The Fountain

Tommy prepares for the ultimate lesson in personal mortality.

Director: Darren Aronofsky. Writing: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz. 2006.

Internet Movie Database

What if you could live forever?

Writer and Director Darren Aronofsky has a fierce and original talent, as amply demonstrated by his previous successes, Pi and Requiem for a Dream. Had I realised that The Fountain was another one of his, then perhaps I would have been marginally more prepared for it. In actuality, caught dozing my way through an aeroplane flight one sunny afternoon, I was somewhat blindsided by this millennia-spanning story of love, death and rebirth.

The thing is, it doesn't feel like Aronofsky's previous titles. It does feel a lot like other audacious, wildly sentimental tales, such as Crowe's Vanilla Sky, or Soderbergh's Solaris. Doubtless it will polarise viewers. Those of a more cynical bent will snigger at the pretentious triple-stranded narrative, encompassing characters separated by a thousand years, caught in the endless struggle for life amidst death. Good friends of mine, no doubt, will leave theatres in droves, gagging at the naïve rediscovery of the original Garden of Eden's tree of life in the jungles of Guatemala, steeped in Aztec legends of sacrifice and afterlife. Many will cringe at the grand and operatic scope of the emotionally crushing, drug-inspired finale, as Hugh Jackson, now a 25th century space-faring guru, full-lotuses headlong into a nova for the ultimate lesson in personal mortality.

But for every person who just can't stand a movie like this, there will be others who are bold and foolish enough to fall head over heels for its brand of unrepentantly teary-eyed intensity. For those bright-eyed space cadets, who have immense reservoirs of willing suspension for a story that is at once both enormous and intensely personal, who strive to enlarge their conciousness, or to be unafraid of the darkness in our hearts, and most especially for those who are or who ever have been in love, I can unreservedly say that it's the most amazing film of the year. And if you love it too, then then maybe one day we will find, that "together, we can live forever."

Well, maybe. But at the very least, it would make for a smashing film.

Rating: 9/10

Update: It wasn't until 6 weeks later that I got to find out what was really going on.

Snow Report: Ride Colorado

Back from an exhilarating week in shiny Colorado, where Susan and I ravaged Vail's back bowls, threaded the trees of Copper Mountain's flanks, rode snow cats up to hike the rarefied ridges in search of fresh trails, stacked it in Keystone while trying to keep up with Campbell, glided silently through the freshly falling snow back on Copper again, and snowshoed up to magical Mayflower Gulch. Thanks to Phil and Katie for putting us up and entertaining, to the whole mountain house crew for the place to stay in Frisco, to the Ashes for the week's nostalgic loan of the old black taxi, & to DrDavis for supplying the inspiration, and DavidC for taking us flying us out of JeffCo airfield - watch those negative G's, mate, haven't you seen what MSFSX will do with that shit? :) Adam and Aly - thanks for the best reason in the world for us to come back again this Summer and do it all over again, um, without the snow. And to everyone who made it to the big night out in Denver on the Friday night, you guys rock.

Best week evar. Love you, mean it. Photos imminent. Seanie where's the youtubes?

The History Boys

Writer: Alan Bennett. Director: Nicholas Hytner. Theatre: Wyndham's.

After a lengthy run at the National Theatre, and then a national tour, this production marks the play's return to the West End, enlivened by a whole new cast.

The tale revolves around a class of bright and boisterous schoolboys, under the tutelage of two particular teachers; Hector, a middle-aged General Studies teacher, who spurns the concept of curriculum and examinations in favour of individual intellectual exploration:

"The school gives them an education. I give them the wherewithal to resist it."

versus a younger, more efficient History teacher, focussed on a more prescriptive methodology, providing a palette of intellectual sleights-of-hand designed specifically to get them through the Oxbridge entrance exams.

Director Hytner effectively introduces the play, and many scenes within it, using short video clips of the characters within school settings, set to gleefully evocative gems of 1980's pop. This immersed me in memories of Grange Hill and my own school days even before the first line, and the rest of the play rolled on in a similarly involving, humorous and touching manner. From its initial premise, the story expands to subject the cast to a gamut of emotions, including (spoiler warning) a thoughtful yet uncomplicated exploration of recurrent sexual abuse.

