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A Beautiful Mind

When I first started this blog, there were a handful of movies that seemed natural to discuss. Good Will Hunting was my first foray into this group, and was followed by Pi, and later Stand and Deliver. While I have discussed other movies in between, these three are in a class of their own due to the fact that they revolve so centrally around mathematics. There are a couple of notable exceptions on this list, a regrettable fact which I am in the process of correcting. Case in point: today I’d like to take a look at A Beautiful Mind.

More successful than any of the three previous films I listed (from a box office standpoint, mind you, not necessarily a mathematical one), Ron Howard’s 2001 biopic of mathematician John Nash won four Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture and Best Directing trophies. I saw the film . . . → Read More: A Beautiful Mind


Late last month, Slate ran an interesting article analyzing the performance of 3D movies over the past six years. Titled “Is 3-D Dead in the Water?“, the article investigated the success of a 3D film by looking at several films released in 3D and graphing the ratio of their opening weekend revenue from 3D screenings to their opening weekend revenue from 2D screenings. There’s a lot of good stuff in the article leading up to this, but the main point is given by the following graph:

Image courtesy of Slate – click the link above to see the original article.

This graph tells you, for example, that during opening weekend for The Polar Express in 2004, the screens showing the film in 3D made nearly 7 times as much money as the screens showing the film in 2D. As you can see, the drop from this film . . . → Read More: 3Dead?

Scott Pilgrim Vs. Gravity

More than three weeks after its opening, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World appears to be limping towards the end of its theatrical run. For whatever reason (some blame marketing, others blame Michael Cera exhaustion, for others the fault lies with a crowded weekend of opening releases) this action comedy with a video game aesthetic and a heart of platinum has failed to find an audience. Critical response has been very positive, and everyone I know who’s seen the film has enjoyed it, so it’s unfortunate that this level of support hasn’t translated into higher revenues.

While I’m sure many people have their own explanations for why this film didn’t resonate with a larger crowd, I would like to posit my own: that our culture’s math anxiety runs so deep, we instinctively run when there’s even a hint of mathematics afoot. For if you . . . → Read More: Scott Pilgrim Vs. Gravity

Race to Where?

Late last month there was apparently a bit of a ruckus over whether or not California should adopt new national education standards as part of a competition among the states dubbed “Race to the Top.”

Although Race to the Top (the brain child of education secretary Arne Duncan) hasn’t received much media attention, it was one of the many byproducts of last year’s economic stimulus act. Recently, though, it’s been the subject of more discussion – a relatively detailed article on the program was published over the weekend, for example.

For Californians (and residents of other states, I’m sure), participation in Race to the Top has been met with some controversy. The latest debate, as I mentioned above, has been about education standards. Race to the Top comes with its own set of national education standards, and adopting those standards helps a state’s odds of winning some federal education funding. . . . → Read More: Race to Where?

The Twilight Saga: A Mathematical Perspective

Living in Los Angeles, it’s hard not to be aware of the fact that the new Twilight movie, Eclipse, arrives in theaters today. The series has developed an insatiable fan base of people willing to spend thousands of dollars to fly here in the hopes of scoring tickets to the premiere, which certainly indicates the film will be a success. But of course, the film’s success was never in question: with the first two movies having grossed over $1 billion worldwide, the success of this latest entry in the franchise is a foregone conclusion.

Of course, the success of this franchise should not be viewed in isolation, but as just a part of the larger vampire pop culture renaissance. HBO’s True Blood, also based on a book series involving a girl who knocks boots with the undead, is going strong into its . . . → Read More: The Twilight Saga: A Mathematical Perspective

Jack Doesn’t Know Jack

Late last month, HBO films premiered You Don’t Know Jack, a biopic on assisted suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian. The casting of Al Pacino in the starring role turned out surprisingly well, and made for a film that was better than I had expected.

Who's who?

However, no film is perfect, and You Don’t Know Jack has its share of faults. Unlike most films, though, one of You Don’t Know Jack’s problems falls into the realm of the mathematical.

As you may recall, Kevorkian escaped conviction for his assisted suicides a number of times. The film’s reasoning for his acquittals is a mixture of good legal representation combined with heart-wrenching testimony from the families of the deceased, who made it clear how much suffering Kevorkian’s patients endured before he helped them. Moreover, Kevorkian never administered any lethal injections himself; instead, he built mechanisms that his patients could activate themselves.

Kevorkian . . . → Read More: Jack Doesn’t Know Jack


Nicolas Cage commands a powerful fan base. On the one hand, this should be expected of any man with the foresight to see how awesome a film The Rock would turn out to be, but on the other hand, some of his more recent outings (I’m thinking of Bangkok Dangerous, Next, Ghost Rider, and Knowing) have met with less than critical praise. Nevertheless, support for Nicolas Cage has, from my perspective, only seemed to grow over the past few years. Perhaps it’s because of the National Treasure series, or because, according to Wikipedia, he named his youngest son Kal-El after Superman. Or perhaps people feel sorry for him because of his tax problems after spending too much money buying castles and islands. Whatever the case, this love for Nicolas Cage manifests itself in a variety of ways, from the usual fan sites such as, to the less standard celebrity . . . → Read More: Knowing

A Lack of Math in the Movies

Apologies for my absence – academic life has recently forced me to put the blog on hold. Things have cleared up now though, and I have a backlog of things to discuss, so let’s get right to it.

Last month, Jennie Yabroff wrote an article for Newsweek discussing the new film Precious. I haven’t seen the film, but this trailer makes a fairly strong impression:

The film has received a nearly unanimous positive response from critics. The main character, Precious, begins the film as a 16 year-old illiterate middle school student, but after transferring to an alternative school, she is able to find hope with the help of a teacher who encourages her to keep a journal and write in it daily. The theme of finding redemption through writing is certainly not new to this genre of film, as Yabroff points out. Films such as Dangerous Minds and Freedom . . . → Read More: A Lack of Math in the Movies