First impressions with the Meta Quest 3 VR headset

As I’ve blogged about before, I’ve had trouble with my programming productivity lately, a major cause being my terrible sitting posture while using my desktop due to the monitors not being situated quite how I’d like, and my chair not optimally supporting my spine. I get a sharp stabbing pain in the back of my neck and between my shoulders after about an hour or so.

I thought about getting a Steam Deck to allow me to play games away from my computer, but, after seeing a few YouTube videos and Twitter posts from people finding comfort while programming in VR, thought that the Meta Quest 3, which was released near the end of last year, might be just what I needed!

So I just got one and am happily writing this post from the comfort of my bed with a wireless keyboard and some giant VR monitors hovering just in front of me.

Overall, I’m loving it, just the sort of thing I was hoping for. Here are some pros and cons I’ve found with the Meta Quest 3 during my first couple days of use.

Pros

The resolution and frame rate are great, much better than the original Oculus Rift I got 8 years ago (2016). That was fun for a bit of gaming, but the resolution was too inferior for any sort of virtual desktop work, and the VR sickness was pretty intense.

With the resolution doubled since then, and improvements made to the lenses (the field of view does not seem quite as wide now), virtual desktops are now usable. It also seems to help with VR sickness. I have explored a few virtual worlds and have experienced no VR sickness whatsoever!

Another pro is that it does not need to be connected to anything. It’s a standalone unit. It also doesn’t need an external camera for positional tracking (as the original Oculus Rift and the PSVR do), and the tracking is pretty much perfect. I can even connect it to my computer for a virtual desktop all through Wi-Fi. This is a great convenience.

The “passthrough” is excellent. The unit has cameras on the front, allowing me to basically see through the unit (albeit at a lower resolution), so I can see my hands, my keyboard, my cat, etc., with no problem. I can even walk around the house with no problem!

I have been especially impressed with VR videos on YouTube, of which I’d love to see a lot more. Not the flat 360-degree videos which just put you in a big flat sphere, but the 180-degree 3D ones, that make it look like people and places are just in front of you. In fact, I’d really love to see an entire movie or play in VR. I would definitely love to even get a VR camera and shoot some stuff at some point.

Cons

The major problem with the Quest 3 is that it is very uncomfortable for me. It comes with simple straps that sandwich your face, the main unit pressing against your eyes and cheeks. It’s made worse for me by my need for glasses. I can wear them in the VR, but, although it improves my view of the VR world, it’s just something else pressing into my face. It’s extremely annoying.

Hopefully this problem can be helped with some accessories, which I’ve purchased but which won’t be delivered for a few weeks. First, I’ve ordered some custom lenses so I’ll be able to see clearly in the VR without having to keep my glasses on. I’ve also ordered a halo strap which should, like the PSVR (which is by far the most comfortable VR headset I’ve yet tried), take the pressure off my face by transferring the weight of the unit to my head instead.

Another con is that, like the Oculus Rift, it gets a bit warm, which is annoying when it’s pressed against your face. Hopefully a halo strap will also help with that.

The unit has a short battery life, around 2 hours, which I’m sure will only get worse over time. I’ve only had my unit for a couple of days, and I’ve already drained the battery three times. I guess I could just keep it plugged in? But that’s a bit of a nuisance. The halo strap I ordered comes with a battery pack, so that should definitely help.

Another con is that the resolution could be even sharper; although it’s now good enough to use virtual monitors, text is still somewhat fuzzy, and there is still some aliasing and shimmering going on. Hopefully in another decade we’ll have even higher resolution VR sets? I still don’t think I’d watch a movie in here; even though I can experience a giant virtual theater, I enjoy the higher resolution of the real world for movies and TV. (Also, the Netflix app for this thing is terrible, it streams at too low a resolution with too much compression.1)

One last con is that the unit is kind of… smelly. It doesn’t have that new plastic computer smell, which is the stuff dreams are made of. Instead it just smells kinda weird, almost like body-odor. It’s admittedly slight, but it’s annoying. Hopefully it’ll go away eventually, but until then I guess I can always light scented candles or some dragon’s blood incense.

(Now I have to write the rest of this post outside of VR, because I drained the battery again.)

The Metaverse

I’m still not at all sold on the whole “Metaverse” concept. Perhaps I’m too much of an introvert, but I don’t see the appeal of exploring a virtual environment with a bunch of strangers’ avatars wandering around in front of me with random chatter from random voices all over. If they were people I knew outside of VR, it could be a fun and interesting experience, but I just don’t want to explore VR worlds with strangers. Sorry strangers. Sorry Mark.

Desktop Use

Right now, I’m using the “Immersed” app, which allows you to cast you computer monitors to VR, and allows you to add additional virtual monitors. With programming, it’s very useful to have at least two: one for the coding, another for seeing the running results. It should be useful to have even more screens to pull up documentation and other resources without having to shrink and hide windows.

