Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category
Posted in Media, Opinion, tagged abc, action, amc, dexter, drama, entertainment, fantasy, game of thrones, hbo, once upon a time, showtime, suspense, television, the walking dead, tv on February 24, 2012 @ 2:42 PM| Leave a Comment »
It’s no fun going home to your 25-inch CRT after watching movies on your buddy’s new 50-inch HD flat screen. It’s a concept most people are familiar with: try a product of higher quality, and the old stuff will seem like garbage in comparison. Alright, maybe not garbage, but the difference certainly becomes more noticeable than it may have been before. The same is true of the content you watch on that screen. I don’t mean half-hour sitcoms, or documentary programs that air on Discovery. I’m talking about the drama, action, and supernatural shows that usually have sixty-minute run times.
Thanks to channels like HBO, Showtime, and AMC, I’ve been exposed to a multitude of awesome shows, causing me to watch regular television with an even more critical eye. (And I was pretty critical to begin with.) The entertainment bar is being held insurmountably high by the likes of Dexter, with its fantastic acting and characters; The Walking Dead, complete with suspense, action, and special effects; and the superbly epic medieval fantasy, Game of Thrones.
I know that there are those who might disagree with me about The Walking Dead, claiming that there is room for improvement in the acting department, but I actually thought it was pretty decent. Sure, there was a character or two at whom I could point a finger, but really the action and cinematography more than made up for whatever thespian shortcomings there may have been.
Now there are shows on regular networks that I, and possibly others, unfairly brush aside. I probably could have enjoyed ABC’s Once Upon a Time once upon a time, but with my now refined palate I’ve sampled it, pooh-poohed it, and tossed it in the pile along with others like Grimm and Lie to Me.
I know, I know—not all programs have the budgets and special effects that the big guys do, so it’s not completely fair to put them all in the same bracket. And it is worth mentioning that the standout shows I mentioned all existed previously as celebrated written works. Nevertheless, the overall effect on me, the viewer, remains the same. In some sort of weird reverse-desensitization process, I’ve been left constantly expecting breakout acting, jaw-dropping plot twists, or scenes so gruesome that they make me go “Whooooaaaahhh!” and cover my mouth. Am I so wrong to be disappointed when, instead, I get shoddy green screen effects and evil knights who look like they’ve got helmets made from old Koosh balls?
Really, once you’ve seen the higher quality programs, the old stuff is ruined. You just can’t watch it without making comments and rolling your eyes at every scene. And if that’s not enough, the good shows are so good that viewers who don’t subscribe to the premium channels resort to Netflix and DVD rentals to watch a series like Dexter, getting hopelessly addicted and winding up going through an entire season in a lethargic weekend of binge watching. But who can really be blamed? Those shows are damn entertaining.
And so, to HBO and its friends I say both sincerely and sarcastically, thanks a lot!
Video: HBO via the Game of Thrones Youtube channel
Walking Dead image: AMC (screencap)
Once Upon a Time image: ABC (screencap)
Dexter image: Showtime (screencap)
You’re watching TV, when suddenly, in a commercial, you see a smartly dressed guy with a slick haircut driving a cool car and you think, there’s my antagonist. He’s suave, good-looking, and acts like a charming guy on the surface, but deep down, he’s truly evil. That’s the creative seed. An external idea that gives rise to your fully developed creation.
The alternative is to sit and think. To pore over mental lists of potential character traits and physical characteristics until you’ve built the basis for that ingratiating character out of complete nothingness.
Creating is something that I think everyone enjoys in one form or another, and people go about it in many different ways. One person might like to sit in the dark and close themselves off from the world until a thought speaks to them, while another person goes out to get inspired by strolling through a museum and experiencing work that others have done. “Inspired?” you say. “But inspiration is a seed in its own right.” Well, it is and it isn’t. Inspiration can sometimes be directly related to your subject matter, but I think it’s often a more general concept. Searching for inspiration doesn’t necessarily mean mining for ideas. It just means you’re getting a motivational boost from some sort of significant experience. I think the late Mitch Hedberg summed it up well in one of his jokes:
I like when they say a movie’s inspired by a true story, ’cause that’s weird. It means the movie’s not a true story—it was just inspired by a true story. Like, ‘Hey Mitch, did you hear the story about that lady who drove her children into the river and they all drowned?’
