Monday, December 28, 2015

In Defense of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Some tiny spoilers. Nothing major.

Art by Virginia Poltrack
Newsflash. No one cares why you hate Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And don't tell me about plot holes. All films have plot holes. Real life has plot holes. Everything is glitchy and imperfect. Even you have plot holes.

With the new release of the latest Star Wars film and its incredible popularity, the usual cast of critics, haters, and detractors have come out of their hiding spots to squawk about everything that is wrong with the film. Cynicism and criticism of everything today has become so commonplace that people barely take notice when something fun gets ripped to sherds. Star Wars is fun.

We all know the story, so I'm not going to rehash it all here. And yes, the prequels were not what the original trilogy was. The funny thing is that The Force Awakens very consciously hit a few familiar themes that the prequels were lacking, in hopes of giving the fans what they were clamoring for. And no, The Force Awakens is not a remake of A New Hope. The film had a few plot line echoes and character parallels to ring familiar notes. Overall, the story, the characters, the scenarios, the way the entire film played out, was entirely fresh and new. Don't bother to beg to differ. No one cares about your humble negative opinion.

All of this is nonsense, though. If you do not like The Force Awakens because you think it has plot holes or too many similarities to A New Hope, then you have little business watching fantasy films. Period. (Obviously I'm joking.) People who enjoy Star Wars movies usually like The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Godzilla, Alice in Wonderland, The Goonies, ET, and many Disney films. We love B movies. We like animation. We like anime. We love to read novels that take us through wardrobes and into magical landscapes. We like make-believe. We cosplay. We role play—it's a bit like putting on a sports jersey. We like Dungeons and Dragons and roleplaying games. We like to pretend, even as full-grown adults, that we are not the people we actually are, but are sometimes, perhaps, a space pirate, or a princess—or even a Wookiee. We like to create things. We draw. We paint. We write. We sculpt. We photograph. We film. We invent. We build. We fix. We make. We imagine. We look for the positive in situations, not the negative. We don't like ripping things apart. I'd argue that no critic of a film has ever swayed someone who loved it to suddenly see their point of view and decide to hate it.

And you are under no obligation to like Star Wars. Just don't drive over to my house just to tell me you hated it. Or for that matter post on my social media wall that you hated it and why. No one cares.

Everyone on the planet who did not like Star Wars should go take some kids to see it. See what they say about it. Look at them while the film is playing. See the wonder in them. The excitement.  Stop looking for plot holes and revisit the holes in yourself. Because if you did not like Star Wars but are still compelled to say negative things about it to people who loved it, then you are a negative person and you should move to a galaxy far far away.

—AF


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Braxton Woods Mystique Cover Art

I'm very happy to reveal the amazing cover art for my upcoming novel, Braxton Woods Mystique. Robyn Diaz is the wonderful artist responsible for taking my wacky ideas and realizing them beyond my wildest expectations. Please check out more of her beautiful work over at her website.


Here is a brief description of the book from my literary agency, Trident Media Group

Adam Furgang's BRAXTON WOODS MYSTIQUE, following the tradition of THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY and FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, in which two kids discover a buried and long-forgotten carnival, containing a mysterious and otherworldly carnival attraction of a portal to another dimension with eerie and deformed creatures—now they must journey underground to rescue their friends, face their darkest fears and confront the unknown (Ravenswood Publishing, 2016)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Crying While Watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

This is the longest I've ever gone without posting here, and it has me feeling a bit bummed. On the flip side, I am also the busiest I've been in years. I did not want the new Star Wars film to come and go without me making a peep on here. Hopefully I'll be able to generate a few entries, starting with this one, and continuing after I see The Force Awakens. I've also been toying with the idea of allowing others to guest post here going forward. If this is something that interests you, please contact me with any ideas. Know in advance that there is no money involved. :)
When I first saw the full trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens I cried. I'll be 46 in May. I know I'm not alone. My emotional reaction definitely sums up who I am as a person, what films in general mean to me, and above all, how entirely embedded in me Star Wars is. Seeing the trailer opened this massive trunk full of awesomeness that has been sitting dormant inside me. The sleeper awakened.
Oh, you think Star Wars is your ally. But you merely adopted Star Wars; I was born in it, moulded by it.

I'm not saying that younger generations can't have as much appreciation for Star Wars as I can, but I am saying that people born in 1970, pretty much, have the greatest appreciation for Star Wars on the planet. ;)

If I was able to dig into my subconscious like they do in the film Inception and open up that safe buried deep in my subconscious, you probably find a figure of Luke in there.

So far I love everything that I've seen regarding Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It has me very hopeful. As a film viewer, that is how I try to be—positive and hopeful. I like enjoying films, not hating them. If I deconstruct art, it's because I love it, not because I feel critical of it. I know a lot of people have problems with the Lucas prequels. I get it. I have issues with them too. I still enjoyed them overall. Sometimes films don't sit right with me and I wind up completely hating them. It does happen. Birdman, I'm looking at you. You won't find me harping on it endlessly though. Or blogging about it and yapping and bitching and moaning. I try and forget about those films and move on. I've even been known to revisit films I hate and give them second, third, and fourth shots.

