Call me disappointed – Review of In the Heart of the Sea

in-the-heart-of-the-sea_banner1

Bluntly, In the Heart of the Sea was such a disappointing movie that I can’t even come up with a metaphor about a man driven mad by a desire for revenge against a ghostly leviathan. And that statement is made all the sadder by director Ron Howard’s attempt to do just that with almost every character in the movie.

For the under-informed, In the Heart of the Sea is the story of the writing of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It is also the story of the story that led to the writing of the novel Moby Dick. In short, the film occurs in two timelines that unto themselves cannot disguise the fact that neither plot line is satisfying.

Adding to this sense of disappointment is the fact that my friends and I saw the movie in 3-D IMAX, neither of which was needed to tell this narrative, which is surprising given the majestic concept of a whale attacking ships in the open ocean.

Even the actors couldn’t manage enough dimensions to be considered flat, let alone 3-D. Somehow, stalwarts like Brendan Gleeson, Ben Winshaw and Thor…I mean Chris Hemsworth…failed to bring life to this bilge water. Hell, even the great white sperm whale was unable to add excitement to this movie.

Moby Thor

If you want the experience I think Ron Howard was targeting, watch Apollo 13 and every time Tom Hanks appears on screen, imagine him in a cape with a Viking helmet. You’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.

As one of my friends suggested, it was as though Howard was going through a checklist of clichés.

Man vs. inner demons  √

Man vs. the elements  √

Man vs. society/class system  √

Man vs. nature/whale  √

Man vs. himself/his past  √

Unfortunately, Howard missed the most important one:

Man vs. coherent story with a point to make  X

Having read the novel Moby Dick and watched two film versions—Gregory Peck is a God—this version actually did damage to the franchise. It somehow took an exciting tale and examination of the destructive demons that possess us all, and turned it into a melodramatic soulless mess.

The only real positive that I can offer this film was that for all the time spent watching nothing happen, I never reached the bum-squirming phase where I positively itched to flee the theatre.

This was a Hollywood gimme, and yet somewhow they managed to blow it.

 

Other reviews:

Danny F. Santos (coming)

Less than a whale of a tale (Toronto Star)

It’s Man vs Leviathan (New York Times)

Chris Hemsworth Anchors a Whale of a Tale (Forbes)

Shhh…the Toronto Marlies made the playoffs

hurray

My beloved hometown Toronto is often described as “hockey-mad”, and as home to the Hockey Hall of Fame and one of the most legendary franchises in National Hockey League history—the Toronto Maple Leafs—you might think that makes sense. The epithet hockey-mad is, however, a lie.

Toronto is not hockey-mad, it is Maple Leafs-mad.

In fact, it is now Maple Leafs-livid because yet again, the big team has failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs and so my fair city will go a 48th consecutive year without a championship.

Still legendary, but for entirely the wrong reasons.

But while the local news media are filled with stories about what the woeful Toronto hockey fans will do as the Leafs players take to the golf courses, they are completely overlooking one local professional hockey team that has made the playoffs—for the fourth consecutive season.

I speak of my beloved Toronto Marlies, the American Hockey League farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Nary a word. Nary a reporter. No pictures. Doesn’t exist.

Star sports coverage

The team is covered by bloggers whom I respect:

But otherwise, silence.

Mark (facing us) came all the way from the UK to watch the Marlies play. Toronto sports reporters, not so much.

Mark (facing us) came all the way from the UK to watch the Marlies play. Toronto sports reporters, not so much.

To address this short-coming, I have started a campaign with other Marlies fans to bombard the local media with news and highlights of what is happening in Toronto playoff hockey. My first missive is below:

Playoff hockey in Toronto

Over the past week, I have read two stories in the Sports Section of the Toronto Star describing what playoff-starved Torontonians can do now that the Maple Leafs have hit the golf links. Woe is Toronto in the absence of playoff hockey.

