Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Tonight for movie night I'm watching Flight of the Navigator for the very first time.

This week I'm debuting a new feature on my blog called "Movie Night." Every Wednesday, my friend Geneva and her two children named David (age 13) and Moira (age 17) come over and watch a movie with me on my 4K television set. We cook popcorn, mix sodas, and eat ice cream. But being the nerd that I am, I explain the cultural significance/relevance of the movie (if any), explain why it may be considered "important", and then list any tidbits of information that might prove fun to know in the watching of the film. Last week we watched "E.T." in a stunning 4K cut and I explained to everyone that Steven Spielberg admitted ten years after E.T.'s release, that the story for the movie emerged from complex feelings that he'd internalized about his parent's divorce. Additionally, he wanted the adults to be very intrusive in Elliot's world, so for the first half of the film, the only adult face that we see is that of Elliot's mother. In other words, adults simply do not exist in Elliot's world.

Tonight's movie was chosen by my friend Jake, who has been joining us for the last few weeks. He found out that all of us had not seen a movie called, "Flight of the Navigator," so that's what we're watching. Jake stated that he doesn't do any kind of presentation before the movie, so I took it upon myself to look up things about the show that might prove interesting. Below are three facts that you might find interesting:

1) Flight of the Navigator comes from a time period where it was okay to scare the crap out of kids. In the 80's we had Goonies, Poltergeist, E.T., Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, and the Secret of Nimh. All of these movies (for various reasons) have scenes that are very scary to children. You don't see that so much in today's kid's movies.

2) There is no real villain. The drama comes from a situation. If there is anything that seems malevolent, it's the government entity of N.A.S.A., which kind of echoes Peter Coyote's role as "Keys" in E.T. He wasn't a villain, just a person interested in aliens. But he's seen as an unwelcome intruder in the fantastical world of childhood.

3) The main character, David, is not a special destiny kid. He's a boy with an average, loving family. That's kind of interesting considered how many stories involve "special destiny" and broken families. It's actually considered cliché these days to write a character into a story that has no parents (because it's been done so many times).

Next week's movie on Wednesday is going to be The Maltese Falcon as we start to go retro for a while. I've never seen it, but it's considered one of the great stories of movie history. A talk about The Maltese Falcon cannot possibly happen without a discussion about McGuffins. So I think (next Wednesday) that's where I'll start before launching into what's significant about the movie.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Microsoft is making the world a better place for disabled gamers with an Xbox Adaptive Controller.

I work with people who have many kinds of disabilities, and I recommend all kinds of assistive technology on almost a daily basis that is designed to overcome challenges people may have to living independently. That being said, I think that it's fantastic to see that Xbox is getting an adaptive controller. The official description is as follows (from Microsoft):
"Designed primarily to meet the needs of gamers with limited mobility, the Xbox Adaptive Controller is a unified hub for devices that help make gaming more accessible. Connect external devices such as switches, buttons, mounts, and joysticks to create a custom controller experience that is uniquely yours. Button, thumbstick, and trigger inputs are controlled with assistive devices (sold separately) connected through 3.5 mm jacks and USB ports."

If you want to learn more about it, click HERE and go to the product page.

Description-wise, as you can see the Adaptive Controller features a large white base unit, with a few buttons and large pads and an amazing backside where all kinds of things can be connected. My thought on this is that if you combine this with the button mapping capabilities found in Steam to make any game/program on the pc work with a controller, then it is definitely going to open the door up for so many people to play/experience things they've never been able to do.

Microsoft, you done good.

Friday, May 18, 2018

If I'm interpreting Lando Calrissian's sexuality correctly then the term pansexual may be so broad that everyone on Earth is queer.