George Lucas's negative reaction to fans' criticisms of his films bothers me much more than the problems I have with the prequel films themselves. I think The People Vs. George Lucas summed it all up very nicely so I'm not going off on a rant against George here. I personally would never have made such a documentary. I just can't see spending all that effort on why I dislike something. I get that Star Wars is crazy close to many of our hearts, but a bad film does not detract from everything that already exists that you love unless you let it.

I just don't enjoy hating things, and from what I see online, some people clearly do. I see vitriolic reactions to all sorts of media from film lovers and haters and I'm more irked by this than how a bad film could ever make me feel. I like losing myself in films and giving myself over to them. As I have gotten older I have let my guard down more and more emotionally, especially in my own home. It's not uncommon for me to sit and watch a film and easily get moved to tears from certain scenes. When Gandalf falls in The Fellowship of the Ring, I cry. When Spock dies in Wrath of Khan, I cry. I cry when Thorin Oakenshield dies in The Battle of the Five Armies. I cried when watching the Pixar film Inside Out. And I often cry when watching Breakfast ClubStand By Me, It's a Wonderful Life, Planes Trains and Automobiles, Nausicaä, and many more.
Maybe I'm an overly emotional person like X Speaker of the House John Boehner. Maybe. I do think that my getting emotional from watching films stems more from giving myself over to them, and shedding embedded codes of behavior, rather than keeping my emotions in check, or subscribing to the unspoken idea that men should supposedly be entirely stoic and not cry.

When you let down your guard and allow a film get to you—rather than smugly trying to think you could do better, or concentrating on a little bit of a film that you let ruin the whole feature—the experience can be far more rewarding. I'm hoping for such an experience from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I'm pretty sure most everyone else is too.



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Apple Watch OS2

Apple Watch OS2 just dropped yesterday. Better late than never. There are a whole lot of new features that Apple has put into the watch. You can get is straight from Apple right here. I'm not going to go into much detail about all of it. Most of it will never be used by me, or it is not relevant right now.

I do still feel the app selection for this new and powerful watch is pretty poor at best. Many of the apps try and do something that does not need to be done. Simply forcing your iPhone app onto the watch just to, well, you know, have an app on the watch, is well, you know, lame beyond belief. Just don't do it. People don't sit and futz with their watches. They quickly glance at them for information. Any app that requires I use that tiny watch screen for anything more than a few taps is missing the point of the watch.

I made a few gaming suggestions here. I have found a few dice rolling apps so far. Nothing that's blowing my mind though. Nothing where I can shake my watch arm and get dice rolls from that movement. Until that app exists, dice rollers will be less that optimal.

One new feature I will mention is the ability to add photos as a watch face. Aside from adding your own photo there is zero customization. That's lame. All the other ways to customize date, time, sunrise, battery life, etc should all be allowed on the photo faces. Also there should be the ability to move the information around the screen so that depending on the layout of the photo, the date and clock information will not cover certain parts of the photos. Of course, if you know how to use Photoshop you can get around this, but a little more customization built in would be nice. Being able to change the information colors too would be a good thing. Here are some faces I tested out using photos from the Internet and one or two of my own.


The other cool feature that I used right away was nightstand mode. If you place the watch on it's side while charging it will go into nightstand mode and become a bedside clock. The lameness here is that it does not stay lit. All real world nightstand clocks stay lit all the time. I'm not sure why Apple won't let the face stay on all night. Maybe the screen will burn? If you touch the face or hit a button the face will illuminate. It's a nice feature but just not there 100%.




The last feature that I used right away is the ability to send multicolor sketches to another Apple Watch user. So far that's just my wife. She has not upgraded her watch yet and has only been getting my multicolored art as a single color. So be aware that multicolored sketches you send will not be seen unless all parties upgrade. The non-upgraded user will receive the whole picture in the last color you chose. This multi-color upgrade is not an earth-shattering feature, but it is fun. Here are two of my lame multicolor sketches I sent to my wife. 



Hopefully soon there will be more apps and the few new useful features that have been added will be tweaked to make them better. 

Thanks for reading.

—AF





Monday, August 17, 2015

Braxton Woods Mystique has found a home!


OK, so this is kind of a big deal for me. A short pause as we cut away from my ramblings to announce breaking news! 

I'm happy to announce that my novel, Braxton Woods Mystique, has found a home at Ravenswood Publishing! Thanks to Trident Media and my agent Mark Gottlieb!


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Photos. To filter or not to filter...that is the question

These days I constantly come upon photography blog posts claiming that Instagram style apps, with their many filters, are ruining photography as we know it. The arguments are as ubiquitous as the filters themselves: They are making us take pictures of boring subjects, they are making everyone seem like a better photographer than they actually are. Or, that it's somehow not an accurate representation of reality.

I've heard this line of thinking a lot throughout many creative circles lately, from art, to photography, to writing, and beyond. Self-imposed restrictions on what should be allowed, and the know-it-alls out there ready to tell you that if you use an app filter you are somehow cheating. Nonsense. Self-imposed restrictions are fine. But not for everyone. And certainly not as a general rule.
First off, to get slightly deep, "reality" does not even actually exist in any consistent sense. Sure, we take comfort in the fact that most people perceive things somewhat similarly. A red light looks red to the masses and most will stop for that color at a traffic signal. But within just our own species, there are those among us walking around with filters on all the time. It could be you and you might not even know it. I'm referring to people with color vision deficiency, more commonly known as colorblindness. Yes, they see the world differently than we do. When they use our so-called pure unfiltered cameras to take pictures they still don't see what we do. Are they cheating? Of course not. And who knows what our filters are doing to their photos. Some even suspect Van Gogh may have been colorblind and that his more limited visual spectrum resulted in his limited painting palate. Was he cheating? Nonsense.

