Game of Moans

As I prepare for tonight’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, I’m reminded of this classic exchange.

Game of Moans

I used to think everything related to Star Trek, but now-a-days I’m thinking it’s Princess Bride. Who knew?

Mr. Spock and I

So many wonderful things have already been written about Leonard Nimoy on his passing this week. I’ve been awash in stories about his life, his contributions to our popular culture and his humanity, but I keep coming back to what he’s meant to me these many years.

I could write a book about Leonard’s portrayal of Mr. Spock but I’ve decided to record my thoughts in audio form instead. Just a couple minutes to try and summarize why I loved him so much, on saying goodbye and an amazing, chance encounter I had with Nimoy as a teenager, growing up in New England. This life-long fan will miss him dearly.

Managing Movie Expectations


One of the problems of living in the age of social media and hyper-connectivity is that it’s become quite difficult for me to manage my expectations of TV and movies. The longer I go before I decide to buy a ticket to a new film or commit myself to watching a new television show, the more I find the opinions of those I follow on Twitter or Facebook color my opinions of it when I finally do experience it. Try as I might, it’s nearly impossible to keep my own expectations in check when the people who’s opinions I value the most tell me “It’s the best movie of the year!” or “OMG, that was a stinker!”

I resisted seeing the mega-hit Frozen for months after its release, but the hype surrounding the film simply became so great that when I finally bought it on iTunes and watched it, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Here was a different kind of fairy tale with no central love story to speak of and a landmark song that everyone and their dog was making parodies of, but I must have missed something because I just didn’t find Frozen that fabulous. Similar experiences happened when I got to the theatre to see PIXAR’s Brave and just recently with Disney’s Big Hero 6.

I’ve been hearing for months how awesome Big Hero 6 was and truth be told, it’s a pretty good film. It’s full of heart and off-beat characters, but for all the raving I’ve seen on Twitter and the internet about it, I just didn’t go ga-ga. The story is one we’ve been told a thousand times and it’s obvious appeal to the base instinct kids have of controlling giant robots and becoming super-heroes turned me off. I also don’t personally think it’s a better animated film than The LEGO Movie which got passed over for Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon: 2 by the Academy Awards, and that is a true shame. I also don’t have kids of my own, so I think it’s fair to say many parents watch and rate these types of movies through the eyes of their children, which makes total sense.

It’s gotten to the point where I purposefully try to convince myself a movie will be bad so I’ll be pleasantly surprised when it’s not. This probably sounds silly, but most of the time it works. When the re-booted Robocop came out in theaters, I knew it couldn’t stack up to the original and convinced myself I was wasting my money going to see it. Turned out that was the right mindset because I came out of the theatre happy. Not for what the movie was but for what it wasn’t – a complete and utter train wreck.

Television shows are a bit of a different beast thankfully and my opinion of them changes and varies over long stretches of time as I watch them. Everyone was telling me that the CW’s superhero series Arrow was one of the best shows on TV, but honestly much of the first season is merely meh. I stuck with it however, and I’m glad I did because the series quickly picked up steam and has become a personal favorite of mine. Season 2 truly is great and I definitely agree with what my friends from Twitter were telling me all along. If you’ve not checked out Arrow on Netflix, give it a go, it’s pretty great.

In the end, the only person who decides if you like a particular movie or television show is you. The opinions of critics, the general public and even your close friends can only hold so much weight. The trick is learning to balance the overwhelming scale of today’s social media with those of your own likes and dislikes. There’s absolutely no question that our personal expectations color our movie and TV going expreiences. I think the trick is to recognize that fact and try and not let it stand in the way of keeping an open mind and having a good time. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself :-/

The Eyes of Alfred Hitchcock

This clever and somewhat disturbing collection of moments from the films of Alfred Hitchcock is mesmerizing, strange and totally amazing. It also reminds me just how many of his films I’ve yet to see. I’m going to make an effort to correct that oversight as I’m reminded yet again just how much of a master film maker he truly was.

Get Your Groot Loops!