‘Yes I did, and that inspired me to write a movie about a gorilla!’
One technique is not better than the other. In fact, I bet most people regularly use a combination of both seed and thought, whether consciously or not. We often hear of writers who have moulded plots around historical events, artists who draw their characters to resemble people they’ve known, and actors who include well-known peoples’ mannerisms in their roles. Contrarily, we have books containing completely original worlds and stories, and paintings depicting landscapes that never existed. And in most cases, the basis is not even the most important part. As long as the imaginative development is there, the end result will be a good one.
Image: TakingITGlobal via Wikimedia Commons
Part two of a two-part focus on Gmail.
It’s said that disorganization is a sign of genius. I guess I’m not a genius—not when it comes to work spaces. If it’s a place where information is stored, I generally keep it organized, whether it’s my desk, my hard drive, or my email inbox. And thankfully, with a Gmail account, it’s ridiculously simple to keep order in what can otherwise be a chaotic stack of virtual correspondence.
The following is by no means the be-all, end-all method to organize your mail. It’s just how I use some of the available tools to make my mail-checking quick and efficient.
Here’s a basic inbox setup. A few messages—some read, some unread—from various senders. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be sticking to the Classic inbox style.
It’s not incredibly messy, but there’s enough here to demonstrate how I use filters, labels, and label settings as a sort of ad hoc filing system to split up and organize my mail. I also eschew email hoarding, making sure instead to delete and archive. Old mail that will serve no future purpose gets cleared out, and mail that needs to be kept goes into the archive, leaving behind a clean inbox—the goal.
The first thing to do is determine how specifically you want your mail sorted. You may want some messages filtered at the domain level, such as twitter.com for all your Twitter notifications. Alternatively, you might want something more specific, like email@example.com for only messages from your friend David Webb at the pseudomail.com domain.
Once you’ve chosen how you want your mail filtered, you can create a label that will be applied to all the messages that meet your chosen criteria. In this example, I’m going to filter emails that come from Google, so I’ll create a label called Google.
Click on the settings gear at the top right corner of the inbox and select the Settings option.
In the Settings screen, select Labels. You’ll be presented with an overview of your current label configurations. Click the Create new label button, and in the popup that appears, enter the name for your new label.
There is an option that allows you to nest your labels, but again, for simplicity, we’ll leave that option alone for now.
Once your label is created, you’ll see it in the list on the left side of the screen, under the Compose button. Now you can set up your filter. While still in the Settings screen, select Filters. Click on Create a new filter. The search bar will drop down to allow you to specify your criteria. Since I want to filter mail from Google, I’ll put the domain google.com in the From field. I could specify criteria for the other fields as well, but because I want to target all Google messages, I’ll leave those fields blank. Click Create a filter with this search.
Now you can choose what happens to the emails that match your criteria. This is where you’ll use the label that you just created. From the Apply the label drop-down list, select your label. The check box should check itself off automatically.
There are also a few other options available, such as marking the mail as important, or making it immune to the spam filter. An option I like is Skip the Inbox (Archive it). With this checked, the filtered emails will only show up under the new label, and not under the inbox. I use this on my filters because it keeps my inbox that much cleaner, and since I recommend archiving emails that you intend to keep anyway, this option saves you a step when reading your mail. Check off the option to apply the filter to any matching emails that it has already found, then click the Create filter button, and you’re pretty much done. The inbox now looks like this:
The email that was filtered remains in an unread state, but no longer appears in the inbox. Instead, the new label is displayed in boldface and indicates the number of unread messages (1) to which it has been applied. If I hadn’t checked off Skip the Inbox, I’d see this:
The email is displayed in the inbox with its label visible, but the corresponding label in the list also indicates that there is an unread message. This can be a bit confusing, because at first glance it looks as though there are three new messages when, in fact, there are only two. That’s one reason I prefer to skip the inbox. You can also color code your label, or choose to have it hidden from view if it has no unread messages. To view these options, click the down arrow that appears when you place the cursor over the label. I encourage you to play around with the label settings to find the setup that looks and works best for you.
