Movies

All the movies I watched in 2016

Happy New Year! Best wishes for 2017!

Like I did last year, here are all the movies and TV seasons I watched in 2016! A list of all 234 titles can be found here. 234 is now my new record. Wow, what an accomplishment. I will put it on my resume!

Movies 2016

Favorite films…

Of the movies that came out this year, my favorites included some that were a bit thematically shallow, but had serviceable stories and work as fun popcorn flicks. These included Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Edit: Ha ha… I just now realize these are all films in series, titled with colons, the new fashion. Coincidence?)

Movies with stronger stories included the live-action remake of The Jungle Book, which, unlike the cartoon, actually had a cohesive narrative and an interesting theme about man’s relation to nature. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought Risen managed to be less cheesy than most overtly Christian movies, and served as an interesting reminder of just how human the followers of Jesus were; being raised Christian, there’s much about Christianity that’s easy to take for granted. It’s difficult to imagine how radical (and maybe even insane) Christ’s teachings must have seemed to those who met him face to face without the comfort of a two-thousand year old institution to support them. I also thought Hacksaw Ridge was a great film; an army medic refuses to hold a gun, yet manages to save many lives on the battlefield.

Animated movies I enjoyed included: Kung Fu Panda 3, which was hilarious and featured another great musical score. The Boy and the Beast came out last year, but only came out in the US this year. A boy enters a parallel world of beasts (monstrous anthropomorphic animals, mainly), and trains to become a fighter. His rebellious personality provides the appropriate challenge, both physically and emotionally, for a skilled but jaded fighter who needs to get his act together himself. But growing up in the world of beasts has its price, and when the boy grows into a teen and tries to form and/or mend relationships in the human world, he runs into new difficulties. Very fun fantastical feature that you’d never find in the US. Also featured a great orchestral soundtrack. Finally, I really enjoyed Kubo and the Two Strings. A wonderfully bizarre fantasy with beautiful visuals. Since stop-motion puppets tend to have something naturally creepy about them, it’s easy to make dark (The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline) or “stylistically cartoonishly ugly” looking characters and worlds (James and the Giant Peach or ParaNorman). Kubo manages to actually make the characters and the world look good without being overtly creepy. I loved the ancient Japanese setting, and the bizarre fantasy elements were a lot of fun. My only complaint was the ending; it didn’t make much sense to me, and seemed too simple. Still, great animated film, definitely Laika’s best.

Of movies that came out last year, but I only saw this year, I loved The Revenant; beautiful cinematography. Simple but enjoyable plot. Although I know some found the slower pace to be a bit too much, I really enjoyed that aspect; the film wasn’t in a rush, but didn’t slow things down with pointless filler either, and you really got to get the sense of DiCaprio’s character slowly healing after the devastating bear attack. I also really enjoyed In the Heart of the Sea for similar reasons.

Of older movies that I just saw for the first time this year: I loved The Fall from 2006. A suicidal man in a hospital forms a friendship with a young girl by telling her a long fantasy story. He’s just making it up as he goes along, but the story ends up becoming very meaningful to the girl. But remember, the man is suicidal! So drama ensues! The film featured a great blend of fantasy and real-life, and how the two can inform each other, a bit like in Finding Neverland. I love stories like this, and The Fall became one of my all-time favorites. (I’m eagerly awaiting to see A Monster Calls, which also blends fantasy stories with real-life death-drama.) Noir-wise, I enjoyed the classic Laura from 1944, a fun mystery film with a great twist about two-thirds of the way through it that left me slapping my head thinking, “ah, of course!” which was great. I couldn’t guess who the killer was until it was revealed. They don’t make ’em like this anymore! Also great was Wait Until Dark from 1967, starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman and Alan Arkin as an evil killer. The killer wants a doll stuffed with drugs, which is somewhere in the blind woman’s apartment. Great Hitchcock-like thrills ensue!