Another thing I'd like to point out is that all our pictures are filtered. Until we somehow figure out how to capture what the brain is seeing, all photos are a filtered version of what humanity observes. First off, we see with binocular vision. Second, we see everything upside-down and our brains flip it magically. Then there is the fact that our eyes are roughly that of a 50mm lens. Some of us need glasses, some get headaches in too much light, some wear sunglasses. And then there is the fact that we all perceive the world differently. Some people love to take pictures of graffiti, or of wildlife, or clouds. There are lots of pictures of kids. Some take pictures of their food. And some take pictures of their feet. The more people shoot, the more common similarities emerge. Like that dream where you are in school late for a test and you're naked. Lots of people have that dream. Right? I think the problem here is not that we use too many filters. I think some people are seeing the huge common threads that run through our photos and that makes them feel somehow less special. As Fight Club's Tyler Durden said, “You are not special. You're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We're all part of the same compost heap. We're all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” Don't despair though. Revel in this knowledge.

Then there are all the cameras. Good God are there a ton of cameras. Go look on the Flicker camera finder. Gajillions of different cameras. Film, digital, cell, SLR, mirriorless, full frame, plenoptic, Polaroid, 3D, Google Glass, etc, etc, etc. The list is endless. They all record so-called reality, each, slightly differently. There is also software onboard digital cameras that is translating the image differently. Then there are the multitude of lenses ranging from fisheye to zoom. Then there are real-world filters already built in to the cameras. Ever hear of an anti-aliasing filter? Well guess what... your camera likely has one built in. Oh, film you say. You love the purity and classic feel of film. Those grains of silver and chemicals look and feel like nothing that digital can ever even hope to approach. That's fine. It's still a specific filtered version of reality, taken with a specific camera, a specific lens, and shot by a specific person and developed in specific chemicals and printed on specific paper. And it's all filtered down a process line to give you a specific filtered version of reality.

Here's another argument I've heard: Everyone's pictures are boring. You don't say? This argument is boring. My pictures do not exist on Instagram to get you excited. I did not photograph my son's reflection in a puddle up on a cliff in The Catskills for you. Sure, you can see it on Instagarm if you happen to stumble upon it. Or if you happen upon it because I hashtagged it #puddles just as you searched for #puddles as the stream of puddle pictures introduced you to my picture. That is a cosmic coincidence of another order. Some sort of Repo Man plate-of-shrimp lattice of coincidence for sure. But my filtered photo is under no obligation to land on the Ansel Addams spectrum of your photo-meter-of-happiness. Humanity will have shot as many as one trillion photos this year alone. Filtered photography is not hurting anyone. And photography is not suffering. I'd argue it's thriving like never before.

Filters on apps such as Instagram or Hipstamatic are great. If you don't like 'em, that's fine. If you want to put self-imposed restrictions on the creative work you do, that's fine too. I think too many choices can often be a hindrance to creativity. Sometimes I shoot only black and white, or only on my iPhone, or only in Instagram. Sometimes I do not alter my pictures in Adobe Lightroom after the fact, and instead just leave them as they are straight out of the camera. SOOTC for short. It's a whole movement. #sootc.

If you want to avoid filters and have your photo shooting be as unencumbered as possible, that's fine. But don't fool yourself for one second into thinking you are some sort of upper-crust highbrow purist, while the rest of us plebeian photographers are somehow beneath you, producing crap with our Instagram filters.  We're not. We're everywhere. And we see you through the lo-fi filter!

Don't feel threatened by the less classically trained. We're not competing with you anyways.



Monday, July 27, 2015

Smartwatch RPG Apps I'd Like To See

Smartwatches are taking off in a very big way. Motorola, Samsung, LG, Microsoft, Asus, Pebble, and Apple all have smartwatches on the market. I own the Apple Watch, which despite some rather nifty notification features, has a lackluster app selection so far. I know apps are subjective and one person's killer app is another's entirely unnecessary app. Still, my take on many of the current Apple Watch apps is that most are just gimmicky and useless regressions of far better iPhone apps. Why use the small watch for something your phone does bigger and better?

Smartwatch app developers need to start thinking outside the box to create apps that take the small screen into account.  Simple apps are needed and RPG games are a perfect place to start. I understand that many people like playing games the old fashioned way with pen and paper and such. That's fine. This is not an argument against traditional play. This is just a post about modern tech play and how modern smart devices can aid, or be used for, traditional games. As a gamer I have a few ideas for apps I wish already existed. I did a few mock-ups to help illustrate what could be...

