Movies watched in May 2021

I’m a month behind already, so here are the movies I watched this May.

Wish I Was Here

In this 2014 film written and directed by Zach Braff, an actor struggling to find work decides to home school his kids after his dying father (Mandy Patinkin) can no longer afford to pay for their private schooling.

These indie comic tragedies are hit or miss for me, usually miss, and this one was definitely a miss. A lot of the humor was just not my style, such as kids cursing and being crass. Most of the more “serious” dialog didn’t work for me either, felt too obviously scripted. “I know you don’t believe in God, but maybe you can believe in family…” What is that supposed to mean? The main character getting all Walter Mitty daydreamy also made little sense to me. I couldn’t figure out Many Patinkin’s character, why did he seem overly judgmental at random times? His dialog just didn’t feel natural.

Overall, the film was just too thematically all over the place, I have no idea what it was really supposed to be about. Is it about death, unfulfilled dreams, responsibility, fatherhood? All those issues can play a part, of course, but thematically you gotta pick one so the overall story has some focus.

Things Heard & Seen

I honestly already forgot what this 2021 film was about. I think it was some kind of ghost story? Whatever it was, it was boring and forgettable. It did feature (and take its title from) a book from a 1758 called Heaven and its Wonders and Hell From Things Heard and Seen by Emanuel Swedenborg, an account of his spiritual visions, which I thought sounded interesting (though perhaps heretical from a Catholic point of view).

Third Person

This 2013 film from writer / director Paul Haggis was similar to his 2004 film Crash in that it features a small collection of characters with interrelated stories. They all share a similar theme, as they seem to involve a parent coping with losing a child to a pool drowning. As the film goes on, you start to understand what stories are only in a writer’s head and what is real. Overall, though, the story left me rather unsatisfied.

Come Play

In this 2020 horror film, a non-verbal autistic child is haunted by some kind of strange monster from an ebook on his tablet who apparently wants to take him to his creepy monster ghost world. If that sounds like a weird premise, it is. Somehow a phone recognizing a face just behind you that you can’t see isn’t really all that creepy. The film is ultimately more silly and stupid than it is creepy. The child does enjoy SpongeBob though, so it features some great SpongeBob moments.

The Suicide Song

In this 2007 Japanese horror movie, a popular song with mysterious origins seems to be involved in a series of suicides, a creepy premise that unfortunately doesn’t deliver. The story is too convoluted and confusing, jumping between too many characters and side stories, and the ending feels so random and out-of-nowhere that it doesn’t satisfy. Perhaps something was lost in translation; Japanese horror films do tend to have their own style and tropes. But I think this one was just too ambitious for its own good.


This 2009 documentary is supposed to be about the design of everyday things, the ubiquitous items we use everyday whose designs we just take for granted. Unfortunately rather than actually explore the creative decisions designers make, the documentary makes the same sort of mistake as last month’s Steinway documentary; it turns into a bunch of talking heads sitting on stupid-looking chairs talking about their random opinions about their work. It’s such a lazy way to make a documentary. The viewer doesn’t learn much.

In Their Skin

In this 2012 horror / thriller, a family arrives at their vacation house and meets some new neighbors who are a little too friendly and won’t go away. It soon becomes apparent that these new neighbors want to kill them and take on their identities. Why? Because… whatever! The plot is nonsense and the dialog is bland. Another forgettable movie.

A Little Princess

I saw this as a kid, but hadn’t seen it in decades. Based on my 4x great aunt’s classic children’s novel, this 1995 film tells the story of Sara Crewe who is dropped off at a decadent but stiffling boarding school while her father (played by a younger Liam Cunningham of Game of Thrones fame) goes off to war. When news of her father’s death reaches the school, Sara finds herself in complete poverty, and must strive to keep her spirit alive after having her belongings and social status pulled out from under her. Although the film’s music and cinematography are fantastic (cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki would go on to work on films like Gravity, The Tree of Life, and The Revenant), the screenwriting leaves something to be desired. Still, the overall story still works well enough.


Let Him Go

In this 2020 drama, a pair of grandparents set out to rescue their grandson and daughter-in-law after their son dies and his wife remarries an abusive guy from an abusive family. While the overall story was a bit bland with some stretches that just moved too slowly for me, it had some good suspenseful moments.

The Sleepover

In this 2020 family film, a standard sleepover turns upside-down when children realize their mother is a former master thief living in witness protection. Her former criminal colleagues try to force her to pull another job, leaving the overly clever and resourceful children to set out to find her. It’s a family adventure comedy, so of course everything is ridiculous and over-the-top, but it’s a fun little movie as long as you don’t try to take it too seriously.