I greatly enjoyed The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, a slice-of-life documentary about Studio Ghibli. Although I disagree with a good deal of Miyazaki’s personal (or cultural?) philosophies, his perspectives can still be interesting and thought-provoking. And it’s fascinating to see how this Japanese studio approaches film making as opposed to how, for instance, Pixar does things.

Finally, there was only one TV series that I really enjoyed, and that was Netflix’s Stranger Things. Had a great 80’s feel to it and a fun plot, at least for sci-fi / fantasy lovers (parallel worlds and mind powers and all that). Honestly some of the young actors’ acting was a bit forced at times, but overall it was easy to binge-watch. And the story actually came to a conclusion! Although it left a couple loose threads, it didn’t end on some stupid gimmicky cliff-hanger! This was very refreshing. I’m sick of the J.J. Abrams-style cliffhanger nonsense, where stories never end but just warp into different questions. It’s just crappy writing. So it was awesome to see a TV season that was actually (mostly) self-contained. I look forward to the next season.

So that’s 2016 in movies and TV…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music composition

New album released into the great wide somewhere…

storybookalbum-cover-small

Yesterday I released my new album, Storybook Overture, into the wild, where it can be free and roam the mountains and valleys of magical [monetary] possibilities. It’s on bandcamp here. (You might see that I changed the cover ever so slightly, giving the background a bit of a gradient so it’s not so flat. I’m no great artist.)

At first a bandcamp release was all I had planned for, but on their uploading page they recommended DistroKid (that’s a referral link; you get 7% off, and I get a few bucks!) for getting into digital stores like iTunes, Spotify, Amazon MP3, etc. It looks like DistroKid has been around for a few years, but I had somehow never heard of them. I had used CD Baby for Voyage of the Dream Maker. CD Baby charges you a fee for each album you want to release and takes a small royalty on any income you make, the trade-off being that you never have to pay them again after the album’s set-up fee.

DistroKid, on the other hand, charges you $20 per year (for a single artist), takes no royalty at all, and allows you to upload as many albums as you want in that year. The trade-off here is that if you don’t pay another $20 next year (assuming they don’t bump up the price), your albums might be removed from the online stores. Granted, if you’re not making at least $20 a year from your releases, that’s not much of a loss. And $20 is cheaper than CD Baby’s set-up fee for a single album (and TuneCore’s prices are just awful; I’m not sure why anyone uses them).

So I decided DistroKid would be worth a try, especially since the $20 also allowed me to upload my 2014 EP, A Dream Half Lost, for no extra cost. I also hope to release at least one album in 2017. So I’ll just have to see if I can recoup that $20 within a year… and every year following, I guess, at least until I’m not so broke that it matters. This will mainly depend on people actually buying the album through iTunes or Amazon or wherever; streams make such little money, I’ll be lucky to make a few dollars. For comparison, in the last year I’ve made almost $18 through CD Baby for Voyage of the Dream Maker. That’s one half from one full album purchase and two single track purchases, and the other half from a bunch of little streams. So, if CD Baby didn’t take a small percentage, a year’s worth of revenue might just barely cover my DistroKid cost. Of course, that’s for a six year old album that’s also on bandcamp, so maybe not the best comparison. Point is, at my current level with my sort of music, paying $20 a year is still a significant cost to consider.

Anyway, if you search for them, you’ll find the album is already on iTunes and Amazon! That’s some fast distribution. (Still waiting on Spotify.)

Also, I uploaded the tracks and artwork to CreateSpace to try their CD-R service. Still awaiting approval for now. They’re a bit more expensive than Kunaki, but I think their CD-Rs also look nicer, plus they handle all distribution through Amazon themselves, so no need to worry about that. And anyway, all those expenses are passed on to whomever buys the CD. I think I listed the price at $10.99. If anyone buys the CD through Amazon, my share would only be $1.09. All the rest goes to CreateSpace and Amazon. (CreateSpace is owned by Amazon, but they’re still a separate company, so when you buy through Amazon, Amazon takes a fee on top of CreateSpace’s production costs.) Terrible margins. But better than nothing at all. Anyway, I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

So… that’s that! Feels great to finally have released a new album.

