So, I made this short film a while ago with Roddie Bell. It was supposed to be a knock-it-out-quickly thing, but ended up taking a lot longer than I thought. Thanks to Roddie for his performance and his patience. I really need to look in to getting someone to shoot things for me. I honestly don't give a shit about cinematography and it really shows.
I've just been to see World War Z and in terms of the film itself, it wasn't as bad as I feared. What made it so difficult to watch, however, was the 3D effect used on the film. I tend to avoid 3D films because I wear glasses and having two pairs on at a time just feels ridiculous. Added to which, there's some sort of conflict between the lenses and the whole experience isn't that pleasurable.
As the plot of World War Z doesn't require that much attention, I spent most of the film trying to figure out exactly what the problem is with 3D cinema in the modern era. This is what I've come up with.
Note: This is all based on live-action 3D. Not all of them may apply to animation, particularly computer-animated films.
Problem: Eyes and Cameras focus differently
We all see things in 3D all the time, so why do 3D films feel so wrong? In terms of live action films, I think the problem is to do with the physical properties of cinema cameras. While my eyes do have apertures (we call them irises) they don't produce such shallow depth of field that things closer to and further away from the object of attention appear blurred. This is a visual disparity that the brain has to overcome with every single shot and adds to the feeling of unreality. This problem is exacerbated by the trend toward shallow depth of field, with a particularly narrow area of sharpness, surrounded by fuzziness front and back.
Possible solution: Deep focus
Orson Welles used it to great effect on Citizen Kane, so why can't it be put into effect more often in modern cinema? Surely it's possible to get the whole field of vision in focus? If not, can't this be an area where CGI is used in order to fake it? It would probably take the effects industry a while to unlearn all the tricks it's been using for the past few years. In an attempt at authenticity, visual effects houses spend a lot of time and energy trying to replicate the physical flaws in cameras that we as viewers understand as part of the language of cinema. Just have a look at the amount of lens flare in JJ Abrams' Star Trek for an example. Making things look clear and in focus should be a walk in the park.Read More
An odd film, certainly. There were two things that struck me particularly.
- The repeated mention of the chiff-chaffs happened on the same day that I saw an eviscerated pigeon on the pavement. It looked as if it had been placed there, in ceremonial fashion and seemed quite beautiful until I got closer and realised what it was.
- This intro sequence for the film-within-a-film is quite tremendous
Well, for some reason I've ended up reading the Walter Wotsit biography of Steve Jobs and my over-riding conclusion was that Steve Jobs was Not A Very Nice Man. Personally, I don't give that much of a shit whether there are iPhones in the world, but the fact that he tried to cure cancer by eating beatsprouts shows he wasn't that much of a fucking genius. In the interests of full disclosure, it's worth stating that I didn't pay for the book, but instead downloaded an illegal ebook, which I then transferred onto my horrible Archos reader. Conversion from PDF to ePub files has a strange side effect where double lower case "l"s are rendered as a single "l" and a space. This leads to some odd reading. The head of the Mac engineering team, Bob Belleville, transforms into a Firestorm-like hybrid of the lead singer of Bell Biv Devoe and Ice T's DJ, "Bob Bel evil e"
I also watched Funny or Die's iSteve, which was shit, but endearingly so. Written in three days, filmed in five, it stars Justin Long and Jorge Garcia. Clearly, it's not going for factual accuracy, a fact which some elements of the technology press have failed to grasp. It reminded me of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, just because of the ridiculousness and general lack of reverence toward the real-life inspirations behind the comedy. iSteve isn't as funny as Dewey Cox (which is a hugely under-rated film, I think), but I like the fact it exists, probably just because it annoys some of the right people.
I think it was in Lawrence Block's Telling Lies For Fun and Profit that I first read the maxim that coincidences can only ever work against the main character, as a source of strife and turbulence. Warren Ellis' Gun Machine pays no attention to this principle whatsoever.
While I seem to follow him on every social network going, I'm pretty ambivalent about Ellis' work. I never got into Transmetropolitan or his work on Iron Man. I did, however, greatly enjoy Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. and I thought his first novel, Crooked Little Vein, was pretty good, although it seemed more like a succession of individual scenes (issues, perhaps, speaking to his background as a comics writer) rather than a natural sequence of events. This thing happened, then this thing happened, then this thing happened... which is OK, because they were all interesting things and, besides, the book was basically a road trip, so can be forgiven for being structured around its stops.
Gun Machine, however, promises a much less linear experience. Where Crooked Little Vein was a straight line, Gun Machine promises a web, much more tangled and expansive. Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem of linearity and therefore doesn't fulfil its early promise. The premise was good - a room full of guns, each tied to a single unsolved murder and arranged in an apartment in a meaningful, but cryptic manner. The setup offers a hint of something deep and weird, but the book spends a lot of its time just going through the motions of a detective novel and not a great one, at that.