A few filters and labels can dramatically clean up your email workspace. That, combined with more liberal deletion of messages, can even leave you with an empty inbox, at which time you’ll see a little cheerful word from Google.
As I said earlier, there are many other options available to promote inbox cleanliness. To find out how to use things like stars, importance markers, inbox styles, nested labelling, etc., you can either check out Gmail Help, or just experiment with your settings.
If you missed part one (A Brief Overview of the New Gmail Interface), it can be found here.
Part one of a two-part focus on Gmail.
Google has quietly introduced an updated interface for their Gmail service. In their paradigmatic try-out-before-roll-out procedure, the new interface is currently available as an optional upgrade, but will become the standard for all Gmail accounts at some point in the near future.
An immediately noticeable aspect of the upgrade is conservation and improved management of screen real estate. Elements of the interface have been changed to either free up space on the screen or make better use of the space you’ve got—a sure benefit for those who aren’t yet surfing on 23-inch LCDs.
The toolbar above the inbox is now dynamic. For example, if you don’t have any mail selected, you won’t have the Delete option (among others). The end result is an interface that looks a lot cleaner and less cluttered.
In the same space-saving vein, there are three new options available that affect the structure of the Gmail screen as a whole. The options have been trendily named Comfortable, Cozy, and Compact. As you can probably guess from the names, they give users a choice as to how much spacing is provided between elements on the screen, almost like a predefined zoom value. Comfortable is the most spacious of the three, while Compact keeps everything small and tightly knit, leaving Cozy as the happy medium. The spacing, in turn, affects how many emails you can see at one time in your inbox. I prefer the Compact option, myself, because with a service like email, I like being able to see a lot of information at once without having to scroll. Switching between the three options is effortless, so it’s easy to decide which one works for you.
A feature that I was happy to finally have is the movable separator between the labels area and the chat module (which has been merged with the gadgets module). I never chat while logged into my Gmail account, so I always found it annoying that the chat module took up space that could have been devoted to my rather extensive list of labels. I was frequently clicking the “More” option to view the rest of my labels in a little pop-up menu. Blech. Now, there’s no problem. I can simply drag the chat module to where it belongs: neglected, in the bottom corner of the screen.
My one real gripe is Google’s removal of “create your own theme”. There are still plenty of premade themes to choose from, many of them sleek and attractive, but I’m the type of person who always likes to modify layouts and colors, especially for a service that I use often. I tweak layouts wherever I’ve got them, from my operating systems to my blog, and, until recently, my Gmail account. Although the choice of colors (or lack thereof) doesn’t really detract from Gmail’s usability, it was still a nice option to have. As I stated in a feedback response to Google, the inability to customize the theme isn’t a deal-breaker for me—I’ll still continue to use the service. But boy, does it bug me.
Overall, the interface has changed for the better. It’s more polished, and the usability has become further streamlined. Unless you’re intent on keeping your customized theme for as long as humanly possible, I recommend giving the new look a go. Just click the little floating label in the bottom right corner of your Gmail screen.
If you don’t like it, you can revert to the old one—at least until Google decides to make the change final. For more information and a full list of details regarding the changes to the interface, check out Google’s About page for the new look.
Coming up soon: part two of my focus on Gmail. I’ll be talking about simple ways to keep your email organized, and why a clean inbox is pleasant to use.
