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Chappie: The Underrated Underdog

Posted by cirvine on June 15, 2015

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© 2015 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and LSC Film Corporation and MRC II Distribution Company LP. All Rights Reserved.

 I went into Chappie with caution as I heard it had received some not-so-favourable reviews.  But it just goes to show you that reviews are as they always have been: subjective! I loved Chappie. Much like Neill Blomkamp’s other films (which I also loved) it was action-packed, thought-provoking sci-fi at its best. Like Elysium and District 9, Chappie retains much of his previous two films’ themes, settings, actors, and ambiance. So it’s safe to say if you liked those movies, you are probably going to like this one too.

The story opens with a news broadcast covering the state of things in Johannesburg, South Africa. The police force there has failed against an ever-rising crime rate, so the government calls upon a robot-cop force to supplement its human counterparts. Chappie is one of these robots who, after being scrapped and slapped with a “reject” sticker, receives and experimental AI upgrade from his engineer, Deon. But before Deon can test his new sentient droid, Chappie is stolen from him by three impulsive criminals who need his super-robot abilities to help them defeat a gangster kingpin whom they are indebted to. Upon stealing the robot, however, they soon realize that Chappie’s AI software has basically made him a toddler, learning to mimic the ways of his criminal “parents” in order to foster his own thoughts and feelings, just as a human child would.

This odd combination of childlike innocence and hard-bitten gangster is what makes Chappie such a loveable character. Although you know it is just his software talking, it is nearly impossible not to feel empathy for the metallic man. Voiced by Sharlto Copley (who also stars in Blomkamp’s other two feature films), Chappie reminds us of the confusion and wonder of childhood, and how hard it is to remain innocent in a world full of hate and corruption.

Dev Patel’s performance as Deon, Chappie’s maker, was the one part of the movie that I felt was a little lacking. Throughout the movie, he was a difficult character to connect to, and I’m not sure if that was a fault of his acting, or just the fault of his character. He was even outshined by two non-actors, rap duo Die Antwoord's Yolandi Visser and Watkin Tudor Jones who played two of the three gangsters that kidnap Chappie. Visser, whom Chappie refers to as “mommy”, is an interesting mixture, just like her robot. She is at once maternal and criminal, and in caring for Chappie becomes torn between keeping him safe and saving herself. Hugh Jackman was also fun to watch as he played the villain, a rare casting choice for him.

Despite Chappie’s critiques, I was thoroughly entertained by this movie. To see Chappie’s “mind” develop from that of a wary and wondrous child to an intelligent and self-aware adult is truly compelling. That premise, coupled with Blomkamp’s dystopian satire that we know and love, is what makes this film unique. Critics be damned—give this underdog a shot. You might be surprised.

You can find Chappie on Execulink’s VOD channel (ch.100) from June 16th to December 31st, 2015.

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Real Life Pretend: Escape Rooms

Posted by cirvine on June 12, 2015

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An example of what your escape room could look like!
An example of what your escape room could look like!

 

WANNA PLAY PRETEND?

When I was a kid, my favourite thing to do was play “pretend”. My cousins and I would run around the forest behind my house, acting out adventures in our fairytale world, quickly jumping from one scenario to the next. When it rained, we played detective indoors, solving mysteries or searching for lost ancient artifacts. The plotlines of our adventures were only limited by the constraints of our budding imaginations, and so these bouts of pretend could go on for hours and hours, until we were too tired to think of the next scene. To me, there was nothing more fun, or more exciting.

These are the kind of games reserved for children. It’s not something we want to grow out of, it’s something we have to grow out of; to be an adult acting out imaginary adventures is not seen as fun, it’s seen as delusional. So when I heard last year that there was a new trend of amusements called “escape rooms”, I was beyond excited to try it.

What is an escape room you ask? Well, these are places you can go that have a variety of themed rooms that you and your group must escape from within a certain time period. There is a locked door that you must open, and a trail of clues that, if solved, will eventually lead you to the key that will open the last lock. It’s not a game of force, but a game of cunning and skill. Most escape rooms boast a low percentage (below 30%) of groups that are actually able to solve all the problems and escape as winners.

I was able to experience one of these escape rooms on my trip to Vancouver last September.  My room was themed as Ancient Egypt, complete with hieroglyphs, sand covered floors, a pharoah’s sarcophagus, and mummified cats. It was just my boyfriend and I that went into the room, and they warned us we would be at a disadvantage because of our small number. A group is more coercive to success because you can get everyone working on different puzzles. That being said, we did get 80% of the way through, and we found the secret coin which gave us a discount on our next visit, so we were pretty proud of ourselves by the end.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say this: I definitely felt like a kid playing pretend again. Before entering the room we were given identification cards, giving us a character and also a first clue. We were also handed old-looking lanterns (electric, not with actual flames), which we would need as our room was quite dark. As we held up our lanterns to the hieroglyphs on the walls, or lit up the inside of an unlocked chest, we felt like real archeologists, grinning excitedly through each puzzle we solved.