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV

This 2016 animated film is a tie-in (I think a prequel) to the Final Fantasy XV video game. I haven’t played the video game, and perhaps that’s the reason I understood nothing at all in this film. A lot of action, but I didn’t know who anyone was or why anyone was doing anything.


This 2020 drama takes place in the 1980’s when a small Korean family moves to rural Arkansas to try and start a farm. With little money and a lot at risk, family tensions run high. A sort of slice-of-life drama, it was a little too slow-paced and meandering for me. It didn’t feel like it ever really went anywhere, I think it needed more emotional focus. It got great reviews though, so it obviously worked for a lot of people, but wasn’t quite my cup of tea. It was funny how they thought Mountain Dew was a healthy drink though.

The Woman in the Window

In this 2021 psychological thriller, a woman with agoraphobia (Amy Adams) meets a friendly neighbor from across the street who then disappears. Fearing she’s been murdered by her abusive husband, she discovers the neighbor apparently never existed. Maybe her extreme anxiety is making her delusional? Or are her neighbors hiding some dark secrets? While it’s not a brilliant genre-shattering mystery, it’s a decent movie, perhaps reminding one of Hitchcock (though not quite a masterful). It’s perhaps a bit slow at times, but it comes to a satisfying (if predictable) conclusion.

By S P Hannifin, ago

Movies watched in April 2021

I haven’t done a “movies I watched” post on this blog in something like 8 or 9 years. But let’s get back to it, shall we? So here are the films I watched for this first time in April 2021:

The Sign of Four

This is a made-for-British-TV Sherlock Holmes film, based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story of the same name. The mystery itself was not very deep or engaging, but the film was entertaining mostly because of its dated cheesiness. A digression: I’ve never been quite impressed with Holmes as a character, as his deductive powers mostly rely on the author giving him the power to correctly guess what the author wants him to based on the clues the author gives him for that exact purpose; that is, it’s all what I call a “cleverness cheat“; making successful deductions in the real world is hardly so convenient. Anyway, they also filmed The Hound of Baskervilles the same year with the same actor playing Holmes, so I hope to watch that at some point as well. (According to Wikipedia, they originally intended to film six Sherlock Holmes stories, but I guess that didn’t work out for complicated business reasons.)


This 2020 war film starring Tom Hanks is based on the 1955 novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester (best known for his other book The African Queen, the classic movie adaptation of which I still haven’t seen). The film is about a bunch of ships fighting in the Atlantic during World War II. And “fighting in the Atlantic” is really all the plot consists of. The screenplay was written by Tom Hanks himself, and I guess it shows, because it’s really not that great; no change in pacing, no character development, no subtext. Just a bunch of commands from military people and boats fighting.

One Hundred and One Dalmations

I of course have seen this 1961 Disney animated classic before, but it’s been a long time. If I recall my Disney animation trivia correctly, this was their first film to use Xerox machines to transfer the animators’ line drawings to cel sheets for coloring, a process which had to be done by hand before. This saved them a lot of time and gave the drawings a bit more of an organic look, which of course blends well with the film’s jazzy blocky-colored backgrounds. Everyone probably knows the story: a bunch of puppy dalmations are kidnapped by Cruella de Vil (you know you’re asking for trouble when you name your kid something like that), who wants their fur. They are then rescued, along with a bunch of other puppies that had been stolen. By the way, why does Roger assume he gets to keep so many stolen puppies? One thing I noticed that I never had before was the What’s My Line? parody that the puppies watch on TV while kidnapped, called What’s My Crime? That must’ve been completely over my head as a kid.

Rat Race

This 2001 comedy, very obviously inspired by the star-studded 1963 comedy It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, features a bunch of people racing from Nevada to New Mexico in hopes of being first to nab some treasure for the entertainment of a bunch of wealthy people betting on them. Nothing profound, but a fun comedy.

Godzilla vs Kong

This is the first film I’ve watched in theaters since the beginning of 2020. I mostly wanted to see it in theaters because it was in 3D, and there have been hardly any releases in 3D for the past year, thanks to both the pandemic and dwindling interest in 3D movies in general. Unfortunately the 3D conversion was not great, nor was the weird story, which involved taking Kong to the mystical realm deep inside the earth to find a mystical weapon to defend the world from Godzilla’s destruction. It really made no sense, but I suppose one must not think too much with a movie like this.

WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

This 2021 documentary tells the bizarre tale of the company WeWork, whose phenomenal valuation came mostly from a bizarre CEO’s ability to convince investors of it. As far as I can tell, nothing illegal actually happened; a lot of people just got drunk on the promises, perception, and larger-than-life energy of a CEO, only to realize the company wasn’t nearly as valuable as it seemed. Interesting story, but I still get the sense there’s a lot more to the over-valuation than just what the documentary presents. What really made people believe the company’s crazy valuation without solid verification?

Note by Note: The Making of Steinway L1037

This 2007 documentary chronicles the creation of a Steinway piano from start to finish. Unfortunately it’s not very informative in terms of the how’s and why’s of piano building. Instead we just watch the workers doing random work while listening to them talk about their backgrounds and how they got into piano building. This is spliced with interviews of famous musicians waxing poetic about how pianos have their own personalities, as though anyone willing to watch a documentary on piano creation would think otherwise. I don’t think I learned anything interesting from this film.

Boss Level

This 2021 action-comedy is about a man who’s stuck in a time loop. Everytime he dies, he wakes up to start the same day again. The day mostly consists of assassins trying to kill him as he in turn tries to figure out why they want him dead, and why he’s stuck in a time loop. It’s a bit like Edge of Tomorrow, but without aliens. It’s a fun popcorn movie, but don’t expect anything deep or profound.


This 1977 Italian horror (though it’s in English) is considered a classic among horror fans, though it was too cheesy for me. It’s about a girl who enters a ballet school and slowly discovers its sinister (albeit chiché) secrets. Not sure why it’s considered such a classic; nothing about it seemed all that interesting to me.

Grand Isle

In this 2019 drama, a young man has the misfortune of being stuck with a creepy crazy Nicolas Cage and his crazy wife during a storm. Hilarity ensues. Actual, a rather dull and bland story ensues. This one’s pretty forgettable.

The Darkness

This 2016 horror is also bland and forgettable. A young autistic boy finds some weird stones in the wilderness. When he brings them home, the spirits of evil Native Americans begin to haunt the house. It follows the standard horror movie template. Not much of interest here.

Captain Phillips

“I am the captain now.” This 2013 action drama starring Tom Hanks tells the true story of how Captain Phillips narrowly survived his cargo ship being hijacked by Somali pirates. Things get especially tense when, having failed to steal much of value from the ship itself, they take Phillips hostage and wind up in a long stand-off with the US military. An interesting story but a mostly average film. Not bad, but not great.

Agenda: Payback

This 2018 action drama mostly consists of an unsavory Sean Patrick Flanery getting tied up and tortured by various figures in his life who seek vengeance on him for past misdoings. There’s a lot you can do with a minimal set and cast. Misery for example. But you’ve gotta pace yourself, vary the dramatic arcs, give it space to rise and fall. This movie is a great example of how not to do it. It’s bland, boring, and forgettable.

The Boys from Brazil

This 1978 thriller follows an old Laurence Olivier as a Nazi hunter investigating some Nazi activity and uncovers a shocking and horrible Nazi plot! I won’t spoil it, but the plot turns out to be more ridiculous, silly, and convoluted than it is all that shocking or horrible. Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck don some rather silly-sounding German accents as well.

Dolphin Tale

Watched this in my search for family friendly films. This 2011 drama is loosely inspired by the true story of a dolphin being rescued and given an prosthetic tail after being found trapped in ropes on the shore. A rather low-stakes cheesy story, but a nice family film I suppose. It’s also a rare film that was actually filmed in 3D, and so offers a very good 3D picture. The extra dimension doesn’t add much to the story here, but I still love 3D movies, especially ones actually filmed in 3D (rather than cheap conversions, like Godzilla vs Kong).


This 1990 drama stars Robin Williams as a doctor and Robert De Niro as a catatonic patient in a New York City hospital. After an experimental treatment, De Niro gains control over his body again and is eager to explore the world after decades stuck in the hospital. It’s based on a book by Oliver Sacks, so is supposedly a true story, yet it’s very obviously Hollywood-ized. Also, De Niro did not seem right for the role. Not sure if it was his acting or just the association of his persona with his more famous roles, but I just couldn’t see him as the character he was trying to portray. (Robin Williams, on the other hand, always seems to play doctors very well.)