Right now I’m just using the free version of the app. I’ll probably try the paid version when my accessories eventually arrive to see if it’s worth the upgrade, but the free version is probably all I need.

Since the visual info is streaming through Wi-Fi, there’s no need for cords, but it does drop frames every now and then, so it’s probably not great for watching videos from the desktop or playing PC games. For that, you’d probably need to physically connect your computer to the VR, which I have not yet tried.

Overall, the Meta Quest 3 gets a big thumbs up for me, despite its cons, which I hope the accessories will help with.

Solar Eclipse!

My parents and I travelled up to Erie, Pennsylvania this weekend to see today’s total solar eclipse. (We missed the 2017 one.) It was awesome! It was a very cloudy day, but fortunately the clouds thinned out enough that when the eclipse reached totality, we could see the “diamond ring” in its full glory. Very interesting to see the faint shades of color around the edges of the moon. The rapidity with which the whole sky becomes dark and light again before and after totality was also awesome to see. I generally hate traveling, but this was worth the trip.

(It was also nice that our hotel gave us a free upgrade from a normal dinky little hotel room to a double bedroom; more spacious, and I got my own room!)

I didn’t spend much time trying to get a good picture as I preferred to just focus on the experience. But here’s the partial before totality, taken through the filter of the eclipse glasses:

And then here’s a terrible picture of the total eclipse as shot through my phone with default settings, blurry and crappy:

There’s really not much else to do around here in Erie, PA. We went to see the shore of the great lake yesterday, and tonight I want to try seeing the new Godzilla x Kong movie at a nearby theater in 3D with D-BOX haptic movement seats, which I’ve never tried; we don’t have any back home.

Prayer to St. Michael with Suno AI

I turned the Prayer to Saint Michael into some epic choir music with Suno AI:

It would have been a lot easier for me to learn my prayers as a kid if it had been so easy to turn them into music.

I actually wanted the whole prayer to be sung by the entire choir, but Suno AI seemed to insist on featuring a solo vocalist for the second part (“May God rebuke him…”), as you can hear above. I also had to try quite a few times to get it to pronounce “wickedness” clearly and correctly; it kept wanting to sing “winess” or “wicks”. But I like how it ended up.

Here are some other versions it come up with, though I didn’t quite like any of them as much as the above.

V3 with the little “….amen!” at the end sounds almost comical.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about posting some lyric videos of my Suno creations to YouTube. I made the St. Michael video above with Shotcut, but that seems impractical for a video with changing lyrics. Perhaps if I can make a template in Blender, I can use that. But I haven’t played around with Blender in a long time, and I don’t want to spend too much time on it… something to play around with later this month.

For now, it’s almost time for the 2024 eclipse! Though the weather might not be so good… we’ll see…

Fun with Suno: AI Song Generator

Wow, this is my first blog post of the year. That’s pretty sad.

This week I’ve been playing around with Suno, an AI song generator. As far as music-generating AI goes, it’s definitely the best I’ve seen so far, as it actually generates melodies, which is what most musical AIs stink at.

Of course, it’s got its weaknesses, but this is new tech, so that’s to be expected. And I haven’t seen competition that really does anything similar yet, though I’m sure that will come.

Anyway, here are some of the songs I’ve generated with the app. You can have it generate its own generic lyrics, but I find it more interesting to provide my own.

The first three are symphonic metal, one of my favorite genres. Maximus is an epic choir singing in another language. A Song Unsung and The Road Inside are some relaxing indie folk. The Owl and the Dragon is a folk-ish lullaby. A boys’ choir sings The Crystal KnifeAbout the Cats is in the style of a generic 90s pop song. Finally, Boop! is an Irish folk song with nonsense lyrics. Links to the lyrics for each song can be found at the bottom of this post.

Weaknesses

Perhaps the biggest weakness is lack of control. Other than providing the lyrics and style, you don’t really have much control over the details, which you’d likely want if you were a serious composer or songwriter.

Styles are also limited; I asked it for the style of a Russian folk song (“The Owl and the Dragon”), and it just gave the singer a Russian accent.

The format is limited. For best results, it seems good to stick to four-line verses and chorus, from which generates standard generic 8-bar melodies.

It’s text-to-song isn’t perfect. Sometimes it repeats a syllable, ignores a syllable, or puts emphasis on a weird syllable. Sometimes it will sing a line from a verse as though it’s part of the chorus; its “parsing” makes mistakes.

Sound quality is another weakness. You can probably tell from the examples that it outputs some pretty low-quality sounds, especially with the bombastic symphonic metal, which can sometimes make the lyrics hard to understand. But musical sound data has even more information than images, and image AI generators themselves still output a lot of noise. With images, however, it’s easy to discount the noise as texture or something. With musical sound, noise gets in the way; with professional recordings (especially if you’re an audiophile), we’re used to hearing nice clean sounds; even the hissing high frequencies of cymbals matter to a degree.