Dice Roller: A nice RPG dice roller app for any smartwatch could be simply awesome. Choose the dice you want to roll, then shake the watch or spin the crown, and presto! The dice randomly rolls and settles on the result. Multiple dice could be gathered for more complex rolls. Most smartwatches lend themselves perfectly to this task. Since many smartwatches are tethered to their phones, results could be displayed on a phone for all to see.
Simple Dice Roller App


Character Sheets: I know many serious RPG players use a zillion stats and complex income tax-style mathematical acrobatics to play games. Here at home with my kids we typically use HP, AC, SP and a few other basic abilities. Games tend not to suffer much from paired-down stats when imagination and storytelling excel. A simple character sheet with editable HP would be awesome on my wrist. I want this now!
Character Sheet Stat App
Maps: Viewing maps on a smartwatch could be amazing. Imagine scrolling around a map with your finger or only seeing a limited view of a larger map. If and when all devices can truly work together, a DM can put a large map on a cell or tablet and players can see a portion on their watch.
Map App
Minis: There are thousands of RPG minis out there. An app for viewing a virtual mini for your character could be a lot of fun. If you play multiple games you could have multiple character minis stored so you could scroll to the one you are currently playing with. This idea could easily be incorporated into a character sheet app. Since I'm not a developer and I'm just tossing out ideas, I'm not sure how much can be combined in one app. My instinct with smartwatch apps is, the less complex the better.
Mini Viewer App

Art: Players, monsters, non-playable characters, items, settings, etc. could all be displayed on a watch. Traditional modules could be created, very simply, so a DM could run a game from a phone and text or communicate small bits of information and images to players. A module app that loads small bundles of art to aid with storytelling and gameplay could be a lot of fun.
Module Art App

This short list is just what has come off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest other ideas. Remember to keep it simple. Smartwatches are small and intimate and there is no need to stuff large concepts into such a small device.

Friday, July 24, 2015

nabi Big Tab HD 24" Review

OK, this giant tablet is not perfect by a long shot, but it is cool. It's basically a BIG ASS Android tablet marketed for kids, although I'm already scheming how, exactly, I'm gonna use it. There are two models, a $400 20-inch model and a $500 24-inch model. I picked up the 24" unit at Best Buy. They have a 14 day return policy.

Although this is sort of a family purchase, I basically got this for my 8-year old son. Previously, he'd been using an old hand-me-down Apple laptop to do his online interactions. The nabi Big Tab HD is suited for kids, and the size will not let them go blind while playing online. It's perfect for my son, and he took to it like a duck to water. I had previously set him up with his own Gmail account, youtube account, etc. I needed to use these to get the tablet up and running.

Despite having never used anything but Apple products I needed to only give him a 2-minute lesson and my son was off and running.

The tablet is made and intended for kids, so it has cumbersome security features that we're not using. There is a parent mode and a nabi kid mode. We keep the tablet in parent mode and it's just easier that way. I made the passwords fairly simple so my son can remember them. A password is needed to switch modes. This way I am not needed if the modes are switched by accident.
There is zero danger of any purchases being made on this without my knowledge because I used a pre-paid $25 Google card that I bought at Target. We downloaded a few apps together, like Minecraft and others, and then I explained to my son that there is only a certain amount of credit remaining. I have instructed him to come to me when downloading another app that costs money just so he does not make a mistake. I know he will listen to me, but I'd not suggest this for everyone. Each kid is different, and only a parent can truly know or predict how one's child will behave with technology.

In addition to getting this tablet for my son to browse the web and watch youtube on, I also got to hoping we could all use the unit as a flat screen map to play RPGs on. The verdict is in and it's great for that. Maps can be easily scaled by pinching the screen and any jpeg you want can be loaded onto the tablet for easy access. As well, maps can be used so that players do not see the entire map all at once. You can scroll to off screen parts of the image or simply place black paper over parts that can't be hidden off-screen. Plastic minis can go on the screen with zero problems. Metal-based minis can be used carefully. If you are worried about damaging the screen you can get a screen protector for either size model.
Adding map images works well for RPG play
This unit has an aftermarket cable that will allow USB to be plugged in so external storage can be accessed. I have not tested this aspect yet, but when I do I'll add to this post. I did find it kind of crummy that the cable, only $8 on the nabi website, was not included with the tablet. A cheap cable like that should be in the box!

Selling the product with no HDMI cable is a huge oversight. Allowing a unit this big to be used as a TV, too, would be a big plus and would make it more attractive to parents looking for an all-in-one unit that accomplishes all a kid could want. My son is bummed that he cannot attach his PS3 to the unit. Any company that thinks less access to their device will help sales for proprietary apps for the unit is nuts. The more useful a device, the more likely it will be that people will buy it.

A big elephant in the room is that the camera on our nabi Big Tab HD 24" never functioned properly. It only shoots a partial image. My son couldn't care less about the camera, so it's not an issue here but I'm still waiting to find out what nabi will do for us. I called them earlier today. I was on hold for almost 20 minutes before I was connected to a person who could not easily answer my HDMI question without talking to a supervisor.  :/

Using the tablet flat on a table is a great experience and there are a bunch of 2-4 player games that kids can play head-to-head like air hockey. A hungry hippos-style shark game is also fun for the kids.
Red rubber feet on the back for tabletop play

Overall this is a very cool device that seems a bit too expensive. In order for it to be a hit, the quality and connectivity issues must be addressed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Apple Watch Review: More is Less

Everyone keeps asking me about the Apple Watch, which I have had now for about two weeks. I keep thinking about what to say. There is not much to tell. Well, I guess there is a little to tell. For a brand new Apple product, this may appear as a bad sign, but the more I wear and use the watch, the more I realize it's not. With previous Apple products I could say things like "there's 128GB of space," or "it's got a great camera with lots of new features." Like The Six Million Dollar Man—better, stronger, faster. But with the Apple Watch, I'm like, "meh, it's OK," or "I don't know," or "leave me alone I'm still figuring it out and I have not found the words yet!"