About two-thirds of the way through, I realised that my main problem was that everything that moved the plot forward had just fallen into the protagonist's lap without him ever doing anything. It was, again, a sequence of things happening. I don't know why that isn't enough (that's what plots are, surely?) but once noticed, it made the book deeply unsatisfying.
(It also has that same slight futurism that I found jarring in Crooked Little Vein, where details appears contemporary apart from one or two pieces of technology which make the motion of the plot not just easier for the characters, but also the author. )
Perhaps I've missed the point. One of the themes of Gun Machine is the idea of invisible maps, be they ancient tribal sites or the flow of data through modern Manhattan. The fact that that Detective Tallow and his CSU colleagues find information so easily may be because of some kind of predetermined path that they are consciously unaware of, but follow on an instinctive, spiritual level. I have no idea if that's the author's intent, but having typed it out it seems like the kind of authorwank I might say to someone who criticised one of my pieces. I don't think Warren Ellis is prone to that sort of thing. I suspect he would just tell me to fuck off and then go and roll around in his pit of money and whores.
If he ever tires of that, I hope he writes more novels. Both of them are flawed, but interesting ways. I may be projecting here, but I think one of the problems is that they're both tied within the constraints of genre. If Gun Machine wasn't quite so detective-y, it might have been a lot more interesting. And, now that I think about it, if the main character was one of the Crime Scene Unit officers rather than a cop, the pattern and methodology might have been more open for exploration. I really didn't expect to read a Warren Ellis novel and come away dissapointed that it wasn't weirder, but there you are. It's enjoyable enough, but I'm not sure it's worth the £13.99 asking price.
Today I read a copy of Viz for the first time in about fifteen years. I've never really been that into it to be honest, despite owning a 'Pathetic Sharks' t-shirt as a teenager. I don't think I ever bothered reading the articles and letters, though, which are by far the best part.
One strip in the latest issue really struck me, though. We Buy Xmas is a pretty good assessment of what it's like on the British high street at the moment.
I'm in the process of redesigning my website and transferring the existing content from Wordpress to Squarespace. There might be some broken links and odd things as this is ongoing. Please bear with me.
Video by Cyriak.
Having had a full time job for all of two months now, I'm obviously qualified to make an expert analysis on what's wrong with modern capitalism. It's nothing to do with supply and demand or the means of production. The reason that everyone's so stressed out and miserable isn't down to the bubble bursting or the double dip. I just think hardworking five days in a row is too much. Having a cycle of two days on, one day off would lead to most people having a much more enjoyable life. You wouldn't have that long slog toward the weekend and then use half of it getting over the week just gone or preparing for the one ahead.
I think I just solved modern society. Time for a biscuit.
The real lives of superheroes has become a well-worn trope in recent years and while Soon I Will Be Invincible isn't on a par with Watchmen or the Incredibles, it manages to flesh out its characters well enough. Usually, authors seeking to comment on superheroes either tend to make them too campy or too dysfunctional, but Grossman manages to strike a reasonable balance. Despite this, there was something that bothered me about the cast of Soon I Will Be Invincible and it wasn't until I read the author bio that I pinpointed what it is.
Austin Grossman graduated from Harvard University in 1991 and became a video game designer at Looking Glass studios. He is currently a freelance game design consultant and is studying for a Ph.D in English Literature. He lives in Berkeley.
And with that little bit of the author's history, the focus of the novel snapped into place. You see, all the main characters in the novel went to Harvard, be they heroes or villains (although I seem to recall that Doctor Impossible didn't graduate). What's more, they all seemed to know each other while studying and when the time came to form allegiances, they relied on their alma mater for suitable connections. While there are characters in the book that didn't attend Ivy League schools, they tend to be relegated to the roles of underdogs and also-rans. The intrinsic notion that of course the bravest and the boldest would originate from Cambridge, Massachusetts seems to speak volumes about the entitlement that education at such an establishment gives you. (That and the fact that you mention an institution you attended 20 years ago as the first line of your bio.)
It's interesting in this context specifically because it runs against one of the central principles of the superhero genre, namely that anyone from a immature paperboy to a millionaire playboy can find themselves in a cape and a mask if the right set of circumstances dictate it. What Soon I Will Be Invincible does is undercut this notion and suggest that, no, it's actually going to be the privileged, well-funded and overachieving bright young things of America's academic elite that will take on the capes. The occasional schlub might get a lucky break and be hit by a truck of radioactive waste, but generally the Justice League and the Ivy League will be pretty much synonymous. When this became clear, I started thinking about the parallels to The Social Network and it struck me that most of the heroes seemed distinctly Winkelvossian – born into privilege, with enormous resources at their disposal and genetic advantages that their competitors can't hope to emulate. Doctor Impossible, by contrast, has all the smarts but none of the connections and spends his life trying to reconnect with the girl that got away. He's the Zuckerberg, with one big difference.
He doesn't win at the end.
