Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!

Running this blog all year has been a complete pleasure for me. It has helped to keep me busy. When I did not feel like writing anything else I knew I could come here and write about what I loved.

I am amazed the blog has received thousands of hits from around the world. Thank you all for reading my thoughts and bits throughout the year.

Please feel free to comment, reach out, and just say hi. I'd love to meet those of you who enjoy coming here from time to time.

I'm sure 2014 is going to be a great year! Happy New Year everyone!



Google Glass: My First Few Weeks

When I put my name on Google's Glass Explorer Program list about 4 months ago, I never thought I'd hear back from them. I re-entered my name several times hoping that might count for some measure of enthusiasm above just a typical must-have-it gadget-head. I'm an artist, a photographer, a writer too. Surely Google could figure this out about me. After all, they are Google. I even asked an old friend/coworker who had worked with me at TheGlobe.com ages ago, and now resides at Google, if he could somehow get me on the list. He could not. Google was strict with them, he told me. He could not even get one for himself.

Darn, I thought. I truly wanted Google Glass but there was no direct route towards getting one that I could see. I was not going to buy one second-hand or pay a markup on a device that is, for all intents and purposes, already too expensive for rational people. Google Glass, if you do get an invite, is not free. It will set you back $1,500. That's $1,620 with tax. They ship it for "free" if you can't get to one of their three pickup locations here in the United States. They are in New York City, LA, and San Francisco, if memory serves.

So one day, quite randomly back at the beginning of December 2013 I got the email from Google inviting me to be a part of the Glass Explorer Program.

Fast forward to today and I've been with the new technology for about a month now.

What is it? What can it do? Can you make a phone call with it? These are just a few of the questions I've been getting. Up here in Albany right now it's been in the 20s on and off all month. When I go out I usually wear a heavy winter hat. This obscures Google Glass, mostly, and up here people have not noticed it much. I was approached by one excited guy working at the cellular section in my local Target. I also only ran into one other person wearing Google Glass at my local Gaming Store Flights of Fantasy. That they were at a gaming store up here in Albany, like me, says a lot about the minds this product is attracting right now. I know for sure that not everyone who wants Google Glass is a writer/artist but I know from online G+ groups that many of us are. Some of us are gamers too. :)

It's the artist in me—the photographer specifically—that's interested in Google Glass. When the iPhone came out I wanted it because it meant less to carry. Phone + MP3s + camera = more pictures. Any photographer will tell you moments are fleeting and missing a cool picture is common. Once I had the iPhone with me I missed fewer shots. Sure, it's not a high end camera capable of all sorts of wonders, bokeh, and Leica lens miracles, but the most important camera is the one you have with you.

For me Google Glass is first and foremost a new type of camera. One that's with me and ready as long as it's on my head and charged. Is it a great camera? No it's not. It's good enough though and more than sufficient for online sharing. It is possible to even get artsy with it.

As a camera it can now take pictures one of three ways. You can press the button atop Google Glass to easily snap a picture. If the Google Glass prompt screen is up you can talk to Glass and say, "OK Glass, take a picture." I do not like talking to my tech, especially in public around strangers. I imagine the social embarrassment for such behavior will diminish over time as this becomes common for all. For now though, I feel like an ass. The third way to take a picture, my personal favorite, is to wink with your right eye. Now sure there are tons of privacy issues here with Glass and I'm sure they will, by hook or by crook, eventually get worked out. Photographers, though, have been taking candid street shots and shooting from the hip from the moment small cameras became available. All this does is make taking candid shots in public easier. I decided right away if any establishment asked me to remove Google Glass I would do so at first request, without argument. So far no one has asked. As far as candids go, well with Glass and with traditional cameras, I have yet to get a complaint in over 30 years of taking pictures. I'd not shoot pictures in a public restroom (with people present) with a traditional camera, and Google Glass is no exception. I already use my cell everywhere to take pictures. I shoot products at Barnes and Noble all the time, only to later find and buy the book cheaper from Amazon. With Google Glass all I need do is wink.

A red light added to the front of Glass has been suggested by many as a way for the public to know if they are being photographed or videoed. I agree with this, especially because now most people do not even know what on earth the device is. A red light is sort of the universal "on the air" symbol that most people know.

Glass as a camera still needs some work. While I can not find exact specifications online as to what the 35mm lens equivalent is of Google Glass, my guess is that it is about a 28mm equivalent. It's definitely wider than a 35mm equivalent. Since I do not shoot with anything wider than 35mm currently, Google Glass pictures are distinctly different than those I shoot with my iPhone or better Sony camera. I like the wider field of view. It gives a POV aspect to the Glass shots. The you-see-what-I-see aspect of it is fascinating to me.

So what are the problems with the camera? For one, framing pictures is for the birds. Glass sits on everyone's head differently. Because I have a large head the battery on the right does not go back as far as it should, and so Glass rests a slight bit crooked on my head. Pictures I take tend to be cocked slightly. The display, insanely, does not show until after the picture is shot. Taking 2, 3, or even 6 or 7 shots to frame the scene correctly has been common for me, especially if the subject is close. Google will have to change this going forward unless they want typical consumer Glass photos to appear off-center or with heads cut off. If Google added the ability for a slight bit of camera customization it would go a long way. This way people who want a live view so they can frame a still shot first could just turn the feature on or off. When shooting video you already see as you shoot, so all they need to do is add a two-second delay or a live view for still pictures that just stays on until you use the three ways to take the shot. One extra button on Glass would go a long way to giving users a second level of customization that could be activated or deactivated in menus.

As the technology improves and the kinks get worked out I can see wearing Glass more and more frequently. Once it is like shades I can take off and hang from my shirt, well the sky's the limit then as far as photography goes.

What else can Glass do? Well it can do a lot more than just take pictures. It displays the time, which makes life a whole lot easier. It's great to access information quickly without using your hands.

You can look up stuff on Google by talking to it, similar to Siri on an iPhone. You can send email. You chat. You can make phone calls, get turn-by-turn directions, and with the growing list of apps and clever developers out there, the list of what it can do is growing day by day.

This will not be my only post of Google Glass. Since the device is relatively new, I'll be posting more blog entries about it from time-to-time. Stay tuned to my thoughts on it as a gaming device for pen and paper RPGs or for video games.