So in the news yesterday, among many things, was that Lando Calrissian is pansexual. You may not have noticed it, afterall, it is far less interesting than Stormy Daniels or North Korea. But it's important to the LGBT community because Star Wars has taken no strides at all in introducing queer characters. They simply don't exist within its universe. So back to Lando...this "revelation" (if that's what you want to call it) has been debated among Star Wars geeks for a long time, but he's supposedly attracted to some droids (or can be attracted to droids) even though gender in the Star Wars universe among droids is not discussed at all.

Pansexual as a term is defined as not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity. Fair enough. I thought it meant something entirely different than what I'm reading into with Lando Calrissian. If that is how people are going to define pansexuality, then the character of Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) in the science-fiction film Ex Machina was pansexual, even though Ava (played by Alicia Vikander) was clearly based on a female anatomy. Ava was (in the end) a robot, which makes Nathan pansexual.

So this gave me a double-take. For example, I happen to find Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon 2 as an attractive character. He's clearly based on a male, but at the end of the day he's a cartoon. So I am attracted to a cartoon. That makes me pansexual. If you've ever looked at a drawing and been turned on by it, then you are attracted to art. That makes you pansexual. If you've ever read a book and been turned on by the words in that book, then that makes you attracted to words. Hence, you are pansexual. Ever used a sex toy to get off with? If you have, it doesn't matter what you were thinking in your headspace. It means that the presence of a toy got you excited and that makes you pansexual.

It's a fascinating way to think of sexuality, but honestly, I think it's so broad at that point as to be meaningless. By this definition, no one on Earth is really straight or gay, but probably would qualify as being pansexual. Ever see a statue that was so lifelike it turned you on? Well welcome to pansexuality. Anyway, it's not that any of this means anything at all at the end of the day. But I'm starting to think that the entire term "pansexuality" is kind of bullshit.

Just sayin'. At least the reviews for "Solo" make the movie look like it's worth watching on opening night, even with its pansexuality confusion.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In the Heart of the Sea is a page-turning account of a tragedy that I had no idea had even happened.

In the Heart of the Sea was a movie that came out in 2015 starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. I haven't watched it as (at the time) it honestly didn't seem that interesting. But I recently stumbled across the book by Nathaniel Philbrick, and I started reading it. I had no idea how compelling a read this book would end up being, and I wanted to talk about it a little without really delving into "review" territory.

As far as books go, it's a narrative, which is kind of like a gussied up encyclopedia entry. "This person did this and then this event happened, etc." But it's absolutely chock full of interesting details that I knew nothing about regarding the Essex and the port it sailed from called Nantucket (in 1820). For one, the culture of Nantucket was a kind of fascinating place. If young men were to find a wife to marry, they needed to have a pin that proved they had killed a whale at sea. The only way to get one of these pins was to sail as a "greenhand" on a ship like the Essex on an adventure that could last up to three mind-boggling years. This (of course) made it so that the local economy was run by women who even had a song that expressed how sad they were to see their men go away, but it also expressed how wonderful it was to be free of men for years to come.

And then there were other interesting tidbits too. Some of the women kept plaster sex toys to pleasure themselves while their men were at sea. Additionally, the local economy (though dependent on whale oil) was also one of the healthiest in the world because of the high demand and high price of whale oil. I guess the stuff was used in everything in the days and years before fossil fuels pulled from the ground emerged as a more long-lasting alternative to hunting whales to extinction.

And about that whale hunting...the Nantucket whalers started whaling by killing off whales that were in their immediate vicinity. They called them "right whales" as they were the "right whale to kill." But to this day, that particular kind of whale is still called a "right whale" so that's where the name comes from. Later on, when the first Nantucket whaler killed a much larger sperm whale, well that became the one that everyone wanted. It's oil burned cleaner, brighter, and the animals were so huge that they literally had a cavity in their head filled with 500 gallons of oil. According to the book, you could ladle it out into a bucket, and it was a viscous white color similar to human semen. They called it "spermaceti," which is also where the "sperm whale" got its name.

