Author Archives: Nathan Lawrence

Pancakes and Playthings: Tie-ins in the Film Industry

On October 24, 2012, the breakfast restaurant chain Denny’s announced that they will be serving a special menu themed around Peter Jackson’s upcoming film series based on The Hobbit. If this seems odd to you, you’re not the only one, but it’s hardly rare anymore. Estimates are that McDonald’s sells almost $3 Billion in Happy Meals each year, each one coming with a movie tie-in toy, and Disney earned roughly $3 Billion dollars as well in its Consumer Product Division –which controls the merchandise licensing for its key properties– last year, a 21% growth from 2010. Even with these astronomic numbers, the Toronto Sun claims that film merchandising continues to be a growth industry. Should we as cinephiles be concerned by this growing trend?

In 1987, McDonald’s introduced the first Disney-themed Happy Meal toy set, themed around Mickey Mouse and his friends. Sales were incredible, and ever since they haven’t looked back. For children’s movies in particular, these deals are incredibly lucrative and a win-win for both companies. They were both trying to reach the same audience, and mind share for one product would then in turn positively affect the other as well. 

However, this concept has some key problems when applied to films that are not targeted at a young audience. Firstly, while young children will consume McDonald’s food almost regardless of the quality, adults have much more discerning tastes for food and drink. Attaching a film’s name to a restaurant — especially a franchised restaurant like Denny’s, where quality and even selection might vary from restaurant to restaurant — seems a risky move. If a customer’s “Gandolf’s Gobble Melt” or “Shire Sausage Skillet” (both real items on the Denny’s menu) don’t look or taste good, or even if the customer doesn’t appreciate the wait staff at the restaurant, his or her image of both the restaurant and the film will be tainted. Conversely, if the customer doesn’t enjoy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when her or she goes to see it in theaters, the likelihood that he or she will be ordering a Hobbit-themed meal any time soon is significantly lower.

Tying a product to one which your company does not also create is generally a huge risk not only in the case of food, but in the case of other products where the combination might leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths. This is exactly what happened to Universal Studios and Illumination Entertainment’s adaptation of the beloved Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” when they struck a deal with Mazda to jointly advertise the film and car. The result was an odd hodgepodge of a television commercial and a number of angry activists, who were concerned that the book’s message of environmental friendliness was being undermined by its commercial control.

Those activists had the right idea, because while corporations seem to understand the benefits of forming promotional alliances, they don’t seem to see a very important, yet somewhat intangible, factor that should govern their use of these promotions: taste. Selling pancakes under the name of a fantasy action-adventure film is not tasteful, nor is selling cars with a movie about the dangers of pollution and deforestation. As we discover new methods of marketing in this growing space, Studios and Publishers should be very careful to weigh the possibilities that these opportunities present against the potential consequences the provide, and strive to keep what little artistic integrity remains in the jungles of the main stream American film industry.


Prometheus Review

I have never been as confused by a film as I was after seeing the midnight showing of Prometheus. At first glance, Prometheus seems to be a beautiful film that was ultimately dragged down by a script riddled with plot holes. However, as time wore on (it’s been almost a week since that midnight show), it began to grow on me. After a second viewing in IMAX today, I’m happy to say that my opinion of Prometheus has changed, and that this will be a largely positive review. 

First of all, this is a film linked directly to the Alien franchise both in marketing materials (“Before there was Alien, there was Prometheus“) and creative staff (Director Ridley Scott from Alien and set/creature designer H. R. Giger, whose design for the titular alien may be one of the most recognizable pieces of filmic iconography ever created). As such, the standard Alien-style plot is both expected and granted: a ship full of people plunge into a “research mission” that quickly goes bad, eventually resulting in a lot of deaths and an epic face-off between the monster and the protagonist.

In the case of Prometheus, this plot is used to interrogate the notion of a creator or god as the crew of the eponymous ship travels to a moon with similar traits to our own Earth inhabited by a group of aliens known as “the engineers,” whom one particularly zealous scientist — played by the Swedish Dragon Tattoo‘s Noomi Rapace — believes fashioned us in their own image. Though this may sound contrived and ridiculous, it actually seems to serve quite effectively throughout the film as Rapace’s character finds her faith and personal strength tested.

