the World
Philosophical Investigations – Wittgenstein
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature – Rorty
The Philosophy of Science (VSI)
Postmodern Theory – Best and Kellner
Pragmatism – William James
The Pragmatism Reader – Talisse and Aikin
Principles of Mathematical Philosophy – Russell
Psychology (VSI)
Quantum Physics (VSI)
Rapt – Gallagher
Reading the Bible Again for the First Time – Marcus Borg
The Resurrection of the Son of God – N.T. Wright
The Right to Write − Cameron
The Secular Age – Charles Taylor
The Singularity Is Near – Ray Kurzweil
Sources of Self – Taylor
Spirituality for Skeptics – Robert Solomon
The Story of Christian Theology – Roger E. Olson
The Story of Thought – Bryan Magee
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas Kuhn
Stumbling on Happiness – Daniel Goldman
The Symbolism of Evil – Paul Ricoeur
Tao Te Ching – Lao Tsu
Truth and Method – Gadamer
The Unity of Knowledge – E. O. Wilson
Varieties of Religious Experience – William James
The View from Nowhere – Nagel
Walden – Thoreau
The World as Will and Representation – Schopenhauer
Your Memory – Kenneth Higbee


Life imitates art

Or is it the other way around?

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What’s so good about beautiful stuff?

Here’s a question that might help:

Imagine that a new planet has been discovered in a remote corner of the galaxy. Not only is it very far away, it is also surrounded by a massive, but nearly invisible, radioactive cloud emanating from the planet’s core. There is, then, no hope that we will ever be able to visit this planet. No one will, and no life exists there.

We can tell, though, from the refractions of the atmosphere that this planet is even more beautiful than it is inaccessible. We can tell (though we can’t see the planet ourselves) from the light bouncing off its atmosphere, that, because of its odd location, the landscape must be marked by waterfalls, canyons, planes of ice, and diamond, and mountains that make any of earths features pale by comparison. We can tell, with certainty, that this world is one of the most beautiful places imaginable. But, we will never see it. We can only imagine it from the energy it radiates. And no one else will ever see it either.

As it happens though, because of its odd physical makeup, if we were to fire a high-energy lazer into its atmosphere, it would heat the atmosphere along with the odd elements in the planets core to the point that it would explode into a gigantic glowing nebula. This nebula would be so volatile and energetic that it would appear to us as a constant, evolving cloud of brilliant colors in the nights sky for thousands of years, like a huge, silent undulating show of fireworks. Since this planet is in such a remote, lifeless area of the galaxy, no one would ever be harmed by it, and because the light in our sky would be softer than the full moon, it would have no effect on our planet other than providing us with new, exquisite beauty. But this, at the cost of destroying a planet that is even more beautiful, but which will never be seen.

You alone have been given the choice to destroy the planet, and thus provide the world with great (though lesser) beauty, or to not fire, and allow a place of perfect, but invisible, beauty to persist.

What would you choose?

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550 Free-to-watch Documentaries

At (And, yes, it has Super Size Me :-).)

Thanks to Caleb C for the link.

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Great movies? (with updated list)

I think art plays many important roles in living the good life. The good life, I think, should be marked by regular, refined pleasure, and good art often offers that to us. The good life is also not lived in a vacuum of ignorance about the world around it, but requires a sober judgment of its context, and art is often a very clear window into the depths of the world. The good life is also not self-centered, but is actively engaged in promoting goodness, truth, and beauty in the lives of others, and this affecting of the world toward some end requires that we be able to make critical judgments about the world, and art simultaneously gives us a piece of perspective on the world from which to consider it, and an artifact of the world to be judged.

Because of all that, I’ve decided that I’d like to start a good collection of popular art. Right now the two dominant forms are movies and music, and I’ve got a good,  constantly growing collection of the second form, so I thought that I ought to start investing in the first. I’ve begun a list of movies that I intend to eventually own (though I may never complete it at the one-movie-a-month rate I can currently afford), but I’m sure that I’ve forgotten many movies worth owning, and simply haven’t seen a lot of the really good movies out there. So, I thought I’d open a thread for suggestions here. If you think there’s a movie really worth owning, please throw the suggestion out. I think the resulting list would probably be helpful for everyone: It’s just undeniable that one’s life is somehow incomplete if it doesn’t involve hearing out the community you’re part of when it has something to say, and movies are largely where these things are being said. I mean, really, someone who hasn’t seen Fight Club, or Braveheart really is missing out on something real, right?

So, here is the criterion: The movie has to be worth watching for something other than its immediate entertainment value. That is, it has to be a movie you can really take something away from. This will likely disqualify every Will Ferrell movie, porn, the Saw movies, etc. There’s just nothing to take away from them; their value lies purely in what you experience while watching them. We’re looking here for flicks that deliver something real. That doesn’t mean they have to be existentially earth-shattering. They just have to be worth watching, re-watching, telling others about, etc.; they have to do more than tickle. This would also include movies that are important for some more extrinsic reason (for instance, Troll 2 is on my list not because it’s great, but because it’s widely considered the worst movie ever made, and so I think it’s worth owning, at least to have a good example of very bad art – that’s significant, I think).

