The Infiltrator (2016)

I expected The Infiltrator to have more tension, violence, and fear than it actually did. At the heart of the movie is (the real-life story of) a friendship betrayed; the core of this movie is not danger, or even justice or remorse, but sadness. I wasn’t expecting that.

They picked the perfect actor for the role; here you have Bryan Cranston again transforming (albeit temporarily) from a mild-mannered husband to an absolutely driven liar, imposter, and corrupt kind of dude (you know, like he did in Breaking Bad).

The deadly game that the character Robert Mazur plays is reminiscent of the antics seen in Catch Me If You Can (2002), only the consequences of exposure aren’t jail, they’re much, much worse. Bob is in the car when a contact he was meeting with is shot dead and the car flips over. So it’s not as if there’s no fear, no tension, and no violence at all.

Keep reading for a detailed plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading The Infiltrator (2016)

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Though I didn’t know anything about the book, the title, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and the author’s exotic-sounding three-part name were familiar to me for years. I’ve now read the book, but I don’t feel I am familiar enough with Hurston’s historical context or the intervening decades of relevant literary criticism to fully appreciate its significance.

For a plot summary and other thoughts, see below.

Continue reading Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Longing for longans

This is a box of longan fruit. The longan is a kind of fruit related to lychee and rambutan. The text on the box says:

Fresh Longan
Longing for longans… grab a handful of this sweet, fleshy fruit and enjoy it’s exotic taste!

The box contains some truly tasty fruit, but it’s a shame that its punctuation is rotten.

Turbo (2013)

Well, race fans… What to say about Turbo. Not a favorite. Too many characters and subplots. There are comparisons one could draw between this movie and Pixar’s Cars (2006) and the less obviously related Ratatouille (2007), and Disney’s Planes (2013)… but none of those comparisons favor Dreamworks.

Among the Dreamworks disasters, I liked Rise of the Guardians better than Turbo; I vaguely think Sinbad and El Dorado were okay; I haven’t seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman or Penguins of Madagascar.

Turbo’s premise, which is proclaimed insane throughout the movie itself, is that a garden snail from somewhere in California accidentally gains superpowered speed (and miscellaneous other irrelevant attributes of being a car), finds a human sponsor, and goes to compete in the Indianapolis 500 against his childhood idol, a famous French driver. Throw in Samuel L. Jackson, a Latino, grown-up version of the charmingly oblivious fat boy in Up, more antagonists than you can shake a stick at, and a clip from the hit song “Eye of the Tiger” and you’ve got a mess of a movie.

I thought the filmmakers had passed up the world’s most obvious chance ever to make the old “look at that S car go” joke until I noticed that Turbo’s race number is ‘5’, which looks an awful lot like the letter ‘S’. Kudos, guys! I was expecting the joke and you still got me.

Keep reading for more on what didn’t work and why, including SPOILERS. (Ha ha, get it? Spoilers!)

Continue reading Turbo (2013)

Brilliant Project Management by Stephen Barker and Rob Cole

Brilliant Project Management is a concise, general book with some good psychological insights in it.

What Stood Out

Some of the insights are more or less specifically applicable only to project management. For example, part of Chapter Six (Leading Effective Teams) is about the fallacy according to which people add manpower to speed up projects, with the result that the projects are actually slowed down, due to the extra work needed to bring the new people up to speed. (The Mythical Man-Month is a whole book about this one idea!)

However, other insights seem to have broader application. For example, the beginning of Chapter Nine (Making Use of Lessons Learned) reminds readers, in a manner of speaking, that a ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Mistakes, in other words, are inevitable. The chapter goes on to describe how best to learn from both positive and negative experience and from the experience of others as well as one’s own. The specific suggestions for interacting in offices could apply to a variety of jobs; the underlying insights could apply to personal life as well.

Chapter Four (Delivering Quality) reminds readers that a good solution to a problem is neither under-engineered nor over-engineered. Providing a more elegant, elaborate, or complete solution than is strictly required may not seem like a mistake but in fact wastes valuable time and money. In fact, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s generally a bad idea to put more effort into something than it deserves. Done ‘well enough’ is done.

Chapter Five (Resource Management) reminds readers that something that is “about 90% complete” is almost certainly not, chronologically speaking. As we know, the last 20% of the work often takes 80% of the time!

When and Why I Read It

Bought it cheap because it looked like it would be relevant to past, current, and possibly future job functions.

Genre: Non-fiction (business)
Date started / date finished:  17-Jul-16 to 18-Aug-16
Length: 154 pages
ISBN: 9780273707936 (paperback)
Originally published in: 2007
Amazon link: Brilliant Project Management

Words related to ‘receive’

This is a bag of Persil laundry detergent. It says: “Keep product inside bag or transfer to another plastic recipient.”

The word ‘recipient’ sounds weird here because normally (I would think) a recipient is a person, and the instructions are obviously talking about a thing (a container or ‘receptacle’). The words ‘recipient’ and ‘receptacle’ are related but I think there’s good reason not to treat them as interchangeable.

See also: ‘recipe’, ‘receipt’, ‘reception’, and ‘receiver’.

I would say a ‘receiver’ is more typically a thing (a telephone receiver or a piece of audio equipment, for example), but in American football a receiver is a person. Go figure.

I’m told that in the UK there’s a school level called ‘reception’ that corresponds to Kindergarten. That sounds hilarious to me because I think of a reception as a fancy party, like the kind you have after a wedding, so my mental image of ‘reception’ doesn’t require or perhaps even permit four-year-old children.

This is the perfect cue for that variously attributed quotation about Brits and Americans being “one people separated by a common language”.

Types of futures in movies

In my post on Total Recall (2012), I said:

Perhaps because the future is like an exotic place, in American movies, the future is believably exotic when it’s Asian.

However, Asianness is not the only kind of exoticness that the future exhibits.

Sometimes, for example, the future is architecturally minimalistic (Gattaca) or brutalist (Total Recall 1990). Or it’s just the West in the present—or the 70s, as the case may be—but with better gadgets (Predestination), better weapons (Edge of Tomorrow) or “technology” you can’t help but call magic (Wanted). Or it’s a desert wasteland (Mad Max), possibly with flooded, buried, damaged, or overgrown skyscrapers (AI, Oblivion, Divergent, I Am Legend). Or at first glance it’s indistinguishable from the far past (Cloud Atlas). Or it’s not the future, it’s a magical parallel world that’s full of true-to-life European buildings but also has steampunk “technology” (The Golden Compass).

In The Expanse, interestingly, New York has walls to protect it from elevated sea levels. That’s an optimistic kind of future: we’ll have problems, but we’ll solve them in such a way that the past will be preserved rather than destroyed—or transcended and forgotten.