The visuals in Prometheus are staggering. Though Ridley Scott is known for being a particularly flashy director, he always seems to balance this within good taste, and Prometheus is no different. From the lush blue and green landscapes, falling waterfalls, and dissolving flesh of the opening sequence to the incredibly disturbing scene of emergency surgery (If you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about), no visual in Prometheus ever feels out of place, and most frames were so beautifully composed and colored that I would be willing to hang them on a wall as art. Even the 3D, which I usually despise, was so restrained and tasteful that I actually found myself enjoying it and — dare I say it? — becoming excited by the potential advantages that this technology could offer in the future. This has never happened to me in a 3D movie before and is a true testament to Scott’s taste, restraint, and skill. 

The audio work is equally well placed. Headlined by the absolutely phenomenal score by relative newcomer Marc Streitenfeld, no second of sound feels out of place or even generic. Prometheus both looks and sounds
like a more grandiose and sweeping version of Alien, which turns out to be a very appealing package.

The acting is also largely appealing, although some of it is just too good. As is true with almost every film that includes Michael Fassbender (who plays the android David here), there is just no way for the other actors to even come close to matching his performance. Even in this film, playing a character whom Old Man Weyland (Guy Pearce in heavy makeup) describes as soul-less, Fassbender shows more tenderness and internal motivation with his every gesture and statement than most of the actors do in this entire film. Rapace does a fantastic Sigourney Weaver impression that eventually forms into a formidable character and Pearce does a good job of hobbling like an old man in his incredibly brief stint on the screen, but then there’s Charlize Theron. While Fassbender, Pearce, and Rapace are largely authentic and natural in their characters, Theron — who plays the representative of Weyland Corporation — never seems comfortable in her role, hamming up important lines and constantly returning to the same pose like a high school drama student. Putting Theron on the set alongside real actors was a huge mistake.

The other thing that struck me as bothersome the first time I watched Prometheus was the script. Though the dialog was strong and the plot largely seemed to fall in place, there were areas when I didn’t understand a character’s motivations or why their actions resulted in a certain phenomenon. However, these didn’t seem to be a problem the second time through. Perhaps having the knowledge of all the twists and turns that were coming in the film gave me greater perspective in the characters’ individual narratives. Unfortunately, most people will only view the film once, and — unlike a David Lynch or Richard Kelly film — Prometheus didn’t appear to be trying to be confusing, it just was. This is a real problem and I hope it can be fixed in a future director’s cut or extended edition.

Ultimately, the script problems and Theron’s acting just can’t bring this film down. This is a great film that any fan of Science Fiction or Horror should go out and see right away.

I give Prometheus a 4.5/5.

Donnie Darko

For a while now, I have been wondering if there was a younger director willing to take up David Lynch’s legacy of the intellectual, mind-bending, and ambiguous thriller and create something truly ready for the twenty-first century. With Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly asserts himself as not only a likely candidate for the title, but an extremely capable one.

In Donnie Darko, Jake Gyllenhaal stars as the eponymous character, who is continually confronted by a six-foot rabbit whom only he can see. As they begin to develop a relationship, strange things start happening. Soon enough, Frank (yes, the rabbit is named Frank) is telling Donnie about the impending end of the world. 

Since the thrill of this film is largely plot-based, I shan’t continue to discuss the plot. Instead, I’ll focus on some of the more literal elements of the film.

The acting here is very impressive. Even Mr. Gyllenhaal, who often fills me with intense dislike when he is present on screen (Source Code being the other notable exception), seemed to be perfectly suited for his part. His eerie, probing eyes and intensely teenaged attitude created a definitive portrait of angst and intrigue. Less surprisingly, Mary McDonnell, an actress who has blown me away in the past with her work as the president in the Battlestar Galactica reboot and — ironically enough — the first lady in disaster film kingpin Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, puts on an incredibly touching and nuanced performances as Rose Darko, Donnie’s mother, possibly one of the best movie mothers I have ever seen. Despite her apparent cohesion to the omnipresent teen drama trope of the foolish parent, Rose Darko’s eyes constantly shine with an unmistakable air of understanding, empathy, and love. In a very real sense, Rose Darko reminded me of how wonderful my own mother is for putting up with me for so long.