And yet, Toronto will play host to professional playoff hockey, and by players proudly sporting blue and white maple leaves. I am, of course, speaking of the Toronto Marlies, the farm team of the moribund Toronto Maple Leafs.

You see, as the ACC has sat deathly quiet, the Ricoh Coliseum just a little way down Lakeshore Boulevard has been rocking night after night as the Marlies rescued a terrible season start and turned it into a rollicking run back into the Calder Cup playoff race.

Last night, with a loss by the Hamilton Bulldogs and a win by the Marlies, Toronto’s boys in blue clinched their fourth consecutive playoff spot, and over the next two days, could see themselves sit anywhere from 6th to 8th in the AHL Western Conference.

And how did the boys do in their previous runs at the Calder Cup? Three years ago, they reached the championship finals, only to fall to the juggernaut that was the Norfolk Admirals. Last year, they were within 22 minutes of advancing to yet another Calder Cup final, but fell to the ultimate champion Texas Stars.

Sure, everyone was disappointed that the boys didn’t bring home the Cup, but in a city that is used to switching allegiances in April, touting a hockey team as Conference Finalist and Cup Finalist is pretty heady stuff.

With the house-cleaning planned up the road at the ACC, the Marlies have never had a greater importance to the Maple Leafs. The boys I watch on a weekly basis are the future of the big squad. Rookie scoring champion Connor Brown. Future phenom William Nylander. Tomorrow’s goaltending duo Christopher Gibson and Antoine Bibeau. Former Defenceman of the Year TJ Brennan. I can keep going.

So as your readers bemoan being unable to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars taking in one Leafs playoff game, they should know that they can come down the road a bit (plenty of parking) and bring the whole family (for a fraction of the price) to cheer the Marlies as they march into Calder Cup competition.

I’ll be cheering the boys. My friends will be cheering the boys. Come on down. We’ll give you a warm welcome!

Go Marlies, Go!

Wish me (and the Marlies) luck.

playoffs

Left-handed (DNA) compliment

While attending the surprise birthday party for a friend in the sciences, I noticed he owned a coffee mug from a group called Life Sciences Career Development Society based at the University of Toronto. Actually, to be more accurate, what caught my eye was the DNA double-helix on the mug…and the fact that it was wrong.

Wrong

BOOM! My head explodes.

As someone with biochemistry & genetics degrees who has written about the life sciences for ~15 years, this seemingly innocuous error drives me crazy. This must be how copy editors feel when they see a misused semi-colon (and I’m sorry about that).

right v wrong

For the non-biochemists, through a characteristic known as chirality (look it up…too hard to explain here), the typical DNA double-helix in human cells—the famous Watson-Crick-Franklin structure or B-DNA—has a right-handed helix. This means that if you could see the double-helix (above) and let your fingers follow along the curve of one side as it wraps around the other, you could only do this comfortably with your right hand.

You can see that in an example of a single helix that curves either to the left (left) or the right (right).

handed

Unfortunately, somewhere in the mists of science illustrations time, an artist drew the double-helix of DNA in the wrong direction and that double-helical abomination has perpetuated ad nauseum, including irritatingly enough, in science publications and scientific logos such as a recent health article in the Toronto Star (image below), the cover of a sci-fi novel and the LSCDS logo.

DNA - backwards

And if I only saw this in 50% of the images, I’d be irritated but probably not the raving loony I am now. But no, this freak of nature is everywhere. The correct right-handed DNA illustration is the anomaly.

So why does this matter? Maybe it doesn’t, and I am just a raving loony.

Certifiable loony!

Certifiable loony!

But for me, I struggle with what else might be wrong in a life science or healthcare story if they can’t get the DNA helix right. Do I trust the math of an investment planner who doesn’t know that four quarters equals one dollar?

Luckily, the fix is an easy one. Simply mirror the image you have (not turn it upside down) and the left-handed double-helix becomes a right-handed one. (In a mirror, your actual left hand looks like a right hand.)

