District 9 (****)

From Wikipedia

Apartheid—meaning separateness in Afrikaans (which is cognate to the English apart and -hood)—was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times, but apartheid as an official policy was introduced following the general election of 1948. New legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (black, white, coloured, and Indian), and residential areas were segregated by means of forced removals. From 1958, Blacks were deprived of their citizenship, legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands or bantustans, four of which became nominally independent states. The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of whites.

Good movies about Aliens expose some of the worse traits and weaknesses in humans. They also highlight how we have redeeming qualities. Movies that move people to tears are a lot more common than movies that make you feel uncomfortable. I dislike violence towards children of any form, even when it is just simply alluded to. District 9 is a very violent movie and not for people with weak stomachs, certainly not for children.

I have huge issues with shaky camera work. I understand the realism that it tries to convey, but that was one of my biggest concerns going into this movie. I have really bad motion sickness when it comes to movie and video games with crappy graphics. I discovered how bad it can be from a movie after watching The Blair Witch project. It protected me watching Cloverfield, but this movie had a trailer that made me curious enough to want to watch it. So when some friends put a movie and dinner night together and when they offered this as one of the movie choices we jumped at the opportunity.

I am not a Peter Jackson fanboy. I did love LoTR but disliked the horrible mess that King Kong was. District 9 more than makes up for it and really becomes a feather on his cap on making things that are not real seem very believable.

The movie begins looking more like a documentary. The main character is someone that you cannot quite like or dislike. It almost feels like he is being set up to die any time. It is hard to tell when or if there is a transition from movie style to documentary and back. It feels voyeuristic at moments but then in a second you are immersed into the story.

The movie is social and political commentary at its best, but the most important commentary in my opinion is about humanity. If you like history you will see highlighted many of the atrocities that humanity has committed on itself, the kicker for me was how easily justifiable this becomes once humanity is removed from the equation. It is sad that still in this day and age so many topics from the genocides in Africa to immigration people so easily remove humanity from the debate.

Our ill fated “hero” begins partaking on the removal of aliens from District 9 to their new more concentration camp like location, District 10. The aliens just showed up one day, and after neither doom nor salvation came from their mother ship we broke in to find out malnourished people that became earths refugees.

Everything that is wrong with people “relocation” in various forms in our world was highlighted during this part of the movie. From the dubious legality of “property” to the arrogance of talking down to people that do not understand “our” system. It was specially graphic to see that killing other beings was a matter of stepping over the bodies and picking up the pieces of your fallen comrades.

Then a single event highlighted by stupidity by the main character sends everything in motion. From that point forward the supense and action don’t slow down until the end.

The acting which at first seemed very weak ends up being the right tone for everything. We do sound that stupid when discussing things we either don’t care about or don’t quite understand. As humans we are lazy enough to be spoon fed information and take it as reality until the moment it affects us directly. While there will be no Oscar performances here, it fit the movie perfectly and did not detract from the story.

The CGI work was some of the most amazing I have ever seen. I never once thought of CGI the whole time I was watching the movie because everything was a working part. One small spoiler is that after watching this movie a Mech Commander movie HAS TO BE MADE! We now have the technology, somebody make it happen.

This movie is so good and has so many different elements from psychology, international affairs to history that I could probably put a curriculum together and teach a whole semester just based on everything it talks about. Not everyone is going to love this movie because it is very grotesque at times, but I highly recommend it. You might want to learn a thing or two about human history after, if anything it will make you think about how “human” we are.

Outliers – Malcom Gladwell

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Outliers by Malcom Gladwell

“In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.”
- Wikipedia
“…in men and women who, for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August.”
- Gladwell

I have been fascinated by the idea of success for most of my adult life. It was actually the people telling me that I was not successful enough that made me even think about it even more. Having the mental capacity to be a doctor or a lawyer has been somewhat of a sentence in some of my families eyes, because by me not becoming one I became a “what could have John accomplished…”

It is obvious for some people that money, status and career are their indicators of success. I personally think of success in other terms. I find success in the people that surround me, the people that I share my life and memories with. That was one of the most fascinating things about reading the book Outliers, that Gladwell opened up with the case study of a whole town that was an outlier, a place where people were actually dieing of simply old age. You can actually read this chapter in the New York times, if you enjoy it pick up the book, it is an excellent and easy read.

Like everything that I have read from Gladwell, you have to make your own observations and conclusions. He gives you the information that he has found about a subject and almost like a great teacher, encourages you take away from it what you want. Besides the strongest messages of equality and opportunity that will breed success in our next generation, the book made me look at my own success a little closer.

While he does not take merit away from the very successful people he takes a look in his book, he does point out that a lot of it has to do with being in the right place at the right time. Also perseverance being a very important component to success.

There was actually a chapter that mentions Colombians and culture quite a bit. It was interesting to learn how much your culture affects you in subconscious ways. It also made me see that I have a very mixed culture by growing up both in the U.S and Colombia. Every time I read one of Gladwell’s books I come out very interested in psychology.

The book really did not change my way of gauging success, but it did bring some insight into why some people obtain it and why some don’t. I like the fact that he is very clear about intelligence and its effect of people. Most people would assume that a super high IQ is a sure way to success; however, like I have always believed, almost everyone is capable of learning. It just takes wanting to use that intellect to really accomplish things in life that in the end will make you successful.