Designed by Bamboota and Elliot Fernandez, these amazing Marvel heroes t-shirts not only look great but are filled with your daily allowance of vitamins and minerals! Well, not really but they do make fantastic t-shirts and would make super-fun real-life cereal products. My personal favorite has to be Groot Loops, but Thorrios swoop in as a close second. Head on over to Sharkrobot to check them out or pick up a few for yourself, they even offer them in big sizes.

Hat tip to iO9 for this post.

Talented Pianist is Talented

Passengers at the Václav Havel Airport in Prague waiting for their flight were recently treated to an impressive display by musician Maan Hamadeh. In the clip he performs Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” in multiple styles and then around the 2:30 mark turns to the theme to ‘Titanic’ in amazing fashion. I’m always astounded by people who possess such ability for musical instruments. I tried and failed at the drums and piano as a kid but always enjoyed watching and listening to my father play the piano when I was growing up. If you have a few minutes, take a moment and enjoy this brief clip, it really is wonderful.

Remembering Robin Williams

I and many other people are feeling a deep loss at the sad news that funny man and Oscar-winning dramatic actor, Robin Williams, has died at the age of 63. From my introduction to Robin as Mork from Ork on Happy Days to his break-out stand-up performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, I followed his career at every step of the way and enjoyed everything he appeared in. Some of my favorite Williams’ performances include Good Morning, Vietnam, his amazing voice over work as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Toys and The Birdcage. It pains me to say it but there are many films he’s appeared in that I’ve never seen. With his passing I think I’ll have to correct that oversight and re-discover some of Robin’s incredible work anew.

There are only a few celebrities & personal heroes who, when they pass, I will truly grieve for. Robin Williams is one such person. He brought so much happiness, laughter and light into our lives it’s difficult to imagine a world without him. Personally, I’ll be focusing on all those wonderful moments and characters, all the belly-laughs and chuckles and even the tears he conjured as he entertained and transfixed us. He was a bright star in the lives of those friends and fans who loved him and he will be dearly missed.

1 Comment

Percussive Maintenance

Anyone who can find commonality between Deep Space Nine, Hogan’s Heroes, Back to the Future and Happy Days is okay in my book. I love TV and movie supercuts and this is one of the most clever I’ve seen. Take all those times when characters fix broken equipment with a good whack and what you get is percussive perfection. Enjoy!

(via Collossal)

The User Interfaces of Oblivion

As an UI designer, I love seeing what artists come up with for fictional user interfaces. I’ve admired the work talented folks like Jayse Hansen has done for films like Iron Man and the Avengers for some time and secretly longed to do this kind of work. The latest work from Joseph Kosinski and Crater Lake Productions for the film Oblivion is pure magic. The level of detail, both animated and static, is staggering. I hadn’t intended to see Oblivion in the theater, but after seeing this wonderful work I just might. If you want to learn more, head over to GMUNK and check out their process.

Movie Poster Makeovers

Ïve Bastrash, a Canadian-based illustrator has been busy pumping out stylish renditions of some of his favorite sci-fi, fantasy and action movie posters. The results are charming and bold and remind me a great deal of one of my all-time favorite artist’s work, Bruce Timm. Head on over to the post at DesignTaxi to see more, and then visit Bastrash’s Deviant Art page to see other work from this very talented artist. Well done sir, well done!


Disney’s Brave Both Hits and Misses

SPOILER WARNING: This post contains pretty big spoilers for Disney’s animated adventure, Brave. If you don’t want to know key plot points, then you should ride on my friend.

The problem with high expectations is that once you have them, it’s very difficult to let them go. PIXAR has spent almost two decades building up a loyal, praise-filled fan base for their cinematic offerings, and with good reason. For years the studio consistently put out the best animated adventures with masterpieces like Finding Nemo, Toy Story and The Incredibles that pushed the limits of great cinema. Recently however, other studios have come into their own and produced some amazing animated adventures that are just as good, if not better than the best PIXAR has had to offer. Movies like Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me have proven that PIXAR no longer has a lock on the genre it helped pioneer back in the 1990′s.