Patreon has helped a lot; knowing there are people out there not just looking forward to new material but willing to actually part with some money to support it has been very encouraging. A huge thank you to my Patreon supporters!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music

Second full-length album coming soon!

Storybook Overture

I hope to release my second full-length album next Friday, December 2nd, 2016. A digital version will be available through my bandcamp page, and I also hope to try releasing an audio CD through Amazon’s CreateSpace. I’ve never tried their CD service before, so I’ll be interested in how it turns out. (That might take a little longer as I don’t know how long it will take for them to send a “proof” copy… we’ll see.)

STORYBOOK OVERTURE, the title of one of the tracks, seemed like an appropriate album title, as many of the tracks were inspired by my book series, Insane Fantasy. You’ll also see I’m reusing the artwork I did for the book on the album cover.

Here’s the track list:

  1. The Storm Cometh
  2. Storybook Overture
  3. A Stargazer’s Lullaby
  4. The Stormbringer’s Apprentice
  5. Broken Wings and Distant Things
  6. Journey by Moonlight
  7. Lullaby of the Westwind Woods
  8. Secrets of the Ancient Seas
  9. September Ends
  10. Lullaby for a Quiet Village
  11. Fairytale’s End

As you can see, I’ve already released all but tracks 9 and 10 to YouTube (and track 10 will probably be my next YouTube upload). The total playtime of these tracks comes out to about 70 minutes, so it’s a pretty full album.

It’ll probably be a while before I get the album on iTunes, Spotify, etc., as it’s not really worth the cost with the amount of listens I get (less than 1,000), but I’d like it to be on iTunes and Spotify eventually. It’ll just have to wait for a bit.

Also, I’ll try to email free bandcamp download codes to any Patreon supporters I have at that time. (They can already download most of the tracks on Patreon anyway.)

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

Can anyone honestly explain “privilege” to me?

Seems like the Trump victory has brought out all these fears that Trump is Hitler and that there’ll be some kind of terrible purge or something. I don’t understand what sort of powers some imagine the POTUS has.

One thing that’s popping up quite a bit in my Facebook and Twitter feeds is this notion of “privilege.” I usually see it in the context of ad hominem attacks. (e.g. “You have white privilege, so you cannot understand why this or that policy is racist, and are not allowed to have an opinion on it.”) I think we can all agree that that sort of ad hominem attack gets us nowhere.

But now I’m seeing it come up in otherwise heartfelt comments seeking understanding.

So, for the sake of understanding, can someone please explain what exactly this “privilege” is?

My current understanding is that “privilege” is the idea that a person of a certain sex, race, religion, whatever, naturally experiences more societal privileges, the idea being that these are unfair and must be counteracted.

If they’re not unfair and don’t need counteracting, I’m not sure what the point of the term is. Men can pee with more convenience, for instance, and are on average naturally physically stronger and thus more capable of being construction workers or joining the army. These are “inequalities”, but they don’t make one sex superior to another.

Are these sort of inequalities considered “privilege”? Are we supposed to do something about them?

Wikipedia makes it sound like a conspiracy theory:

According to Peggy McIntosh, whites in Western societies enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience, as “an invisible package of unearned assets”. White privilege denotes both obvious and less obvious passive advantages that white people may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice.

If it’s “invisible” and “less obvious” and distinguished from “overt bias or prejudice”, then how can we ever know it exists? It’s like Freudian analysis, defined in such a way that it can never be disproven and everything can be analyzed through its lens.

Am I supposed to believe that I have some sort of natural privilege by virtue of being a white male? What “privilege” do you think I have? Are you assuming that I have suffered less and therefore owe you something that you don’t owe me also?