The truth is that no one ever asked me about any of my previous watches, except to say that they liked how they looked. The time, sure. The thing always tells the time. That's a given. But does it look cool? I have a HUGE Nixon watch that is the size of a dinner plate. That watch looks badass on my wrist. I have a Seiko diving watch similar to the one Mick Jones is wearing on the cover of a Big Audio Dynamite album. In the past, I've even owned a very nice Omega. I tend to not last too long with crazy expensive things. I don't like the whole "look at me" ostentatious thing. That being said, my Omega was so beautiful and traditional looking that it barely got noticed. I sold it eventually anyway because I did not like walking around with 4k on my wrist. I knew the money could be better used elsewhere and I was right.


So what's the deal with the Apple Watch? Well, for starters, it tells time. You get to choose from different watch faces. I picked one and I'm good. (I imagine more faces are coming.) You can customize each face and add or remove info like battery life, date, sunrise/sunset, color, weather, etc. I own the Apple Watch with the leather strap, the sapphire crystal with the stainless steel case. Since I've owned nice watches and crappy watches in the past, I knew to spring for the more robust materials. Sapphire is very hard and not likely to scratch. Ever. I already banged the watch into a metal outdoor chair and there is no evidence on the watch. A watch needs to be sturdy so it won't look like a damaged piece of crap on your wrist. The basic design of all Apple Watches is the same. It considers design before practicality. So the watches made of the lower-end materials will suffer scratches, dings, and bangs the most.  Unless you plan on being careful all the time, I suggest getting the Apple Watch with the sapphire crystal and the stainless steel. The bands can be swapped easily so you have options in that department.

So what else does the watch do? Well not much, but that's the point. This is not a device to do things on. That's what your phone is for. The Apple Watch makes it so you pull your phone out less. Apple brings the watch back onto our radar and teaches us that some of technology's woes and downsides can be solved with a watch. That is, if you feel they need to be solved. If you love checking your phone and you hate wearing a watch, I suggest keeping your money. If you like watches, as I already do, and you want to be alerted to every email and text, but at the same time don't want to check your phone every two seconds, then the Apple Watch might be for you. It took more than a week of wearing the watch for my body and mind to recognize the new subtle vibrations and dings. I was missing alerts at first and I thought the watch sucked. But Apple is a freaking genius, and no I am not just sucking from their cooperate teet. If something sucks, it sucks, and no logo will help me love it. I enjoyed Google Glass but it's not practical, it attracts a lot of attention, and now it's in a box. I rarely use it.

The Apple Watch does a lot more too.  For example, I used it to take remote pictures with my phone. I took a selfie with the good camera, not the shitty Facetime one. I stopped alarms on my phone with my watch when the phone was elsewhere in the house. I changed music tracks on my phone from the watch as I listened to music on a bluetooth speaker outside. I replied to texts simply with prefab responses. I checked the weather easily without digging for my phone. I checked the calendar easily. I put some family photos on the watch that I can see easily. I shazamed music easily.

There are also many apps and alerts that can be turned on or off via your phone. If you want the weather, time, Twitter feed, Instagram feed, etc., then they are there for a quick look-see. Mostly I just check the time, see my wife's texts come in, ignore many notifications, and use the watch to use my phone less. So far it's come in most handy when driving. Eyes on the road and I can still see who texted. It's easier to look at than the car radio, and I don't even need to take my hand off the wheel to look at and activate the screen.

And so far the Apple Watch is this understated blah of a device that does not do much, but somehow does everything. It's too small to do anything substantial, but just right to help you do everything.

I'm loving the simplicity of it in a way that I never dreamed possible.

The James Bond in me does wish it had a camera in it. And also a laser.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max The Linchpin Hero

Mad Max: Fury Road

Vague spoilers. FYI.

Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. 

There has not been a film like this for a very long time. I'd almost forgotten a film like this could exist. I skipped Avengers Age of Ultron. I know what to expect.... More formulaic characters with a few tentpole action scenes thrown in here and there. I already know the story from the trailer. I'm sure it all gets worked out in the end. I can wait for the Bluray. 

With Fury Road, I had no idea what the hell was going to happen as I sat and watched. The trailer showed a lot but it did not spoon feed me the plot so that I could already see the end before even handing over my money. 

We're not spoon fed Max's backstory like the comic book films continually do when they force-feed endless origin films that everyone already knows. Like Spider-Man's origin, again. Yawn! Fantastic Four origin, again. Double yawn! 40 minutes of Max's background? Nope! Fury Road did not waste your time telling you what you already know. Every second of the film was carefully engineered to push the story forward, even if you were not ready to be pushed forward. 

This is not just a film with 20 minutes of action stitched together with weak, inexpensive talking scenes that attempt to tell a story. This was a biblical tale with Max Rockatansky as the linchpin for the entire adventure. 


