Friday, October 22, 2010

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 8

Yeah, I skipped another couple of days. Wednesday was the Quakes last regular season home game, so I was there to watch Wondolowski score a hat trick, set a new Quakes single season goal record, and pull into a tie for the Golden Boot. Oh yeah, and they beat Chivas U.S.A. 3-0.

And Tuesday I was...at a top secret undisclosed location. Doing something awesome, no doubt.

But Thursday I was back at Docfest for two more movies:

While the Giants were playing Philly (we'll get them in Philadelphia and make the World Series), I was actually watching GIANTS. And there was a lot of Giant orange, but not for the baseball team, for pumpkins. In fact, the question of whether a giant gourd that is genetically the same species but is not orange is or is not a pumpkin becomes a central conflict in the movie, tears apart a Pacific Northwest growers club, and turns old friends into bitter enemies. But aside from that, it's a humorous procession of obsessive oddballs all trying to grow the biggest pumpkin and claim the most prestigious prize--winning Half Moon Bay (their festival was on Columbus Day weekend, I just missed it). Almost nobody turns a profit on this--it's a giant (no pun intended) money sink, where people spend hundreds on a single seed, obsess daily on the progress of their vines, and ultimately mourn when they grow too fast and split, rendering them invalid. It's also a competition where the world record is routinely broken by ~50 lbs a year. This movie was shot in 2005, and the winner at Half Moon Bay (which wasn't even the record that year), at a measly 1229 lbs is just a baby compared to the recent record of 1810.5 lbs.

My only nitpick is that Tom Skerritt's narration was often unnecessary. I like Tom Skerritt as an actor, but often the information was redundant, and the attempts at humor fell flat (I'd chalk it up to his deadpan delivery doesn't play if you don't see his face). And sometimes it felt like a person just off-screen reacting to dialog on-screen. Maybe there wasn't enough of a pause between on-screen dialog and the narration (a minor tweak to the sound editing could fix that?)

So next up was PLUG & PRAY, a fascinating look at the world of Artificial Intelligence. Told in interviews with luminaries like Ray Kurzweil (inventor of a reader for the blind, a famous music synthesizer, founder of Silicon Valley's "Singularity University," and a futurist who predicts immortality is within our grasp through nano-robots in our bloodstream. Or the Japanese like Hiroshi Ishiguro or Minoru Asada, developing lifelike human robots (like the ones you see on the news every few months) that are currently inhabiting the uncanny valley (this movie, more than all the crazy shit at Holehead, reinforces my thesis that the Japanese are freakin' weird). Or professor Neil Gershenfeld of MIT's "Center for Bits and Atoms." I just like that name, and as it suggests it's the merging of physics (particularly nano-physics) and computer science. The loudest dissenting voice, and nominally the star of the film is (the late) Joseph Weizenbaum, In 1966, his speech recognition program ELIZA arguably started the field of artificial intelligence, but now he rails against it, arguing against the loss of humanity/the soul, and the dangers of the limitless faith in science. His death--and his comment that it is the duty of the old to die and make room for the young, thereby allowing them to reinvent humanity and keep the whole crazy thing going--is all the eerier set against Kurzweil's prediction that immortality will be possible in as little as 20 years.

Oh, and speaking of matters of the soul, I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about the Italian researchers who consulted with the Vatican and got a statement from the Pope saying essentially that their creativity and genius is a gift from God, so it is appropriate to use it to make amazing creations. So say what you will about the moral implications, but artificial intelligence has the blessings of the pontiff.

In contrast to the previous movie, this could have used some narration or another framing device to give it a point of view and walk the audience through the journey. As it was, it was very free-flowing, to the point where I sometimes got lost.

And that was last Thursday at Docfest.

Total Running Time: 160 minutes
My Total Minutes: 212,004
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