By S P Hannifin, ago

More font fun and other random stuff

Font rendering in OpenGL

Haven’t done so much programming in the past week, but I did try rendering fonts with NanoVG (in lwjgl). Unfortunately it’s really not much better than just using OpenGL’s NV path rendering extension. Small fonts look slightly better, but not really good enough for me to want to use them. See the example below, a zoom-in of an 8-pixel high rendering of the font “Verdana”, NanoVG rendering it on top, NV path rendering below. NanoVG is better, but it’s still way too fuzzy to look any good.

So I might just use bitmap fonts for small text; I can’t see any alternative. (Bitmap fonts basically means loading in each letter as a pre-rendered picture and plopping it on the screen. The disadvantage is that they don’t look very good when resized or positioned between pixels, but they’ll at least be guaranteed to render small fonts clearly and crisply.) I’ll continue to use NV path rendering for larger fonts or fonts that need to be animated more dynamically or rendered with 3D perspective. I do want to try using oversampling with stb for small fonts before I move on from font rendering and further develop a GUI system; the demo doesn’t look too bad.

Kanopy film streaming service

I just realized our local library offers free access to the film streaming service Kanopy, and they’ve actually got a decent selection. Not the latest blockbusters, but some good foreign and classic cinema. (They’ve even got The Red Pill, the controversial anti-radical-feminist documentary which Netflix refuses to stream. (Though they did just recently finally add the DVD to their catalog.)) Since it’s free (for library card holders of participating library systems), we’re limited to 10 streams per month, but the streaming quality is decent. It’s not full HD (at least not on my PC), but it’s better than DVD quality. Interestingly they also allow you to embed videos. Here’s “Kumiko the Treasure Hunter”, which I really enjoyed (which I guess you won’t be able to see without an account, haha):

Interesting indeed!

Some metal music

Finally, I recently discovered the band Elvenking. I couldn’t quite get in to some of their older work, but their last album, released last year, is quite catchy. Disregarding the bizarre sense of fashion metal band members tend to share, this song is some power metal awesomeness:

I also came across the latest album from the symphonic metal band Leaves’ Eyes, and found it to be quite catchy as well. Love the use of choirs, the female lead’s operatic voice, and the cheesy fantasy lyrics. (I’m not a big fan of the growl singing, it sounds so gross and ugly and demonic, why is it so popular? It sounds so awful, so unmusical. Bah!)

OK, that’s all for now.

By S P Hannifin, ago

All the movies I watched in 2017

Happy 2018! In 2017, I watched a total of of 180 movies. That’s 54 less than last year’s count, but who’s counting? Here’s my annual collage (full list here):

Favorite films…

My two favorite live-action films from 2016 would definitely be Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and A Monster Calls. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was a bit of a surprise. I enjoyed the first film, but it didn’t feel overly special to me. I enjoyed this sequel a lot more. It was funnier, the story seemed tighter, and the main conflict felt more meaningful. Baby Groot was hilarious; I fear the next installment won’t be able to compete with him being an adult again. A Monster Calls was a more serious film, and I loved the way it merged fantasy with the real world. Beautiful cinematography and music as well.

Animation-wise, no film came close to Pixar’s Coco. It was a beautiful story with super-catchy music. And I loved how its main theme song, “Remember Me”, actually played a very important role in the plot; it wasn’t just some arbitrary addition. Not only is this movie my favorite animated film of the year, I’d have to say it has become my favorite Pixar film of all, taking the place from Finding Nemo. (It’s also Pixar’s highest-rated film on IMDb at the time of this writing. Yay!)

Other enjoyable films of the year include DunkirkKing Arthur: Legend of the SwordThe Dark TowerBlade Runner 2049, and It: Chapter One. The two fantasy films were a bit cheesy and had some flaws, but I still enjoyed them.

I really enjoyed the 3D re-release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I don’t think it did very well at the box office, which is too bad. I love 3D movies and I love older films being 3D-ized. Considering how much the process of 3D-izing a film costs, T2’s box office results will only discourage the practice. Tragedy, I say!

I saw Terrence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life and loved it. Long and contemplative and somewhat weird, but overall very thought-provoking. I also really enjoyed the 2014 foreign film A Hard Day, an action thriller with a lot of great twists, both humorous and suspenseful, almost Hitchcockian.

Older films I saw for the first time in 2017 and highly enjoyed include Excalibur (great fantasy with a classic 80’s feel to it), Stand By MeMan of La Mancha (Peter O’Toole is not so great in this, but I just love the musical), Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (love this series), and High Noon with Gary Cooper, a classic.

So that’s my 2017 in movies.

