Book Review: “We Need to Talk About Kelvin” by Marcus Chown

February 8, 2010 in Book Reviews by pacejmiller

[To read my eye-opening Q&A with the author please click here]

When I was a baby, the first ‘thing’ I wanted to be when I grew up was a scientist.  I think Return of the Jedi had just come out or something and whatever cartoons that were on TV had cool space stuff.

Sadly, that dream was obliterated when I commenced science in the 7th grade.  It was just soooo boring and soooo bloody difficult to understand.  Much of the fault has to go to my science teachers (Dr Mario, Fat Cow and The Pirate), who just couldn’t explain anything without putting me to sleep or giving me a headache.  This culminated in a sad incident where my friend and I traced rays of light on the workbench (as opposed to our workbooks) during an optics experiment and were sentenced to a long stint facing the corners of the classroom.  Fat Cow had called us “idiots”, and she was right.  But it was still her fault for making us zone out and chat rather than listen to the experiment instructions.

So what does any of this have to do with the new book We Need to Talk About Kelvin by award-winning author Marcus Chown?  Well, if I had read this book when I was in school or had Chown as my science teacher, maybe I wouldn’t have dropped out of science the first chance I got.

We Need to Talk About Kelvin is Chown’s valiant attempt to teach us science stuff in a way that normal people can understand, and more importantly, find interesting.  More specifically, the book is about what seemingly mundane, everyday things tell us about the nature of the universe and reality as we know it.

(To read on, click on ‘more…)

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The reason why (some) movie reviews suck

February 8, 2010 in Movie Reviews, Social/Political Commentary by pacejmiller

Last year, I lamented the tendency of movie reviews to reveal too much about the plot (see here), to the extent to which you wonder whether there is a point in watching the movie at all.

Below is a classic example why so many movie reviews these days suck dogs balls.  It’s from a reviewer at the Sydney Morning Herald, just one of the most respected papers in the land.

The movie reviewed is Law Abiding Citizen (which I recently reviewed here).  If you don’t want to know everything about the movie, stop reading NOW!

Here are the fourth and fifth paragraphs of the review:

“His wife and young daughter are murdered during a brutal home invasion that opens the film. The killers are quickly caught but Jamie Foxx’s Nick Rice, a gung-ho young assistant district attorney obsessed with maintaining his 95 per cent conviction rate, isn’t convinced he has enough evidence to see the case through. As a result, he makes a deal. The cockiest of the two killers gleefully consents to testify against his accomplice in return for a reduced sentence.”

“Ten years pass and we pick up the story as the less-fortunate crim is being executed by lethal injection. It’s an inordinately grisly scene, since the drugs don’t work as they should and he dies in agony. The other killer, however, is already basking in his freedom – but not for long. Clyde is waiting for him.”

These two paragraphs are enough to ruin the film, but the reviewer doesn’t stop there.   This is then followed by stuff like:

“Clyde arranges a DVD of the operation to be sent to Rice’s home, where his unsuspecting young daughter happens to see it.”

“…Clyde is incarcerated for his act of revenge. Not that he calls it revenge. In his view, he’s on a crusade aimed at the legal system itself. Consequently, he’s determined to kill everyone who’s had anything to do with his family’s murder case.”

“The casualties are now mounting at a steady rate as Rice and Irish actor Colm Meaney – cast as a strangely laid-back detective – try to work out how Clyde is managing these multiple murders from his cell, deep in solitary.”

“At one point, the forceful African-American actress Viola Davis ( Doubt) storms in to do a cameo as the mayor, a political powerhouse with a firm belief in the motivational effectiveness of verbal abuse. She’s entrusted with the film’s silliest line.”

That’s like 90% of the movie, right there.  And about half of the review.  I understand the need to give a bit of background, but what is the point of a review like this?  And why is the Herald hiring writers who basically ruin the entire movie for potential viewers?

Dogs balls.

[PS: for the record, the reviewer gave the film 1 star]