Kelly isn’t just making this film for the drama, though; comedy abounds in this film, much of it provided by Beth Grant (No Country for Old Men, Little Miss Sunshine), who adds her name to the list of incredible performances in this film with the shockingly genuine Kitty Farmer: parent, health teacher, and creative director for “Sparkle Motion,” the amusingly lusty dance troupe where Donnie’s little sister plays a starring role. While the dance troupe hits tip top and gets invited onto a national talk show, Kitty’s favorite public speaker Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze, who is also great here) gets arrested for his “kiddie porn dungeon,” leading to an incredibly amusing and awkward encounter between the two acting powerhouses of the film as Kitty must ask Rose to attend the talk show in her stead:

This quirky sense of humor fuses with the dreamlike and creepy narrative in a unique and thrilling fashion, creating a vibrant and vivacious tone unlike any film I have ever seen; though the strategy employed here seems to be that staple of the “slow burn,” the humor breaks this up so well that you don’t realize you are being towed along until the Halloween party (naturally) near the end, when it suddenly becomes clear: the seeds of suspense were being planted all along. Like in his significantly less popular and significantly more expensive Action/Disaster/Comedy film Southland Tales, Kelly also makes good use of popular music to create his tone. Most notably, the popular cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World” was composed for this film. Its haunting minimalism creates the perfect tone for the montage it supports near the end of the film. 

There’s so much more to be said about this film, like the fact that Richard Kelly’s prior life as a literary analyst of early postmodernist Graham Greene’s works is on display here, but I just don’t have the time or space. I plan on revisiting this film many times, though, so I may go into more detail about this in the future. 

There are two cuts of this film, one released in 2001 as simply Donnie Darko (this one runs 113 minutes), and Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut, a 123 minute long version released in 2004. This “director’s cut” includes additional film , but most of those extra ten minutes are dominated by the addition of visual effects showing pages out of a book which Donnie finds, further explaining his predicament. Though many people complained that the original cut was too ambiguous, I found that ambiguity refreshing and poweful, very much in the vein of David Lynch’s ambiguous thrillers. Don’t get me wrong: this film is still a thinker regardless of which edition you watch; you can just expect to come up with a much more grounded explanation for the events of the film if you watch the “director’s cut.”

I give Donnie Darko a 5/5 and Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut a 4.5/5. 

Melancholia (2011) Review

Sometimes, I come across a film that is so amazing that it totally redefines what I think is possible in the medium of cinema and threatens to totally change everything about the way I view the world. Melancholia was one of those films. 

In Melancholia, Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible and hopefully career-defining performance as Justine, a woman who suffers from terrible, numbing depression (also known as melancholia — see what he does there?).  

Throughout the first of two specially delineated acts of the film, Writer-Director Lars von Trier (Antichrist, Dancer in the Dark, The Idiots) seems to return to his former self, constructing a complex — but occasionally humorous — drama a lá The Idiots as Justine completely ruins her wedding (and marriage) because of her depression. Though I found this half refreshingly real, raw and biting, it was an enormous surprise to see this kind of film from von Trier, who has certainly transformed

The second part of the film is more like what I had expected going in to this film. Having completely lost all sense of hope and self esteem on her wedding night, the bereaved Dunst moves in with her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her family. While father (Keifer Sutherland) and son (Cameron Spurr, who is adorable!) delightedly prepare for the upcoming fly-by of the rogue planet Melancholia (see what he did there?), Justine and Claire seem to share the belief that Melancholia is on a direct collision course with earth. In this shared fear of inevitable apocalypse, we see some of the most beautiful and complex sibling interaction that I think has ever been placed onto film. 

Despite all their differences, Melancholia and its sibling motion picture Antichrist share many elements. Both deal deeply with issue of shame, guilt, grace, and depression. Von Trier has said that Melancholia was an investigation of his battle with depression during the writing and filming of Antichrist, so these connections make a lot of sense. They both heavily feature one form of apocalypse or earthly annihilation, and they both use a slow-motion montage set to classical music as their beginning (Antichrist uses Handel; Melancholia uses Wagner).

Antichrist and Melancholia were also both filmed digitally, and you can tell. However, let me make myself clear: when I am saying this, it is NOT an insult. The Social Network, Take Shelter, Antichrist, Melancholia and many others share a particular look and feel that seems to be unique to digital. I can’t put my finger on what it is (I have an inkling suspicion it has to do with exaggerated color depth), but I love it and think it’s beautiful. If I ever get around to making a feature length motion picture, this is definitely an aesthetic which I want to recreate.

Though von Trier clearly intended Melancholia to be viewed in one sitting, I just couldn’t do it. The first part was so heavy that I felt compelled to take a ten minute intermission and then return. Personally, I don’t believe that this hindered the film’s ability to connect with me, but you can feel free to disagre in the comments.