For now though here are some pictures I've taken with Google Glass. More artsy ones to follow soon. Enjoy.

Google Glass vignette with location data added

In my local supermarket

A reflection selfie

At the Albany Rural Cemetery

Cropped and converted to black and white on G+

Monday, December 30, 2013

Blind Boxes & Blind Bag Miniatures SUCK!

It's official! Blind boxes and blind-anything, packaged to reap companies more money, completely and entirely suck. There is no escaping the full depth and breadth of the suckiness. It's a money grab, pure and simple. If each and every miniature, Heroclix, article, or whatever, were worth getting, this would not be a problem. It is because half the characters and sculpts are of poor quality, badly painted, and broken junk that these blind boxes are of value to the companies that market tiny plastic game pieces. They are of no value to gamers.

Doubles, triples, quadruples and more (always of the lamest characters) continue to pile up fast—like speeding cars on a highway in dense fog.

To name all the companies that practice this money-grab would be futile. They all do it. The uber-nerd hipster gamers might irrationally argue that if all figures released were seen then the powerful, or rare ones would get snatched up quickly and all the crap would be left. Yes. The crap would go unsold. Crap merchandise should go unsold. Solutions, to this quandary? I say make the rare ones still rare. Just manufacture fewer overall. Maybe only sell the rare ones to people for every 10 figures they buy. There are lots of solutions. None of them include me continuing to pull a stupid hammerhead shark min from Pathfinder over and over. Broken twice, no less. Does this item truly need to be hidden? Will gameplay suffer if we all see what is in the boxes? I doubt it. Some dudes docking fees at Nantucket might take a hit. That's it.

For Heroclix and strategy games, I truly do not understand the blind package. It's like buying a chess game without the King, or having to keep buying forever in hopes of pulling a king. It would be madness.

For RPG games where people simply want the characters and minis that they want to use for their game, the blind package is insulting. That we continue to act like lemmings buying blind packages again and again says more of our stupidity than the arrogance of the companies behind such practices. If we stopped buying until the blind package system stopped making money, the practice would change very quickly.

Action figures in which a few figures are rare but can all be seen have been sold like that forever. This should be the way the gaming community functions going forward. It won't.

I tell my kids they can buy a few blind boxes here and there. When they start to get doubles, stop buying.

Using sites like StrikeZone make more sense. Even though some figures cost more we take fewer trips to the store. We buy less. We drive less. We waste less time. Overall it's better. Getting complete sets on Ebay is also not a bad choice. Often times gaming stores have piles of their unwanted quintuplets stuck under counters in boxes, often times for less that they were originally sold for.

Would you buy a book if you did not know what you were getting? A CD? A DVD? What about a Star Wars figure? Maybe in a 5 pack, only one figure is blind? Something. Anything but the casino slot machine road to addiction we are on now.

To sum up...

• Companies need to stop selling blind boxes of miniatures.

• Companies need to stop making crap figures that come broken.

• Consumers need to demand the elimination of blind packaging, especially for RPGs where there is zero value for rare figures except to generate repeat purchases.

Stupid broken double of a crappy Hammerhead Shark

Monday, December 9, 2013

Micro Reviews: Original D&D • King of Tokyo • XBox One

Here are few micro reviews for a few things we've picked up that are specifically gaming centric over the last few months. Enjoy!

Premium Original Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game

It's odd that this is still not available from Amazon.com and will not be available until December 17, 2013. I have had this for at least a month now from my local gaming store. I'm guessing WOTC releases stuff to all the mom and pop gaming stores before going the Amazon/B&N route. If you can wait though, and saving your own money is more important to you than paying the markup to your local place you'll likely save $50 if you buy it off Amazon. My local store had it for $150 and the owner was nice enough to come down close to Amazon's price. I'm pretty sure she's not going to do that for everyone unless your charisma score is pretty high. :)

One of the main reasons I'm lumping this in as a micro review is because I don't plan on playing this. I'm sure an in depth review can be found elsewhere but I'm approaching it more as a keepsake. It was just one of those gaming things I wanted to have. As someone who barely followed the AD&D rules as a kid and only loosely follows 4E as an adult, digging into these original rules and playing this is not something I feel like doing. The reissue is beautifully boxed and made more for display than for convenient play, especially if you plan on taking it with you. Sure you can take out the dice and the rules pamphlets but seriously, why? The dice are stuck into the foam so securely it seems WOTC did not even intend they come out easily for play. This looks great. It has a felt bottom so it can sit on a nice table and not scratch it up. If you have this and have played, please contact me and let me know how you experience was. I'm curious.

Bottom line — Nice keepsake. A piece of history. Not something I'm likely to play any time soon.

King of Tokyo Board Game

King of Tokyo is a great little board game. My youngest son is only 6 and I'm always looking for easy and fast games we can play. So many games out there, while cool, are insanely complex and require a few nights in jail just to get the game completed to any significant satisfaction. It's 2013 and not everyone has 2-4 hours carved out with 6 friends to just sit around and play a game with 10 thousand bits and pieces. King of Tokyo is simple. Open the box, bust out the dice and bits, read the rules as you go, and you'll be up and running in no time. There are easy and advanced rules too. So if your mind works like the innards of a cray supercomputer and the simple pedestrian rules are beneath you you'll have what to indulge in. I did not even look them over. Simple & fast are my friend, especially with a 6 year old. Companies like iello that "get this" will be drawing in kids. Kids want stuff. They have parents that want to do things with them. And we spend money on them. I suspect companies that make games with this in mind may do better to drawn in kids who will grow into more complex gamers.

Expansions are available too (here too) so you can build off what comes in the box. As few as 2 people can play this game. I'd always write in a way for one person to play as I know there are lots of only kids out there who want to be involved too. Dice and chance can easily make rules for a one player game. If you are clever you could easily do this yourself but a young child might not be able to conceptualize that. iello might want to consider this.

Bottom line — Bravo iello! Good job! Great game! Good for young kids.

