Friday, September 26, 2014

Movie Posters and the Death of the American Writer

Recently, I bought my father (Hey, mom!  Tell Dad I'm talking about him.  On my BLOG!) a copy of the Ender's Game movie.  My father is a big Orson Scott Card fan: read everything Card ever wrote, even written articles about him.  The movie was an essential part of his collection.  However, when the movie arrived, it had this cover:

I was a bit shocked.  The first poster, showing a kid preparing for combat, is a gripping image that gives you a great sense of what the movie is about.  The second poster shows you who acts in it and...

Well, that's about it.  I guess it looks kinda science-fictiony, but all you're getting out of the poster is an airbrusher's wet dream of a movie.  I can't  believe anyone would want to go see a movie with that poster.

And yet...

Pretty much every movie does the same thing.  I did a quick image search on "movie poster" and my first result was:

"Hey, look how many people we could fit into this poster!"  Some day we'll get something like:

There must be a huge amount of research behind the design of these posters.  I'm guessing it says the only thing movie viewers care about is who is in the film.  As a prospective screenwriter, I find that reality a bit depressing.  What kind of movies are we going to get if the only important aspect of filmmaking is who you hire to play the leads?

Actually, I know the answer to that.  We'll get movies like Upside Down.
Hey, only two people in this movie!
I just saw Upside Down.  It's two worlds linked together and reverse.  It's a beautiful film.  The concept is interesting.  The writing is absolutely terrible. 

Literally, the movie would be improved if you turned off the sound.  About 90% of the dialogue is people either baldly stating obvious feelings (she holds him over a drop and he says "Don't drop me!" three times before he falls.) or baldly stating obvious facts (She's forgotten him after a head injury and tells him "I have amnesia.  I don't remember anything.").

Welcome to the future of film.  On the down side, movies are all going to be about beautiful people saying idiotic things.  On the up side, more Kirsten Dunst.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Encyclopedia Brown-esque Mystery

I used to love Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid.  If you aren't familiar with them, the basic idea is each story comes in two parts: the mystery and the solution.  The solution was at the back of the book, so you could read the mystery, try to figure it out, and then flip to the solution.

I thought I'd try to make my own mystery.  Today, I present to you: The Mystery of the Phantom Coffee Person

His name was Matthew.  He was tall, witty (in a humble sort of way) and unnervingly handsome.  Once a week, he visited Starbucks to work on his blog, which was so brilliant only two people read it.
He had chosen Starbucks not because the coffee snobs despised it, although that was reason enough, but because he hated coffee.  Put enough milk and sugar in it to make it taste like ice cream, and he could manage to choke it down, which is what Starbucks excelled at.

It also made him feel important when he ordered.  The long list of drink-jargon gave him the cache of a VIP.  After emotional setbacks, he'd add another word or two to his order.  What had started as a "tall latte" had (after a painful review of his groundbreaking novel) grown to a "tall, nonfat latte" and finally (following an unfortunate medical diagnosis) to "tall, nonfat, vanilla latte."

One thing puzzled him, however.  Every time he entered his Starbucks, there was a cluster of objects on the table nearest the door.  It didn't matter what day or what time, the same constellation of objects were always there in the same positions.

There was:
  • ·         Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, placed farthest away from the door
  • ·         The UCSC Extension course catalog, sitting across from the book
  • ·         The coffee cup, always placed on top of the course catalog
  • ·         A small canister of "Renesse," whatever that was
  • ·         A tan bag with handles, perhaps a purse or small tote bag.

The mystery of the Phantom Drinker perplexed him for hours, detracting from his usual job of making the world a brighter place.  Was the Phantom Drinker an employee of the coffee shop?  One of those freelance HR workers who interviewed candidates at Starbucks?  A hit man who got assignments in drinkable form?  One of those perpetual college students who took a couple of courses a year, but never wanted to graduate?

The questions haunted him.

He considered lying in wait to catch the Drinker.  He considered leaving a message.  One time, wondering how the Drinker could possibly still be reading Rushdie after all these years, he left a card for his groundbreaking, mind-blowing novel on it.  The card disappeared; the objects never changed.
Finally, waiting in line one day, one of the coffee shop workers stood next to him, cleaning the baked goods cabinet.  In a rush of desperation he turned and asked.

"So, what's the deal with the person whose stuff is by the door?" he said.

The employee turned back to look at the Phantom Drinker's spot, and then answered...


Imagine you're flipping to the end of the book.

She's not a ghost!  She's been projecting an image of herself by using a mirror so the boat never reaches the shore!

Huh?  I always got the page number wrong when I flipped to the end of the Encyclopedia Brown book, ruining the solution to a different mystery.  Now imagine you went back to check the page number again and flipped to the correct page.

There was a false compartment in the wooden shoes! 

What?  No...  Oh, page 117!  Right.  Gotta see someone about my dyslexia...

"Oh, her?" the employee said.  "Yeah, she's homeless.  She kinda lives in the parking lot.  She's got a van she lives out of."