The pupils enact occasional scenes from classic movies with mock gravity, notably selected to highlight the famously British trend of repressed emotion, and in many ways that is a recurrent theme of the play, the way emotions are hidden, redirected and how they then come out.

Overall, smashing and involving - time well spent.

Rating: 7/10

London Python meetup

Another great London Python meetup in the Porterhouse, courtesy of organiser Simon Brunning. My Resolver homies Xtian, Micheal and Andrzej were there, the latter two pulling a lappy out between beers to quickly skip through their presentation material for PyCon in Dallas tomorrow. Spent some q.t. with Ben "mnemonic" Sanders, Elefth "crazy Greek" Stavridis, Menno "freshfoo" Smits, first-timer David "beret" Green, and other-first-timer Rohan Deshpandethe, freshly over from New York, bless him.

Everything and More: A compact history of ∞

Cover: Everything and More

by David Foster Wallace. 2003. On Amazon.co.uk

Short and Unnecessary Foreword

Before I describe the book I should like to set the scene, as it were, by describing how it was recommended to me in glowing terms by my new friend, viz. Xtian[1], whom I hold in high regard w.r.t. both intellectual pursuits and such matters of taste as one's reading material. Such an introduction lead me to have high expectations of E&M, and I shall now relate the extent to which these were fulfilled.[2] But first, for your convenience, a glossary of abbreviations:

  • E&M - Everything and More
  • DSP - Digital signal processing
  • NZ - New Zealand
  • YMMV - Your mileage may vary

[1] Who hails from NZ, which is known, amongst other things, for its geographical isolation, being some 2,000km from its nearest neighbour, SE Australia.

[2] See (a) below.

§1a. It is probably appropriate, when writing about a book such as this, to describe my own mathematical background, which is that I have a ten-year-old B.Sc in Physics and Electronics, following which I spent a couple of years using stuff like Fourier and digital domain transformations fairly heavily, working in R&D on the software analysis of radar echoes from "non-co-operative targets". Since then, however, my math usage dropped off pretty much to zero, leading to the present day in which I find myself so completely rusty that, while I'm happy and comfortable arm-waving around the concepts [3], I'd have substantial revision to do in order to be able to coax out any kind of actually useful derivations [4].

[3] For example, I once abandoned an otherwise delightful pub crawl halfway through, when I received a last-minute invite to attend a math lecture by Prof. "chaos theory" Mandelbrot across town instead.

[4] Beyond the basics, that is. Obviously I could still limp through some fundamentals.

§2a. So, the first thing to relate is that Mr. Wallace's descriptions of the nature of, and relationships between, all the transfinites** brought me genuinely thrilling moments of heart-racing excitement and revelatory wonder - not once, but several times. The subject matter is indeed a captivating one, and made all the more so for me because it covers topics which I have not previously studied, namely the central one of infinity itself, but also peripheral ones such as the difficulties the Ancient Greeks had in wresting with abstraction, as hinted at by their lack of a verb meaning 'to exist'. This, of course, caused them no end of problems mathematically, which is arguably nothing but abstractions, and they therefore had problems not just with infinity, but also with significantly more mundane concepts such as zero [5] and irrationals [6].

[5] which they didn't have and apparently never missed

** due to Cantor, et al,

[6] which, if I were Bill Bryson, I would describe as "all the fiddly fractions [7] that exist in the gaps between the familiar, round-number fractions*** such as 3/4, 1/8 and 34/978."

[7] The A.Greeks refused to believe irrationals [6] existed, and when they eventually realised that even some of the most basic measurements from geometry(a) could not ever be expressed as the ratio of two whole numbers, it shook their mathematical confidence in ways from which they arguably never really recovered.

(a) (such as the diagonal of a unit square)

*** viz. the rationals.

The negatives

§2b. However, there is one other factor about the book which (B) I should probably mention, and that is that I have never, in all my life, read a document of any description which was as poorly organised, as haphazardly ordered, and ridiculously and unnecessarily over-footnoted, as inconsistently titled and annotated and bracketed by section headings and end-of-section headings, as pointlessly cross-referenced, and as littered with notes to the effect that his editor suggested he should make the following changes. It is in the exact state that I would expect to find it if I had found a first draft abandoned on a park bench, heavily marked with red biro as the result of several furious exchanges with an increasingly antagonistic publisher. And reading an entire paperback of this idiocy almost drove me BATSHIT SCREAMING INSANE.