Xbox One - Standard Edition

I'm not sure why I got this. I swore I wouldn't. I even cancelled my order off Amazon. Fast forward to the Saturday after it was out and I'm in a GameStop and they have a few because of people who preorder—like me—and then cancel. Actually it's likely people who pre order at 4 stores and then just pick up from one, or cancel. Whatever the case, there were 4 in store, a line had formed and I got in it and picked up the console. I knew if I hated it I could resell on Ebay. As it turns out even now on Amazon I do not see a link to where the console can be ordered for the normal price. Only the nutty outer limits prices are up now. Christmas is in 3 weeks so I'm guessing that will not abate till the gift giving/excessive spending dies down after the new year.

So is it good? Yes the console is good. Games? Meh. We picked up Dead Rising 3 and RYSE at the store and both games are OK. Neither blew me away, even the graphics. RYSE looks good but is very mapped out, no open world. It was fun, but got tired pretty quickly. I bore easily with even the best games so don't entirely listen to me. Dead Rising 3 is much more open. Zillions of zombies. Almost too many. Yes, definitely too many. It just becomes a meat grinder of absurdity. It had us laughing so I guess if you look at it that way, as comical absurd farce,  it works. Some stranger just appeared in our game while we were playing, what we thought, was for just us. We still have not figured that out. It was worrisome. We turned the game off at that point. We also have Battlefield 4 but we've not played it much. There was so much cursing that I could not even have my younger son off in the next room while it was on. The game looked good and was basically standard military fighting carnage. I'm looking for more complex games. games that have strong filmlike stories. They are few and far between. When those come I'll be happy. A game where the non playable story is so strong that you'd want to sit and watch it like a favorite film, even if you do not want to play the game. When games like this arrive, games in general, will be taken to the next level I want them to be at. Make a playable Blade Runner where the playable aspect is amazing and the watchable content gets non gamers watching because it's just that good. Someone, please, make me that game.

The system itself is lots of fun. If you have Netflix, Amazon prime, lots of Blu-rays and pump your cable TV through the system it's even more fun. You can talk to the system too. It's not perfect but it's not bad either. Fun to turn on and off. SmartGlass app for mobile devices is great. A must have. It seems these systems come out a full year before they should be out.

Bottom line — Great system. Games need a lot of work. Online gaming downloads need more content too. No backwards compatibility to my 360 games is deplorable in a system like this. I'm ashamed for SONY and Microsoft that they did not put PS3 and 360 backward compatibility in. Shame!

Thanks for reading.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Mr. Watterson

I was in cartooning class in high school when my friend busted out and showed me the very first Calvin and Hobbes compilation book. I could not get enough. The comic struck a major chord with me. I collected all the books until the very BIG complete box set came out, then I ditched the small books for the sake of simplicity. I regret that now. Here we are, years later now, and I'll likely be ordering a bunch of the small books for my two sons, 6 & 12 years old. This documentary had us glued to the TV. We did not surf the web on iPads, we just sat and watched. And when it was over what did the boys do? They asked me to try and find the few remaining small Calvin and Hobbes books floating around the house. The missing ones are now in my Amazon cart, waiting for "Santa" to deliver them. Whether or not you are an artist or just a reader, Dear Mr. Watterson has something for everyone. The documentary is not obsessive about Bill Watterson either, like some nut job banging on J D Salinger's door and demanding answers. It's just a "thank you" of sorts, and that fine.

It does attempt to explore Watterson's motivations behind his refusal to commercialize Calvin and Hobbes. This is fine and it does shed some light. To me though, the real question is: What is wrong with us as a culture that when someone does not care about money we all sit around scratching our heads endlessly debating why? The focus, if you ask me, should be on us, not Bill Watterson. The ones speculating are the ones that need analyzing. Still, the documentary does not get too obsessive, which is nice. It felt very sincere and included enough points of view and info so as to not seem dominated by one single point of view.

In the film some talk about how print comic strips are changing as a result of the print industry in general changing. This is obvious. The question is posed as to what will come down the pike as far as how media will be discerned to be worthy enough to become popular on a large scale again. The answer to that question lies in the very way the film itself was created--Kickstarter! And enough people deemed this film worthy that it was able to get off the ground and actually get made. This, people, is the new way worthy media hopefully will get made.

In Dear Mr. Watterson someone says there will never be another Rolling Stones or another Beatles. That may be true to some extent as the catalyst to have such bands might no longer exist. Still, I feel, the internet will do a great job of removing "the syndicate" and giving direct control to artist and appreciator. Maybe millionaires will no longer be in the mix. As an artist myself who has witnessed many other artists, I can attest to the very destructive influence that the lure of the possibility of fame and piles of money can have on an individual's creativity. Money skews perspective. It pulls you away from what you love and fools you into thinking you want something you don't. Will the lure of fame and big money eventually be removed by the more democratic playing field of pure appreciation that the Internet can perhaps provide? I hope so. The absence of big money to drive creativity can only be a good thing. With fame and fortune eventually removed from the mix, all that will be left is drive, talent and content. And that is all we really need. We don't need another stuffed animal in every mall. And really, if you truly wanted a stuffed Hobbes for your kid, there is nothing stopping you from making one.

Thanks Mr. Watterson.


The comic strip industry is changing for sure. Just today I learned that the comic strip Gil by Norm Feuti that I follow via my dad clipping me the strip is ending. While Gil is ending after 2 years and that sucks I did find this website, Dailyink, where for $20 a year you can get 90+ strips a day. That's a deal, especially when you compare that to the cost of getting a daily newspaper delivered. Another holiday gift for the family taken care of! :) I hope Gil lives on in some form on Dailyink.com! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

S. Ship of Theseus: First Blush

While I have read and do read a lot, I own way too many books to ever get to them all. I just picked up S., also known as Ship of Theseus by by J. J. Abrams (Creator), and Doug Dorst (Author). As with all things J. J. Abrams, this is a puzzle. Like LOST, there is likely going to be no easily and comfortably discernible answer, either. Will I get to eventually consume this entire novel/puzzle/art book in its entirety?  I now own dozens of books I had every good intention of getting to, only to have them get swallowed by my shelves. Cream tends to rise to the top, so only time will tell if I actually get to finishing this. I hope to. Even if I never get to finish this, here is my first impression of what this novel is.