And guess what I got for Christmas this year? A year-long MoviePass subscription! Remember “MoviePass”? I blogged about it way back in 2013 here. Their service was a bit too expensive then; I’m glad costs have gone down. My card hasn’t arrived in the mail yet, but I’m really looking forward to it! So I’m hoping to see a lot more new releases in theaters this year.


By S P Hannifin, ago

Interesting movies for 2017

Here are some movies I’m looking forward to this year. I won’t be able to afford to go to the theater as much as I’d like, but I did get some gift certificates for Christmas, so I can at least go to a few for free. (Thanks to my brother from the very same mother!)

A Monster Calls

This comes out this week! Read the book last year and thought it was good. I also loved the director’s last two films. This is about a kid whose mother is dying. But fortunately an imaginary friend comes along to help him out. Although it sounds terribly cheesy if you say it like that. Maybe: To help cope with his mother’s inevitable death, the mind of a young lad breaks and he begins hallucinating a destructive monster that tells him to do bad things. OK, that’s not really it either. Just watch the trailer. I look forward to seeing it sometime this month.

Beauty and the Beast

The animated film was one of the first movies I ever remember seeing in theaters. There’s no way this can beat the animated version, but I’ll still be interested to see it. I’m glad they’re including the songs, even though they were all already sung to perfection by the original animated voice cast.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

This sword and sorcery film from Guy Ritchie looks great, especially if it will be in 3D.


Since being pleasantly surprised after seeing Batman Begins in theaters while I was in college, I’ve made sure to see every Christopher Nolan film in theaters. Interstellar is his only film so far that I thought was less than stellar; it had such a silly ending. I’m sure this upcoming film of his will not have a similar ending. I really don’t care about the story or anything, I just like Christopher Nolan’s work.

The Book of Henry

This is yet another movie I want to see only because of the director. I really enjoyed Colin Trevorrow’s last two films. I have no idea what the plot is for this film, and there doesn’t seem to be a trailer out yet. I just hope they don’t push the release date back yet again.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Director Luc Besson is hit or miss with me, but just look at those special effects… this should at least be a nice eye-candy movie.

Alien: Covenant

A new Alien movie from Ridley Scott? Oh… OK…

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy is so far the only live-action Marvel film I thought was enjoyable. Probably has something to do with its more sci-fi-ish setting. Tight-suits and skyscrapers just seem bland to me. So I would like to see this sequel…

Animated films

The Lego Batman Movie looks partly stupid, partly hilarious. Want to see. Then there’s Cars 3. I’m not so sure about yet another Cars movie from Pixar. I didn’t think the first two were all that great, but I’ve been seeing all Pixar films in theaters since Toy Story when I was 9 or 10 years old, so can I really stop now? Pixar also has Coco coming out this year, which IMDb says is about a 12 year old boy guitarist who does something interesting or something. Well, whatever, it’s Pixar! Then there’s Despicable Me 3, which I hope will be as good as the last two, which were both hilarious.

I think that’s it. I guess the ones I would definitely like to see in theaters include A Monster Calls, King Arthur, Dunkirk, and the two Pixar films. Only five. Not too bad, I guess.

By S P Hannifin, ago

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
Animated shorts

Deliberate practice, and random movie stuff

From another retweet I saw on Twitter (via writer Brian Niemeier), this blog post asks the question: If you just keep writing, will you get better?

The answer really depends on where you’re at, but it boils down to this: getting better at anything depends on what some call deliberate practice. That is, practice with focused attention on what you’re trying to improve. It’s difficult, it takes brain work, because you’re forcing your brain to build new connections. As the task becomes easier, you’ll settle into using your new connections, but you’ll cease to become better. That is, just going through the motions isn’t going to automatically increase your skill. You’ve got to hone in on and focus on specific weaknesses. The whole 10,000-hours-to-become-an-expert thing is misleading, because it doesn’t account for how focused one is.

In regards to writing, this leads to the question: how does one engage in this “deliberate practice” with writing? Is it even possible, after a certain level of skill is reached?

Critiquing other people’s work and collecting critiques for your own will help, assuming you work with the right sort of critique partners, but there remains that nebulous boundary between what one might consider the product of a writer’s skill level and his subjective stylistic preferences. That is, how can one measure one’s improvements? Is there any way to increase one’s skill beyond requiring outside help?

I’m not really sure, I’m just thinking out loud…

For me, personally, one thing I’d like to practice isn’t so much writing in and of itself, but writing faster. Or, lest that make me sound like I wish to be more of a hack, perhaps I should say I’d like to be able to stay focused on writing for longer periods of time so that I can accomplish more in less time. That should be something I could practice, though practicing staying focused always risks that paradox of focusing on whether or not your focusing rather just focusing.