Enter their latest film, Brave. The story is a familiar one – oppressed child longs to find her own destiny out from the watchful eye of her overbearing parent. The hero, in this case the flame-haired Merida, resents her mother’s attempts to turn her into a prim and proper future queen and in doing so embarks on an adventure to “change her fate”. As I watched the amazing first act of Brave, the obvious parallels to another classic Disney animated film, The Little Mermaid, quickly became apparent. Like Ariel, Merida is unhappy with her lot in life and longs to be elsewhere. Both characters are strong-willed women of action and they both enlist the help of a magical witch to help them in their quest to alter their destiny.

Unfortunately for Brave, that’s where things take a turn for the worse. In seeking the witch’s help, Merida receives a magical pastry that she is to feed, not to herself, but to her mother. It’s obvious that this pie is both powerful and dangerous, having come from a large cauldron of steaming black goo, and yet Merida thinks nothing of sneaking it back home, presenting it on a plate and having her beloved mother swallow it. Now, you may dismiss this as simply a necessary plot point, but the act itself didn’t sit well with me. Our heroine, the person we’ve just spent the entire first act getting to know and love, suddenly feels it’s perfectly okay to possibly poison her mom. Feeding the pastry to Queen Elinor isn’t an act of bravery, it’s one of cowardice. Unlike Ariel, who boldly chooses to take the risk and the danger of Ursala’s life-changing spell onto herself, Merida lays that burden upon the feet of her unsuspecting mother. When the spell first sickens and then changes her mom into a hulking grizzly bear, Merida repeats again and again that it’s “not her fault” – selfish brooding from a character we’re supposed to be rooting for. It is true that by the end of the film Merida regrets what she’s done and would never do such a thing ever again, but she should never have done it in the first place. Any time a character displays a lack of empathy for their loved ones, it makes me like them less.

Other problems in Brave include a meandering second act that basically turns into one long, predictable chase scene, a delightful, originally-written villain we only see once and a seemingly un-motivated change of heart for Queen Elinor, who out of nowhere suddenly decides it’s okay for her daughter to marry out of love instead of tradition. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity however comes in the form of Merida’s passion and love of archery. Merida is given a bow at an early age and quickly becomes an expert markswoman. She spends her free days riding at break-neck speeds through the glenn, getting off incredible shots on horseback, and bursts into tears when her mother throws her beloved bow in the fire (another wasted opportunity for great character development – we never get to see Elinor give the rescued bow back to her daughter). Given how important archery is to our main character, it is disappointing Merida never gets to use her skills in any truly heroic fashion. The archery contest with the suitors ultimately ends in tears and doesn’t change anything. When Merida uses her bow to catch a fish for her transformed mother, a few seconds later, mom is ankle deep in the river and catching her own dinner. In the climatic finale, it isn’t a skillfully placed arrow that lands the crushing blow to the cursed Mor’du, nor do her shots even slow the animal down. I liken Brave’s ill-use of the bow to that of giving Luke his magical lightsaber and then never letting him duel Darth Vader.

Now here’s the good news. Despite all of these things, Brave is still worth seeing. The visuals are simply stunning. From our firey heroine’s amazing raven locks, to the misty woods inhabited by glowing wisps, the art direction for Brave is incredible. In my eyes, it rivals that of Finding Nemo and Wall•e and alone is worth the price of admission. Also a joy are the realization of the secondary characters like Merida’s father, King Fergus brilliantly played by Billy Connolly, the hilarious Triplets and all of the clansmen who come to compete for the hand of the fair princess. There are many moments in Brave when I laughed out loud or was in sheer awe of the beauty of what was seen on screen. I also enjoyed the Scottish settings and accents which felt surprisingly fresh for a movie of this genre.

