Leisure Time and Time Sinks

Leisure time, "downtime", or relaxation time is a funny thing. Lately I feel like I've been greedily grabbing as much as I can. Because of this, I've realised that there's an upper limit to how much I can relax.

Some things I choose to do in my leisure time seem to suck up a lot of time. Reading blogs, writing for my blogs, playing XBox, mucking around on the computer, and Facebook are my major "time sinks". They're OK in moderation, but if I'm not careful they can expand to fill my available time.

Why would I want to say at the end of the year that I've clocked up 12,000 hours on the XBox, or 1,200 YouTube videos watched, or 120 "What superhero/dictator/celebrity/green vegetable are you" apps on my Facebook profile...what would I have to show for it?

So, starting today, I'm taking a 3 month break from blogging, reading blogs, and I'm lowering my Facebook time too. No more pouring time into the time sink; I'm going to stop being so greedy with my leisure time. I'd like to get back into my other interests - playing guitar, reading books, getting fit - and maybe learn something new, improve our home, and feel like I earn leisure time.

Watch this space - I'll be back!

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Warning: There's no spoilers in this review, so my wife (who hasn't seen the film yet) can read it if she wants :-)

My score:
out of
I was joking with my friend Matt last night as we sat watching ads in the cinema before The Dark Knight started, that I could not be a film reviewer. The reason? I get too involved in the movie. And this held true as, after the film had ended, I felt two powerful emotions: satisfaction at seeing a great movie, and tension (I realised I had been clenching my fists for the last 30 minutes or so of the film).

Overall, the feel of the film is dark and menacing (it's not a film for kids), there are sinister and intense scenes, and although there's not much (if any) gory violence there is implied violence. So, with that in mind, here's my review...

The Hype
The Dark Knight is easily the best film I've seen this year. Amazingly, it lives up to the pre-release hype:

  • a cast including an Aussie (Heath Ledger) as one of the film's demented villains, the charismatic actor Christian Bale, and charming but edgier Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal, along with the under-rated Gary Oldman
  • the tragic death of Heath Ledger earlier this year (regardless of what I think of him as an actor or a person), and early reviews suggesting a post-humous Oscar for his role as the Joker
  • Batman Begins director Christopher Nolan and his brother on script duties (ala the excellent The Prestige)
  • 2 1/2 hour length - I'm getting my money's worth!
  • some of the action sequences were shot in IMAX, which underlines the fact that this movie must have had a seemingly limitless budget (actually around $150 million according to "The Numbers" website, of which it made back $155 million in opening weekend tickets in the US alone)

Even though the film clocks in at over 2 hours, it never eases up on intensity. There's barely a wasted minute; there's a lot of main characters and they are all developed well, leaving just enough screen time for Batman, who is acted to perfection by Christian Bale.

The Joker
The action sequences don't dominate the film - in fact, it's Heath Ledger's Joker which almost dominates the film, and each time he was on screen in his white make-up and sinister smile, I felt creeped out. Interestingly, he's the only character that I can think of in recent movies that does not always tell the truth on screen, and his motivations, history and thoughts are never fully explained (adding to the general creepiness). Christopher Nolan admits he was influenced by the Joker's earliest appearance in Batman lore in the 1940's in this December interview in the LA Times.

I'm sure that if Heath Ledger were still around, his Joker would be making an appearance in future Batman flicks.

The Story
The movie is set in modern times and it's not a stretch to imagine it really happening (apart from Batman's amazing gadgets!). Gotham City (parts of which were filmed in Chicago) has changed from the original Batman Begins in that Batman has been cleaning up crime, aided by a less corupt police force headed by Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and a new District Attorney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart).

Bruce Wayne's old flame Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is attracted to the "white knight" Harvey Dent, and Batman contemplates a day when he will no longer be needed and his future with Rachel. Into this scene comes the Joker, seemingly intent on causing chaos and threatening to kill innocents until Batman hands himself over to the police, turning Gotham City against Batman.

I've read plenty of reviews on The Dark Knight and have yet to come across a valid bad one. I highly recommend this movie!

Links: Box office data from "The Numbers" http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2008/BATM2.php, IMDb page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0468569/

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Are Video Games Manly?

As I talk to my adult friends, I find that less and less of them grew up in a home that had video games.

In the 1980's my family bought an Intellivision which must have been an expensive purchase back then. That introduced me to the wonder of games, which I've enjoyed on the Commodore 64, the Amiga, the PC, the PlayStation and most recently the XBox.

The Art of Manliness blog is asking "Are Video Games Manly?" (go on, vote!)

I reckon video games are "manly", although currently voting at the site is pretty evenly split. Here's why I cast my vote for "yes": I don't have a problem with video games and resist the notion that they're just for kids and teens. As with all entertainment, there's healthy use and there's obsession - you can't let something control you, whether it's movies, cartoons, comic books, sports TV, web browsing or video games.

On an interactivity scale, books would be at one end as least interactive, TV and movies in the middle, and video games (ideally) at the other end. However, in the imagination stakes, books force you to be a lot more creative to give life to the characters and setting (and everyone is free to imagine their own version) where TV, movies and video games serve up their own already fully-developed vision.

So it's important to have a mix, to realise the strengths and weaknesses of different entertainment media, and to also question what you're reading or viewing. Personally, I feel that video games are a valid part of that mix for adults - men or women - and should not be seen as merely toys or games for kids.

What do you think?

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Life Changes


Last week I turned 35! I reckon this is a big thing; I figure I'm about half way and seem to remember I had planned a couple of things (like a cholesterol test) for when I reached this "milestone". Must book that...

Olivia and the kids really treated me to a great week off last week and took me out for my birthday. Thanks for everyone's well-wishes via cards, e-mail and Facebook.

I don't know if it's a cultural thing or a coping mechanism, but I don't typically spend much time thinking about death. Apart from my birthday, a couple of other things have conspired to make me feel philosophical - I finished the excellent little book Tuesdays With Morrie with a tear in my eye as I read the conclusion, and just today read via Rodney about a young woman who now faces life without her husband at "News from the Great Beyond". I was filling out life insurance forms the other day and contemplating writing a "living will" too. All of which allowed me to spend a little time thinking about life changes and death.

Perhaps I'll put some thoughts together in another post...

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