Sunday, February 21, 2010

Movie Review: Wolfman (2010)

The movie industry loves making movies about vampires and werewoles. People seem to be really fascinated by these legendary creatures. In the latest addtion to the horror movie genre is the remake of the 1941 classical horror movie "wolfman". In 2010, the year of remakes, is this remake another worthy addition to the already existing classics or is it a flop?

Well, to begin with, Wolfman has solid casts. From the award winning actor Anthony Hopkins, Benicio del Toro, Hugo Weaving, and Emily Blunt. These are good actors, and the movie itself is directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park 3, October Sky). Just by looking at the actors and the director, the team seemed to be going somewhere.

THe story of WOlfman started off by a character named Lawrence Tobolt going home to Blackmoor England to investigate his brother's murder. As he investigated into the murder he found out there is a nightmarish creature who has been killing people, and eventually Lawrence is bitten by the creature and turned into a werewolf himself. The story then goes on and gradually unfold, telling the bizzare tale of the origin of the werewolf curse, and a supposed "twist" at the end of the movie which is the typical Hollywood style "twist" that won't surprise the audiences at all.

The presentation of Wolfman is quite good, it is very dark and in the first 30 minutes of the movie the filmaker actually managed to build suspense, however it all goes downhill from there as the plot becomes very predictable. The biggest weakness of this movie is the predictability of the plot, the scipt writer gave away too many hints for the audiences to know what the ending will be like half way in the movie, and this really destroyed the film.

However, the special effect of the wolfman transformation is really good and realistic, the appearance and the transformation sequence of the wolfman is actually quite believable. I also like the dark atmosphere, the atmosphere really suited the theme of this movie. The sound effect is pretty good as well, however the score is pretty average.

Personally, I do not see any objectionable contents in this movie. Besides the violence and the gore might upset more sensitive viewers. However, because the movie is so dark, all the blood and gore cannot be seen clearly anyway, the blood actually appear black because all the werewolf actions takes place at night. However, I also did not see any contents that has anything to do with the teaching from the Bible. This is the kind of movie when you just walk in, eat pop corn and drink coke, turn your brain off and waste 2 hours for relaxation.

Final verdict:

I was pretty disappointed with the remake of Wolfman, because this is a movie with so many potentials yet wasn't realized because Hollywood decided to once again use the pop corn flick formula. The solid cast, special effect, and marketing promotion have sort of gone to waste.. The most frustrating thing is that, the result is not a good movie, but it is not even a bad movie because it is actually quite entertaining, this is something that could have been a classic, but reduced to an average 2 hour long pop corn flick. The director Joe Johnston have promised an extended edition of this movie when it comes out on DVD, and claimed the original cut has more character development, so if you haven't seen this in the cinema yet, and is thinking of seeing it, I'd say hold your horses and wait for the extended DVD version.

Score: 2.5/5 (average)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book review: A brief history of time

As a follower of Christ, and also as someone who is generally passionate about physics and has a background in engineering, I really enjoy reading books on cosmology, because personally I find the more I understand how the universe is operating, and its origins and laws, the more it fills me with awe and admiration of how beautiful and powerful God is.

So today, I would like to review a book called “a brief history of time” by Stephen Hawking. Let me start by giving some info about Stephen Hawking:

Professor Stephen Hawkings, a British theoretical physicist, is without doubt one of the most brilliant mind in recent human history. He was also the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a position previously held by people like Isaac Newtown. His famous research works include the theoretical prediction that black holes can actually emit radiation, now days now as the “Hawking radiation”.

He wrote quite a few famous books about physics and science. From books for the general public such as” the universe in a nutshell”, to the more technical books such as “God created the integers: mathematical breakthroughs that changed history”.

So, what is this book “a brief history of time about? Well, as the title suggests this is a book that introduces the general public to many topics in cosmology such as: black hole, big bang, and light cones. I have to say that this book is quite well written, because Hawking really did manage to write and explain physics and Maths in ways that the general public can understand. Throughout the whole book, the amount of “xyzqed” equations are practically non-existent, except the famous equation by Einstein E=mc^2.