In some output (not the ones I’ve showcased here), I could swear I could hear overtone artifacts of other words or singers faintly in the background; I’m guessing the AI is doing diffusion with frequencies / Fourier transforms, and generating little fragments of training data it should be ignoring. Or it could just be weird auditory illusions.

Is it useful?

Given all these weaknesses, is Suno a useful tool? Honestly, it’s probably not super useful for professional musicians yet, perhaps other than a quick and easy way to get some ideas. Otherwise, it’s perhaps still more of a toy at its current stage.

Granted, such a musical toy can still be a lot of fun, and I’m excited to see the app develop further. I’m not sure who’s behind it or even what country it’s from, but I do hope they don’t get bought out too easily.

TuneSage

What about my own music AI, the development of which I’ve been procrastinating on? Has Suno beat me to the punch?

My approach is a lot different as I’m not really dealing with the sound of music. My focus with TuneSage is more about the actual notes and musical structures of a piece.

Lyrics

Here are links to each song on Suno, where you can see my profoundly beautiful lyrics:

Close Your Eyes
A True Heart
The Shadow Age
Maximus
A Song Unsung
The Road Inside
The Owl and the Dragon
The Crystal Knife
About the Cats
Boop!

AI and God

AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence, is the holy grail of much AI research. It is an AI that can learn anything, at least anything a human can learn. If we could achieve it, humans would never need to work again, or at least the nature of our work would shift far more dramatically than it ever has in human history.

Some people, particularly AI “doomers” (people who think achieving AGI strongly threatens an apocolypse), seem to believe that if we achieved AGI, it would possess magical abilities to break all encryption or determine objective truths.

My use of the word “magical” reveals what I think about this notion: it is utterly foolish, preposterous, ridiculous, and just plain stupid!

Consider, for instance, the halting problem. Can we write a computer program that takes in another program and tells us whether it will come to a halt, or run forever? Alan Turing proved this to be mathematically impossible. No such program can be written. AGI won’t be able to do it either.

Similar with encryption; AGI will not magically discover number theory impossibilities that suddenly allow all encryption to be broken in a practical amount of time.

AGI will not be able to break mathematical limits that we are already certain of. Why do some people seem to imagine that it will be able to do impossible things like this?

Perhaps the silliest notion of all is that AGI will somehow be able to spit out objective truths, somehow avoiding the ambiguities that result in human intelligences’ conflicting conclusions. Where the heck would such objective conclusions come from? Will it be privy to some magical data that humans cannot perceive? How would it get such data? Will it recognize secret codes in the data we train it with?

Even with human intelligence, we can draw multiple conflicting conclusions from the same data. See my previous post about the meaning of facts (i.e. data). When we come to conflicting conclusions, what do we do? We expirement! If we can, at least. (Otherwise we just argue about it, I guess.) And the point of such experimenting is not to find objective truth, since we can’t, but rather to be able to make useful predictions. Doing this leads to that, so if you want that, do this. And then we build on it. Hmmm, so if this leads to that, does this other related thing lead to that other related thing? Experiment, find out. (On a side note, AGI is, in my opinion, all about figuring out how human intelligence is capable of making that leap from one set of relations to another, or, to put another way, how we are able to generalize predictive relationships. It comes naturally to us (to some more than others), but we have no idea how to program a computer to do it.1)

So Dilbert creator Scott Adams asks some silly questions on Twitter regarding AI and God:

I shall now try to answer these questions:

1. No, because that’s not what God is.

2. Is that a question? Anyway, here Adams seems to be supposing that AI, or AGI, is synonymous with conscious experience itself, which is quite a leap! Even if we believed it, why should that mean anything to a human, whose intelligence is not, by definition, artificial? Finally, I’m not sure what Adams’s understanding of free will is. Free will is the experience of making a conscious choice. It is not (necessarily) the universe’s ability to do something magically undeterministic in a human brain. (For instance, see compatibilism.)

3. Yes; where does Adams think beliefs in souls comes from? For that matter, how would a human know if a robot is “way smarter”? We’d need some way to relate to it, to find meaning in its output.2 But it’s still a non-sequitur to conclude that it would somehow conclude something about the existence of souls based on some necessarily knowable given data, and that such a conclusion would then be objective. One might as well doubt the existence of souls because some “way smarter” atheist says so.

4. How religions are “created”, in the general sense, has nothing to do with faith in them. That’s like doubting the usefulness of a scientific invention by learning how it was invented. Also, is an AI “that never lies” supposed to be the same as an AI that is never wrong? Because that cannot exist, as explained above.

5. How would AI come to such a conclusion? From training data? Or it opens up a spiritual portal to the God dimension?

All these questions seem to be based on a belief that some powerful AI would gain some kind of spiritual perception from data alone.