Overall, I believe that Melancholia is a must-see. It’s one of the best films of 2011.

I give Melancholia a 5/5.

Immortals (2011) Review

This review is definitely behind schedule, but I have a good excuse: the movie was completely perplexing to me. I needed time to process it and understand the situation. Quite frankly, I still don’t understand why anyone would produce this schlock.

There’s a plot here somewhere (something about John Hurt being Zeus), but I quite frankly don’t think it remotely matters. The movie is really a series of cringe-worthy torture scenes and ridiculous action sequences strung together.

What seems to be emphasized in this film are the visuals. Unfortunately, this is like putting an empty picture frame on an entirely empty white wall: it highlights an enormous void. 

There are plenty of films that work with little to no plot. The first part in the Kill Bill saga has almost no plot and is entirely made up of action, but the action and visuals are so interesting and entertaining that they make up for this lack of story. In Immortals, the visuals are entirely unfulfilling and depressingly boring.

The first thing I noticed when I fired up this movie was the fact that, as opposed to most action films, or, for that matter, most modern films in general, Immortals isn’t shot in the 2.35:1 (Anamorphic) aspect ratio, but the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of a typical high definition television. Though this seems like a stupid nitpick and it’s certainly not something I would complain about from a film made before 2000, it seems to be symptomatic of a larger problem with this film’s cinematography at large.

Immortals seems to have been filmed as if it were a prime-time broadcast television show, and this is definitely not a compliment. Every shot seems to have been carefully formed by some sort of unintelligent robot sitting in as the Director of Photography. Sorry, Mr. Galvin, but you appear to be shit at your job. Everything interesting is centered instead of put on a third line, the dialogue is filmed in confusing and convention-violating manner, and scenes when there is both water and land seem to always orient themselves in a certain direction so that the water is on the right. These weird visual quirks single-handedly seem to suck all interest out of the visuals. 

There is a lot of interesting CGI and color correction work layered on top of this poor cinematography, but the old adage about polishing a turd comes to mind. Everything you do on top of this cinematography only highlights how painfully boring it is.

I haven’t even begun to talk about the action sequences, which seem to take up the vast majority of this film. Instead of simply showing us fighting, director Tarsem Singh seems to be obsessed with slowing down and speeding up the action as if he’s just playing back a video tape. This is not only annoying, but it actually makes some of the action nearly impossible to comprehend. These action sequences also seem to last forever. I can’t stand action sequences that are either poorly filmed and edited or self-indulgent, and these seem to be both.

To his credit, Henry Cavill seems to make it through this film with a straight face, which is better than I could do. If I were cast in this film, I would be laughing at Singh and the screenwriters all the way through.

My bottom line: if you want to see a movie about Greek people fighting, go watch 300. It sure isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than this.

I give Immortals a 1/5.

The Skulls (2000) Review

Sometimes, I come across a movie that has such a terrible script, I can’t help but wonder why on earth it ever got made. The Skulls is one of these movies. 

In The Skulls, Joshua Jackson (of Fringe fame) stars as Luke McNamara, a Yale student hard up for cash. When he’s inducted into the local secret society, The Skulls, life seems to take a turn for the better — at least until his best friend (Hill Harper) commits suicide after snooping around The Skulls’ inner sanctum.

If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. Essentially, The Skulls is a bad rip-off of The Firm. I wasn’t a huge fan of The Firm (I felt it was far inferior to the book), but I would watch it a hundred times before I subjected myself to this tripe again.

The largest problem with this movie is the writing. It’s on-the-nose and stilted. Nothing ever seems to happen naturally. What’s more, things in the script just don’t seem to make sense. Despite the fact that The Skulls are a “secret society,” everybody knows who they are, where they are, and the organization’s history. Emotions change without warning. One moment, the characters are having a polite civilized conversation, then the next someone is storming out of the room. Since the writer, John Pogue, is best known for Rollerball, I  didn’t go in expecting David Mamet, but I definitely didn’t go in expecting this.

Even more ridiculous than the writing is the “clubhouse” that The Skulls call home. Enormous, painfully obvious to the rest of the campus (again, what kind of secret society announces their existence?), and decked out with everything from Indiana Jones-style stone slab doors to enormous chambers made entirely of travertine marble to complex theatre lighting rigs and laser light shows that seem to have been perfectly focused for every event that takes place, even the unexpected ones. Oh – and they have a neon green glowing crystal skull.