Yes, he's the linchpin.

Max is the hero on the hero's journey. Without Max, the entire plot falls apart. He is pulled in by forces beyond his control. Max is not a superhero. His ability to overcome conflict is not always a given, and that's why the film is so amazing. When the hero's outcome is not a foregone conclusion, then the audience becomes more invested in the character. He does not always outwit the forces against him. He is not infallible. He has flaws. Max's character, background, wits, and skills also figure in—but sometimes fate, luck, chance, and happenstance all play a part. The screenplay is so well-written you can't sense the writing. The action also does not let up. The only time you have a moment to breathe is when Max has a moment. And there are not many of them. 

Yes, it's true, Charlize Theron's character is very much the protagonist in this story. Others have criticized her character and the plot as feminist propaganda. WTF? Only male-chauvinist caveman thinking would arrive at such a conclusion. This is a classic and complex story that is much larger than the lone-wolf Max. He just becomes a part of Furiosa's adventure. And although the Furiosa character is the true protagonist, without Max there as the linchpin, the story would have collapsed. Furiosa would likely have failed. Max is essential. Just like in The Road Warrior—where without Max as an unwitting decoy, the adventure would have failed, imploded, collapsed. Remember Road Warrior? Max did not care. He did not want to get involved. He got his ass kicked. Eventually he gave in to fate and played his part in the bigger story that played out before him. He gave in to destiny and played his role. Fury Road had a different story, but Max fell in and out in much the same way. 

"As for the Road Warrior... That was the last we ever saw of him. He lives now... Only in our memories."...until the next film, where he'll likely wander into some chaos that is much larger than himself, again somehow figuring in as the story's linchpin hero. 





Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Apple Watch & Your Judgmental Snobbery With Other People Using Technology

So I just got the new  Apple Watch. 

Verdict... it's OK. No homerun. No strike out, either. 


It's a fancy watch that links to my iPhone. It does stuff. Some stuff I want, some stuff I don't want. I can turn that stuff off. 


I own it now. It's mine. I like it OK. I have no plans to sell or return it. I also only just got it. I'm sure I'll learn more about it, and more apps will come out for it. I also know no one with it, and I can see that it will be more useful if I can communicate with other  Apple Watch users. My gut reaction, rather than some in-depth pro/con review about every feature is more important for me. My gut reaction says that it's OK. It's certainly not as necessary as a cell phone is. 


Technology is for individuals. Not for everyone. Each and every one of us needs to make choices about everything in life. What do we want to do? Where would we like to go? Who do we want to hang out with? What do we want to wear? All personal choices. Problems arise when people think they know what's better for others with the personal minutiae in other peoples lives. 


"People who like Apple are fanboys and suck!"

"Android users just don't get it!"
"Technology sucks and is ruining our lives."
"Books are better than tablets." 
"Humph! Look at that asshole with his phone out at dinner."

While I personally feel new technology needs to be navigated carefully and a good measure of etiquette needs to be exercised, I am more shocked by people who feel they know better and thumb their noses at other people they see simply because they are not doing things the way they would do them.


If you care that someone at another table is continually checking a cell phone at a restaurant, then you have a problem. If you see someone walking and texting and you are annoyed by that, you have a problem. If you see a family all checking phones, playing games, and buried in screens and you are annoyed, you have a problem. As long as other people are not being rude, driving while texting, or affecting those around them then the problem you have with them using technology is your problem, not theirs. What is the difference between someone sitting alone at a cafe looking at a tablet or a book? Maybe when the book first came out people hated them and wanted scrolls?

We need to stop worrying what others are doing and how we think it's bad just because it's not the way we would be. Society seems to be responsibly creating laws, where needed, to deal with dangerous situations that put the public at risk, like texting and driving. People seem to be getting the idea, though, that it's rude to interrupt others with technology--such as in a movie theater.

The gray area is when we see people caring more than we feel is normal about technology. If I saw someone knitting on a train or restaurant I might think it's a bit out of place, maybe. But I'd not think the person has a problem with knitting and should stop being obsessed.

The judgmental snobbery that many people have adopted for others' unobtrusive day-to-day technology use is entirely worrisome to me. Stop worrying that other people are not like you!

This all being said, if you want to be bothered less by your phone, get a  Watch. It might help you. So far, though, it has no app that will help you worry less about how your friends, acquaintances, and strangers use technology. 

If you think it's bullshit to add another device that will help you use your phone less, then fine. Don't buy it. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Using Netflix as a Filmmaking & Film History Graduate School

So you want to make films? You really have no excuse today for not being a filmmaker if that's what you want to do. The cheap options are entirely at your disposal and a mere summer job at McDonald's should net you enough money to pull it off with some level of professionalism. If you already own a cell phone and a Netflix account, you can get started right now—no job required.

How much is Netflix streaming a month? $15? I'm not even entirely sure. The bill for this service is so insanely low compared to the value it provides, that most of us don't even realize how much it offers.