The Nantucket community was also deeply conservative, and they had no trust of outsiders whatsoever. What they learned about the world, they shared with each other. But knowledge from the outside was always distrusted with a kind of "fake news" mentality. For example, even though there were healthy colonies in places like Tahiti, the Nantucket sailors believed it was a dark and evil place where cannibals lived and homosexuality was rampant. It didn't matter if someone that was not from Nantucket told them the truth of things. If you weren't from Nantucket, you were an outsider, period, and anything you said could not be trusted.

Of course, the thing that most people have heard of regarding The Essex and its ill-fated voyage is that the ship was attacked by an 85-foot enraged bull sperm whale. That part is gloriously detailed in the book, and you are led to believe that it happened because the first mate was patching a smaller whaling boat and using a hammer, which (underwater) might have sounded like the mating click of a sperm whale cow that was ready to get busy. The account of the encounter is that the whale was confused when it first rammed the ship, as it must not have expected to plow into something so hard. It actually knocked itself out for a minute or two before it came to its senses. The men, fearful that by stabbing it, they would enrage it so that it would damage the tiller, did nothing. When it finally came to, it attacked the ship again, this time knocking a hole in it that quickly filled the ship with water. Then it swam away never to be seen again.

The men of the Essex salvaged what they could from their sinking vessel, built up the walls of their whale boats to try and keep the ocean out, and then set sail in three of these boats loaded to the brim with food, water, and live giant tortoises from the Gallapagos Islands (they stopped there to get bunches of them to eat on their journey). They purposely avoided a nearby Tahiti because of "cannibal" rumors and headed for South America in a tremendously long journey that saw most of them dead from starvation and dehydration and where the remainder became cannibals just to keep going. There's a deep irony in that the decision to stay away from lands where "rumored cannibals lived" because it turned them into actual cannibals.

Anyway, In the Heart of the Sea is filled with fascinating details and accounts from men who survived to tell the tale. I suppose there are a lot of lessons to be pulled from its pages, chief among them being poor decision-making and the Captain taking the advice of his men after they lost the Essex. He should have been an authoritarian in that instance and told his crew to make way for Tahiti. But because Pollard was a green captain, he took into consideration all the superstitions and fears of his men and made a bad decision that cost many people their lives.

Now, I'm excited to watch the movie, which came out in 2015. I just hope it's as good as the book, but it probably won't be. Such things rarely are, and Ron Howard (director) is really hit and miss with book adaptations and movies in general.

Monday, May 14, 2018

These Dark Knight prints by artist Mark Chilcott capture the essence of their subjects rather well.

I subscribe to Bottleneck Gallery's newsletter, and I've bought some art prints from them in the past. The prints are usually numbered, which makes them somewhat collectible, and they usually come in a 10" x 14" size, which makes them great for framing. They are also done in giclée, which is a format for fine art digital prints that's made on inkjet printers that have more than just the CMYK color palette (think CcMmYK and you've got the picture). And yeah, it's easy to burn through ink on printers like this. They really aren't affordable to use unless you've got a ton of money to be out buying ink. It's further aggravated by the fact that you need to print pretty regularly on your inkjet printer or your nozzles will plug up/dry out, so they really are only useful for businesses that do a lot of printing because they can charge enough money for the prints to easily replace the ink on an as needed basis.