As soon as I used a knife to slit off the paper tab that sealed the book in the slipcase, I knew this was going to be something special. It's a book within a book. It is a pseudo novel, like the pseudo found footage film by J. J. Abrams, Cloverfield.  Think of this as a novel within a novel within a novel. Most novels are written by one real person about a fictional tale. This project was conceived by J. J. Abrams. Then Doug Dorst—the actual author—wrote it, but he did so as if the novel were authored by someone else, a fictional author V. M. Straka. Then there is a fictional translator's note and foreword by F. X. Caldeira. Then there are margin notes by two fictional people who passed this copy back and forth. It's complicated.

It's fiction within fiction, with the goal of taking you away from its fakeness and making it seem real—as if you are the one and only person to have stumbled upon this old book, personally notated by two strangers. This aims to make you, the reader, feel like a special part of the next step in this book's journey through the ages.

Aside from all that, if I still have you, there are papers, clippings, postcards, scraps, napkins, photos, and some cypher-code wheel in the back. The second I flipped through the book for the first time I was instantly reminded of Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, by Nick Bantock. Like Griffin & Sabine, S./Ship of Theseus has a correspondence inside it too—in the margins of the novel.

I'm reminded of Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...In Resonance, a fantastic show I saw in Philly once about the collaborative efforts between those two real 20th century artists. S. feels like Griffin & Sabine a bit, which itself feels like it could have come from the mind of Joseph Cornell. I can't help but also think of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski which is also written as a found manuscript. This is nothing new in the world of writing. Nabokov did this with his pseudo poem, Pale Fire. Edgar Rice Burroughs too, presented A Princess of Mars as the retelling of a found journal.

S./Ship of Theseus looks and feels old. It's meant to appear to you as if you too are part of the chain, the next in line to have stumbled upon this matryoshka/Russian nesting doll of a novel. It's obviously a puzzle. Like The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum, it needs figuring out. How to go about this? Start reading. I questioned how I should do this. Should I just read the novel first and then go back and read the dense margin notes? To do so would almost be impossible. The notes are so obvious and glaring with underlining of sentences, pointing things out, etc, that ignoring them would be an exercise in futility. All the ephemera, too, is stuck throughout the book, begging to be fondled and read.

The back cover of the slipcase—the only part of the novel that attempts to explain itself—states: "It is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word." It most certainly is that and more. I am sensing this is perhaps the precursor to something else. A film? A TV show? Music? The sky's the limit with J. J. Abrams. He obviously loves the projects he works on and never does a hack job. The projects closest to his heart that come from his mind all tend to be portals of a sort to another time, place, or period. He makes you feel like you stumbled upon an old film from the 80s in Super 8 (with a kids' film within that film). You feel like you somehow managed to survive a plane crash and stumbled upon a secret island facility in the hit TV series, LOST. And you somehow came upon found footage possessed by the government in the monster film, Cloverfield. With S. you are now in possession of a one-of-a-kind book, with handwritten notes by its last owners. You are the next piece of the puzzle. Adding your own notes, art, photos, clippings, and more is advisable. Then leave it for someone else to find. :) It's like an exquisite corpse or the surrealist automatic writing techniques, but produced for the masses.

Dig your nails into it. Smear lipstick on it. Give it to your lover to borrow and make their own notes. Spill coffee on it. Hide money in it. Take pictures of it. Mail it to your elderly neighbor with no return address.

Enjoy it.

Here are some similar bits of art, music, literature to explore in the same or similar vein as S., so have fun...

Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Egyptian Jukebox: A Conundrum by Nick Bantock
F for Fake by Orson Welles
Outside by David Bowie
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
The Blair Witch Project
Beyond the Black Rainbow   Wikipedia
Joseph Cornell / Marcel Duchamp...In Resonance

Similar J. J. Abrams fiction/media to consume:
Super 8

*     *     *

Another thought I'd like to add is that this pseudo creation of media—created specifically as if it were manufactured in another time and unearthed now—is somewhat akin to what mstrmnd theorised Kubrick was doing with The Shining, creating a new film language that would spur disparate meanings from one film. With S. being presented as multiple levels of fiction, where we are intended as the next participant in the fiction and not just a passive real-life reader, multiple interpretations are sure to arise.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Beyond The Black Rainbow Review

Just because most of the films we watch have easily discernible plots does not mean that films presented otherwise are poorly made. Think of Beyond the Black Rainbow as poetry, not as a novel. If you need a clear explanation for your movies stay away from this film. You'll hate it. If you can enjoy the bizarre, wild mood, and viscerally gorgeous photographic visuals then stick around. If you enjoy films where everything is not spelled out for you then this too might be a sign that Beyond the Black Rainbow is for you. Think of it as the privilege of entering someone else's dream.

In the vein of Land of the Lost, Space 1999, Liquid Sky, Altered States, Coma, Looker, THX1138, Scanners, 2001, and filmmakers like Kubrick, David Cronenberg, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and dozens of other films and filmmakers I know and don't know from the 70s and 80s comes Beyond the Black Rainbow. It is a fever dream of a film that is more experience than linear narrative. Imagine a B film from the 1980s was lost and never seen. Beyond the Black Rainbow is supposed to be that lost film. It's here as if from a time machine. The film is a homage to low budget gems from the past; something only seen in some off the beaten path theater away from civilization.

Now despite all reports to the contrary there is some semblance of a narrative here. Remember though that what follows is my interpretation of what I saw. The film is open ended enough to serve yours too. The film is carefully and skillfully constructed so I assume if he wanted things explained more, he would have simply done that. Like the famous Kubrick/Lovecraft quote: "In all things mysterious - never explain."

Spoilers / interpretations ahead:

If I had to write one line that summed up this film's narrative that would be that: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." The film begins with a short film within a film. An idealistic doctor, Mercurio Arboria, introducing his institutions 1960s mission statement about striving to make a better happier you. The Arboria Institute has very noble and altruistic pursuits. Cut to 1983 and we are witness to the tail end of whatever went on there. Bizarre, uncanny, morbid, awkward, claustrophobic, dreamlike, conspiracy, telekinetic, kaleidoscopic, are all words that help describe what exactly is going on deep inside the Arboria institute. Clearly the ideals that started the place have been abandoned or steered the once noble men into dark corners of science and the mind. Clearly as a species any of us can see what horrors human-kinds good intentions have produced. David Cronenberg's early films often showed science run amok. Scanners, Videodrome, and The Fly come to mind where the horrific ends are far from where the science was intended to take the protagonists. This is the crux of what this film is communicating. Human idealism is going to lead us to unexpected places, likely dark, likely far from where we thought we'd wind up. Hence the films title, Beyond the Black Rainbow. Wherever that is, it's far away from where we thought we'd end up.