To be fair, these questions do point to the philosophical conundrums inherent in a materialistic / deterministic understanding of the human brain and its ability to perceive and believe in God. We don’t know how the brain does it. One could say, “Oh, one just gets it from his parents!3” but that is hardly a satisfactory explanation. Firstly, it implies either an infinite regress, which explains nothing, or that some human was the first to create the idea, which just leads back to the initial question of how it was possible for a human brain to do so. Secondly, even if learned, the human brain must have some prior ability to perceive its meaning; where does this come from? How did it form? I ask such questions not to imply that a supernatural cause is required (that’s a separate issue / argument), I’m only pointing out that it’s something we don’t yet understand from a scientific point of view. (And understanding it would not shake one’s faith, anymore than thinking that understanding that two and two is four is manifested as neural signals in your brain makes two and two not actually four. That is, if you are to understand something to be true, it will obviously be reflected in a physical manifestation in your brain somehow.)

Questions of objective truth aside, we could then ask: could a sufficiently advanced AI believe in and perceive God as humans do? It’s certainly an interesting question, but it implies nothing about human belief in and of itself, because, again, it would give us no greater pathway to objective truth.

Finally, to answer Sam Altman (in the tweet Scott Adams was quoting): It’s a tool. You did not create a creature. Don’t flatter yourself!

So those were just some random ramblings on AI and God. I hope you enjoyed. It was all actually written by AI!

Just kidding. But what if it was?!

(Artwork is by AI though, obviously. DALL-E 3.)

TuneSage progress update 10

To my eternal shame, it’s been some months since I made any decent progress on TuneSage. But I’ve been back at it in the last few weeks, trying to tackle the time-consuming problems I’ve been having. Clearly my initial plans were not practical. Here are my current plans:

The AI

I’m vastly simplifying the “AI” element. In fact, I might even stop using “AI” to describe the app altogether. It’s become an overused marketing buzzword in the last couple years anyway. Users will still be able to generate melodies automatically, of course. But the backend will be a lot less complicated.

So I’m rethinking the whole concept of musical styles. My initial plan was simple enough: feed musical examples into a neural network, have it identify styles, and then use it to help write new music in those styles, pairing it with the melody-generating algorithm I already have. But that’s just not working very well, and I’ve spent way too much time fooling around with that approach.

But what exactly is musical style anyway? For melodies at least, we can probably get similar results by simply identifying and using melodic tropes, or signatures, and avoiding melodic rarities for a particular style. And on the melodic level, such tropes are simple enough that they can be identified and implemented without needing to train anything. Instead, we can just say, “hey, melody generator, make this melodic trope more likely to occur in what you generate.” Done. Easy.

Anyway, for the sake of just getting this darn app launched and getting a minimum viable product out there, I think I’m going to ignore styles for now altogether.

The front-end

I’ve been having difficulty figuring out just what the front-end should look like and how it should work.

Firstly, the app will focus, at least for now, only on writing or generating melodies. It won’t be for composing and mixing entire pieces, not at first anyway, unless they’re extremely simple. So, because the paradigm is focused on writing tunes, the traditional piano roll view or the track view, both of which I’ve spent some time putting together, just feel too clunky for editing melodies. The whole point of the TuneSage app is to change the paradigm of composing music, at least melody-wise, so it needs a view / layout designed for that purpose.

So I think I’ve finally come up with something that might work, which I’ll reveal when I get closer to launching (or on Twitch if / when I stream my programming again).

The current to-do list

  • Front-end
    • Buttons for: create new melody, generate melody, delete melody, move melody
    • Set tempo option
    • Allow user to “lock” notes & chords to allow for regenerating only a part or parts of a melody
    • Chordal accompaniment templates (mostly already done)
    • Chord chooser options (mostly already done)
    • Export MIDI / Save / Load options
    • Melody options
      • Time signature (probably only 2/3, 4/4, 3/4, 6/8 to start)
      • Key signature
      • Instruments for melody and chordal accompaniment
      • Volume
    • Play functionality (play, pause, stop)
    • Demo settings (not sure what the limits should be yet… perhaps limited time, no MIDI export, can only create a certain amount of melodies? Also need to find a way to discourage bots.)
  • Back-end
    • Melody generation code (mostly already done)
  • Overall app stuff
    • User login system
    • Terms of service page
    • Subscription service (Stripe?)
    • Create landing page
    • Actually incorporate as a company
    • LAUNCH

I think that’s it. Lots of stuff, but should all be doable, especially as I’m going to stop fooling around so much with the backend AI stuff for now.

Regal Unlimited

If you remember, it was only almost 11 years ago that I blogged about the need for movie ticket subscriptions back when MoviePass was first announced. The deal wasn’t so great then, but they had a killer deal in 2018, something like less than $100 for a whole year for any movie at any theater, with no monthly limit. Unfortunately the deal was so good that it completely bankrupted the company months before the end of that year. They’ve sinced relaunched with some more sustainable deals, which you can check out on their website.

Still, I’d prefer the wider selection of cheaper DVD rentals from Netflix. But that’s no longer an option, as they shut down the service at the end of last month. The movie industry in general seems to want to move toward a future where you have to stream everything and can never own anything. And you’ll be happy!

