Friday, January 28, 2011

Oscar Nominations: Cinematography

Welcome to the first installment of my series on the Oscars.  The category I'll be review this time will be Cinematography.  I think a lot of people who watch the Oscars just as people who see movies without any background in the technical side of movies hear "cinematography" and simply think camera work.  This is true to some extent, but not the whole story. Sure, nice camera moves and composition are important to cinematography but some of the other key aspects include extensive lighting, choice and implementation of film stock, and use of depth of field. All of these factor in to how the image is going to look and is perceived by the audience. With that being said I'll get to my analysis.


The King's Speech

Personally, this could be my favorite of the year's films as far as cinematography goes. That being said, I'm kind of a sucker for shallow depth of field, so I don't know if my opinions would reflect the Academy's very well. The camera work was done in such a way that any time there was a shot of a single person, their face was very sharply in focus, and the rest of the image, including the rest of the head many times, was out of focus. I think in order to do this and well it takes a lot of precision, especially considering there were some crane and dolly shots that even carried that out well. Very well done, but I'm not sure it will win.

Black Swan

This was another example of fine cinematography from my point of view. The use of intense film grain, which is a product of the choice of film stock, really reflected the mood of the film, as well very dim lighting. These things really helped to maintain the grittiness and intense pressure portrayed throughout the movie. I also think using primarily hand-held camerawork was a good choice. To me it seemed through the hand-held, the audience was able to feel off-balance, even though as a ballerina, Nina (Natalie Portman) you would think have a great sense of balance. This film was a buffet of good cinematographic choices, but, I think it, too, will unlikely win.


To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what this movie is doing nominated in this category. Sure, the scenes where they are floating in the hallways took very intricate camera movements, but really, there wasn't much besides that and some of the super slow motion stuff that I thought was exceptional. The cinematography was pretty good in this movie, but not great, and certainly, as far as I'm concerned, not worthy of an Oscar nomination. I'm certain it won't win but I really am uncertain why it was nominated.

True Grit

Unlike Inception, I do understand the choice of True Grit as a Best Cinematography nominee. I'm sure part of this is because of the era, but some of this film's cinematography reminded me of that in There Will Be Blood. There was a lot of very nice camera choreography, and very nice use of the natural light in exposing the images. The work done in this department was probably worth the nomination, but I would be very surprised if it won the award.

The Social Network

This all of course leaves The Social Network. While this wasn't my favorite film of the year, I think it will probably win the Oscar, and will probably deserve it. This film had a very nice usage of several cinematographic elements, especially depth of field and film stock. These two things combined gave the film a look to the movie I feel I've never seen before, which I think is great for it in its attempt to be a zeitgeist film, making visuals from the film very memorable. Even the lighting was done in such a way so that it didn't seem unnatural, but at the same time gloomy and foreboding. A big "well done" to the Director of Photography.

Other Deserving Films

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

I was actually really surprised to see that this film wasn't nominated. It incorporated great composition, very smooth and fitting camera moves, along with a very bleak overall look of the film, coming together beautifully, and contained some shots that actually left me in awe. If I had made the list of nominees I would have replaced Inception with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in the blink of an eye. Hopefully Part Two is just as good visually as Part One, and can be redeemed at next years Oscars.

Get Low

I would probably compare the cinematography in this film to that in True Grit, the highlight of which being the use of natural lighting and creating decent lighting with home fires and candles being the source light. I'm not heartbroken that it wasn't nominated, but I think if it would have been nominated it would have definitely deserved it, because it really was a beautiful film, and a large amount of the credit for that goes to the cinematography.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Popped My Jury Duty Cherry

Yesterday was my first time being chosen for jury duty.  It was over all a good and interesting experience. Both of the lawyers and bailiffs were fairly nice and the judge was extremely nice.  The process of selecting the jury actually wasn't terrible, as I've heard it made out to be from some people. I wasn't selected, which is fine, even though I'd like to someday, just probably not during the school year.

While the majority of the experience was a good one, there is one aspect of it that got me thinking a little bit about the legitimacy of having the lawyers come together to choose the jury.

Selection started with one of the lawyers (Defense) just asking questions about what you do for a living, and what you like to do in your spare time. My response to which was something like "I'm a full time student at MSUM, work part time at a movie theater and I watch a lot of movies and read a lot on philosophical issues."  So far no problem. After everyone answered that question the first lawyer went on to ask people if they understand the burden of proof to convict someone, to pull someone over, to search a person, etc., which I think is a great thing, but the way he went about asking some people seemed very much like he was trying to get a particular response out of the jury.  For example, he said "Can I policeman pull someone over, just because he feels like it?" which on the face of it doesn't sound like a terrible question, but his tone was very suggestive, in my personal opinion.  This was one issue I have with lawyers choosing the jury, because of stuff like that.  Trying to suggest a response out of someone doesn't help them to be impartial, I think it leads them to potentially be biased towards your side of the case.