A lone beautiful girl Elena is catatonic in her cell deep in the Aboria institute. She shows signs of telekinesis. Dr. Barry Nyle keeps Elena under control. Her telekinesis is dampened by a mysterious machine and possibly drugs that keep her powers under control. We eventually learn that she is the probable offspring of her doctor and another woman who was killed to make way for the new age of enlightenment. The 2 doctors have gone mad in the warren of corridors and passageways as they pop pills, drop acid, and shoot up Timothy Leary style. Odd automatons that reminded me of the automatons from The Black Hole or the robots from THX1138 roam the institute too. An ignorant nurse also comes across a compiled medical record of Elena and her powers and the years of insanely odd science that had been applied to her. It served as one of the films most unnerving and beautifully collaged moments.

Barry Nyle clearly has come to the end of his rope and decades of drugs, clinical observations, and hiding his unnatural appearance under wraps with a bad wig and contacts have taken their toll on him. We glimpse the founder, Dr. Mercurio Arboria, deep in the bowels of the institute. He is the shell of his once former self and seems to be on the tail end of decades of drug addiction and watching idealistic nature films. It seems as though Barry wants to ask him for something regarding his increasing fascination with Elena but we are given a flashback that reminded me of the film Begotten. Harsh black and white imagery serves to show us the bizarre science ritual that Barry had to undergo in years past. He emerges from a black pool a changed man and then proceeds to impregnate and/or kill Elena's mother. The child, Elena, is kept alive. Whatever the hell they wound up doing, Elena is the partial result. I was also reminded of Akira too with the telekinesis and I'm sure the homages and influences are endless.

Eventually Elena escapes or is allowed to escape by her doctor. This reminded me of when THX1138 was eventually off his meds and decided to roam freely and explored the odd world he lived in, eventually escaping to the outside world. Elena too escapes and takes us on the wildest ride you are likely to ever be witness to. Again I was reminded of another film, O Lucky Man, where Malcolm McDowell's character is in a hospital at one point and gets up to have a look see and discovers horrors beyond his wildest dreams.

The film ends with a confrontation between Barry and Elena in a field somewhere away from the institute. Two 80s burnouts are unfortunate enough to be in the paranoid path of Barry before he finds her and it's no surprise how the two end up. There is some comedy in here for sure, and again, a nod to many funny awkwardly filmed moments like this from B films of yore.

Elena, no longer under the control of the institute's bizarre machine, and is free to easily tangle Barry's feet with roots and smash him to the ground, his head hitting a rock, killing him. Elena wanders off out of the field to the edge of a neighborhood where we see a TV illuminating one room of a darkened house. We know she is heading there. Then the film ends. After the credits roll we are given a quick shot of an action figure of one of the automatons from earlier. Then a quote from Buckaroo Banzai: "no matter where you go, there you are." Buckaroo Banzai is one of the 1980s more bizarre and odd films to have come out, an odd amalgam of studio authorization of a very bizarre story. It's no wonder the films creator admires this enough to put it in there.

Again, this film is for those who don't mind letting art flow over them and endlessly picking a film apart. It's dreamlike and not easily explained. It needs to be interpreted rather than explained. Despite it being bizarre I suggest you don't shy away from it. There are few modern films out there like this and it's a sheer delight to have experienced.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Throwing Room 237 out With the Moon-Water

Various differences between the maze in the film The Shining
The reaction to Room 237 has been as surprising to me as the many theories within the film itself. Many people do not want to even remotely have themselves tangentially connected to anything dealing with nutty conspiracy theories so they throw out the entire premise that Kubrick was doing anything at all beyond just making a good old fashioned film. Room 237 is a lot to swallow. The many theories are like the many religions of the world—they can't all be right.

***** I'd like to note here that this is my second review/post on Room 237. You can read the first review here. I would also like to add that on the Room 237 DVD/Blu-ray, the commentary by Mstrmnd explains brilliantly that what Kubrick was possibly attempting with The Shining was to create a new film language that would spur disparate meanings from one film. Therefore if that is the case it's almost irrelevant to say the different theories are wacky because despite some of their outlandish claims or untruths that may have been exactly what Kubrick was trying to illicit from people. The fact that The Shining is a supernatural horror film and people are coming up with often paranoid conspiracy theories possibly embedded in the film might just be the point of the film. Everybody got that? *****

Many blogs and reviews just dismiss all of Room 237 as utter horseshit. Wackjobs. Paranoids reading into a film well beyond what any rational person should ever attempt. There is simply nothing there. Right? ZERO! Kubrick was just making a film. Many think Kubrick never intended for people to read into The Shining or for it to hit your subconscious at all. According to them it's just a visual adaptation of the novel, and just a film. The continuity errors are not intentional! THEY ARE ERRORS!  Stop digging you idiot! Right?

How can people be entirely incapable of discerning some truth from out of Room 237 and that Kubrick was doing something with subtext, or subliminal and intelligent beyond what is normal in film? I'm not sure. That people are reacting so skeptically, to me, is almost as disturbing as some of the theories in Room 237. People just do not want to be told they were somehow in the dark about something they never considered. Not even a tiny bit. They just hate that idea and they won't budge even a millimeter on that. Maybe they just can't handle it?

Below I'm just going to stick to many of the "continuity errors" that can be actually seen in the film. 

I'm sorry. I know what goofy continuity errors in films look like. I've seen a lot of films. Most people watch sports. I WATCH FILMS! Continuity errors don't occur with consistency. They are normally inconsistent mistakes, not happening with any regularity exactly as cuts happen, or again and again between jump cut edits. 

Here are a few from The Shining and you judge for yourself if these were mistake or intentional. 

I've already made up my mind. They are intentional. Kubrick did this on purpose. If you think they are just mistakes you might be under the effects of the Ludovico Technique :)

Here we see Dick Hallorann open the freezer door to show Wendy and Danny around. Go put the film on. WATCH. He opens the door with his left hand and grabs the door handle on the right side. The edit occurs and we are inside and the door is opened from the opposite way. He is also holding the door with his right hand now. When they exit the freezer they leave from an entirely different room/freezer.