Having said this book talks about subjects in cosmology, essentially this layout of this book follows a very logical progression, I will list them here:

1) Hawking started off by introducing the history of mankind’s research on universe.
2) Then he started to talk about the concept of space and time, and then moved into Einstein’s special theory of relativity and why it is needed for us to understand what space and time is, and how this leads to the mathematical conclusion (from special and general theory of relativity) that the universe, has a beginning and will have an end.
3) With the understanding of space and time, Hawking then started to talk about the expanding universe based on our understanding of space and time, and provided some recorded experimental proofs of an expanding universe, in conjunction with the well know blue-shift and red-shift phenomenon (the Hubble’s law).
4) Hawking then started to talk about the uncertainty principles, and at the end conclude that although we don’t have a unified theory of general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, but we do know what the shapes of the unified theory should “look like”.
5) Next, the elementary forces and particles of the universe is discussed, and the fascinating subject of “black hole” is discussed, and the fate and the origin of the universe is discussed.
6) Hawking then started to talk about the arrow of time, by invoking the laws of thermodynamics, this is a very useful chapter for people who wish to know more about the arrow of time, and its implications such as why things decay, or why cold things can’t make hot things hotter.
7) Finally, Hawking concluded the book by talking about the unification of physics, and a “theory for everything”.

So yes, this is basically what this book is about. It is short, but gives really good general summary of where we are in terms of the discovery of our universe.

Throughout the book, Hawking shows that he has agnostic view about God. His view on God is probably more similar to Einstein’s view that God reveals himself through the physical laws that governs the universe, but does not intervene with the universe and its events.

As a follower of Christ, I believe that God is the author of everything we know and don’t know, but also God does care and His finger prints are in every pass moments in this universe. When I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but keep thinking, wow how amazing is our God, the creator of space and time, relativity equations, big bang, arrow of time, black holes, elementary particles and forces of nature etc., these are all very mind blowing things that really took my breath away. For me, it always fills me with awe how God can make everything out of nothingness. Just to think of how God can create a singularity that caused the big bang, and how that ties in with the laws of thermodynamics, and the elementary particles and forces so and so forth. It is like everything is created and written so the mechanics of the universe works like a perfectly designed engineering masterpiece that can harbour and nourish life on earth.

Therefore, if you have some interest in cosmology, or are just someone who wishes to see the beautiful mind of God and his design but doesn’t have good background in physics, then this is the book for you. Hawking is agnostic, and in the book he did not attack on any religious concepts of any sort, but simply stated at the end that, if we can find a unified theory of everything, then we can know the mind of God. I don’t want to comment on Hawking’s statement, but however I would like to ask, even if we know the theory of everything, isn’t it more important to know the will of God and His purpose for us in life? I always think after we know the purpose of the creator who made the “theory of everything”, then if we do discover the “theory of everything” one day, this theory would simply show us how beautiful and mighty the creator of everything is, and how we can apply it for the better of the world.

If you want to further reading, then I would also suggest “Just six numbers” by Martin Ree, and “The origin of the universe” by John D. Barrow. If you have good mathematical and physics background, you can also read “Anthropic cosmological principle” by Barrow and Tipler (this book is very hard to find, it took me a long time to locate it).

Book rating: 4.5/5 Strongly recommended

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Movie Review: Requien for a dream

Requiem for a dream, is a drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky (the director of pi, and the wrestler). It is an adaptation from a 1978 novel by Hubert Shelby Jr.

First of all, a word of warning, this film is R-rated for drug use and sexual content. It is a movie about different addictions and how it can ruing people's lives. Personally, it was quite difficult for me to watch through the whole film, because some of the scenes are very painful to watch. However, I have to say the film is really well made, because the horrific images of the results of addiction, whatever addiction will probably never leave my mind. In this movie, the characters are all pursuing dreams that ultimately lead them into addictions and destructions. God said we should only worship him, and not idols. In requiem for a dream, it is really clear that all the characters are worshipping the idols such as fame, youth and beauty, money and how that destroyed them. As followers of Christ, we know that the consequences of worshipping idols is far worse than just the horrific results depicted in the movie, the consequences of worshipping idols is the eternal seperation from our creator, which will be our ultimate destruction.

The director did a really good job, the camera angles are very unique, much like the first 5 minutes of "the wrestler". I don't really want to spoil the story too much, all I can say is, if you see past the explicit sexual themes (not very long actually) and some difficult to watch wounds and grotesque scenes, then you probably won't regret watching this film.

Video (4/5): although made in 2000, the film is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ration, which is not bad and provides good contrast, the director Darren Aronofsky brings us his unique style of camera angle and works really really well.

Story (4/5): The story really shows the price and the consequences of addictions.

Sound (4/5): The soundtrack "Requiem for a dream", sounds very epic, one of my favourite movie soundtrack.