End of the negatives

(B) in the interests of fairness

§3. So there you have it. YMMV. I'm am glad I read it, but god I found it hard work - not because the math was hard to follow, just simply because the shambolic prose annoyed the living snot out of me. If you have a potential interest in the subject matter, and the style of this review doesn't make your hackles stand on end, then this book is for you (c).

(c) probably

Rating: ∞ x 0. Er... 6?

Hot Fuzz

Cleaning up the aisles

Director: Edgar Wright. Writer: Edgar Write, Simon Pegg. Starring: Simon Pegg and his mates. 2007.

Internet Movie Database Big Cops. Small Town. Moderate Violence.

A romping lampoon of American buddy cop homoeroticism and Agatha Christie alike, which follows the plight of over-achieving hardass metropolitan cop (Pegg) forcably relegated to the gentile surroundings of an idyllic village. (I particularly liked the dreaded journey to the countryside, as represented by a close-up of the signal bars on Pegg's phone falling to zero, but that probably says more about my own urban snobbery than anything else.)

In keeping with its loveably teenage approach and unapologetically English style, it provides a few golden moments which are absolutely classic. However, one can't help but be distracted from time to time by the fact that it has been crafted more with an endearing enthusiasm than with incisive skill. The barrage of snap shots and hyperkinetic editing tries just a little too hard, and by the third climax of the finale, the whole thing has perhaps outstayed its welcome just a little.

If you like Simon Pegg (Sean of the Dead, Spaced), then this is very much more of the same. Otherwise forgettable.

Rating: 6/10

Fallacious Affordance

Extensive research this week has confirmed a truth that I can no longer contain: Try it for yourself. It is undeniable. Bananas are much easier to open from the other end. Apparently monkeys all know this, unfooled by the fallacious affordance of the fruit's beguiling stalk nubbin. Let us rejoice in the rediscovery of this ancient knowledge, lost to humanity for generations beyond measure.

A Short History Of Nearly Everything

by Bill Bryson. 2003. Amazon

Bryson's unassuming style make this a joy to read - welcoming, continually interesting, and with warm and often laugh-out-loud humour firmly woven through almost every paragraph.

The book's only failing is perhaps in attempting to do too much - in less capable hands, its ambitious remit would cause it to sprawl far beyond the extent of this middling-sized tome. But Bryson deftly manages to give an overview of not just the most prominent fields in science, but their history, and most delightfully, the eccentricities of their practitioners to boot. In performing such a feat he is obliged to omit a great deal, and is only able to skim nuggets of trivia from the surface of each topic. However, his sure, deliberate style, like an educational Sunday afternoon sightseeing stroll, guides us deftly to appreciate each notable landmark upon the way, and then he unobtrusively ushers us onward, to the next worthy vista.

Heartily recommended, for its perspective on the human background to how we know what we know, and the sheer jolliness with which it is presented.

Rating: 8/10

GoDaddy sucks

In the 36 hours since embarking upon this ill-considered plan to jump-start tartley.com, it has became increasingly apparent that godaddy.com, the cheap-as-chips host I hurriedly opted for earlier in the year, sucks McSuckety suck-suck.

Let's hope these guys are somewhat better. Planned photo gallery will have to wait until I get switched over. I think I could even qualify for their 'starving artist' discount!

First Post!

Tartley.com relaunched all over an unsuspecting, with a content-management makeover and a brand-new pseudonym (subsequently retracted, at least until Operation Cyber Poach goes into action.) Fortunately for those of a sensitive disposition, there doesn't seem to be any way to import the mouldy carcass of tartley.com circa 2000, short of devoting a Sunday afternoon to the task, those being a resource of which I am in limited supply. Luckily, I needn't be embarrassed about having such a bare-cupboard site - as everyone knows, it takes millions of dollars to create compelling content.

Update 10/05/2007: Operation cyber-poach aborted, the bastard renewed.

$ whois gridbug.com
 Registrar of Record: Easyspace Ltd.
 Record last updated on 30-Mar-2007.
 Record expires on 24-May-2008.
 Record created on 24-May-2002.

 Domain servers in listed order:
    NS1.EASYPOST.COM   84.22.162.11
    NS3.EASYPOST.COM   62.128.193.206