Anyway, with my Netflix DVD subscription now in its eternal grave, I wanted to give Regal Unlimited a try, especially with a discount deal they offered earlier this month, which was a little over $200 for a year of unlimited movies at any Regal theater. (Usually it’s $260, and they offered a $60 discount.)

So now I just have to see all the movies at Regal I can to make that worth my money.

Granted, although their ads often say “see any movie”, that’s a lie.1 It won’t work for special screenings, such as Fathom events (a lot of anime, film anniversary screenings, operas, etc.) and foreign films from foreign distributors (we don’t get many of those around here anyway). And you’ve gotta pay surcharges for IMAX or 3D films. (Although our flat-screen IMAX is usually not worth it, and there are hardly any 3D films anymore, sadly. And our Regal does not have the newer 4DX or ScreenX stuff.)

Still, that works out to a pretty good deal, assuming you see lots of movies and don’t buy too many snacks.

(I wonder if the popularity of MoviePass in 2018, although it failed by itself, proved to the theater that such a model could work?)

So far this month I’ve seen five movies at Regal: The Nun II, Dumb Money, The Exorcist: Believer, The Creator, and Saw X. So far, Saw X was the only one I really enjoyed. The rest would definitely not have been worth the usual $10 to $14 ticket price.

Movies watched in August 2023

Oh no, I’m two months behind! Here are the films I watched this August:

Boarding School

A 2018 horror mystery about a troubled 12-year-old boy who’s sent away to a boarding school with an overly strict headmaster. When a student dies, the boy begins to unravel the mysterious truth behind the boarding school’s dark purpose. Bit of a cliche premise, but the mystery begins somewhat interestingly. Unfortunately the grand reveal falls very flat. Some pretty poor-looking CGI blood splatter and fire as well.


Drifting Home

A 2022 anime film about a group of kids who explore an abandoned apartment building which holds some of their childhood memories. They suddenly find themselves stranded when the building randomly begins floating out to sea. Very weird film that ultimately didn’t work for me. I just didn’t get it. Too artsy for me, I guess.


The Meg 2: The Trench

I did not much care for the original film, The Meg, so why watch this 2023 sequel? Because it was in 3D! Research divers on sci-fi-ish subs must once again survive an encounter with prehistoric shark monsters. Although the plot is ridiculous, I actually thought it was a fun film, and better than the first film as it takes itself less seriously this time around. Looked nice in 3D too! Some very unrealistic portrayals of water pressure (which the audience might only pick up on because the Titan submersible disaster put the perils of water pressure in the news for a couple weeks).


Re/Member

A 2022 horror film from Japan in which a group of high school students get stuck in a time loop in which they must battle a creepy monster. While it offers an interesting variation on a time loop plot, and the monster looks pretty cool (it looked like they used practical effects in some shots rather than overly-obvious CGI, but it could’ve been just really good CGI), the film unfortunately doesn’t ultimately satisfy. The film ends up being a bit forgettable.


The Wretched

A 2019 horror film in which a teenage boy slowly discovers that his neighbor is an evil child-killing witch. It’s nothing too special, and is a bit silly at times, but overall it’s a fun popcorn flick as far as horror films go, and features an interesting twist at the end.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

A 2023 animated reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which I only went to see because it was in 3D. I hated this movie. I suppose the main reason was because it’s just so different in spirit to the ninja turtles I grew up with in the late 80s and early 90s. Some of my main complaints include:

  1. The character design is just plain ugly.
  2. The turtles’ motivation for fighting is to be accepted by the human world, which is hardly intriguing. One of the main appeals of being a superhero in secret is the secrecy of it, and the heroes fight crime because they actually care about the people they’re fighting for. Being insecure about being a mutant turtle is just lame, and fighting to impress others is even lamer.
  3. In the original franchise, being a ninja is more than just fighting, there’s a philosophy behind it, even if it may not be that deep in a children’s franchise. In this movie, being a ninja hardly means anything. Splinter just learns and teaches ninja fighting arbitrarily, perhaps because he was too stupid to find some guns to fight with.
  4. Splinter is made to be overly stupid. In the original franchise, he’s a wise mentor and father figure. Here he’s a stupid comic relief character who often gets in the way. Why do the turtles even listen to him?
  5. Spoiler: In the end, the turtles don’t really need to learn much of a lesson. Rather, it’s humans who have to learn the lesson of acceptance so that the turtles can have their happy ending. I hate this modern trope in which all the supporting characters are really the ones at fault, while the main characters only needs to prove themselves worthy. This was also the problem I had with Wreck-It Ralph. A movie that avoids doing this is Shrek; in the end, commoners are still prejudiced against ugly ogres, but Shrek overcomes his insecurity by focusing on the ones he loves without depending on “acceptance” from everyone else.

Ugh, it’s so bad!


The Silence

A 2019 horror film with a similar premise to A Quiet Place. The world becomes overrun by monsters who hunt by sound, forcing everyone to be quiet. The women all die first. Just kidding! I did not much care for A Quiet Place, and this film somehow manages to be even worse. Given the silly premise, why doesn’t everyone just blast the air with noise everywhere to overwhelm the creatures, rather than try to be silent, which just makes it easier for them to catch prey?