The technology in this movie is atrocious. I know it’s only a very small part of the overall movie, but I can’t just let these things go by. The Social Network proved that you could be true to the way technology actually is and still create an interesting movie, so now I expect that same thing from every other movie. Here, they say that a computer is random. The truth, of course, is that it’s just the opposite. Creating a truly random computer is nearly impossible, not automatic. They also do that thing where they “enhance” a surveilance video to get more detail. I die a little every time that happens in a movie.

Though the director, Rob Cohen, cannot be left blameless in the equation that created this piece of garbage, I think that this albatross should be around the neck of Pogue, who — in addition to writing — also produced this monstrosity. My bottom line: just don’t watch this. There are a lot of better movies that cover similar ground.

I give The Skulls a 0.5/5.

Jumper Review

When I went the theatre to see Chronicle, I found myself sitting behind a birthday party full of eleven-year-old kids. Chronicle was definitely not their kind of film; it’s mature and complex, dealing with the true ethical issues behind becoming a “superhero,” someone with paranormal powers and ending in one of the most tragic and depressing action sequences in recent memory. It was great, but not a film for an eleven-year-old boy and a half dozen of his closest friends. Exiting the movie theatre, I couldn’t help but imagine how upset the birthday boy’s parents were that they hadn’t previewed the movie beforehand. Chronicle clearly wasn’t their movie, but Jumper would have been. Jumper is, in just about every sense of the word, a prepubescent film.

In Jumper, Hayden Christensen plays David Rice, a boy (and I use that word on purpose) who finds himself imbued with the power to teleport, or “jump” from place to place by simply picturing the place he wants to be. This souds like an awesome concept, and it is. Unfortunately, there is a story to cope with here, and it isn’t good.

We open this movie on a fifteen-year-old version of David, played by Max Theriot, who does some of the best acting in this film. He has a crush on a girl named Millie (AnnaSophia Robb) and tries to give her a present. Unfortunately, the tough jock guy doesn’t want her to have it and throws it onto a frozen river. In classic film trope form, David falls into the frozen river trying to retrieve it, and somehow manages to teleport himself into the middle of the local public library. 

For the next fifteen minutes after these initial scene, this movie is an awesome ride. We watch as David escapes his callous and alcoholic father (Michael Rooker), travels cross-country, rents an apartment, robs a couple banks via teleportation (which has got to be the coolest way to rob a bank that I’ve ever heard of), and starts a life on his own. At this point, I was excited by the prospects this film had to offer. It was fun and, while all of David’s actions seemed incredibly childish, I had never seen any movie quite like this. 

Then, suddenly, twenty minutes into the movie, everything changes. The last title card (“Directed by Doug Liman”) shows (Why do these titles take fifteen minutes?), we’re transported eight years into the future, Theriot is replaced by the far less charismatic Hayden Christensen, and the movie gets really crappy.

Samuel L. Jackson shows up as the leader of a group of people who call themselves the Paladins. As he explains in his long dull opening monologue, the Paladins seem to believe that “only god should be in all places at once,” thus they’re trying to kill all the Jumpers. Jackson’s character finds David, and a typical cat-and-mouse game begins as the Paladins try to track down him and Millie (now played by Rachel Bilson), whom David inexplicably decides to drag into this mess. Another Jumper named Griffin (Jamie Bell) is introduced, although I’m not quite sure why. We travel around the world, and finally, we find ourselves in that inevitable epic battle scene between Jackson and Christensen. This plot makes no sense.

But it’s not just the plot that’s messed up. The characters are stupid too. If you’ll recall, I called David a “boy.” There’s a reason for this. Even in this “eight years later” future, he acts like a fifteen-year-old. Instead of leveraging his powers for socially responsible and interesting behaviors, David chooses to mess around with them, going surfing in Fiji, eating picnics on top of the Sphinx, and chilling next to the clock face on Big Ben. These are not mature or responsible behaviors. In fact, I’d like to think that they’re nowhere close to what a sound-minded twenty-three-year-old would do with his time.

David is even presented with an obvious opportunity for heroics. As he prepares for his day of fun, the news on the TV tells him about a tragic flood that has left people stranded on their roofs. All he would have to do would be to teleport there, then teleport to dry land with those people, a five minute job, and he could have saved lives. Instead, he goes surfing. 