Despite the fact that I settled a long time on my favoured writing instrument, I still spend an inordinate amount of time trying out different ones. While I still use a Uniball Eye for pretty much everything, I do occasionally have a yen for using a pencil. With that in mind, I bought a Parker mechanical pencil for about a fiver off Amazon. Not only this, but I thought it would be a good idea to write about it, if only to reassure myself that I'm not the only maniac who Googles reviews of pencils before buying them. It writes well enough, but the barrel tapers to quite a slim width, which initially felt a little awkward for my long fingers. That seems to be easing a bit as I adjust to it, but it does feel a little strange. Others might find it suits them perfectly from the off. With this being a Parker, however, it's boxed and packaged on the shelf, meaning you can't give it a go before you buy it in a shop. There's a bit of rattle as you handle it, but that may just be the lead inside the body and there's no noise as you write. It's not quite as solidly put together as I imagined, but perhaps I had unrealistic expectations given I was paying five pounds, not fifty. I certainly find it nicer to use than plastic propelling pencils and feel confident that I can keep it in my pocket without it breaking. There's a solidity to it that I find reassuring. Given that using a Parker is a nod to the old school, it's nice to occasionally use it and pretend that I'm a civil servant in the 60s. (I know they wouldn't use a pencil, but I'd rather die than use a ballpoint and am too clumsy to use a fountain pen). There was perhaps an outside hope that it would be the right implement for use with a Moleskine and cure my ongoing obsession with how much writing shows through to the other side of a page. Unfortunately, that seems to just be the way the paper is made and something always shows through, no matter if you're using the softest lead or the crappiest biro.
I don't think it's perfect, probably because I prefer something with a wider and darker line, but it has a certain quality that pleases me – a mixture of the classic and the modern. Maybe that makes me a ponce, but I don't care. Sometimes using a chewed Staedler simply won't do.
I've watched the first episode of The Newsroom twice now. Not because I wanted to, but because the hubbub surrounding Aaron Sorkin's new drama seemed to demand that I do so. (Usually, my re-watching of his work happens late at night, when I'm having trouble sleeping. It's not that I find his work boring, you understand, just that I'm a nervous sleeper and am reassured by the thought of a world run by people so dedicated to politics, baseball or late-night sketch comedy that they'll do with an endearing mix of gravitas and levity and make poignant speeches at exactly the right moment.) I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a Sorkin fan, although it's possibly because he consistently portrays writers as heroes. Still, The West Wing remains one of my favourite television programmes, I thought Moneyball was great (despite not much about baseball apart from the fact that my team – the Mets – really seem to suck) and I've even grown to like the parts of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip that don't focus on the show-within-the-show (don't get me wrong, there's still much that's wrong with Studio 60, but the fact that the sketches aren't funny stopped being a concern when I actually watched a whole episode of Saturday Night Live and found it just as stilted and heavy handed as any of Matt Albie's gems).
I'll be interested to see where The Newsroom goes, but I think I'll avoid reading about it, not least because the criticism seems to be more about Sorkin than the show itself. This is perhaps inevitable, given unusual amount of authorial presence he has compared to other showrunners, but the whole tenor of TV criticism seems to have become skewed into a twisted perception of the medium it covers. The AV Club, for example, seems to have stopped assessing media on its merits and instead seems to give grades based on what the reviewer thinks it will, could or should be. It's difficult to tell whether this is because there's a lot of good television around at the moment, which makes it difficult for reviewers to create scathing hack and slash eviscerations (always the most fun to write) or if it's because TV's so good that they feel they have something to do with its success and by association can write whatever they damn well please, because they're part of a golden age. (The AV Club also seems to be developing a strange king of Stockholm Syndrome with its commenters. When a journalist of any stripe says:
And with that, I’m going to say this grade is both entirely provisional and able to be affected by you. I drop in on the comments from time to time. Convince me this was either better or worse than it was over the weekend. I’ll change the grade (or not) on Monday.
I think it's time to acknowledge that you're no longer a critic, but a chat room moderator.)
Anyway, the main thrust of the criticism of The Newsroom states that it's more of the same from Sorkin - highly polished, wordy drama that doesn't say anything new and is based around the same tropes as the rest of his oeuvre. But Sorkin has always recycled his material and his fans don't really care. You either dig it or you don't and you're not going to change your mind whether it turns up one time or twelve.
Indeed, there's probably an element that welcomes the reappearance of his idioms and tropes, be like the return of an old friend. I'm less enthusiastic, but I'm willing to give it a go. I've only seen the first episode, so can't say how things will develop. I'm not sure I agree with Warren Ellis that The Newsroom is Studio 60 redux and I'm certainly not qualified to disagree with Dan Rather's assessment, but The Newsroom seems like it's at least the right context for the heart-felt speechifying that Sorkin does so well. For better or worse, I'll probably end up watching it all, and probably more than once.
But if another character say they "could care less" when they mean "couldn't", I'll switch the fucking thing off right there and then.