He remembered her, then.  The chain-smoking woman with the black, down vest and short, grey hair.  She wore giant sunglasses over another pair of reading glasses and walked with a painful slouch around the mini-mall.  He'd seen her sitting in all those chairs and tables scattered around that nobody else sat in: in the corner beside Safeway, in front of the closed Fro-Yo.

The things she left on the table weren't clues.  She wasn't really choosing courses or reading a novel.  They were just placeholders.  She was marking her territory.  "This is where I sit.  Don't sit here."

It was his turn to order.  "Tall," he said, "Nonfat, vanilla latte."  Then, after a moment, he added: "extra-hot."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I Am a Gamer

I am a gamer.

When I was young, and gaming was new, the title of "gamer" didn't exist.  Instead, we were known as "losers."  Few of us played video games.  Few of us played role-playing games.  Few of us liked science fiction and fantasy novels (and films).  Those pastimes were for the underclass of junior high and high school: the geeks, the nerds, the unpopular.

Popular kids detassled corn, played mumblety-peg with sharpened knives, rode unicycles...


Actually, I don't have a clue what the popular kids did.  I do know they had no interest in computers.  I like to imagine those popular kids are now shoveling garbage for a living.  I also like to imagine they think "Gee, if I'd only been nicer to those geeks, I would be able to cope with the modern world."

But I digress.

In between expeditions to the White Plume Mountains, we bemoaned our inability to talk to girls.  If only they played Atari cartridges instead of records.  If only they liked Star Wars instead of football players.  If only they tried Champions instead of... 

Er...  I'm back to unicycles again.  What did girls like in high school in the 80s?  Welding?  Trigonometry?

The point is, if only we geeks shared interests with girls, we could have talked to them.  Instead, we became bright red and silent in their presence.

Oh, how the world has changed.  Computers are everywhere.  Games are the dominant entertainment medium.  And we can talk to women without the need to discuss unicycles.*  This world is awesome!

And yet...

In this bright, shiny, new world do we get what we geeks always wanted: a diverse group of game lovers?  No.  Now those same idiots, exactly like those who ridiculed me in high school, are attacking women.  You read that right, women are being pushed out after it took so long for them to get in!

To those who are threatening women, ridiculing women, and attacking feminism in defense of games: Stop it.  Games will always be fun and groundbreaking and threatening to the status quo.  Games will always be played by women with opinions.

You are the problem, not them.  Get over it or, at the very least, learn to shut up.  This is our world now, not your world.

I am a gamer.  They are gamers.  We are gamers.

Fuck yeah!

*Except as foreplay.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Open Letter to Jennifer Lawrence* from Men

It's been a tough couple of weeks to be a woman.

No, wait, it's always tough to be a woman.  They make 76.5% of what men make for the same job.  They aren't allowed to control their own bodies.  They're kidnapped and forgotten.  While they commit a tiny percentage of violent crimes, they are still treated as if they were the emotionally unstable gender.

It's enough to make you think the world will be better off if men were locked away from the rest of society.

Let me rephrase: the last couple weeks were tough for men who care about women:

If you missed that last one, someone hacked the accounts of Jennifer Lawrence and several other stars and published compromising pictures of them online.  The backlash against the hackers was swift and severe.

Ha!  I'm kidding.  People blamed the victims.  Again.

I once posted an article called "Jennifer Lawrence Topless" in a blatant attempt to get people to click on my page (and it worked: 1056 hits).  I thought it was funny because she's a talented actress.  I thought she'd never do a nude scene.  Heck, she was the one from the "We Saw Your Boobs" song who didn't look embarrassed.

So, I feel bad and am writing to say "I'm sorry" and to explain why men hack accounts, kidnap, rape, drug, abuse, and generally mistreat women.


An Open Letter to Jennifer Lawrence* and Other Women from Men

Dear Jennifer (and the other three to four billion women),

Men are dicks.

I don't mean men are mean, selfish, losers.  That's an oversimplification.  I mean think of us as giant, walking penises.  If you consider us anthropomorphic phalli, everything we do makes perfect sense, because we really do think with our dicks.

Here's how it works: 
  1. When we see someone attractive, our reactions fairly normal: lust, desire, wistfulness.  
  2. Testosterone seeps into our brains in increasing quantities, changing our thinking processes in subtle ways.  
  3. Our way of thinking changes, and we become obsessed.  Acting like an idiot makes perfect sense.  Some examples:
    "If I sell my house and spend all the money on buying her gifts, she'll love me." or "
    If I shot the president, she'd notice me." or "Even though she's never met me, we're soul mates."
  4. In some cases, the feeling abates and we return to our "normal" state.
  5. Regret.  Anger (testosterone is an aggression hormone, too).
  6. Back to step 1.
You must have seen evidence of this behavior.  Someone pursued you desperately and, when you slept with him, he disappeared.  Once the hormones receded, he realized he didn't really like you all that much in the first place.  And, of course, it was your fault.

So, why did we turn the movie Sex Tape into a documentary?  Why are we currently downloading them millions of times per minute?  Why are we blaming you for our actions?  

Because, for just a little while, we got to trick ourselves into believing you were our girlfriend.  We imagined you sent us those pictures.  

Look through all those steps above and remember-

We're dicks.



*Jennifer Lawrence will never read this blog.