You could go blow tens of thousands of dollars on a BA or MA in Film Studies, or you could just get a Netflix subscription and sit back and watch and watch and watch. Watching films over and over and over is pretty much the best thing a budding novice aspiring to any area of cinema can do to learn. By watching films you will develop tastes. By developing tastes, you will gain critical thinking skills. You will decide what you like and what you don't like and in doing so your opinions will help form the critical thinking processes necessary for almost any area of film production. Writing, photography, editing, acting, music, and more are all up there on the screen for all to see and scrutinize. With Netflix, you get the best bang for your buck.

There is a lot of crap on Netflix, you say? I know. We all know. There is also a massive amount of under-the-radar masterpieces that many people do not even know about. And you know what? The crap serves an important purpose as well. If you only watch what you like, you might not recognize bad filmmaking—especially bad filmmaking that is being produced by you. Artists often have the hardest time being self-critical. Watching lots of B, C, D, and X, Y, Z grade films are necessary to grow as an artist. If you only stick to highbrow art-house cinema, you will be selling yourself short. There is as much craft and passion in a crappy film as there is in a masterpiece. Watching bad films might wind up surprising you with a charm and quality that you did not expect to experience. The distinction between some of the highbrow and lowbrow labels are nebulous at best. There is still a lot of sludge in Netflix but I stand by my advice that you should not shy away from even the crappiest films. A wide knowledge of cinema is important so that you can have a complete grasp of the world you wish to inhabit.

Now back to the cell phone as a filmmaking tool. No one seriously thinks the films one produces while learning need to be of RED camera quality. Grab a cell phone, write a short story, gather a few like-minded friends and shoot! What the hell are you waiting for? You are learning! Your film industry job will not come till you show that you've been through the trenches. You'll need to make a bunch of awkward crappy shorts and half-assed student films before a serious endeavor can be accomplished.

A lot of great filmmakers never went to film school. Stanley Kubrick himself just watched films and was mostly just hyper-inquisitive and self-taught.

The best education in film is to make one. I would advise any neophyte director to try to make a film by himself. A three-minute short will teach him a lot. —Stanley Kubrick

By watching Netflix you will see what came before, what's being produced now, and decide where you want to take the industry. Each artist adds a drop to the pool and nudges the direction art takes. Do not for one second think that what you do does not matter. Even a short put-up on youtube will have some impact on someone.

Here is a varied group of films I consider great on Netflix right now that I recommend to anyone wishing to grow their film knowledge or learn as a student in any area of cinema. Searching "Classics" on Netflix should keep you busy for a year. And don't think, just click and watch.

The Dead Zone
Chinatown
The Dark Crystal
Fantastic Voyage
Rosemary's Baby
Deathwish
Serpico
The Apartment
The Graduate
On Golden Pond
Runaway Train
Witness
Rain Man
Metropolis
Waking Life
The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover
Maniac
Beberian Sound Studio
Beyond the Back Rainbow
Cinema Paradiso
Becket
Man With a Movie Camera
3 Days of The Condor
Marathon Man
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
Copland
The Secret of Nimh
All is Lost
Glengarry GlenRoss
The American
My Left Foot
Terms of Endearment
Sunset Bulevard
What's Eating Gilbert Grape
Upstream Color
Another Woman
Faust
Russian Ark
Jane Eyre

Here is a list of what many would consider to be of a more lowbrow nature. I often find the label annoying but I'm listing these films separately nonetheless.

Troll Hunter
Leprechaun
Barbarella
Re-Animator
Escape to Witch Mountain
Night of the Living Dead
Day of the Dead
The Dunwitch Horror
Godzilla Raids Again
Heathers
9 To 5
King Kong (1976)
Twins
Night Breed
The Crow
Zeta One
A Force of One


There are literally hundreds and hundreds more to be added to both lists. In addition, TV shows like M*A*S*H, Star Trek, X-Files, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and dozens of other great TV series will keep you busy forever! So skip film school. Get watching. Get filming. Get editing. Get cracking.

You have zero excuses!

Generation X: Welcome to Your Midlife Crisis


The reason why will shock you…
One simple trick worked…
You won’t believe what happens next…

Generation X, I have some bad news for you: You are going to die.

I see the midlife crisis in each and every one of us, quietly worried about our own mortality. The weight and body image thing is just a side effect symptom of the fact that we are afraid to die too soon. We’re worried in the dark back corners of our minds if we will be around for the graduation, wedding, grandchild, and more.

I see all the neurosis I once could not understand in my own parents, now glaring back up at me on the scale each day. I know my BMI. I take my blood pressure. I turn off Cartoon Network to watch CNN. I shop for wild caught salmon. I buy almond milk. I drink water. I worry what’s in my kids’ 529 accounts. I’m happy when we pay off a car. I’m happy gas is slightly cheaper lately. I use a coupon to buy lawn fertilizer. I re-watch Reality Bites and The Big Chill. I go to bed at 9:30 pm and I wake up at 5:00 am. I eat smelly disgusting kale chips with my wife and I somehow now have developed a taste for them. I buy olive oil and grass fed butter. I eat portioned ice cream out of a bowl now rather than just eating the entire container. I go to Whole Foods and cringe at the prices and wonder how much it might cost to live an extra 10 years, or if that is even possible, and do I want to, and if so why?