Because of course all humans suffer, and suffer differently depending on their circumstances, but so what? Is suffering supposed to be equally distributed? If you feel others are suffering less than you, shouldn’t you consider that a good thing?

If you are being treated unjustly, whether or not it’s because of your sex, skin color, religion, etc. isn’t that the real issue? Such behaviors are unjust precisely because all men and women are equal in terms of natural worth. But I’m not sure I understand how sexist or racist behaviors are the results of “privilege.” They’re the result of people being sexist or racist, aren’t they?

(Or am I to assume everyone is naturally sexist and racist even if it can’t be shown, because they just are?)

If you can’t point out specific behaviors because the effects of “privilege” are more shady and invisible, then how can you blame anyone for not quite buying into the notion?

I honestly fear people are making themselves more miserable by imagining society is just naturally against them by virtue of their sex or race or whatever, and then whenever they suffer something, they blame, even if only in part, the nefarious shady “privilege” of others. But if we can’t point to specifics, even if everyone understood and agreed with the notion of “privilege”, how would anything get better?

Regardless, isn’t the “remedy” for “privilege” to just do what you should be doing anyway, which is what Christ taught? :

Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

Treat everyone with love, kindness, and respect.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Random thoughts

Not real arguments…

“You’re racist, sexist, this-and-that-phobic, intolerant, bigoted, hateful, prejudiced, privileged, I’m offended, that’s hate-speech, etc…”

None of these are real arguments. Just personal attacks.

If there’s any silver lining in regards to Donald Trump winning the presidency, I hope that maybe, just maybe, it’s a sign that the effectiveness of these sorts of attacks is already beginning to diminish. We should be capable of having civil conversations about our disagreements without assuming that the opposition is just bigoted and hateful, naive and stupid, privileged and racist, etc.

Eh, maybe it’s only a fool’s hope. But it would be nice.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Game programming…

Last year I learned the basics of jMonkeyEngine, and though I intended to create a 2D game with it, I only ended up creating the MIDI animator mentioned in my last post. But for a tile-based 2D game, it’s really not ideal. It’s certainly capable of producing such a game, but as an engine, it’s not really designed for it, and I realized I’d have to spend a considerable amount of time just programming a custom framework for such a project.

So last month I began learning LibGDX, which is certainly better suited for the sort of tile-based 2D adventure game I’d like to create.

So here’s what I’ve got so far (the art is temporary, simply a free tile set I found out there, though I think I’ll be aiming for tiles that are 16×16 pixels as well, so this represents the size I’m hoping for):

screenshot

Doesn’t look like much, but I’m still learning and programming the basics I’ll need before I actually start programming the actual game play. What I’ve learned and/or programmed so far includes:

  • loading and displaying a tilemap (a .tmx file from Tiled)
  • dynamic window resizing (or resolution changing) without completely screwing up the aspect ratio (trickier than it may sound)
    • basically it will always render with a resolution of 1280×720, which is then rendered as a texture to whatever resolution the user sets; handy for Android devices which may feature differing resolutions which cannot be changed
  • using Ashley as an entity framework
  • using Box2D for character movement and collision detection
  • animating the character as he walks (much easier with LibGDX; I had to program a custom shader with jMonkeyEngine)
  • real-time A* pathfinding (hope to use it with NPCs)
  • text (as you can see at the bottom there) to be used with menus, dialog, etc. (nice little font called Munro) (this is also much easier with LibGDX)
  • custom shader to make object tiles “light up”

Still lots to program, but I reckon that’s an OK start. The to-do list before I can actually begin programming the actual game-play logic includes:

  • have interactable objects “light up” as the player nears them, along with a small pop up menu with available actions (pick up, talk, examine, activate, etc.)
  • design and implement a menu panel / status bar (along the black panel along the bottom)
    • this menu will switch to a “dialog mode” when the character is talking with someone (as in The Secret of Monkey Island, for example)
  • pause menu with save, load, quit, settings, etc.
  • camera movement for when the player walks off the screen
  • loading another tilemap for when the character leaves a village or enters a house, for example
  • I need to try sticking an NPC in there and having it play through some scripted material, utilizing the aforementioned A* algorithm as necessary
  • real-time combat system
    • cast a spell or swing a sword to injure attacking enemies (the combat will be simple in this game, nothing fancy)

That’s all I can think of at the moment, but that’s plenty, isn’t it?