All this said, the plot and characters aren’t the only things worthy of blame here. It seems like everyone involved in this film knew going in that it was going to be terrible, and as a result decided to phone it in. Even the great actors like Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Rooker didn’t seem remotely interested in the movie. Their characters were flat and unmotivated. Visual Effects, usually the highlight of a film like this, also didn’t seem up to snuff. In scenes where actors teleported, I could often either see bits of a blue or green screen showing through their costumes or find that whole chunks of them just didn’t appear, the results of under- and over-zealous compositing, respectively. And for a movie about someone capable of traveling wherever he wants, we only seemed to visit a couple of different locations, as if nobody wanted to buy more stock footage. 

Overall, this film was a huge disappointment. I have typically been fond of Director Doug Liman‘s works in the genre of action, but this is just plain lackluster. 

I give it a 2/5.

Does film belong on the (very) small screen?

Today, our world is constantly drawing nearer to Ashton’s fabled “internet of things.” Every few months, it seems, there is a new way of connecting our lives to the internet and, thus, to the world of film. Apps for services like Netflix and Amazon’s Video on Demand bring the cinema to these personal devices, like smartphones, tablets (like the iPad), or even Laptops, which –although having been around for quite some time—seem to be gaining in popularity is a method of media consumption. However, this might not necessarily be good news.

In our first Film Studies class this week, the professor led her instructions on screening the required films with the statement that watching them on anything smaller than a television screen in the Library was unacceptable. Though I did not take down a quote, I think it is appropriate to paraphrase that she said she would “have a conniption” if she caught us watching or even talking about watching the films on a mobile device. To back this up, she sent us a link to an excerpt from and interview with David Lynch from the special edition copy of his film, Inland Empire which seems to agree with her assessment of the mobile device as a film consumption mechanism:

“Playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think think you’ve experienced it, but you’ll  be cheated. It’s –uh—such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your FUCKING telephone. Get real.”

Though both Mr. Lynch (whom I deeply respect) and my Film Studies Professor (whom I just met, but suspect I will also come to deeply respect) are incredibly vehement in their positions on the issue, I don’t think that the simple and broad conclusion they have come to is necessarily correct. Though it isn’t perfect, I think that a mobile device can still provide an effective presentation of the film.

When I thought of an instance where the effect of a big-screen presentation is vital to the understanding of a scene, the first shot that came to mind was the helicopter shot that occupies much of the opening title sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s famous adaptation of The Shining. On a big screen, this shot has a special kind of power for me: looking down and following one little car as it travels up a curving mountain road and curving with the road has two effects on me: it first reminds me how small and insignificant I am, but secondly – and almost more importantly – feeling the frame move along swiftly, as if being dragged by the car gives you this feeling of lack of control, of instability, as if you are being pulled by an invisible spiritual string towards the vehicle. This sense that you are actually moving is what makes these shots great, and you risk losing it entirely if you watch the film on a phone or tablet.

However, this is not an issue of screen size as much as it is a combination of screen size and distance from the screen. In my own personal tests, I found that this sense of motion was preserved on a variety of devices from a variety of distances, as long as the film’s frame occupied the vast majority of my vision. On my laptop, which has a 15.6” screen, I was able to sit up to about 18 inches away from the screen and still feel the motion. On my 10.1” Motorola Xoom tablet, I had to be much closer: about 12 inches away. Finally, on my smartphone, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus with a 4.65” screen, I found that I had to be the incredibly close (and possibly eye-damaging) distance of 4 inches from the screen. Though this sounds crazy, it does show that the effect of motion is preservable on these smaller devices.

Another argument made is that, because the films are so much larger on the big screen, you might miss something interesting or important in a shot. This is once again largely covered by moving closer to the screen, however there is another issue that plays into this: resolution. If the screen does not have high enough resolution, then there is no possible way to see all the details that one might see on the big screen. Luckily, most devices today have incredibly high resolutions. The third generation (most recent) iPad, for example, has an incredibly sharp display at 2048×1535 pixels. This screen is more than capable of handling 1080p video, which has a resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, and even the lowest end phones and tablets have screen resolutions of 1024×768 or higher, something that, while not adhering to any specifications for HD video, is perfectly capable of playing back DVD-quality video, which only has a resolution of 720×480 pixels.