Anyway, Bottleneck Gallery's newsletter this last Friday was all about The Batman and some new prints that artist Mark Chilcott licensed for reproduction. I used to love the Batman so much. I still love his stories, but I've gotten to appreciate the Marvel stuff a lot more than I used to thanks to Marvel movies that have made me a huge fan. However, below are some of my favorite prints that they now have for sale. The rain is perfect for the Batman and always has been (to be honest). I don't know how many Detective Comics I've read that had art that took place in the rain. It seems like all the good ones did. The Batman was made for the rain, and lightning. It is a testament of Frank Miller's genius to realize this when he reinvented The Batman decades ago for The Dark Knight Returns, forever putting an end to the silly campiness of the character that extended forward from Adam West's Batman television series.
This is the Batman at his dreariest, staring down at an urban landscape that is devoid of any of the things that indicate wealth or happiness. It is the home of humanity's garbage, where people struggle to squeeze out a living under the dreariness of a sky devoid of color. It also sets the tone and mood of the character, who lost both his parents in an alleyway framed by buildings while it was raining. The fact that evil events and rain seem to go hand in hand is no coincidence in Batman stories.
I love this picture because it's a fun park that isn't quite so fun right now because it's obviously been abandoned. It also may be a place where the Batman comes across his old foe, the Joker. But it just as well could be a funhouse mannequin of some kind. It's difficult to tell, but the art manages to broadcast this sinister feelings from this encounter rather well.
I love the bold use of green and yellow in this Poison Ivy tribute. It seems appropriate to have the Batman villain posing in the woods that (to the naked eye) look very inviting. The fact that she's mostly a silhouette is a hint that not all is as it seems and that what we don't see can actually be deadly.
Penguin is a peculiar villain, and I like that Mark Chilcott drew him in a snowy setting. Penguins are birds that like the cold and the ice, so the symbolism is appropriate. One thing I love about this particular picture is the positioning of the streetlamps in the background. Every single one is lit except for the one directly above the Penguin.

There are other prints that Bottleneck Gallery posted for Mark's offering on the Dark Knight. If you have time, you should head over there and check them out.

Do you have a favorite of the ones I've shown you here today?

Friday, May 11, 2018

I love this Mondo poster for A Wrinkle in Time.

I don't remember much of my reading of A Wrinkle in Time that I performed when I was a kid. I remember it was a weird book, and that it started out with "It was a dark and stormy night." It's had a resurgence thanks to the movie, and I've felt like buying a hardcover edition from Barnes and Noble that features the trilogy in one nicely bound volume. Another thing that's come along recently is this poster that I found over on Mondo's website (I occasionally check this space for new posters). It's $65.00, but there's something about the colors that make me really kind of want it. A lot. Anyway, for Friday's post, I'm sharing it with you. See you on the far side of Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Let's talk about Tony Stark for a moment.

I know that everyone is talking about Avengers: Infinity War everywhere, but I honestly just wanted to talk about one more thing before I lay it to rest. And there is a spoiler warning here for those of you who have not seen it because it would ruin the movie for you if you read further. So please avoid this post if this is the case.

I have deep empathy and sorrowful feelings for Tony Stark. Yes, I know he's a fictional character, but this guy is one of the most beat up heroes that I have ever seen. In Civil War, he learned that his parents were murdered by the Winter Soldier and that his close friend knew about it and kept it from him on purpose. Then, he goes and starts this amazing friendship with a kid and then he starts talking to Pepper Potts about them having children only to have this kid, Peter Parker, killed in front of him. If that isn't a perfect reminder that he should never have kids, I don't know what is. And then (of course) there's the whole, "I failed to stop Thanos and now half the universe is dead because of it" thing that you just damn well know he's going to internalize all on his own. He's going to blame himself for the entirety of the Snapture, because that's what his character would do.

If HBO's The Leftovers taught any of us anything, it's that having a huge event like the Snapture suddenly "happen" will cause those who survive to have a "Guilty Remnant" kind of complex. They'll stand around and ask the eternal question: why was I spared? And why did this happen? Tony (for sure) is going to have these feelings, and I think it's going to go beyond any PTSD definition. I actually have no idea what happens with his character next. Right now he's broken, but pushed beyond that? Is there a classification for that? Insanity maybe.

Out of all the superhero survivors in the Avengers, I think Tony is the most beaten down, and the most likely to end up losing his mind. I just wonder what the implications of all that are going to be. For the record books and to any writer out there who is watching all of this play out, this is a perfect example of "torture your darlings" in action. But this particular story arc is extremely painful to watch.