TITLE: Holiday Filmfest AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: December 27, 2006 10:58 AM DESC: ----- BODY: It's not a holiday tradition for me to watch movies, but this holiday weekend I had a chance to see several -- not counting seasonal fare such as The Santa Clause. Only one was new, but as my brother is fond of saying, "Hey, they were new to me." Last night I finally got to see Proof, the only of the movies with a professional connection. I'm not a mathematician, but I can relate to the manic periods of productivity interleaved with periods of little or no progress. As Robert, the mad genius played by Anthony Hopkins, and his daughter Catherine, played surprisingly well by Gwyneth Paltrow, both say at different points in the movie, the key to those down times is to keep plugging way, trying something new, attacking the problem from different angles, chipping away at the problem even the effort seems fruitless. You want to be there, ready, when the next burst of progress arrives. The movie also brought to mind G. H. Hardy's wonderful A Mathematician's Apology, which I referenced briefly a year or so ago. There is a persistent mythology that mathematicians make their greatest contributions to the the world at an early age, after which their creative powers decline. I've generally heard 35 as this threshold age, but in Proof the mathematicians are much less generous -- Catherine at 27 could already be past her prime. While I do believe that scholars lose a certain kind of stamina they need for making great breakthroughs as they grow older, but I don't buy into this Conjecture of Inevitable Decline at a young age -- and certainly not 27! Certainly the history of computer science is replete with examples of the great ones making seminal contributions well past 35 -- Knuth and Simon come immediately to mind. We do ourselves and our community a disservice when we make excuses for lack of productivity and creativity as we age. That said, not ever having been a Great One, I can only try to imagine the feeling that Hardy describes, and that must have accentuated Robert's madness, as they fall away from their peak. My weekend began with a trip to see the new release Eragon live in the theater with my daughter. She took me to this movie as a Christmas present, and it made for a very nice dad-and-daughter outing indeed. Growing up, I was more into science fiction than fantasy -- Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein -- but my daughter has gravitated to fantasy. She has already read the book on which this movie is based, and its sequel, so she could fill me in whenever I had a question. If I were a literary critic, I would call Eragon almost wholly derivative of prior works, but then most fantasy is. As a moviegoer, I call Eragon an entertaining show. And Sienna Guillory as Arya -- wow. Sandwiched between the previous two was a Christmas evening viewing of Dear Frankie, a gem of a movie that I'd never heard of before my daughters pulled it off the video store shelf. Jack McElhone delivers an affecting performance as Frankie, a deaf 9-1/2 year old who longs to see his father. Frankie believes his father to be at sea after leaving their family when Frankie was but an infant. In truth, Frankie's mom, Lizzie, played by the enchanting Emily Mortimer has been on the run from the father all those years, her son and mother frequently about Scotland. Lizzie has been responding to Frankie's letters to his dad for years, unwilling to tell him the truth. Rather than tell you the whole story, or give away too much, let me give you a better piece of advice: watch this movie, and soon. It's one of the best I've seen in years. That's my turning playing Gene Siskel for a while. -----