So, here’s the list I’ve come up with so far. They don’t include movies I already own, but there aren’t many of those, so just add whatever you think is worth the watching. I look forward to the suggestions!

*Note: The list now includes movies I currently own and a few suggestions from the comments. I’ll periodically do this, as long as comments are coming, to keep the list updated. This should help avoid confusion, and also make the listing less about what I do or don’t have. Also, feel free to comment if you see a movie on the list which you think doesn’t deserve a place there. I’ve indicated movies I’m ambivalent on with a question mark after their title.

? = Movies I’m on the fence about. Please voice your opinion (especially) on these, if you have one.
* = Movies whose value I think lie in something other than their being good art. Explanations will follow in parentheses.
( )= Movies I can’t recommend personally (b/c I haven’t seen them), but have been strongly recommended here or in conversation.
Bold = Movies I consider indisputably excellent. Disputations are welcomed.

3:10 to Yuma
2001: A Space Odyssey
2010: The Year We Make Contact
Alice in Wonderland
Alien 3 (Originally included for being part of an otherwise good series, but the other two stand alone fine without it.)
American Beauty
American Gangster?
American History X
American Psycho?
Army of Darkness* (Perhaps the pinnacle of campy, cult classics; the third movie of the Evil Dead movies.)
Batman Begins
A Beautiful Mind
Beauty and the Beast
Best in Show
Big Fish?
(The Big Kahuna)
The Big Lebowski?
The Black Cauldron?
Black Snake Moan
The Bourne Identity
The Bourne Supremacy
The Bourne Ultimatum
Capote? (Difficult to appreciate without having read In Cold Blood, or being familiar with the story, imho.)
Cast Away
The Cell
Children of Men
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Color Purple
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind* (Largely for its claim to be non-fiction).
Dances With Wolves
Dark City
(The Dark Crystal)?
The Dark Knight
Dead Poet’s Society
Donnie Darko
Evil Dead* (Army of Darkness is great in its own way, but these aren’t [though they’re good, and very interesting].)
Evil Dead 2*
The Exorcist
The Fall
(Fiddler on the Roof)
Fight Club? (Formerly bold, just rewatched it after several years, and I’m ashamed I ever thought it great; still worth a watch.)
Forrest Gump
The Fountain
Full Metal Jacket
The Godfather?
Good Will Hunting
The Green Mile?
Groundhog Day
Heavy Metal
(The Horse Wisperer)
I Am Legend?
Ichabod and Mr. Toad?
Inside Man (Best American heist movie)
Interview With a Vampire
Into the Wild
Iron Man?
It’s a Wonderful Life
Jurrasic Park?
Kill Bill Vol. 1
Kill Bill Vol. 2
Lady and the Tramp
Lady in the Water
The Last Samurai
(Life is Beautiful)
Little Miss Sunshine
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)?
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
The Manchurian Candidate?
The Matrix
The Matrix 2
The Matrix 3
Master and Commander of the Far Side of the World?
Michael Clayton?
Mirror Mask
Mission Impossible 3?
Moulin Rouge
The Never Ending Story
No Country for Old Men
Ocean’s Eleven
Ocean’s Thirteen? (Same case as Alien 3)
Ocean’s Twelve? (Same case as Ocean’s Thirteen)
Oh Brother, Where Art Thou
Pan’s Labyrinth
Pulp Fiction
Primal Fear
The Princess Bride
Rain Man
Requiem for a Dream
Schindler’s List
Secondhand Lions
The Secret of Nimh
Session 9 (Imho, one of the best horror movies ever made, and gore-free at that.)
Shaun of the Dead?
The Shawshank Redemption
The Shining
Sweeny Todd?* (Excellent example of anti-hero)
Silence of the Lambs
The Sixth Sense
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (First animated movie ever made. [Thanks Josh P.])
Star Wars: A New Hope?
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back?
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi?
(Stranger than Fiction)
The Sword in the Stone
There Will Be Blood?
This is Spinal Tap
To Kill a Mockingbird
Troll 2* (Widely considered the worst movie ever made)
Vanilla Sky
V for Vendetta
The Village
West Side Story
What Dreams May Come (bold?)
Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory
Young Frankenstein?

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A Poem from ‘Staying Alive’

I recently picked up an anthology of poetry called Staying Alive: Real Poems for Unreal Times, and so far it’s great. Every now and then I’ll read one of the poems and think that I’d like to share it here, but then I remember that copyright law won’t let me. Well, today, I happened across several pages of publisher permissions in the back that allow you to reproduce the poems, so now that problem is solved. So, occasionally, I’ll post a poem here that I think is especially worth reading. Here is one by Nina Cassian.


Call yourself alive? Look, I promise you
that for the first time you’ll feel your pores opening
like fish mouths, and you’ll actually be able to hear
your blood surging though all those lanes,
and you’ll feel light gliding across the cornea
like the train of a dress. For the first time
you’ll be aware of gravity
like a thorn in your heel,
and your shoulder blades will ache for want of wings.
Call yourself alive? I promise you
you’ll be deafened by dust falling on the furniture,
you’ll feel your eyebrows turning into two gashes,
and every memory you have – will begin
a Genesis.

©Ardis, 1983; Oxford Univ. Press, 1993
translated from the Romanian by Brenda Walker & Andrea Deletant

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