In short, I would highly recommend trying an escape room. They’re becoming quite popular because they’re inexpensive, and so much fun for such a variety of ages and types of people. Great for a corporate team building activity or just with a group of friends, you won’t find anything else quite like it. Harness your inner child for an hour and go play pretend!

You can find many in Southwestern Ontario and across Canada. The prices range from about $20-$30 per person and it usually lasts about an hour. Here are a few that might be in your area:

London:

Mystery Escape Rooms
551 Waterloo Street, London, Ontario
Price: $25-28 depending on room (Students $23-26)

Exodus London Escape Room
520 Wellington Street, London, ON
Price: $25

Lost City Escape Room Mind Game
Unit9, 1050 Kipps Lane, London, Ontario
Price: $20 (Summer promotion)

Kitchener:

Adventure Room
Unit 101, 283 Duke Street West, Kitchener, ON, Canada
Price: $46 CAD for two people

Toronto:

The Great Escape
165 Geary Avenue, Toronto, ON
Price: 1 player $26.00, 2 players $52.00, 4 players $95.00

AT Escape Inc.
173 Sheppard Ave West, Toronto, ON, Canada
Price: $30 CAD per person

LockQuest
1204a Yonge St., Toronto, ON, Canada
Price: $28 CAD + HST per player

Niagara

Escape Room
4448 Queen St, Niagara Falls, ON
Price: $25

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Robot Trained as Master Swordfighter

Posted by cirvine on June 10, 2015

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Project Almanac movie poster

Well, we’ve gone and done it now. We’ve trained a robot to use a sword. A SWORD. You know, those sharp, stabby, deadly things. But it’s okay; I’m not worried. It’s not like every AI movie ever has warned us about arming robots or anything. Sigh. Trepidation aside, this experiment from Yaskawa, a company specializing in servos and servos motors, is pretty neat.

The goal of the “Yaskawa Bushido Project” was to computerize the precision needed to swing a sword at different objects, at different speeds and at a variety of angles. The company partnered with Isao Machii, a master in Iaido and the Iaijutsu sword fighting technique. Standing side by side with the MH24 robot, the one-armed machine is able to mimic Machii’s movements through muscle sensory data.  

Together they complete five challenges, slicing through tree stalks, flowers and fruit. The peapod trial is especially impressive, as the machine slices horizontally through the exact middle of the peapod, slicing it in two equal parts. The last challenge is about speed, where they each cut through a thousand practice targets. By the end of all the challenges, Machii is sweating and clearly exhausted. The Terminator-- I mean, the machine-- looks like he could cut 10,000 more.

Terrifying robotic overlord predictions notwithstanding, the implications of this experiment are fascinating. If we can train something so seemingly inflexible and rigid to do something so fluidic, with such finesse, think of all the other things we can train robots to do:  medical procedures, training, emergency response. I just hope the emergency they’re not responding to is the stab wound my robot gave me.

Check out the video here:

 

Sources:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3XyDLbaUmU
http://www.popsci.com/robot-most-impressive-one-armed-swordsman-ever

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Project Almanac: A Teenage Twist on Time Travel

Posted by cfeehan on June 8, 2015

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© 2014 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

If you had the ability to go back in time and change one thing, what would it be? Would you go back and meet your hero, attempt to stop a major war, or save a loved one’s life? Now ask your 17-year-old self the same question. Project Almanac is a movie that explores the topic of time travel, but this time from the perspective of a teenager. I’m sure we can all agree that based on your adolescent priorities, you too would probably be less focused on changing the world and more focused on retaking that dreaded failed chemistry midterm, or getting a second chance with the girl of your dreams.

Project Almanac is a found-footage movie that starts off with David, the main character, filming a submission tape for MIT. It’s immediately clear that he’s an incredibly smart tech geek, but considering his family’s single-parent income (this becomes an important detail), he needs to submit an impressive project proposal in order to get a scholarship to afford university. Since his deceased father was an inventor, David and his sister begin to root through his things and come across hidden blueprints for a “temporal displacement device”, aka time machine. They enlist a couple of friends and build the machine, use it recklessly, and have fun for a while – until people start breaking the rules and things spiral out of control.

David and his friends Quinn and Adam are your typical hormone-driven high school boys, complete with a prominent geeky side. The first few minutes of the movie are packed with inappropriate comments about girls, zoomed-in stalker shots, and swear words, but the immaturity calms down substantially after the first fifteen or so of the movie.