Posted in Media, Opinion, tagged fear, film reviews, films, found footage, handheld cameras, haunting, horror, invisible villains, movie reviews, movies, paranormal, paranormal activity, paranormal activity 3, postaweek2011, reviews, scary movies, trailers on October 29, 2011 @ 12:37 PM| 2 Comments »
“The last 15 minutes will mess you up for life” . . . or so the TV spot claims. I’d been waiting for Paranormal Activity 3 since I first got wind of it several months back. The trailers were finally released and some of the scenes looked pretty good, but when I saw the movie the biggest shock was that the majority of the scenes from the trailers weren’t even there! I don’t know if they got cut, or were just intended to be used for advertising, but if you were hoping to see kids jumping from the tops of staircases and people getting thrashed non-stop by invisible forces, prepare to be disappointed.
Some parts were probably left out for the better—the paranormal investigator, for example. We’ve seen enough of that horror cliché in other movies. And to be perfectly honest, I was glad they cut some of the thrashing scenes. Too much of that and it gets gimmicky. But there were some scenes that I was really looking forward to seeing, like the “knocking game” and the Bloody Mary ritual. In the film’s defense, the Bloody Mary scene was there, just not exactly as it was in the trailer, and as it turns out, the theatrical version ended up being the better of the two. There was also a brief shot in the previews of a house engulfed in flames. You may remember references to “the fire” in the previous films, so I figured we’d finally be given an explanation. Nope. “The fire” remains a mystery.
The story takes place over roughly a two-week period in 1988 and centralizes on the childhood haunting of sisters Katie and Kristi. What begins as seemingly harmless interactions with an imaginary friend soon escalates into a series of increasingly disturbing and violent encounters.
The movie is filmed similarly to its predecessors, using handheld cameras and tripods. But if you think watching footage resembling a security camera is boring, think again. Some cool creativity was employed that allowed a stationary camera to shoot both the foyer and kitchen by being mounted on an oscillating fan. It then pans eerily back and forth—empty kitchen . . . empty foyer . . . empty kitchen . . . not-so-empty foyer. That element was really well done and for me was one of the stand-out suspense builders.
As far as the acting goes, on the whole it was tolerable for a film that makes heavy use of improvisation. Surprisingly, the scenes that were the most intense (which I would have thought to be the most difficult) had the best acting. Apparently, what’s not so easy is realistically depicting natural, casual conversation. I remember there being one character in PA 2 whose acting bothered me throughout the entire film. Thankfully, this movie had no such characters.
I was particularly curious as to whether the writers would be able to work this film into the story as well as they did with PA 2, because although I wasn’t impressed with the fright level of the second movie, I thought it was fantastically tied into the first, especially considering that they weren’t written at the same time. Naturally, I was doubtful of their abilities to demonstrate similar writing prowess again, but sure enough, like a puzzle piece, they snapped this movie into place as smoothly as the last one. I did notice a little plot hiccup regarding mentions of the mother in the second movie, but I found it to be a very minor issue.
Of course, this movie comes complete with a few typical horror situations like skeptic vs. believer, as well as conflicts that could easily have been solved with a simple “why doesn’t he just show her the tape!” But at least it was refreshing to see a role reversal of the common skeptical male and credulous female.
I tend to judge scary movies quite harshly. While scenes designed to make you jump and scream can be fun, especially in a pitch black theatre full of people, I find such tactics to be cheap when overused. A jump scene comes and goes very quickly, and the sense of fear isn’t a lasting one. I prefer that a movie be scary as a result of the atmosphere, the events, the story. If you’re still creeped out when you leave the theatre, then the filmmakers have done a decent job. In Paranormal Activity 3 there were a lot of make-you-jump scenes, but at least they were complemented by a story that had a moderate fear factor.
I don’t think the Paranormal Activity franchise will ever really scare people who need a corporeal being—whether a monster, alien, or psychotic killer—on which to project their fear. The strength of this style of film lies with the invisibility of the villain. It causes the viewers’ imaginations to run wild which, for many people (myself included), is usually more frightening than anything that can be depicted with special effects and makeup. That said, keeping the spooky entity hidden doesn’t automatically guarantee a successful fright. Paranormal Activity 3 certainly had some creepy parts, but came far from messing me up for life.