Nothing? You think Kubrick just fucked up? Didn't care? OK. We'll move on.

Here we have 2 shots of the twins overlapped. look at the chairs and the ashtrays. They have moved slightly. This occurs in the film when a shot of Danny is inserted in between these two shots. 

Twins > Danny > Twins. Stuff moves. Even the freaking handle on the foosball game moves a tiny bit. Remember this is film about a supernatural hotel. Right? We can agree on that. I hope. 

Still nothing? 

Here we see Jack when Danny comes to get his firetruck. The art on the wall disappears. Go watch the film. Why would that be allowed to occur? Kubrick was famous for many takes to get things just right. He screwed up again? Even with all his very intentional use of the mirror and the fact that the art is in the mirror and then it's gone, and you are still not convinced this was intentional? OK. Oh well.

This one we know from Room 237. Kubricks assistant said he just moved shit around. Did not care. So the furniture vanishes and comes back and it's just bad editing. Bad continuity. Nothing intended. Forget that this is a haunted hotel. Kubrick was just sloppy. Right?

Here is another one. The furniture and the stuff on the wall is all moved around from different scenes in the film. Some nutty grip must have been moving stuff around. Kubrick was cool with that sort of stuff. 


Forget the moon landing crap. Forget the Holocaust. Forget the crazy minotaur lady. Even forget the American Indians. Forget it all. Even with all that gone, these very intentional inconsistencies are there in the film. There are more too. The carpet. The impossible window. The maze that looks different in different shots. The disappearing sticker on Danny's door. 

If after having all these things pointed out to you, you still don't want to believe they are anything but mistakes, or Kubrick just being sloppy and just taking his best takes over any care for continuity, well, I'm not sure you and I live on the same planet. 

It sucks realizing that you are not as smart as you might have fancied yourself. It might also be hard to say yes to some ideas that are poorly crowded with many nutty ones in Room 237. I'm sure some of the people that worked with Kubrick might be feeling a wee bit smallish, like say, his assistant perhaps? Kubrick managed to do things that no one picked up on. I myself watched the film countless times and never knew quite what it was in the film that made it so haunting. I was shocked to see this stuff pointed out to me. Obvious and in plain sight, right there up on the screen all along. For all I know there is even more that has not been pointed out to me yet. 

Like this one of Dick Hallorann in his room with his cute wall art above his bed. We cut up close and it's gone. Right as he's shining. That was a mistake right? Kubrick's assistant said so. Kubrick was famous for such mistakes. 

Forgive my sarcasm. I feel perhaps there needs to be another film. One on people who throw the baby out with the moon-water.

And that creepy blowjob bear at the end of the film that Wendy sees has nothing to do with the bear she sees on Danny's pillow earlier on while the nurse is examining him after he blacked out. Because your dreams don't operate that way, right? We don't see odd off putting stuff during the day and then dream about it later that night in some awkwardly bizarre disjointed way. That never happens. I'm sure Kubrick was not doing any such nonsense with his supernatural horror film. He was too simple for tricks like that. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Stanley Kubrick, The Shining, Room 237, “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite"

Or, How I came to realize that I did not even know why my favorite films by Kubrick were my favorites.

Is it possible to have a favorite film director, a group of favorite films, and think you know why you love them, only to realize you really had no idea why you enjoyed them? It happened to me, and it started with The Shining.

Years ago, while writing my own drivel fiction and continually watching movies, I remember watching The Shining for the umpteenth time and wondering to myself why, exactly, it was that I enjoyed the film so much. As far as films go it’s pretty slow, talky, and, mostly, uneventful. As a favorite horror film that I always considered to be in good company among my top five favorites, it shared little in common with the other four. The Exorcist, The Thing (1982), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) have little in common with The Shining, at least on the surface. The question as to why such a seemingly uneventful and mundane horror film would continue to gnaw at me over the years while other horror films that seemed just as competently assembled would not stick to me and gnaw at my mind was a mystery that eventually had me digging on the Internet. Thank God for the Internet. For if I did not have good Wi-Fi and laptop that night in my man-cave, it might have been Room 237 itself that first clued me in.

The first thing I stumbled across was the great article by Bill Blakemeore, “The Family of Man.” That was the first time I read anything that theorized that The Shining is not just about the surface story, but actually about something else. Genocide. The destruction of the American Indians. Once I read his article, it seemed completely obvious. The gnawing on my brain ceased some and I was filled with awe! How had I missed that? I mean, on the surface I had not missed it. It was there all along. They even mention it in the dialogue. Still, once pointed out, it’s easy to take that leap. But did Kubrick intend that, or at the very least try to allude to that? I wanted the answer to be yes.

More digging online had me discovering more and more. Some ideas were clearly just theory, other things were very obviously intentional, and verifiable, by anyone who cares to look at the film to test it out. I did some testing of my own and did confirm many things that are not entirely obvious when watching the film, even over 100 times, which I easily have over the years.

I always knew that the ball that rolls into Danny’s circle of cars rolls over a different section of carpet than it appears after a cut takes place. Everyone who has studied Kubrick even a small bit knows he was a perfectionist. He was meticulous in nature, and would repeat many takes of a scene, often an insane amount, to get a shot exactly the way he wanted. He took a very long time to cut together The Shining, too—around a year, if memory serves. He was not the type of filmmaker who just threw takes together with breaks in continuity and did not care. If a break in continuity was there, it was for a reason. Even in 2001, when the bone becomes a satellite—arguably one of the most profound jump cuts in cinema history—the bone and the satellite do not line up and overlap in the obvious alignment everyone would imagine they should. He could have done it that way. It would seem obvious to do it that way, but he did not do it that way. And you can bet your ass there was a reason behind the bone and satellite not aligning perfectly, even if the reason was as simple as just to not do it the obvious way. There was still intent behind his decision, not sloppiness. So when the ball and the carpet patterns misalign over a cut, he did that too, for a reason. Why? Why? Why?

The more I dug, the more wacky stuff I found about The Shining. Stuff you can see by just carefully putting the film on and watching, slowly, bit by bit.