Jiro Dreams of Sushi

2011 documentary about a Japanese sushi chef who has dedicated his long life to the singular pursuit of creating the best darn sushi rich people (the only ones who can afford to get an appointment at his exclusive little sushi bar) have ever had. An interesting documentary. As of writing this blog post, Jiro is 97 years old and, as far as I can tell with a little Googling, still working. Impressive!


The Life of Budori Gusuko

A 2012 anime about… I’m not even sure what this was about. It was like a series of random dream sequences in which the title character, an anthropomorphic cat, meanders about the world obtaining random jobs. I didn’t understand it at all.


To Leslie

A 2022 drama about a woman who tries to put her life together after squandering a lottery win with alcoholism. It was ultimately too depressing and boring for me.


Cocaine Bear

A 2023 attempt at comedy about a bear who goes on a cocaine-induced rampage after swallowing a bunch of cocaine. A few laughs here and there, but a lot of the humor didn’t really work for me. It probably needed to lose the whole drug boss vs police subplot and just focus on some unlucky hikers trying to escape a crazy bear.


Heart of Stone

A 2023 thriller about a female James Bond-ish character trying stop evil people from hacking into the best AI spy system ever created. Some OK action sequences here and there, but the technology of the overall plot was overly ridiculous. Hacking with Python defs in text files? The computer stuff is hilariously bad. Though can it beat this classic CSI moment?


Candleshoe

A 1977 Disney film starring a young Jodie Foster about a kid pretending to be the long lost granddaughter of a rich old lady in an effort to find the treasure hidden on her estate. I saw this as a child, but didn’t remember much of it, except rice pudding, which I still think sounds gross. Fun movie, but ends way too conveniently with a little too much slapstick.


Till Death

A 2021 thriller in which a husband finds out his wife’s been cheating and, rather than kill her, handcuffs himself to her and kills himself. Ha ha, that’ll teach her! She then has to survive being handcuffed to a corpse before assassins find her. The premise is overly convoluted and falls apart after you realize she could just easily break the dead guy’s thumb and slide the handcuffs off him instead of hauling his bloody body around for so long.


Oppenheimer

Somebody set up us the bomb! Christopher Nolan’s 2023 biopic about the scientist who helped create the atomic bomb. Manages to be accessible by focusing on the politics of it rather than the science, but Nolan’s love of chronological mixing, which worked well in The Prestige, was much more annoying in this film, serving to just make things more confusing. Having characters stare broodingly into space against the pulsations of an overly loud atmospheric score also doesn’t create as much drama as Nolan perhaps imagines, but I guess it works for a lot of people. Overall, I rate it average. A decent film, but hardly Nolan’s best work.


The Portable Door

A 2023 family fantasy film about a young man who finds employment at a mysterious agency that uses magic to create meaningful coincidences. He is tasked with finding a portable door, whose powers allow one to easily and instantly travel anywhere in the world. Perhaps a good family film that I might’ve enjoyed more when I was younger, but as an adult, the pacing felt a bit off for me, and the overall conflict a bit too silly.

Movies watched in July 2023

The Tall Man

In this 2012 thriller, a small town suffers from recurring missing child cases. Folks say they are taken by the “tall man.” One day the lead character’s son disappears! Oh no! But, like the film Gone Baby Gone, everything is not as it seems, and “twists” reveal a deeper truth. Unfortunately, I did not find the “twists” or truthful revelations all that interesting, so the movie overall was a bland and boring one for me. Gone Baby Gone was much more interesting.


Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

A 2018 anime film about a woman named Maquia who is from a race of elf-like beings who never age, or at least age very slowly. After her homeland is invaded, she escapes and adopts an orphaned child who ages normally. Hilarity ensues. Actually, not much of anything ensues. The child has very little personality, so the film plods along without much of interest happening. The film did have a nice musical score, however.


Kiki’s Delivery Service

A popular 1989 anime film from Studio Ghibli, one of their few films I hadn’t yet seen. This was another I wanted to see before the Joe Hisaishi concert I attended last month, which was fantastic! As for this film, I also really enjoyed it. It’s episodic and feels a bit slice-of-life at times, so it could easily put you to sleep if you’re tired, but if you’re alert and focused, it’s definitely one of their better films, especially near the end when Kiki fears losing her powers. I think anyone who’s struggled with creativity or learning a new skill (e.g. the dreaded “plateau”) can relate to that sort of pit of self-doubt. And of course Hisaishi’s score is instantly memorable.


Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

2017 comedy revisiting Jumanji. Been meaning to watch this for a while as I have it on Blu-ray 3D. (Got the sequel too, need to watch that at some point.) I thought this would be a complete reboot, but it’s more of a reboot-sequel as it doesn’t overwrite the previous film with Robin Williams; the Jumanji board game just magically turns itself into a video game to lure a new generation. When powered on, it sucks in its unfortunate victims into its jungle world and makes them play a real-life adventure there. So I guess it’s a bit of an isekai sort of thing. Anyway, fun movie overall, Jack Black is especially hilarious as a teen girl trapped in a Jack Black body. The plot itself doesn’t really offer anything new for seasoned viewers, though.


Sound of Freedom

2023 true story action drama of a government agent who leaves the force in an effort to rescue child victims of human trafficking. Overall, the film does a great job given the sad and disturbing subject. Perhaps it’s a little too Hollywood-ish at moments, though, especially in the final act. Such Hollywood flourishes do make the film more engaging, but at the cost of it feeling less a “true story”. Granted, it’s a film, not a documentary, and interested viewers can always look up the facts vs fiction accounts afterward. Press surrounding the film also became oddly political, at least on Twitter, but there’s really nothing political in the film itself. Overall, great film, and good that it can draw some attention to such a sad, disturbing topic.


Insidious: The Red Door

2023 horror film, sequel to the first two Insidious films. The kid from those films is now in college and, through his artwork, is starting to remember disturbing things from the previous films that he and his father had tried to forget through hypnosis. Ultimately he and his father must once again face the demons that tormented them before. Like the previous Insidious films, this is a cheesy ridiculous story that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Having enjoyed the previous films, I enjoyed this one as well. They could definitely keep the series going if they wanted to.


Inheritance

2020 thriller about a woman who, after her father’s death, discovers that her father has been keeping Simon Pegg chained up in a secret underground bunker. As the woman tries to unravel why her father did this and tries to decide whether or not to let the old man go, the audience tries to keep watching because it’s really stupid and boring.


Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

2023 fantasy adventure based on the popular RPG. A thief escapes from prison and sets out on some other heist job, hoping to reclaim his daughter from an old partner who betrayed him (Hugh Grant). Fun movie overall. The humor was kind of hit or miss for me; some was great, some was groan. I know nothing about the source material, but that didn’t seem a requirement.

One critique might be that, if this world is full of so much magic, why isn’t there even more constant chaos? Or why isn’t everyone a lot more cautious of magic’s potential for harm and trickery? Or, if the magic the main characters use throughout is supposed to be rare in this world, isn’t it just super-convenient that they have access to it? Perhaps that’s overthinking it, but it does feel unbalanced one way or another.

Still, I enjoyed it.


Shipwrecked

A 1990 live-action Disney pirate film about a boy who ventures out on a ship to earn some money, which is overtaken by pirates. A bit similar to Treasure Island, but with a somewhat less adventurous plot. Might’ve enjoyed this if I were younger, but as a very serious and mature adult, this was a bit too cheesy for me.


Nope

2022 film from director Jordan Peele, somewhere between horror and thriller, but not really either. It’s about some siblings that are trying to keep their family business going when a UFO begins appearing over their horse ranch. And then the entire movie is about them… wanting to get a picture of it so they can sell it for money. Such a silly goal hardly makes for an engaging film, even when the siblings find themselves having to battle against the UFO for their lives. Boring, didn’t work for me.


M3GAN

2022 horror film about an AI robot prototype for kids who becomes deadly after becoming over-protective. Although such a premise is cliche, they could’ve done so much more with it than they actually did. They spent way too long setting up the story, and not nearly enough time having the rogue robot terrorizing foolish victims. Ultimately it’s a big letdown.


The Unforgivable

2021 drama about a woman trying to reconnect with her daughter after being let out of prison for murder. It was too slow and brooding for me, and the “twist” revelation at the end was both completely predictable and uninteresting.


There’s Something Wrong with the Children

A 2023 horror film about a couple looking after their neice and nephew (or was it just friends’ kids? I don’t remember). But the children are replaced by imposters after being lured by demons or something to jump to their deaths in a giant hole in the ground. The imposter children then act creepy because it’s a horror movie, and things do downhill from their as the imposters want to make everyone into imposters as well. Needed more humor and for the adult characters to act a lot less dumb and argumentative all the time.


Detroit Rock City

1999 comedy about a group of teenagers who want to see the band KISS in concert, and spend the entire film attempting to get tickets one crazy way or another. Kind of like the hit Christmas classic, Jingle All the Way! Some of it was funny, but some of its humor was too gross or raunchy for me.


Becoming Astrid

2018 biopic about the early life of famous Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren. While it was interesting to learn about her early life (which the film presented rather matter-of-factly, as her actions were rarely very prudent), it did not really make for a very engaging film.

Movies watched in June 2023

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts. (Actually, I guess it’s been a while since I’ve blogged anything.) Here are the movies I watched last month.

Glass Onion

Daniel Craig is back as the southern-accented detective in this 2022 Knives Out sequel. While the mystery and its solution were again a bit convoluted (and I think the massive flashback was a bit of a cheat, storytelling-wise), it was overall an enjoyable watch, even better than Knives Out, perhaps because they were all stuck on an island, so it had that sort of classic cozy mystery feel. I think a third film is already in the works. It was also funny to see cameos from Stephen Sondheim (referencing Sweeney Todd) and Angela Lansbury (referencing Murder, She Wrote). (RIP to both.)