The last argument that people make against film on a small device is something that I just can’t possibly refute. I agree wholeheartedly that many films, especially comedies, are community experiences. When you’re watching a comedy alone, it’s just not as funny. Jokes may strike you as amusing, but your own personal guards keep you from laughing or enjoying them. In a group, the mob psychology seems to kick in. Personal inhibitions are lifted and everyone laughs at the jokes that he or she finds funny.  The movie is transformed from just a picture on the screen to a bona fide social event. There is no way to replicate this personal interaction, and there never will be.

All these things said, filmmakers will still have to adapt to the use of mobile devices as film consumption tools. Here, Kubrick’s The Shining is an interesting example again. I found it odd that The Shining would be presented in the film cell’s (and television’s) raw aspect ratio 4:3, so I did a little research. As it turns out, there is indeed a story to it. Knowing that the film would find its way to home video and that the studio would “pan and scan” the film to make it fit onto a television set (thus compromising his notoriously meticulous directorial decisions), Kubrick decided not to film it with an anamorphic lens, as he would have otherwise. Instead, he filmed directly onto the 35mm film stock, giving him a 4:3 aspect ratio, which he cropped for theaters to get the widescreen look he wanted. With every shot he made, he considered how it would look both on the big screen and at home. This mirrors what filmmakers need to do today. There is now a huge range of different screen sizes that may be used to watch a film. Sometimes, directors and cinematographers will need to compromise to ensure that the important things can be seen on any device. It’s not the ideal solution, but – like it or not – mobile devices are here to stay.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a Laptop–Day 1

It’s been about 24 hours since Microsoft released (and I installed) Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Since I didn’t have any classes today, I took the opportunity to do some more looking around the build. Here’s the result of that exploration

A Note on Dual-Booting

I highly recommend my set-up, which eschews the easiest method in favor of finding the ISO on Microsoft’s download page – it’s surprisingly hidden—, booting from that, and putting a fresh install of Windows 8 onto a separate partition. Though you’ll lose the advantage of immediately having all your old applications and settings transferred over, I think this is better for two much more important reasons: first, you may not be able to use many of your old apps on Windows 8, and second, it’s just not quite ready for use as your primary computer OS.

For the first time in Microsoft’s history, the boot selection screen when you dual-boot actually looks nice, so you don’t even have to worry about that. It’s definitely the better option.

Logging In

To me, the biggest feature in Windows 8 isn’t any of the fancy-schmancy new UI; it’s the integration with the cloud that makes Windows 8 so interesting. When you first sign in, you do so with a Windows Live ID much like Windows Phone; your password is thus your Windows Live Password. However, that’s not really the consequence that I like so much: the consequence I like so much is the fact that you then can access files from Skydrive (Microsoft’s Dropbox-like cloud storage service) and they’ll be saved and up to date on any computer you go to. I wasn’t able to test this, but I’m guessing that your Start screen, wallpaper, and Windows 8 settings will also follow you from Windows 8 PC to Windows 8 PC.

The process of Logging in itself is very reminiscent of Windows Phone. Like Windows Phone, you unlock the device by dragging a picture upwards to uncover the login prompt. Here are some photos of it in action:

Here, the picture hasn’t been dragged out of the way at all:

Here, the picture has been dragged up about a third of the way to reveal part of the login screen:

Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to save screenshots from the login screen (probably a good thing really), so I had to take these with my phone, but I think you get the idea.

The Start Screen and The Windows Desktop

I don’t have any pictures of this, so you’ll just have to take my word that it’s there. It’s REALLY there. I don’t know if it’s because I’m just not used to it and know that the Windows Desktop is right there waiting for me underneath it, or because I just don’t like it, but I constantly found myself constantly wanting to peel away this new shell and go back to the old Windows experience.

As you probably already know, there is a button on the start screen to do exactly that; press it and you’re whisked away to the land of familiarity:

Notice something’s missing? That’s right; there’s no Start button on the Windows desktop anymore. There’s also no start menu; if you want to launch an application, you have three cumbersome options. You can:

  1. Use the Windows Key + R keyboard shortcut to open up the Run window then type in the path or command to open a give application.
  2. Use Windows Explorer (through the Recycle Bin or the separate Windows Explorer icon on the Start Screen) to navigate to the .exe file and then double-click it.
  3. Go back to the Start Screen by hitting the Windows Key or clicking on the far left side of the taskbar (yes, even though there’s no button there anymore, it still launches the Start Screen), right click to bring up the Start Screen’s menu, choose “View All Apps,” find it on the list, then click on it once to launch it back inside the Windows Desktop, which you should be automatically sent back to.