Narnia The Exhibition

Union Station and I got to a rocky start when the post I made about bodies revealed created some discussion. I still hold my stance on that topic, but when we were invited to a sneak peak into the The Chronicles of Narnia: The Exhibition I had to give it a try.

The first thing I want to say about Union Station is that I am sorry that I did not visit it earlier. Because I commuted into downtown Chicago for a while, I though Union Station was pretty much the same thing. I was very wrong. Union Station has Science City and a Planetarium. It also includes the bar/restaurant hang out area that I was expecting, just like the Union Station in Chicago.

Parking is very convenient and cheap, heck if you time it correctly you can probably park for free. I do warn you, like most exhibitions it ends right into a gift shop with tons of cool stuff that kids are going to want, budget accordingly.

I do have to do a little disclaimer and say that I love the writings of C.S. Lewis, so that might have made the experience a little better for me. They had some of his stuff there to see, and they do talk about him in the beginning of the little tour. Who would have guessed that he was an Einstein fan. ;)

The exhibition is very well put together and has Disney written all over it, but in a good way. I can imagine kids being extremely excited not just to be there, but to be able to touch some of the props they have from the movie. While most of the tour is geared towards fun for the kids and fans of the movie, there is a lot of learning involved too.

If your kids have seen the movie, this is a perfect thing to take them too. Prices are great, specially for groups. I think a mini movie marathon before going to the exhibit would make a kid super happy! Now that kids are out of school, this is probably the perfect way to spend a fun filled day.

Welcome To Your Brain

One of the traits that I admire in people the most is their capability for research or respect for it. Betizuka is reading Angels and Demons and besides cracking up at the joke by Barry “Here’s a spoiler: The Angels did it. And the Demons.” it reminds me a lot about how sometimes science and aspects of our life clash. I don’t think it is just religion that is at odds with science, I think many facets of our life really contradict what science knows or has already proven.

One of the most surprising things I heard during a medical interpreting seminar I attended was how young internal medical science really is. Until not too long ago, a hospital was somewhere you went to die. We all like to think of computers being the field that has changed the most thanks to the microchip, but science as a whole has moved forward quite a bit. So we “know” a lot more than what we did 100 years ago, well some people do.

I recently started reading a book called “Welcome To Your Brain.” I have been amazed at the wealth of information that has been presented in such a simple format. It also has killed many myths that I myself use to believe. The format reminds me of the dummy books, but it is actually a lot more in depth about what is talking about than those. It has also been nice to read that some of the things I thought about were correct, well at least correct from a neurosurgeon’s point of view.

The first myth that was blown out of the water was the “We only use a small % of our brain.” I used to think that there was some unlocked potential there, and while it does seem that some people do turn off logic sometimes, most people use 100% of their brains. You can read about six other myths here and the book goes into great detail about how the myths came about, and what the science behind it is.

The book has a blog, and a lot of the topics in the book have been discussed. Some of the coolest things I have learned (or reaffirmed) after reading the book are the following.

Drinking does not kill brain cells.
Will power improves as we accomplish things, even small ones.
We react before we think. (I learned this from Blink)
Homosexuality has a very strong neurological component to it.
We retrieve memories, erase them and then record them again.
You cannot tickle yourself.
Woman have a disadvantage when it comes to math.
Video games improve brain function.
Love is a drug.

I recommend you read this book. Even if you just go to specific chapters, it is really a good resource for information.

Related Links
Will Power
50 Myths and Truths (in Spanish)
10 Amazing Facts about your brain.

Star Trek (****)

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When I saw Star Wars when I was a kid my mind was expanded, my imagination ran wild and all I wanted was for that little training lazer ball thingie to be real and me to be able to be trained during my Jedi training by it with Yoda supervising. When the prequels were about to come out on theater I had great expectations, one of the biggest mistakes you can do when going to a movie, and the movie was a total letdown. I learned later in life that transformers was just meant as an infomercial with a story to sell toys, but to have Star Wars become the same thing was pretty sad.

When it comes to movies, I sometimes set myself up for letdowns. I have been pretty excited to see what they did with Star Trek since I wrote about the cast being announced back in 07. I knew some of the actors, and was very excited to see what Zachari Quinto and Simon Pegg were going to do with their roles.

Since watching the Star Wars remakes I had started to get used to the idea that I was not able to tap into my inner child to enjoy movies anymore. Even the latest Indiana Jones did not excite my imagination as much as the older ones did. I thought that the Matrix and Blade were going to be the last movies that I would get truly excited about and chucked Transformers coolness to pure sentimentalism for one of my favorite morning cartoons. I figured I would never get goose bumps during a movie again, and that my inner child only came out to play video games.

Then I watched Star Trek this weekend.

Saying that this movie blows StarWars latest trilogy out of the galaxy would be an understatement for the ages. This is entertainment in its best form. Great writing, Great acting, Great special effects… the Summer blockbuster is BACK. I will not talk about the movie or its plot, because you deserve to see it untainted! go see it this week, go to the IMAX, go and experience what I think would be one of the best movies of the year! What are you waiting for?

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