In other news, an new trailer for the upcoming fantasy drama A Monster Calls was recently released:

I read the book it’s based on, which was OK, but I think the story will work better as a film, and the director J.A. Bayona is one my favorites (he’s set to direct the next Jurassic World film), so I’m looking forward to seeing how he brings the book to life.

I thought this little sci-fi short called “Adam” was interesting for purely technical reasons. (I can’t really figure out what exactly happens in it… a wizard turns off a bunch of robots’ iPhones so they follow him like sheep?) It was rendered completely in real time in Unity. Some things aren’t so impressive; the waving grass and the water ripples look awful. But overall this looks pretty darn fantastic for something rendered in real time on a GeForce GTX980. I’m just looking forward to some VR animated movies. Hurry up, rich people of the world, and make them. (Reminder: the film rights to all my books are still available.)

By S P Hannifin, ago

The problem with the new Ghostbusters trailer

The trailer for the new upcoming Ghostbusters was recently released, and immediately widely hated. (Check out all the disapproving thumbs-down on the video, for example. This leading, of course, to claims of sexism!)

I think the problem is the “tone” or “style” of the humor illustrated in the trailer is completely inconsistent with the dry humor of the first two original films. Compare:

with this sort of humor:

See the difference? In the first two films, the characters are serious people. They might get sarcastic (particularly Bill Murray’s character), but that sarcasm is born of trying to deal with a serious situation and keeping sane, à la Gregory House, not of just being a silly person in general. All this comic-relief is needed to accept the otherwise ridiculous premise of people trying to catch ghosts with strange science, but the conflicts themselves are serious. That is, the humor helps lampshade the far-fetched premise so that the premise can be accepted. This happens to some degree in almost every fantasy / sci-fi story (see the quibbling droids and Han Solo’s sarcasm in Star Wars, for example), and when it doesn’t, you usually get something that seems way too cheesy or pretentious. The humor allows acceptance of the far-fetched premise.

And now back to the new Ghostbusters trailer, and what do we have here? We have a “goofball” comedy. Crazy wacky characters! Silly barfing ghosts! Hyuck-hyuck! The characters and the situation are no longer serious, they’re all just part of an eccentric comedy romp. This style of humor can work well on its own; plenty of films employ it to great success. But in this case it’s just not consistent with the franchise they’re trying to continue, so the whole thing feels like an insulting parody, or a kidnapping of the beloved franchise. It feels like the filmmakers were not truly fans of the originals, or didn’t really understand them, or are just incompetent filmmakers in general.

By S P Hannifin, ago

Who cares if Death Note is rated R?

According to this article about the upcoming Death Note film adaptation (which hasn’t, the article points out, actually been greenlit yet):

When asked about the target audience for the film, [producer Roy Lee] replied, “It’s definitely for adults. It is zero chance it will be below an R-rating,” and went on to say that the tone of the film “will be one of the first manga adaptations that feels very grounded but still has fantastical elements.” That sounds like something [director Adam Wingard] could definitely nail.

Oh, whoopee-doo. I’m not sure this, in and of itself, is anything to be excited about. The strengths of the anime, at least in my opinion, have nothing to do with how “adult” it is; for example, how the violence is portrayed is a stylistic decision. It can be intense and gory, or more comic-book like, à la Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Either could work, as long as the style’s consistent, so who cares? The fun of the anime, in my opinion, is the story itself; the chess-like cat-and-mouse game between two brilliant un-average thinkers, and their differing philosophies in defining “justice” that serve as the foundations for their opposition. I hope whoever writes the film doesn’t just take all that for granted because some animated sequences were fun to watch, thinking he can just trim the story that’s already there down to something film-length and have it still work with maybe just some editing for the sake of exposition and pacing. Because then we’ll wind up with crap for story. Or worse, something like The Guest, in which there hardly even is a story at all, just a guessing game that ends up going nowhere, so you had better enjoy the action sequences for the sake of themselves, because they serve no greater substance beyond themselves… Because in Death Note, they do, gosh darn it, so don’t butcher it too much!

(For the record, I have nothing against what the producer said; he was just answering a question. I just think the question itself is irrelevant, unless perhaps someone feared a PG rating? And being pleased with the answer just means you’re a fan of the franchise for very different reasons than I.)

And, of course, I’m crossing my fingers that the filmmakers aren’t fans of the nonsense over-acting from the English dub:

By S P Hannifin, ago