The game itself will be pretty short; I’ve tried to keep it short on purpose since even a short game is a lot of work, especially when you’ve never done it before and don’t have a pre-existing framework your familiar with to use. If I manage to actually succeed in this endeavor, I hope it will be easier to create new adventure games and/or RPGs in a similar style without having to reprogram these basics again, at least not from scratch.

The tentative title for the game is Memory of a Thousand Kings, which began as a half-plotted fantasy novel, but I think it will work better as an adventure game.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Programming

Source code for my MIDI animator

I recently uploaded the source code to the MIDI animator I programmed with jMonkeyEngine to github: midi-animator.

To use it, see the Readme there. You’ll need jMonkeyEngine, and understanding Java would probably help. (I’m not really interested in making a standalone user-friendly app at the moment; Stephen Malinowski’s “Music Animation Machine” is still available if you want that. I’m more interested in having something I can continually customize and play around with.)

In addition to perhaps being sloppy (as I never intended to share it), the source code is a bit bloated as it’s actually part of a larger project to create a MIDI editor that will feature my melody generator. But that’s a long way off; I’m not actively working on that at the moment, and probably won’t anytime soon.

So… there it is if anyone else wants to play around with it, or contribute their own improvements to it… feel free!

Also, it’s my first time uploading something to github, so I’m not very familiar with the platform yet… I hope I did it right.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Composer's Corner

Chromaticism in ‘Secrets of the Ancient Seas’

I recently posted my latest composition, “Secrets of the Ancient Seas”! Check it out:

I write in the description:

This began as another track inspired by my novel, but the rapid string arpeggios and spirit of the melodies quickly began to remind me of an adventurer braving the seas, so I continued down that path instead. I even threw in some wind machine for some atmosphere, a percussion instrument in Garritan Personal Orchestra I’ve been wanting to try using but never really had the occasion for. I think it works well in this piece.

My favorite part of this piece comes at the 4:22 mark. At first I meant simply to contrast all the melodic material with some more atmospheric material, perhaps only wandering arpeggios, but I couldn’t resist adding some melodic phrases along with them in the form of descending minor thirds. With the minor chords forming the harmony, these descending minor thirds sound, to me, very haunting and creepy. Almost the way a child calls out “Where are you?” to taunt hiding prey. The sound of being lost at sea on a foggy night, perhaps? Vaguely hearing the call of the deadly sirens in the distance? Anyway, I love how it sounds.

I also like what’s happening harmonically, as it’s more chromatic than my usual fare:

ancientseas

We start in the tonic of B minor, then continually progress through the circle of fifths, to F-sharp minor, C-sharp minor, G-sharp minor, and finally to D-sharp minor. From here, we go back and forth between D-sharp minor and D major (the relative major of B minor), a transformation Neo-Riemannian triadic theory calls an S transformation for slide, as the chord slides between major and minor keeping the third of the chord as a common tone (in this case an F sharp). I think the major chord sounds particularly refreshing there, as so many minor chords precede it. Finally we get C-sharp major seventh for the final three measures, which serves as a secondary dominant in B minor (as it implies a resolution to F-sharp major, the dominant of B minor). But first the passage repeats, and the C-sharp major seventh is just as capable of resolving to B minor (although this resolution perhaps does not sound as strong, but that’s OK, the stronger resolution comes after the repeat).

