Another Ten More Movies: June 2014 to July 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. For No Good Reason at the Little, June 13: I went to see this documentary on Ralph Steadman, perhaps best known as Hunter S. Thompson's illustrator. In fact, the film centers on Steadman and Thompson's relationship most of all. While it's interesting to get to better understand what went on between those two at the time Thompson was so prolific, I found the most poignant moment was Steadman's realization that his lifelong goal to change the world had a substantially smaller effect than he (and his contemporaries) had hoped. I'm beginning to soften my own goals to save the world—from pollution, corruption, unfairness, and climate change—and hopefully save myself from later-years regrets. Nonetheless, although Steadman didn't stop war altogether, he helped redefine it. Consider that the images Steadman created and the words Thompson wrote were once relegated to a tiny niche, but are now virtually accepted as mainstream. As well, the ideas they conveyed are permeating the collective consciousness and are affecting change. Alas, slower than we'd like.
  2. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer at the Dryden, June 17: I don't have a particularly strong opinion of Shirley Temple either way, but I figured I'd see what she did as she entered adulthood. Playing against Cary Grant's unscrupulous and charming womanizer, it's a rather good screwball comedy.
  3. My Name is Alan and I Paint Pictures at the Cinema, June 24: Alan "streets" Russell-Cowan is a painter who worked for a decade on the streets of New York City. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is attempting to deal with it without medication—doctor-prescribed nor self-applied. As a documentary it's a bit unfocused. It goes scatter-shot trying to explain how challenging it is to be an artist in the modern world, and spends a fair amount of time letting doctors and fringe-art collectors opine on the art of people living without neurological normalcy. It also had some cheesy bits playing Alan's spartan, art-centered lifestyle against his conservative parents' wealth-driven ideology. In the end, I thought Alan's style was pretty interesting, and the film survives largely because of its interesting subject.
  4. Groundhog Day at the Dryden, June 28: It's been a long time since I saw this (dare I say) classic. For those who don't know, it's the story of a self-absorbed man who is mysteriously stuck reliving Groundhog Day over and over again. I find it very fascinating how the film can be so engaging and (largely) funny while at the same time being very bizarre and dark. Thankfully there are people as crazy as I am, and they estimated Phil is actually stuck in the same day for almost 34 years.
  5. Ida at the Little, June 30: It's about a woman who grew up as an orphan in a convent, and who is now about to take her vows to become a nun, when her family history throws a spanner in her faith [what's that about mixing metaphors before they hatch?] Although the story is bleak, the film is gently and elegantly paced.
  6. Obvious Child at the Little, June 30: Jenn and I stuck around for our own improvised double-feature and caught this pretty clever comedy. It's about a stand-up comic whose boyfriend leaves her, her workplace goes out of business, and then she's confronted with an unplanned pregnancy—hilarious, right? It actually is pretty engaging and funny.
  7. Snowpiercer at the Little, July 2: I had double-checked Rotten Tomatoes and confirmed a high rating before Jenn and I went to see this. Well, what the fuck? Decades after a failed overly successful attempt to reverse global warming plunges Earth into a global ice age, what remains of humanity is contained within a magic locomotive traversing the European and Asian land mass ever since. Numerous rearward passengers are tempted by the comparatively clean and content forward passengers and stage a revolt, fighting a videogame-like progression forward in the train. The unsurprising result is a parallel to our modern world's socioeconomic class stratification. Overall, I give it a "meh."
  8. Synth Britannia at the Memorial Art Gallery, July 18: Do you like synth-pop of the 1970's and 1980's? I sure do. So regardless, I enjoyed seeing bands I liked and 2009-era interviews with members thereof. As a documentary, it did a pretty good job explaining the evolution of all-electronic music. But the big notable hole is the lack of a music theory expert. While Simon Reynolds, an expert music critic, filled in the details of the social relevance and derivative interaction between bands, the film would have been helped by a music theory expert to help define "pop" as a musical style and where synthesizers fit in the history of musical instruments.
  9. July '64 at the Little, July 20: It's been a few years since I last saw it so I figured it was about time again—what with being four days shy of 50 years since Rochester's poorest neighborhood exploded in rebellion. I'll leave it to my prior review to explain the film. I'll add, though, that I think audiences are dumber because of Internet comments—the question-and-answer was more of a forum to ramble incoherently. The national guardsman who was personally involved offered some insight, but simply living in (or near) the city at that time is not interesting to anybody. And the guy who wanted to know about how Song of the South has been blocked from screening for 30 years—I would bet he is just a Disney shill drumming up interest. In all of it, though, the lack of coherency from the audience proves that no progress has been made to improve the poorest neighborhoods in Rochester.
  10. A Field in England at the Dryden, July 22: Jenn and I went to see this because it looked pretty interesting. I feel like I missed out on a lot because I didn't know enough about English folklore (although clued in to fairy rings and crossing a hedge row into another world during the introduction) and because I often couldn't decipher the thick, mumbled antiqued-English accents. Nonetheless, the style of storytelling, the cinematography, and the sound design were brilliant. The story is, when taken literally, rather bizarre and difficult to follow, but the allegorical tale makes a bit more sense—even with my handicaps.