So, medical illustrators everywhere, please fix your catalogues of scientific illustrations. My head can’t take too many more explosions.

So much better

Nerves already calming.

[Also, from a design perspective, up and to the right is more palatable for North American audiences as it implies future success (e.g., rising value). Has nothing to do with handedness, here.]

For the more biochemically savvy:

Yes, there is left-handed DNA, which is also known as Z-DNA. But as you can see from the illustration below, its structure is significantly different from the smooth-flowing curves of B-DNA (and the equally unusual A-DNA).

Two rights don't make a left

Two rights don’t make a left

Do what you want to be

University grad Xingyi Yan, 21, has taken a placard to the street in a bid to land a job in advertising or marketing. (Credit: MARTA IWANEK / TORONTO STAR)

University grad Xingyi Yan, 21, has taken a placard to the street in a bid to land a job in advertising or marketing. (Credit: MARTA IWANEK / TORONTO STAR)

This past week, I read an item in The Toronto Star about a young university graduate who was finding it difficult to get a job. To highlight her availability, she took to standing outside Union Station, Toronto’s main transit hub, wearing a placard.

She’s hardly alone, unfortunately, and I applaud her moxy for putting herself in the middle of the pedestrian business traffic, but I question how effective her plan will be.

The young woman is interested in a career in marketing and advertising. Unfortunately, her sign suggests she does not have the creative talent for such a job. It’s a white sign with black letters that tells me her problem, not how she’ll solve mine. Even her choice of location tells me she doesn’t understand modern marketing and advertising.

>99% of commuters at Union Station not in a position to hire

>99% of commuters at Union Station not in a position to hire

More than 99% of the people walking past her every day are not interested in her goals and cannot do anything for her. She’d have been much better off jumping online for a couple of minutes to learn the locations of all the major marketing and advertising firms in the city and camping outside their doors.

That’s what I did when I was looking for a job years ago, after completing my M.Sc. studies. I didn’t wear a placard, but I did post “Lab Technician Available” signs around the research wings of the universities and teaching hospitals around Toronto and nearby Hamilton.

And the signs didn’t just announce that I was available. They also listed the laboratory techniques in which I was proficient, and therefore, how I could help your lab.

I got a lot of interviews out of that campaign and landed a couple of job offers.

Just over a decade ago, while working for a couple of science magazines in Washington, DC, my group needed to hire a couple of writers. As one of the hiring managers, I met all of the candidates and routinely participated in the same conversation:

“I’ve always loved writing,” the candidate would gleefully tell me.

“Well, that certainly helps with this job,” I would smile. “What have you published?”

The candidate’s smile would waver.

“Well, nothing,” he or she would hesitate. “But I love writing.”

“Great. Do you have any samples?”

An embarrassed shuffle in the chair.

“Um, no,” the candidate would visibly shrink in the seat. “It’s mostly just personal writing.”

By this point, I would have been willing to look at that.

To a person, I would offer the same advice at the end of our conversation:

“I can’t say how this process will go, but if I can make a recommendation: If you want to write science, write science…for anyone…whether paid or for free. If I can’t see your writing, how do I know you can write?”

If you say that you’re dying to do something, then prove that to prospective employers by actually doing it.

I would never apply for a job as a screenwriter without several screenplays in my pocket. And I’m pretty confident that it is not enough to stand on the corner of Hollywood & Vine in Los Angeles offering my services (at least not screenwriting services).

hollywood_and_Vine3

And when you do the thing you’re dying to do, make sure you do it well.

If my screenplays are shit, why should anyone hire me? If the placard you’re using to market yourself is unimpressive, why would a marketing company hire you?

Your effort doesn’t have to be professional-grade necessarily—what individual had that kind of budget?—but if it’s not exceptional in some manner, why would I make an exception and hire you?

I wish the young student well. She has taken the first step, but has so many more to go before she is likely ready.