Before I start talking about the other problem I had, I want to make clear that the following is purely speculative. I don't know whether or not it actually happened, but if it did, I see it as a huge flaw in jury selection.

The second lawyer (Prosecution) had follow up questions related to what people did for a living and in their spare time, and when it came time to asking me the follow up questions he asked, "What kind of philosophy do you study?" to which I replied, "Moral philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of the arts, I could go on."  He then asked "if you consider yourself kind of a 'rigorous thinker'?" and I responded yes. The thing about this is, for the most part, almost everyone gave virtually the same response to Lawyer #2's questions, so there wasn't a lot to set people apart, except for a couple of people, who were dismissed during the actual questions. Now I would imagine, most prosecution lawyers probably want less "rigorous thinkers" on the jury, because they probably wouldn't have as high of a standard of evidence to go beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's what the prosecution has to get to. If people are more easily convinced by less evidence, then it makes the prosecution's job easier. If this is the case it means the lawyer is more concerned about getting a conviction, then he is about truth, which is appalling if you ask me, but really not all that surprising, and I can imagine this type of selection could lead to potential wrongful convictions. Now, I have no idea whether or not this was considered in the selection process, but I think it's possible and thought it would be interesting to bring attention to. If it actually is the case, then it's one more reason why lawyers shouldn't be involved in selecting juries. They should be picked by other people so that all parties, including the questioners, are impartial.

That's it for that. Next post will either be related to Berkeley again or the Oscars (I'm actually going to do a whole series on some of the different categories and their nominations). Have a pleasant day. :)

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Berkeley's First Dialogue

George Berkeley’s (Pronounced Bark-lee) Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous is an incredibly frustrating read.  Not so much that he’s hard to respond to, although his arguments are very obscure, but for a few reasons. I’m going to make a post for each dialogue that will include a synopsis of the dialogue, and my criticisms of it. Berkeley’s first argument goes something like this:

P1:  Physical objects are a bundle of sensible qualities, and nothing else.

            P1 (A): If you take away all of an objects sensible qualities,
                        nothing remains.

P2:  Sensible qualities exist only in the mind.

.˙.   Physical objects exist only in the mind.

I’m sure most people probably don’t agree with this at least on first glance, but as you read it may seem progressively tougher to object to, however, I still do and I will hopefully be able to effectively explain why.

Philonous, the immaterialist (Berkeley’s mouthpiece), argues that our perceptions of the outside world come down to ideas and ideas alone. In other words, nothing can exist unless it is in a mind.  Hylas, who accepts the existence of matter, states his original position, as most people probably accept, “To exist is one thing, to be perceived is another,” though because Berkeley gets to write the argument against his position himself, Hylas concedes a lot.

For the first part of the First Dialogue, Philonous explains that hot/cold, color, taste, pain, etc. can only exist in the mind, which for the most part, I don’t have too much of a problem with, especially pain and taste.  I would say that there is no inherent action that will produce an inherent response or sensation within a human being; in other words they are perceiver or mind-dependent. For example, I may find getting stabbed with a knife painful, while someone else may find it pleasurable; two actions, two different sensations.  The same may exist for color; everyone probably perceives the spectrum a little differently.  These are what used to be referred to as secondary qualities of a thing, and most people would agree that these are perceptions, not something that is intrinsically in an object.

Hylas finally concedes to Philonous that, yes, secondary qualities can’t exist outside of a mind, but these are not relevant to the true essence of a physical body, but rather says primary qualities are that which exist outside of the mind.  Primary qualities are things like mass, height, weight, speed, etc.  These are things people have created objective measurements for so we aren’t reliant purely upon our own personal perception of these things.  If I measure a table with a ruler and hand that ruler off to you, we should both get the same answer as to the dimensions of the table.  Philonous’ response to this, however, is by stating that we can only determine these qualities by having the secondary qualities. For example, I can only distinguish a table from the wall by a combination of colors, textures, sounds, etc. and therefore primary qualities are dependent on secondary qualities, so they must equally be mind-dependent.  This leads Philonous to the conclusion that since we perceive everything immediately, and everything is mind-dependent, then therefore everything that exists is an idea, because those are things we perceive immediately.


First of all, we don’t perceive things immediately.  Light hits our eye and causes a perception. When we look at things, technically, we don’t see the thing; different wavelengths of light hit our retina and affect our optic nerves in such a way that they cause images as perception (idea).  Philonous may disagree and say a physical object couldn’t cause an idea, only a mind could, however, the way we perceive the outside world gives us every indication that this is the case. Without this being true, there is no reason for us to have eyes or brains (I realize cognitive science was not as advanced in the 18th century as it is today, but they still knew what brains were and had some understanding of what they do). Our souls, as referred to in the text, should simply be able to detect ideas incorporeally.  Why would we need mind to be trapped in a body just for us to interact with ideas?  Particles that interact with our brain act as sensory mediators between the object itself, and our perception of it, creating a working model of the world.  This is the type of thing we observe when we look at the world, and only a trickster god, (the First Dialogue is used as support for his argument for God’s existence in the Second Dialogue) much less an all-perfect god, would make it appear like this and have it not actually be that way.  I don’t think the concept of interacting with the ideas of another mind really makes sense in itself, but it makes less sense because our perception isn’t immediate.

