Saturday, May 10, 2008

Walkin' to the movies and walkin' right out again

Living in Oakland near Lake Merritt, there are a lot of cool places in my neighborhood in walking distance. There's the Oakland Museum and a lot of good Asian restaurants, mainly Chinese and Vietnamese, and there's the Parkway Theater. The Parkway plays movies that have been out for a few weeks, but only charges $7 to get in the door and has food and beverages available. You can get pub food and beer and wine while you watch the movies, and for the one price, you get to see two movies if that's what you want. Last Sunday, I decided to see 21, the new movie about the M.I.T. Blackjack Team. I had already seen semi-documentaries about them on TV, so I knew some of the story going in. But less than an hour in, I was hatin' on the movie so bad, I had to walk out.

Lemme 'splain why.

Hatin' on the math and hatin' on the script. Let me list all the playwrights in English today who can write a good sentence about higher mathematics.

Tom Stoppard.

After that, I'm drawing a blank.

Jim Sturgess, who was really good in Across The Universe, plays the hero, the poor kid who is really good at math but wants to go to medical school and can't afford it. (First note to screenwriters: most medical professionals suck at math. This kid would be aiming at math in grad school, or getting in at Google or trying his hand at a start-up.) Somehow he has to impress his math professor, played by Kevin Spacey. I kind of liked that the script let Spacey play the character as cool, but in so many parts he has played recently, Spacey doesn't seem to have any more notes in his repertory other than cool, and it felt like he was phoning it in.

The first thing Sturgess' character does to impress the prof is note that Newton's Method, which most mathematicians now call the Newton-Raphson Method, should be just called Raphson's Method. Spacey is slightly impressed. To confirm that this kid has the goods, he asks him "The Game Show Host Problem". In reality, this is called "The Monty Hall Problem", but the writers didn't call it that. Maybe Monty Hall wanted some royalties for the use of his name. I suspect that as it was being written, someone brought up that the young target audience for this movie wouldn't know who the hell Monty Hall is or was.

In any case, a student at M.I.T. can impress his professor by knowing the answer to the Monty Hall problem. Maybe that's what's wrong with education today! The professors and students at the top universities are in fact bone crushingly stupid! This problem is actually well known to mathematicians and nearly anyone in that room in real life could have correctly answered the question.

Hatin' on the instant lust object. This is a not uncommon situation in movies. Some woman is shown on the screen, and we are supposed to accept that the males who gaze upon her are immediately in lust. She hasn't done anything, she hasn't spoken a line, but instant lust is supposed to be the reaction. In this movie, Jim Sturgess and his nerd friends are supposed to feel this way about Kate Bosworth. Don't get me wrong, Kate Bosworth is pretty enough, though I've heard that recently she is now at Callista Flockhart/Lara Flynn Boyle/Dear God, somebody give that girl a sandwich weight, and I don't consider that pretty at all. She didn't look that skinny in the film. But for the instant lust object, she's not at the peak. While your mileage may vary, Ursula Andress in the white bikini with the knife on her hip, rising out of the sea in Doctor No is still the iconic standard for instant lust object, the unattainable woman that keeps the plot moving along.

Well, I should say unattainable for mere mortals. She will just be another notch on the gun clip if your name is Bond.

James Bond.


Matt said...

Matty Boy, I'm new here but felt like joining in here. I haven't seen the movie because I was in the casino business for ten years and I stay away from gambling movies because they are usually so far from realistic it annoys me.

Anyway, I think you overestimate the general public. There was a discussion about this on Discovery Channel website not to long ago and you would be amazed how many people don't get the Monty Hall problem. I think most people know the answer and can repeat it back to you but don't understand why.

Speaking of that iconic picture of Ursala Andrews I loved the symmetry of the same scene with Halle Barry in a recent Bond film.



Matty Boy said...

Hi, Matt. Thanks for stopping by. You're right that most people don't understand the Monty Hall problem, but this is supposed to be a classroom full of students at M.I.T. studying Non Linear Methods, so it's not exactly the general public.

As for the bikini and the knife, looking up Ursula Andress on Google and there was a picture of Jessica Alba in the same outfit. The Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Brothers had a woman in bikini with a knife in an episode from their second season. Given that the movie is over 40 years old, I'd say that gives some idea of just how iconic that scene was.

Matt said...

Oh I agree completely. That is why I was bringing up the Halle Barry/Bond movie. That picture with Ursala Andrews is was so powerful that directors have tried to recreate it. Either out of respect or pandering, you can't deny how powerful that image was.

I do find it amazing that we think of films from 40 years ago being more prude and conserative but that brought us that image, Bo Derek in 10 and Monroe. Even in today's "sex sells" atmosphere, images from 40 years ago are still the standard by which all others are judged.

Just rambling.

Thanks for the time.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I knew this one had turkey written all over it.

Matty Boy said...

As I said, Doc, your mileage may vary. I hate most math movies, but some doctors don't like the medical dramas and some police whine about cop shows. Sometimes people closest to the story don't like what dramatization does.

Except The Wire. Anyone not liking The Wire for any reason can simply be discounted.

Distributorcap said...


i stayed through the whole movie
boy it sucked big time
i stopped paying attention and started daydreaming about ursula andress

dguzman said...

Kate Bosworth is definitely no Ursula Andress (or Plassnik, for that matter!). I figured this movie would suck. Did you like Good Will Hunting?

Matty Boy said...

I liked Good Will Hunting as a movie, but the math was a little weak. They really didn't put it front and center, so it didn't bother me that much.

On the other hand, don't get me started on the movie Pi or the TV show Numbers.