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A lecture on the dangers of pseudoarchaeology at the MAG

Ali and I headed to The Memorial Art Gallery (500 University Ave., near Goodman St.) to see the archaeology lecture. Dr. Garrett Fagan was there to talk about The Dangers of Pseudoarchaeology.

To start with, archaeology is the analysis of physical remains, paying special attention to the context of those remains — their geographic location, location relative to other items and within the strata of the region, any documented historical context, and so on. Further, he stated that there is an assumption among archaeologists that other archaeologists are interested in the best explanation for things.

Pseudoarchaeology — "armchair archaeology" if you will — is performed by people who are not interested in the best explanation at all. Rather, the goal is to attain sensational results — and as such, truth that inconveniently gets in the way of that goal is ignored, denied, or derided as being part of a conspiratorial establishment. It abuses select methods of archaeology for the purpose of lending credence to itself. So, for instance, it may take a small piece of data and fabricate a vast conclusion from it. Or it may rely on outdated models — cherry-picking debunked theories to support a hypothesis.

The thought then is, "so what?: legitimate archaeology will debunk their findings". Well it's not so hard when some guy shows up on TV with a wrench and claims it's the bone of a metal dinosaur. But when it's someone who's published a dozen books under the "archaeology" category, it's quite another.

And therein lies the cornerstone for the "dangers" that Dr. Fagan outlined. The pseudoarchaeologist makes their conclusions first then finds data to fit that — specifically, they skip the peer-review process that is designed to strengthen legitimate theories and diminish illegitimate ones. Relatedly, they will deride critics and celebrate supporters; whereas a true archaeologist will celebrate the respectability of criticism or support and deride inferiority. Frequently the pseudoarchaeologist will leverage nationalism and other unrelated reasons affect objective investigation.

But worst of all is that these pseudoarchaeologists don't do any real archaeology but they are supported under false pretenses to establish dig-sites which are no more respectable than (and just as destructive as) looters.

The key — in my mind — is that the average person is not an expert in archaeology (and in point of fact, is seldom an expert in any more than one field). As such, they rely on indicators of expertise to make a decision: advanced degrees, validation from others, longevity of their claimed expertise, etc. Unfortunately, all of these can be forged and the non-expert is left wondering what to do.

I guess for most, it's to remain vigilant. Look for telltale signs — sweeping conclusions, derision of all critics and celebration of all supporters, and a strong influence of motivations external to the work-at-hand.

I also left the lecture with a sense of familiarity for the kind of person that makes a pseudoarchaeologist. It's the same traits that make up the pseudoscientist and the fraudulent leader. In all these cases, the perpetrator of fraud creates an environment of power and prestige by convincing people that established knowledge is simply a conspiracy against wonders-untold that is otherwise claimed untrue.

For the pseudoarchaeologist, it may be that ancient civilizations were far more advanced than we are — despite established knowledge that they used tools and techniques that we have built upon to become more advanced than they. For the pseudoscientist, it is almost exclusively an attack on good old Thermodynamics Law #2: that you can't get more energy out of something than you put in — perpetual motion machines, and miraculous energy machines constitute the bulk of their exploration. And for the fraudulent leader, it is a claim that vast improvements can come from their method of leadership which history has consistently shown to be a path to a civilization's destruction.

And I agree with Dr. Fagan's comment that these people are not evil, just misguided. They are often deluded by the same thing that tricks others: the fundamental belief that great rewards exist to be claimed; and the refusal to accept that sometimes the greatness of a reward is distorted to be larger than it actually is when observed from afar.

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