In addition to this, saying that something is its sensible qualities and nothing else also provides a quick pathway to solipsism, which from the dialogue, it is clear Philonous is not.  From the perception of any one mind, other minds only exist in their sensible qualities (behavior).  I hear the words come out of your mouth; I see your body language express emotions and concepts, and so on.  If I go by sensible qualities alone, there is no way for me to sense the internal contents of your mind, so therefore there should be no reason to believe your behavior has any mind behind it.  To me it’s clear that Philonous commits a fallacy of special pleading by apparently arbitrarily saying that spirits (minds) and God are not sensible.

Well, that’s all I have to say about the First Dialogue right now.  If I decide to say more I will create an update, but this is all I have to say currently. I’m watching Psycho for the first time tonight then I have jury duty in the morning. Hopefully it will be a good time. Good night. :)

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Listening to People's Conversations

I'm taking 18th Century Philosophy this semester, which means even if I don't partake in pre-class conversations, just listening is usually mentally stimulating to some degree. While in many cases I don't agree with people have to say, it will get me thinking about what I would say if I was a part of the conversation. I actually pretty sure I listen more attentively when I disagree with people; I just find it more interesting.

Today was no exception. I was sitting waiting for class to start and I heard a girl mention how she hates it when people say they don't have the ability, resources, or money to be able to do things like go to college, get a job, or anything like that. She claims she got to college and is doing everything that college entails, including the financial stuff, all by herself. I find it entirely unlikely that this is the case.  People are not these beings in vacuums that can just do whatever as long as they have enough willpower.  My guess is it's unlikely she is doing everything it takes to get through college by herself. She seemed to be around my age so it's probable she enrolled in college immediately after finishing high school, meaning she probably isn't paying for it out of her own pocket.  Even if she got loans, she had to have gotten a co-signer with good credit, be it her parents or whoever.  This means she had to have had a guardian who could have done so.  Not everyone has access to these sorts of things. Unless you're going to take less than 12 credits in a semester, college is going to cost you about $6000/year, which isn't cheap, much less affordable, to someone who has just finished high school. If you attend college, paying for it completely out of pocket, and take less than 12 credits per semester it's going to take you forever to graduate.  There's nothing wrong with taking your time getting through college, but I'm sure most people don't want to remain in college forever.

My guess is the reason she believes in this sort of "ultimate responsibility" for the situation in which you find yourself comes down to a couple of things. One, is this major American capitalist ideal that you can make anything you want of your future with enough hard work (the other is the idea of the "soul", but I'm not going to get in to that in this post because I don't think it's as major of a contributor as the other) and due to the fact that I live in a highly conservative area, someone having this attitude here is not a surprise.  Yes, I believe in personal responsibility, but I think the majority of people, at least in this country, disregard environment as a strong contributing factor to one's ability to "make their dreams a reality".  An analogy that I think is fitting is an leg amputee who really wants to play football.  Sure they may be able to keep themselves in shape, even without legs, but they could never make their dreams a reality without money, which would allow them to get legs that may make it able for them to play football.  This is something that is an imposition upon their will that is not up to them.  One's environment can do exactly the same thing.  This is why people in poor areas of America tend not to be as educated.  Kids who grow up in these areas end up working more hours at earlier ages than people who can afford to go to college and have a nice standard of living.  They can't spend the time in order to better themselves or go to college, because they have to spend their time helping to feed and house their family.  They can't just make themselves able to educate themselves, go to college, and free themselves from the burden of poverty, just like the amputee can just give themselves legs or the money to get new legs; it's the same type of imposition on their freedom.

This attitude of responsibility for not just actions, but for your entire situation/environment, is one of the main reasons why the conservative element of our society is so against entitlement programs like welfare, social security, and even progressive taxation and public education.  Now it's universal health care.  Sure, we have to have people be responsible for contributing to society but I think people acknowledge that they don't just make who they are out of nothing, and they certainly don't do it without any help.

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I found this entertaining

I work in a movie theater and was very pleased to find this.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First post


I may see about changing the title of this blog, assuming I keep it, but I was watching 30 Rock while trying to think of a title, and that came up on the show.

Anyways, this will probably be used for me to talk about whatever, there won't be an official theme.  Potential topics will likely include: whatever the hell I decide to write about.  I will take this opportunity to let you know that I am majoring in Film Studies with an emphasis in Production and a minor in Philosophy. I am fortunate enough to be able to study two of the things I enjoy most in life. Over approximately the past 5 years the majority of my beliefs about life, reality, morality, politics, religion, etc. have changed.  Several of these things will probably become fodder for future posts, which is all I will say about that for now.

If only there was a publish button so people could read this...

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