The cast isn’t star-studded per se but features a few up-and-coming actors you may know.  Sofia Black-D’Elia, David’s love interest in the movie, appeared in All My Children, Gossip Girl, and The Messengers, while the actor who played David, Jonny Weston, is best known for his parts in Chasing Mavericks and Insurgent. The actors do a good job at playing their roles, but the characters themselves (other than David and his increasing recklessness) don’t have a huge amount of depth or development throughout the film.

Once you come to terms with the fact that the film targets young people and therefore explores topics that this subset of people would be interested in (going back in time to music festivals, to get back at bullies, to “get the girl”, etc), it’s really rather enjoyable. Yes, there are better ways they could have used the time machine, but for the age of the characters and the target audience, this is quickly forgivable.

The best part of the movie was hands-down the final half-hour. It was action-packed and full of tension, which is what I had been waiting for. Everything starts to get complicated, time lines get intertwined, secrets get revealed, and lives are even put in danger. Unfortunately, the very end of the movie left some questions unanswered (to put it lightly), which was disappointing. But for the most part, it finished well in my books. 

Overall, Project Almanac does a really good job of making time travel, an incredibly complicated theory, easy to follow for any viewer (even the technologically challenged ones). The movie has a lot of twists and turns, and although it can be a bit overdramatic at times, it was very entertaining and does a great job at appealing to its intended demographic.

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.


Search Engine Hacks

Posted by cfeehan on June 5, 2015

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Hand clicking on search bar

If you’re like me, you’re no stranger to search engines. Whenever I have a question of any kind, I pull up Google, type my question into the search bar, and hit enter. Within seconds, I’m more knowledgeable than I was a minute earlier, and I’m not stuck wondering for the rest of the day.

This article includes a list of popular search engines, the basics of Google, and a few helpful search engine hacks that will help you to get the most accurate results possible when browsing online!

Search Engines

Some of the most popular search engines include:

Google Basics:

This is the Google search bar. Check it out – there are over sixteen million results for the term “baby panda” alone!SearchBar.JPG

Web – This is the default setting on Google. If you’re looking for webpages on the term you’ve entered, this is the tab for you

Images – If you want to see pictures of the term you’ve entered, click this tab to the right of “Web”

Videos – Same as above, but for videos

News – Clicking this tab under the search bar will give you recent news stories about the term you’ve entered into the search bar

Maps – This tab is best when you’re looking for a city, country, specific address, or even a restaurant or other business. By clicking this tab, you can also find directions, see a street view of the location, and search for restaurants, bars and businesses close to the searched location.

Search Engine Tips and Tricks:

Using Key Words

When searching a term in a search engine, you can be as vague or as specific as you want. Let’s say that it’s the Canada Day long weekend and you and your family are looking for something to do. You could search “Canada Day weekend”, and you would get a lot of results – but chances are, a lot of these results wouldn’t interest you. Instead, you could try using more key words. For example:

  • Kids
  • Family
  • Woodstock
  • London
  • Fireworks
  • Barbeque

The list really is endless, depending on what you want to do. If you search “Canada Day activities in London for kids”, you’re much more likely to get the results that you’re looking for.

Searching Exact Terms

If you want to search more than one word in a row as a whole phrase rather than separate words, surround the phrase with quotation marks. For example, if you want to search “Italian lasagna recipes” rather than “Italian”, “lasagna” and “recipes” separately, type the term into the search engine with quotation marks (“”) around it to ensure that you get the most accurate result.

Excluding Certain Pages

If you want to exclude certain terms and pages from your search, you can type the minus sign into the search box before the word you want to omit. So, let’s say that you want to go on a vacation, but you’re positive that you don’t want to go to Australia. You could type in “best travel destinations -Australia” to make sure that all of the results will be pages showing you travel destinations that you’re interested in, and not pages of results telling you that you should travel to Australia when you already know you’re not interested.

Looking for Results on One Specific Website

If you want to search for content on one specific website quickly and effortlessly on Google, type in “site:____ (key word)”. For example, if you’d like to search news articles about cyberbullying on the New York Times website alone, you would type in ‘site: New York Times cyberbullying’ and only the articles published on the New York Times website about cyberbullying would show up. This way, you can find exactly what you want on the precise website you want it from.

Always remember to use discretion when searching online, however. Not everything you read is truthful, and not every website you end up on is going to be secure. Be aware of your surroundings online and you’ll have a safe and informative browsing experience!

If you’re looking for a few kid-friendly search engines, check out our blog post about how to keep your kids safe online

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Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor


Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.