I see how skinny is the new élite upper-crust ideal, and that any observable excess weight is the new unspoken social pariah to be looked down upon, or politely encouraged away. This viewpoint comes under the guise of health, of course, never vanity. I watch as undiluted flagrant arrogance, judgment, superiority and snobbery leak from every corner of our generation, and how we have managed to somehow become even less self-aware of our annoying behaviors than our parents' generation, who we were so very critical of only a short time ago. I see the media having a bigger affect on us than it did on our parents… even though we know it’s all bullshit, yet we somehow still buy the game and play along anyway, which makes it that much worse. I see us try to micromanage our children way more than we ever were, and I wonder if we will remember what it was like to distain nagging advice and authority when they finally rebel against us and tell us to fuck off just like we did.

I see the midlife crisis online each and every day among my generation as they post helpful advice articles, work out, Botox, get boob jobs, pump up, slim down, nip, tuck, douse in face acids, wrinkle creams, spray tans, and keratin treatments, drink shakes, juice, pulp, clean eat, skip meals, change diets, give up meat, shop organic, hike, bike, walk, run, skate, box, cross-train, pop pills, dine in, dine out, and on and on and on. Then I watch the news about centenarians, blue zones, and people living past 100. And I read articles about how science will soon let us live for hundreds of years. I read how eggs are now good and how margarine was a big mistake, and certain fat is good, and other fat is bad. I read about how too many vitamins might cause cancer. I read about how coffee, blueberries, red wine, fish oil, green veggies, are all crazy good for us. I read about anorexia, orthorexia, bigorexia, megaroexia, drunkorexia, pregorixia, and lots of other “-rexias.” I hear TV commercials for pharmaceuticals, asking if I have or have ever had kidney or liver problems, or if I am pregnant or if I plan to become pregnant, or about erections that may last for 4 hours when the time is right.

And then I see somber news about how Angelina Jolie had a mastectomy. And how Tom Hanks has diabetes. And how Robin Williams committed suicide. And the stretched faces of those celebrities who couldn’t stand to see themselves age. And the unfortunate few who went too far and fucked their faces up permanently for the worse. Then I see tabloid articles about the celebrities who did not age well. And articles about the cute kid actors who turned out ugly. And the miracle ones who have managed to look young. Or the ones who inject cement into their asses to have more junk in the trunk.

In simplistic terms, I see that my kids can eat almost anything because they are kids, and adults cannot because we are no longer kids. Fit or not, most kids do not go to gyms to impress their peers, or read diet books, or post ever-so-clever informative articles on Facebook. When I look back on the photos of myself and my peers from decades past I can see we all look younger. And we were so less self-conscious then, too. Our skin was brighter, no blotches, our faces glowed, our bodies slimmer, less paunchy, less stringy, less saggy, less everything. Our tattoos were sharper. Even our hair changed. We all had so much more, and much nicer hair when we were younger. Now we are bald, or balding, or gray, or receding, or damaged, or thinning, or dyed with gray roots. And rather than embrace all this as a natural process, we ignore it and hide from it and try and cover it up and pretend it didn’t happen.

I marvel at how kids lack the vain self-awareness us older people have. My son and his friends all have magazine bodies but they don’t care about them. He has the body I once had and lost, yet he slinks out of the house each day, drowning in an oversized hoodie. Does he know how amazing he looks to the adults who now work out for their imitation teen-style body like a second job? Does he care? Do his friends all realize they look like Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue models? Nah. YOLO. TMI. FTW. YEET. WTF? They have their own worries and their youthful bodies are not one of them. We only worry about something after we’ve lost it, or if we have to work crazy hard to maintain it. Then we post it like a trophy.

Now that my generation has seen the wizard behind the curtain, we worry. We worry about everything. And good God do we have a zillion opinions. Facebook has now become the advice columns for our generation. We post every new article that affirms what we think we believe, and then we feel smug that we know better. We declare what we’ve become with each change in our micro-ideologies, almost on a weekly basis. We hope our new fresh start, like a new t-shirt, will be the magic bullet to get us back to what we’ve lost, rather than going forward and embracing what we’ve become…middle-aged.

We cling to these new ideas and secretly fear our peers will judge us as failures if we abandon them and give them up. Full confession: My juicer is in the garage. My gym shoes are packed away in a plastic bin. My gym membership is canceled. I only rode my mountain bike a few times. I can barely get any air when I try to ollie on the skateboards that I now keep on the wall of my man-cave, more for decoration than for practical use.

I’ve given up on many diets too. In all, I’ve briefly adopted and abandoned the paleo, pescetarian, vegetarian, Mediterranean, vegan, Atkins, and No S diets. I also lost 20 pounds once by cutting carbs and using supplements, only to gain it all back.  I bought skinny jeans—yuck! I was also miserable and depressed despite the weight loss. Only one person commented that I lost weight, too. I also hated myself for secretly hoping for vain affirmation from my peers too. It disgusted me.  

The Internet is more than ready to feed our need for self-help. It is filled with posts about 10 things we should stop doing or start doing right away, regarding everything from parenting, diets, politics, education, religion, and beyond.


I don’t care what I am as long as long as I can find an article about it so I can feel better about my insecurities and myself. 

As long as I can be labeled, I’ll be happy.

~ADDITION~

Here are a few articles to add to our woes:

Top 40 signs of a midlife crisis revealed
Generation X gets really old: How do slackers have a midlife crisis?