Shattered Glass

A 2003 film telling the true story of Stephen Glass, a journalist who was caught making up a bunch of sensationalist stories in the late 90s, when I suppose journalistic integrity was something publishers still actually cared about to some degree. I had never heard of the true story, so this was quite an engaging film. The film reveals the truth from the perspectives of those he’s manipulating, so your aggravation for his behavior builds as his lies are uncovered. Hayden Christensen does a great job portraying someone who just can’t stop lying, and lying more to cover previous lies, and then continuously weeps for mercy and sympathy when people catch on, a real agonizing personality disorder.


Princess Mononoke

Going to see Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi in concert next week, so wanted to rewatch this 1997 animated film mostly for its beautiful musical score. Storywise, not Ghibli’s best, in my opinion. The first half is great, but the second act just tries to do too much, there are just too many battling factions and conflicts going on. Anyway, Joe Hisaishi’s music is some of the finest film music out there.


Bumblebee

The new Transformers movie, Rise of the Beasts, was one of the few films coming out in 3D this summer,1 so I wanted to check out the 2018 Bumblebee first, which is about the yellow alien robot hiding out on earth when other evil alien robots attack his homeworld. And these alien robots can transform into cars for some reason. Not being a Transformers fan, or really understanding the appeal of the franchise at all (because the toys are cool I guess), this film did not really work for me. It does hit all the right story beats for a “lost alien” sort of movie (think E.T. or The Iron Giant), but if you don’t really care about the characters, it all still feels rather flat. I could understand younger audiences enjoying it though.


Dog Gone

This 2023 film is based on the true story of a teenager whose dog ran away in the mountains and he sets out to find him. An innocent family film for people who like dogs, but way too cheesy for me. The father-son relationship conflict also felt really forced.


Transformers: Rise of the Beasts

And here’s that Transformers movie I mentioned. I was just curious to see it in 3D. I already forgot what it was about. There’s some kind of alien device macguffin in a museum that the alien robots fight over because it’s really powerful somehow, but it’s all a prequel for the Transformers getting stuck on earth, so nothing is really accomplished. It was pretty dull for a non-Transformers fan. But it was in 3D!


Vampire’s Kiss

From 1988, one of Nicolas Cage’s first films in which he plays an over-the-top wacko who thinks he was bitten by a vampire and whose life then spirals out of control. I really just wanted to watch it because it is the source of many Nicolas Cage crazy face memes. I unfortunately didn’t find it particularly funny or interesting.


Hackers

A 1995 thriller about good vigilante hackers battling against an evil businessman hacker. The depiction of hacking and teen computer-savviness is so completely over-the-top ridiculous, it’s agonizing. I prefer WarGames.


Doctor Sleep

Not the Stephen King story, but a film from 2002, also called Close Your Eyes, about a hypnotist who uses his hypnotic skills to solve some silly mystery. It’s really bland and boring, with ridiculously cheap made-for-TV CGI. Terrible.


Murder Mystery 2

A 2023 sequel to Murder Mystery, a Netflix film starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. Like its predecessor, this offers more of a silly light-hearted comedy than a very thoughtful or engaging mystery, but if you go in knowing that, it’s entertaining. Nothing amazing, but some good laughs.


Crater

A 2023 Disney film about a group of kids who live on the moon. After they learn one of them is leaving forever, they steal a moon rover for one last adventure. It was a little cheesy for me, but was a decent family film, and was even free of any of Disney’s modern propaganda crap. Unfortunately Disney yanked it from their streaming platform not long after I watched it, I guess for some Hollywood accounting tax write-off scheme, so who knows if anyone will ever be able to see it ever again. But, hey, that’s what you get with the streaming business model!


Peninsula

A 2020 Korean film, a standalone sequel to the Korean zombie film Train to Busan. This one’s about a group of people who sneak into zombie-infested territory in search of some bags of cash that were left behind. Unfortunately they are captured by non-zombie humans who have been trapped there, and must fight both to escape. Not as good as Train to Busan, but still a fun zombie flick.


Tin and Tina

A 2023 Spanish horror film about an idiot couple who decide to adopt the creepiest kids they can find, because what could possibly go wrong? The kids are portrayed as being “overly-Catholic”, obsessed with religion, but their understanding of Christianity is just stupid, so when it leads them to do horrible things, it’s not really all that compelling storywise, because they’re just so stupid. Really stupid movie. It did have a decent long take near the end though.


Midnight

A 2021 Korean thriller about a deaf woman who witnesses a crime and is chased by the criminal for the remainder of the film. It has some decent moments of suspense, but also features some agonizing cliches, such as turning your back on the bad guy after he passes out. Overall I thought it was an enjoyable thriller, though nothing overly special.