February 23, 2010

OSCAR NIGHT PREP | "A Serious Man"

A movie about nothing, without all the humor of a show about nothing. It felt a little like the Saturday Night Live skit spin-off movies, meaning it was a clever idea that works well for a short, but falls short when stretched to a full length motion picture. There were a couple of captivating scenes, including the first of the movie which was an intriguing Hebrew folk tale with Fyvush Finkel in the role of a dybbuk.

The Coen brothers do a beautiful job of staging 1967 through the various scenes and characters including plenty of block constructed buildings, a doctor who smokes, and gorgeous Coupe de Villes. However, I felt no investment in any of the characters and the plot doesn't go anywhere. Which is actually the point I think they were trying to make. In my favorite scene of the movie, Rabbi Nachter tells an offbeat story of a dentist who finds a message on the back of one of his patient's teeth. His conclusion to the story provides a nice summary to the movie itself:
What would happen? Not much. He went back to work. For a while he checked every patient's teeth for new messages. He didn't find any. In time, he found he'd stopped checking. He returned to life. These questions that are bothering you, Larry - maybe they're like a toothache. We feel them for a while, then they go away.
The stunning visual transportation back to the 60's and the quirky subplots were just enough to rank it above District 9 but below Julie and Julia on my list of 17 movies to see before the Oscars.

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Precious
4. (500) Days of Summer
5. Up in the Air
6. Up
7. Star Trek
8. Avatar
9. Julie and Julia
> A Serious Man
10. District 9

  • Did you see the movie? If so, what did you think of it?
  • What else have you seen that is Oscar-worthy?
  • What movies do you want to see before Oscar night?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

February 21, 2010

OSCAR NIGHT PREP | "District 9"

I really had high hopes for District 9. It sounded like a intriguing premise, and I had read some promising reviews about the picture when it came out. Unfortunately, high expectations often lead to disappointment, and that's what happened here. Except for three big distinctions, it was surprising similar to Avatar in that it was a sappy, moralistic tale about humans treating yet another race as sub human animals that need to be controlled and potentially exterminated. Oh, how many times must we hear how bad we are? We get it already!

The first big difference is that instead of amazing 3D special affects, District 9 was filled with a sloppy mix of regular action movie shots and faux documentary style camera work with comments directly to the camera and even blood spatters on the lens. The main character kept switching from mimicking Michael on "The Office" to channeling Officer John McClane from "Die Hard." The problem was by the time I figured out what which role he was playing off of, they would switch to the other. Quite distracting.

Another difference was instead of having to rely on only one pedantic voice over as in Avatar, District 9 offered a wide range of judgmental perspectives in the form fabricated experts being interview for the mockumentary portions of the film. At least in District 9 they did less preaching and more filling in of back story.

And finally, instead of a tight, albeit predictable and didactic story line, District 9 only provided a sketchy plot replete with gaping holes and unnecessary innuendos. Why was it important that Wilkus worked for and was promoted by his father-in-law? How come the humans conducted over 20 years of medical experiments on the aliens and continued to study their advanced weaponry but left the mother ship totally alone? And speaking of advanced weaponry, if Wilkus could operated them within 18 of mutating why couldn't the aliens use the weapons themselves to prevent being bullied by the jarhead stereotypes?

So, other than that, it was just like Avatar. They both even had really cool exoskeleton body armor robots. Although, that was a minor difference as well, because in Avatar it was the earthling engineers that developed it, where in District 9 it was the product of the aliens, so advanced and so smart that they quickly evolved into prawns crawling around dumps eating cat food once they met mankind.

At least I have a new bottom feeder for my forced ranking list of movies from my list of 17 movies to see before the Oscars, which is good because I liked Julie and Julia, and I kept feeling bad for it being on the bottom; however, I'm very comfortable with District 9 taking that role over.

1. The Hurt Locker
2. Inglorious Basterds
3. Precious
4. (500) Days of Summer
5. Up in the Air
6. Up
7. Star Trek
8. Avatar
9. Julie and Julia
> District 9


  • Did you agree with the critics and like it more than I did?
  • What's been your favorite movie leading up to the Oscars?
  • What do you still want to see before the Oscars?

Leave your comments and views in the comments section.

February 17, 2010

Measuring Learner Emotional Reactions

Campbell Soup has invested the last 2 years studying what customers want by conducting focus groups at the neurological level. Think of it as part packaging design, part consumer survey, and part "Lie to Me." After years of traditional research techniques, they came to the same conclusion as many retailers, "Buyers are liars" meaning that the answers customers gave in surveys didn't correlate to more sales.

This new scientific approach measures customer biometrics for emotional responses hoping to discover key triggers that actually translate into more soup being sold.

This innovative plan of attack got me thinking. What if you could do the same type of examination with learners in the classroom? Could you shape training and content to make it more sticky and to make learning more effective?


  • Do you think this "Neuromarketing" will lead to an increase in sales?
  • Could you use the same methodology in understanding how learners take in information?
  • If so, how would you structure such a study? What would you hope to learn?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

February 11, 2010

OSCAR NIGHT PREP | "The Hurt Locker"

The next check mark on my list of 17 movies to see before Oscar night was "The Hurt Locker." The film gave a very intimate (almost too close) ride-along experience with an elite Army bomb squad team in Baghdad. This three-man unit gets called in to defuse IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devises). When the new sergeant takes over the leadership of the group, you see how they adjust to some awkward team dynamics while at the same time making several life and death decisions. Their role is a constant balance of being either too cautious or too risky.

One scene in particular provides a better case study in leadership than the old army classic "Twelve O'Clock High." When a young specialists asks his "boss" whether he should shoot or not, his sergeant simply replies "It's your call buddy."

Shot in a documentary style with authentic Middle East scenes, it's a powerful plot with genuine characters. It's too early to call, but right now, I'm pulling for Best Picture and Best Director, and it takes the number one spot on my forced-ranking list:

> The Hurt Locker
1. Inglorious Basterds
2. Precious
3. (500) Days of Summer
4. Up in the Air
5. Up
6. Star Trek
7. Avatar
8. Julie and Julia

Which movies have you seen so far? What's your ranking?

February 10, 2010


The next film from my list of 17 movies to see before Oscar night was Precious. It's a modern-day Job story where instead of a pious and prosperous man with every thing to lose, the tests of long painful suffering focuses on a poor, illiterate teenage mother of two with nothing left to lose. What I love about this tale is how Precious chooses to respond to her awful circumstances.

When she shows up to her first day of learning at a new alternative school, she asks what an alternative school is. The administrator says that it's another option for education. It's a choice. Precious serves as captivating example of how to make alternative decisions.

Mo'Nique was incredible as an absolutely horrific mother. I'm rooting for her for Best Supporting Actress. It's a stirring story that's well worth the pain. Just make sure you bring plenty of tissues.

Here's my latest ranking:
1. Inglorious Basterds
> Precious
2. (500) Days of Summer
3. Up in the Air
4. Up
5. Star Trek
6. Avatar
7. Julie and Julia

Which movies have you seen so far? What's your ranking?