Rather than go into the exhaustive list of very real and verifiable things Kubrick intentionally did with the editing, continuity, and sets within The Shining, I will simply point you to two very well researched and complied sites on this.

Physical Cosmologies: The Shining

Much of what is listed on these two sites is also theory as to what The Shining means. Much too, are actual facts, things that can be verified by carefully going through the film and checking for yourself. If you are a fan here reading this, I encourage you to do so.

One crazy theory I even feel I disproved all by myself. Something falls out of the blood from the elevator. It’s there to see on the floor when the doors open. I had to know. What the hell comes out of the blood when the door opens? One theory floated around is that it’s Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend. I put the Blu-ray on my big TV and watched. There is something there. Something long and grey and curved and something brown on the floor. What I concluded, based on how the blood erupts onto the wall so insanely, is that those are guides, likely metal, differently-colored so as to mask them as ambient room lighting reflections in the blood. But they are also guides used pragmatically to direct the liquid flow, to get it to splatter on the walls, ever so dazzlingly, on the left and right of the screen. That’s my conclusion. I even took pictures and passed them along. I could be wrong but not everything has hidden meaning. Sure in this film a lot might, but not every single thing. This was before CGI, and if guides were needed they could not be masked after the fact, they’d need to be hidden in plain sight as reflections. See for yourself and conclude for yourself.

Onward… When you conclude further though, that Kubrick was in fact editing the film in a wacky way, screwing with continuity, adding subliminal breaks in continuity, messing with the layout of the sets, causing stickers to vanish, chairs and ash-trays to move and reappear, the maze to change, carpet patterns to change, and intentionally adding odd disconcerting elements to the film, one must conclude that there was a reason for this, beyond just doing it for the fun of it. It could simply have been that he just wanted The Shining, a supernatural horror film, to be subliminally uncomfortable and off-putting. However, once I realized he was doing this likely also with A Clockwork Orange, 2001, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, then that explanation alone, that he wanted The Shining to be subliminally creepy, cannot alone account for it all.

He rarely explained what he meant with his films. He was even quoted in an article once where he himself re-quoted H. P. Lovecraft saying: ‘In all things mysterious – never explain.’

He likely wanted the hidden stuff in his films to spur imagination and eventually decades later it did. First and foremost, beyond Kubrick’s obvious genius, I am thoroughly impressed with the many people who have dug out so much, and on their own found so much more in the film than I ever could have. I was just spurred to dig, but only with the aid of other minds, and the information connectivity of the Internet, was I able to find anything. On my own I only knew something about the film gnawed at me. After reading the websites listed above, my mind was continually blown. Whether or not you buy into any theory about what The Shining might mean beyond the surface story or not, you must admit that there is still information intentionally hidden in the film. These are things within the film I had never consciously noticed, that I now plainly see. The film was blown wide open for me, as was Kubrick the director, someone I already considered a favorite. After all this, I arrived at the conclusion that I likely did not even know, completely, why some of the films from my all time favorite director were my favorites. Maybe others have been playing around like this too? Kubrick was operating multiple levels above and beyond what I even considered to be top tier master filmmaking.

Then came Room 237Directed by Rodney Ascher.

Room 237 objectively takes several theories about the film and presents them. Much of it I already knew from digging online before I even saw the film. Still, I was thrilled that others had found the fact that The Shining is way more than the surface story, and that they were driven to work on much of this information and present it. Then it was all compiled together as a documentary.

I was first able to see Room 237 for the first on my Apple TV when it became available for rent. I loved it. I was so happy to see the clever visual pointing out of things I had read about, like the sticker and chair disappearing, the carpet, the maze, etc. The theories too were fascinating for me to watch and consider.

I was surprised at how quickly many people scoffed at the film, the theories, and just summarily dismissed it all as whack-job conspiracy hogwash. Many people hate the idea that they are not in the know, or loath idea they are somehow outside the scope of what’s going on. Many of these people just saw faked moon landing and went, “Bla bla bla crazy faked moon landing nonsense!” Even if you think every theory is complete nuts, the information that Kubrick still intentionally cut the film oddly is there. Why discard that rather important revelation just because you may not agree with a theory or two? The moon landing stuff seemed to irk people the most. This film did a poor job of explaining the theory, too. The way I thought I understood it before seeing Room 237 was not that Kubrick faked the moon landing and man has never been to the moon, but rather that the government concerned that we might fuck up getting to the moon, look like jack asses, possibly with dead astronauts, wanted back up footage to show the public and the Russians, just in case. That seems entirely plausible, especially now with all the crazy NSA stuff that has come to light in the news. Turns out the paranoids were, perhaps, onto something. And we all know the government is capable of quite a lot of wacky stuff. Still, I consider the moon idea the wackiest of the bunch. The crazy uncle.

As much as I enjoyed the film I still felt it could have put in just a bit more information. There are a few shots—like when the twins first see Danny and there is a cut and furniture moves slightly—that I would have enjoyed seeing in the film. I read reviews that promised more would be included with the DVD/Blu-ray. As soon as it became available, I ordered it. I watched the deleted scenes and although there were some more, it was not as exhaustive as the few websites I linked to above.

The one thing about the DVD/Blu-ray of Room 237 that I was thoroughly impressed with, beyond my initial enjoyment of seeing the film for the first time, was the commentary by Mstrmnd. He declined to be interviewed for the film itself. In the commentary he explains that he did not want his ideas to be lumped in with conspiracy theories and for them to get lost in the mix. After hearing his commentary, I see why. His commentary over Room 237—already a film about a film—is even better than Room 237 itself. He takes it to a whole other level. His website is even better. I think it’s been updated since I found it years ago, but I have no way to confirm that.