When we do resolve to the dominant, F-sharp major, the opening phrase of the piece’s main melody is echoed, but it sounds rather exotic and dissonant being accompanied with the dominant chord rather than the tonic, and the clash propels the piece forward to the main melody’s final statements.

Although this little sequence is hardly revolutionary at all (and so may not stand out to any listener), it’s certainly not the sort of thing I’d usually compose, so I’m rather pleased with it.

Also, at long last I managed to upload a truly 60 fps animation thanks to Shotcut, a nice free video editor that will now replace my need for the annoying Windows Movie Maker. It’s not a super-advanced editor, but it does what I need (sync audio and add titles), it’s free, and it doesn’t come with annoying limitations to try to entice me to buy some deluxe version.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Strong AI

AI generated movie trailer fails to impress

IBM’s Watson supercomputer AI has created a trailer for an AI horror film! Oh my! How interesting! How ironic! How impressive! IBM is full of geniuses! Let’s watch!

Erm… ok…

Alas, I am not at all impressed with the result. This trailer tells me hardly anything about the story. I fear we’ll have to wait until AIs actually “understand” language and story (or at least analyze these elements a bit more closely) before they can create trailers that resonate with humans. Who are the characters? What’s the main conflict of the story? What’s the spiritual (inner) conflict? What’s the hook? Etc. Trailers are not just a collection of tone shifts. What stupid investors are investing in IBM based on this sort of nonsense? (And how can I get some of their money myself?)

Anyway, what we end up with is not so much a “movie trailer created by AI” as though “AI” were some generic mysterious black box. Rather, it’s a movie trailer created in some algorithmic fashion that a human (or group of humans) designed. Which, of course, is what all “AI-generated” products amount to — human-created algorithms to mimic and automate processes we may not necessarily understand.

And therein lies the true goal of “AI research”. The point is not to create a robot that can do everything a human can do but remains just as mysterious as a human brain. The point is to understand what intelligence actually is in the first place. And when we understand that, we may find we don’t need or care about sophisticated human-like robots anyway. And any sort of creepy fear that comes from wondering about the possibilities of rogue robots or the nature of digital consciousness is the result of human idiocy, spiritually and logically. Spiritually in that consciousness is not merely an emergent property of matter (we are not just meat robots). Logically in that if we could design a robot capable of “going rogue” then we can just as easily design it to not “go rogue” in the first place.

“What if the AIs kill us?!” It’s already not that hard to make a machine that can kill you; why is a robot doing it somehow more scary? I suppose because you don’t understand where the “impulse” to kill is coming from. And anyway, if we’re smart enough to create robots that can actually decide to kill in some humanly way, then we’d naturally understand where that decision comes from in the first place and would prevent it (or override the capacity to decide not to kill if we’re making an evil robot army I guess).

(Of course some AI research is perfectly happy to stay within the bounds of mimicking and automating thought processes, as these algorithms can have useful applications, such as handwriting recognition software or my own forays into algorithmic music generation, which is ultimately music theory research.)

And let us not soon forget the actual screenplay written by an artificial neural network:

And the Oscar goes to…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

What does your favorite genre of music say about you?

I wanted to try my hand at writing a nonsense click-bait article with little to no value whatsoever. I hope I did a good job! If this goes well, I might have a whole new career on my hands, so please email this to all your loved ones, and hated ones too.

So what does your favorite genre of music say about you? Find out below!

Bluegrass music: It means you like bluegrass music.

Broadway music: It means you like Broadway music.

Classical music: It means you like classical music.

Country music: It means you like country music.

Dance music: It means you like dance music.

Electronic music: It means you like electronic music.

New Age music: It means you like new age music.

Opera music: It means you like opera music.

Pop music: It means you like pop music.

R&B / Soul music: It means you like R&B / soul music.

Reggae music: It means you like reggae music.

Rock and roll music: It means you like rock and roll music.

Other music: It means you like that other sort of music.

Rap music: You are stupid.

By S P Hannifin, ago