Overall (4/5): This is a good film, but if you are looking for entertainment you won't find it here. Also remember my warning that there are explicit sexual themes and horrific images of wounds that might upset more senstivie viewers.

Book Review: Romance of Three Kingdoms

Romance of Three Kingdoms, is a Chinese historical fiction novel written in the 14th Century, written by Luo Guan Zhong, if you do the maths, this book is about 600 year old and personally is my favourite novel of all time, because some of the characters in the book are worthy of tears and song of praises.

As an introduction, I should talk about the origin of this epic novel. The novel is based on the historical "three kingdoms" era in China, which took place from 184AD to 281AD. There are all together 1000+ characters in the book, all are real and true people who lived in the era. There are four classical Chinese novels: The water margin, Journey to the west (better know to western audiences as Monkey Magic), Romance of Three kingdoms, and the Dream of Red Chamber. Out of the four classical novels, only Romance of three kingdoms is based on real history, but there is a saying in China that, Romance of three kingdoms, is 70% fact and 30% fiction. This is definitely so because there are some minor elements of supernatural scenes.

Romance of Three Kingdoms is probably the most famous novel in China, or in East Asia. Now days, it is starting to be spread into the western world. In 2009 the movie "Red Cliff" is based on this novel, CCTV made an 84 episode TV series back in 1994, and the Japanese video game company KOEI has made the famous "Dynasty Warriors" series based on this novel as well. Actually, this novel is so famous in East Asia that you can almost go up to any Chinese person and start a conversation with them about the characters and stories from Romance of Three kingdoms, yea, it is that famous. In the commercial world, business people have used this book as a guide for planning their business strategy and using of human resources. Now days, the novel has been translated into English as well, and is quite a heavy tome (or tomes sometimes).

The popularity and the literature value of this book in China, can probably be compared to Shakespeare's play in England. The original Chinese version, is not written in vernacular Chinse, but in classical Chinese, therefore unless your Chinse literacy level is quite high, otherwise it would be very difficult to understand the language and sentences used in the book, especially when it comes to the poetry part, the author tends to use poems to describe battle scenes or characters in the book a lot.

So, what is this book about? Well, the story starts at the end of 184AD, the Han dynasty ruling China was extremely corrupted, after years of famine and unrest, one of the biggest peasant rebellion in Chinese history took place, it was know as the "yellow turban rebellion". This lead to a series of events that gave rise to the power struggle between warlords and heroes with political ambitions. After years of war eventually China was divided amongst three "kingdoms", and lasted until around 280AD when the land was re-united again.

The most interesting thing about this chaotic era is, in times of unrest anyone with good abilities can put their abilities to use to the maximum, depsite their backgrounds. Therefore, in this era we see the most brilliant military strategists, most brave generals, craftiest politicians.etc.. essentially the characters introduced in the book will craft long lasting memories not only because of their abilities, but also their personalities and characters.

The foundamental of Chinse culture and moral values are deeply embedded in this book. The moral values such as loyalty, filial piety, kindness, mercy are displayed lavishly on some of the characters. Personally I think western audiences would find it very hard to understand why some of the characters depicted in the book are so loyal to their king and lords such as they are, but I guess this is because the concept of loyalty and filial piety is not seemed as very important values in the western world. So if you are from western background, and want to explore more about East Asian culture instead of just listening to myths and legends, then this is a good place to begin.

I cannot describe enough how awesome this book is, the characters are memorable and lively, the military struggle, strategy, and the politics are intriguing, the battle scenes are thrilling and exiciting. I have read Lord of the Rings 5 times from the front to the back, and I don't think I will read it again, but Romance of Three Kingdoms, I don't even remember how many times I have read it since I was 13 years old and I will read many many more times in the future.

As a follower of Christ, I find no conflict between the core moral values described in Romance of Three Kingdoms and the life principles taught in the Bible. One of the main theme in this book is about being loyal to the king, a nation or the country. As Christians we know that these things are created by God, so our first priority should be dedicated to God, and because the Bible taught us that it is good to serve our country with loyalty, that's why we should serve our country. However, what if the country we are serving has gone to the wrong direction? For example, what are Christians to do if we find ourselves living in a country like Nazi Germany? Should we continue to give our loyalty blindly to support the wrong cause? In Romance of Three Kingdoms, some of the most well known characters are famous because they choose to serve only the king who is fighting for the righteneous cause, and that is usually the most kind, generous and merciful king who really cares for the people.

Overall, Romance of Three Kingdoms is a fantastic historical novel, if this is your cup of tea then don't miss it.