Mstrmnd’s commentary goes beyond the many theories and gets down to the WHY. Why did Kubrick construct his films like this? The short answer is that Kubrick was likely inventing a new form of filmmaking and/or language. Mstrmnd also points out that many films today are just jumbled remakes of earlier films. He even mentions Oblivion, a film I enjoyed, some, and reviewed on this blog. I mentioned in my review here that Oblivion feels a lot like other films that came before it. Mstrmnd says, basically, the same thing about Oblivion and many films today in general. He also alludes to a sort of filmmaking regurgitation going on out there with blockbusters and the desire, the need, the will for something new to come along—a new way of making films. A new way of communicating. Films that work on multiple levels. Films that engage our brains not entirely on the surface, but interact with them based on the way a human brain might root-process information, in clumps. A new visual pictorial language. I likely am not even explaining what he did properly. Watch Room 237 with his commentary. I do know that Mstrmnd, finally, got to the ‘root’ of what was gnawing at me about The Shining. He mentioned Star Wars too, another life-long favorite of mine, the first one from 1977, before Lucas lost his shit. Mstrmnd points out the similarity between the shape of the escape pod and the restraining bolt in Star Wars. Escape and restraint. Opposites shown with a similar shape, one small, and one large, both dealing with the two droids. This is Carl Jung stuff. This is collective unconscious archetype, Joseph Campbell stuff. This is a whole other level. Lucas may or may not have known what he was doing with these opposites when he made Star Wars. My guess is that he did on some level. Mstrmnd explains that some filmmakers may just be more in touch with their inner brain, and as well, these subliminal concepts, and as a result produce better films, (subconsciously?) that resonate with us, gnaw at us, and we love them so very much but we don’t know, truly, exactly why. We just know we love them. The new more recent Star Wars films don’t do to us what the very first one did to us. We point to Jar Jar Binks. We point to how Lucas screwed with the originals. We point to the force being explained and no longer mysterious. Someone point out all this stuff in this clever video. All valid and pretty obvious observations in that video. Mstrmnd was the first to point to the escape pod and restraining bolt shape similarity, for me, likely just one of many things he’s noticed that I have not, as perhaps adding subconsciously to why we continue to love some films, while others fade into non-Kubrickian Oblivion.

If you have not done so already I highly recommend you go buy a good wide-screen TV, a Blu-ray player, The Shining Blu-ray, Room 237Blu-ray, and saddle up for the ride of your cinema-viewing life. Grab Kubrick’sother films too while you are at it. It’s also claimed that 2001 and The Shining might be loosely connected. Watch ‘em all back-to-back! Then in reverse! Then stand on your head. There is always a new way to see, new way to experience, new way to watch, and much more to learn!

My God, It’s full of stars!


***Addition after seeing a panel discussion from the first annual Stanley Film Festival on the Blu-ray***

 Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant on The Shining is the biggest skeptic so far, insisting that any and all possibility that Stanley Kubrick had any subtext in any of his films is just not true. That they sat him next to the moon nut only helps his impossible case. Vitali too, a bit of a character himself, seemed the least grounded out of the four in the group, unkempt and even wackier than the moon guy. Vitali even did not hold his microphone the entire time and seemed hell bent on denying that there was anything in the film aside from what is there on the surface. Personally, I don’t buy this one man’s opinion. I don’t even care if he was right there “holding Kubrik’s hand” through the entire production. He is not Kubrick and therefore had no real influence on what, in the end, went into the film. Kubrick had the final say. Sure, loads of people helped Kubrick, brought material to him, etc. Kubrick did not work alone, but Kubrick had the final say. Apollo sweater…up for debate for sure. Consecutive intercuts with disappearing or moving furniture with a jump cut in between, well, in my humble opinion, with all we know about how Kubrick worked, how long he took to edit, there is no freaking way those jump cuts with crap disappearing or moving are an accident. Do I want to believe? You bet your ass I do. One guy, a close Kubrick assistant, saying otherwise does not negate the very contrived obvious photographic and editing evidence. When Dick Halloran opens the freezer door and the direction it opens switches right as the cut happens. I’m supposed to believe that is a mistake? A mistake Kubrick made in editing? Right as the fucking cut happens? In the only supernatural horror film of his career? No fucking way. Zero chance that’s a mistake. The furniture and ash tray moving between when we first see the twins in the game room and when it cuts to Danny and then back to the twins. That, too, can only be seen if you first frame-grab the two shots and overlap them, or if you use a tripod to take two shots and compare by flicking back and forth on your digital camera. The stuff moves imperceptibly. That’s no accident. That’s intentional. Kubrick may have misdirected numbskulls on the set and said “Oh I hate that chair. Get that friggin thing outa my sight!” after getting a zillion shots with it, and then taken another zillion without. He carefully used one of each when editing. For sure he did. Don’t for a second doubt that, no matter what Leon Vitali says. Kubrick’s wife could agree with him and I’d still not believe them. I’m an artist myself. I know filmmakers and have made short films myself too. Even crap films get TLC from the people involved. Sure, mistakes happen, but this is Kubrick and The Shining we are talking about, not Leprechaun 4. For all we know Kubrick may have gotten some of these people sworn to secrecy, or just, and more likely, simply kept them in the dark right up close. “Oh some lady sewed this Apollo sweater. No biggie. Just throw it on the kid.” Please! While the moon landing stuff is the hardest for me to swallow, the evidence there is still uncanny. Even if that is 100% BS, the fact that it even has enough information to make it worth mentioning is crazy.

There is another, very slow, poorly edited online documentary, but it’s chock full of, basically, number 11s and other such number details about just the moon landing stuff. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0hOiasRsrA Remember, this is a horribly slow and poorly edited film, not even close to being as good as Room 237, but the information is there. It could all be nuts. I don’t buy it myself, but still, there is a lot of freaky moon coincidence in here. It’s worth a look-see at least once before you take a giant shit on it!

The genocide of the American Indians, the Holocaust, freaky jump cuts, and more I am almightily convinced are intentionally there, obvious, or alluded to, and intentional by Kubrick himself. The Playgirl with the incest article. The bear pillow in Danny’s room and then the blowjob bear at the end. Catcher in the Rye. Disappearing art in the bedroom. Impossible hallways. The never-consistent maze. Moving carpet. Impossible window. TV with no cord. Manifest destiny, westward expansion dialogue. German typewriter that changes color. And on and on and on. At the bare minimum, he put the film together to fuck with our subconscious. Kubrick was never a bear minimum type of guy. His famous reclusiveness and reluctance to talk about his films or explain them speaks volumes about what he hid in them. He knew this was coming eventually. He probably thought we’d catch on sooner. Only Bluray and DVD helped in the end. It was as if he was insulating himself from it in advance. Eventually, I suspect, when his wife dies, we might hear more. Maybe not. Dark secrets kept close to the chest can travel far, unknown by anyone.