Not exactly intuitive. Well, at least my favorite bulk installation tool, Ninite, still works on Windows 8:

Also, I’d just like to say that it’s stupid that this is the only way to run Microsoft Office. Why not make a Metro version of it? How can people take your product seriously if you don’t seem to be drinking your own kool-aid?


Touch Gestures and their Mouse-based Equivalents

I think this could be a really great tablet OS. Everything’s really quick to respond and the touch gestures are awesome. However, when Microsoft designed their “touch first” UI, they seemed to also put the mouse and keyboard last. The ways you bring up menus and work with the OS are nearly impossible to find without any help (it took me hours to figure out multi-tasking and almost as long to find the way to bring up the application-specific menu). So, for your pleasure, I have created a table to help you out.

Purpose Touch Gesture Mouse Gesture
Multi-tasking Swipe from the left side of the screen. Hover mouse in the upper left corner of the screen.
Bring up “Charms” menu (for settings and a shortcut to the Start Screen) Swipe from the right side of the screen. Hover mouse in the bottom right corner of the screen.
Bring up Application-based menu for more commands. Swipe from the bottom of the screen. Right click anywhere while inside a Metro application.

They aren’t intuitive, but once you figure them out, they seem to work well enough. In fact, their response time was quick enough I soon found myself zipping around the UI surprisingly quickly.

Multitasking and the Windows App Store

After some work, I figured out how to do the side-by-side multitasking trick that Microsoft always shows in their videos. The trick is to drag the application preview from the upper right down into the workspace like you’re doing normal multitasking, then hold it over either the left or right quarters of the screen. If it’s compatible, the app will make a black silhouette appear in that region. Just drop it and you have two things going on at once.

Here’s a shot of the result (it also includes the Windows App Store, so you get an idea of what that looks like):


Internet Explorer 10 (Metro Version)

The Metro version of Internet Explorer 10 included with Windows 8 looks really nice. It may not have a lot of features, but it seems fast enough and has a very elegant way of handling multiple tabs.

Here it is asking me if it should remember a password:

And here it is displaying Twitter. You’ll notice that all the chrome disappears when you’re displaying a page without the Application-specific menu open.

That’s about all for now, but I’ll update you as I find more about Windows 8 to love or to hate.

Boy Scouts and God: Why must theology be mandatory?

Today, I got to thinking about a subject that has been troubling me for years. I don’t really know what brought it on or why I was suddenly pulled to write a blog post, something I haven’t done in over a month (oops) about it, but I’m here now. The subject is this: why is religion a requirement for being a Boy Scout?

Many people are familiar with the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” and almost as many are familiar with its slogan, “Do a good turn daily,” however if you are able to recite the Scout Oath by heart, it’s probably because you were once, like me, a card-carrying member of the Boy Scouts of America organization. For those of you that never were, here it is:

“On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.”

Now there is a lot of strange language in here that deserves close reading (“physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight” in particular stands out to me as potentially exclusive of many minorities like the wheelchair-bound, developmentally disabled, and homosexual), but what I want to focus on is this idea of doing your duty “to God.”

What if you don’t believe in god? What if you’re an atheist? Or a polytheist who can’t do a duty “to God,” because the word is not in plural? This oath presents problems for these individuals, problems that have been demonstrated again and again.

In 2002, an Eagle Scout was kicked out of the organization for his atheist beliefs and the case of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale shows that this same principle has been used as a tenet to exclude homosexual teens from the Boy Scouts because of the all too commonly held belief that homosexuality is an abomination before God, and thus not in adherence to the oath, which insists that you “do [your] duty to God.”

I understand why this principle might be important to the BSA: the moral framework which religion can provide is an important part of being a Boy Scout. However, this moral framework sure seems redundant when pressed up against the Scout Law, which the Oath also insists you follow:

“A Scout is:
Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful,
Friendly, Courteous, Kind,
Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty,
Brave, Clean, Reverent.”

Are these not the same standards that religion is supposed to bring? Why are both needed? What is the purpose? Adding this requirement simply turns the BSA into a believers-only country club instead of the once great organization it used to be.

Images, Scout Oath, and Scout Law courtesy of Boy Scouts of America.