Was Disney’s Brave good? Yes. Was it one of their all-time best? No. Is it worth seeing? Definitely yes. Would I see it again in the theater? No. I have to say I’d reach for DVD’s of The Incredibles and Wall•e before Brave, but in the end I can recommend the movie because of its sincere effort to put a fresh new face on the title “Disney Princess”. It’s obviously crafted with blood, sweat tears and love which I appreciate very very much. At the same time I wish Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell (the film’s co-directors) had a clearer vision of the central character. She does things that aren’t worthy of truly great heroes and of all the characters in Brave, changes the least when the story is over. Brave is like an arrow loosed in the heat of the moment, full of promise and anticipation that doesn’t quite fly true. If you enjoy tales of adventure and PIXAR films in general, you’ll most likely love it. I just wished Brave had hit the bullseye.

Indy Comes to Blu-Ray

After what seemed like 1,000 years buried in the Well of Souls, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have finally announced the release of all four Indiana Jones movies on HD blu-ray. Little is known at this point about the release other than it’s coming this fall and promises to contain interviews with the creators and stars as part of its extras. You can pre-order the set now on Amazon.

I don’t get too excited about the release of movies on physical media these days, but hopefully the Indy collection will sport digital copies, and if so I’ll probably pick it up. I’d like to say that the release of the set in HD means that we can look forward to also being able to buy it on iTunes, but as we all know that’s not necessarily the case. If you’re a fan of Indiana Jones, be sure to head over to YouTube and view the collection trailer in HD today.

Fan Raiding the Lost Ark

While browsing the Vimeo channel on Apple TV, I came across a wonderful fan film about one of my all-time favorite movies – Raiders of the Lost Ark. Created over a period of 8 months by filmmaker Jamie Benning, Raiding the Lost Ark combines radio and TV interviews, script and storyboard excerpts, trivia and more to give Raiders fans a deep insight into the film. When I pressed play I thought I would watch for a few minutes to see if I learned anything new. A few minutes turned into 30 minutes which turned into an hour and by the time I was done I had watched the entire thing, it’s just that good.

I don’t want to spoil the incredible content that Jamie has gone to great pains to produce, but one nugget stands out that I just have to share. Amazingly enough, the entire airstrip sequence where Indy plans to steal the flying wing and escape with Marion & the Ark was entirely improvised over the course of a week. The shooting script for Raiders had no details what-so-ever about this action packed sequence and so Steven Spielberg worked closely with Harrison Ford and improvised everything. Through interviews presented by Benning, we learn how this sequence came together and how much Spielberg loved filming it. This is just one of the golden, gelaming treasures unearthed in Raiding the Lost Ark. I highly recommend it.


The Art of the Ringtone

Although modern smart phones can play a wide variety of musical and audio files as ringtones, very few work well. Popular songs are great for entertainment but aren’t written as attention getters from inside your pants pocket. Ever since the iPhone debuted, I’ve been using Marimba as my ringtone. Not because I’m a technophobe who doesn’t enjoy customizing his phone, but because nothing I tried managed to catch my attention like Apple’s default setting.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a brainstorm to ask friend and one of the composers behind Ramp Champ, Mike Weiser, to create a custom ringtone for me based on Marimba. I asked him to take the main theme from one of my favorite films and “Marimba-ize” it, with the following awesome results:

Please don’t ask me to post the Marimba-TRON ringtone. It’s based off music by Wendy Carlos written for the Disney movie and I had it made for my personal use. The last thing I’d want is to get myself or Mike in any trouble by re-distributing it. If you’d like your own custom designed ringtone, be sure to head on over to Mike’s website and learn all about the music-based services he provides, which now includes ringtones. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got to go watch that TRON Legacy trailer for like the 50 billionth time. Is it December yet??


Star Trek Online Tips & Tricks

Thanks to Erica, I’ve been playing Star Trek Online since closed beta. The game has evolved and improved since that initial release, but overall I’ve been able to get a solid understanding of what it takes to have fun and play well in the universe that Cryptic Studios has created these last two months. The game officially launches in just a few days and I thought I would take a moment to share with you some quick and dirty tips and tricks that will help any new player function effectively in STO. I wish something like this had been available when I started playing World of Warcraft back in 2004. As I learn more I’ll be updating this post with new tips and things to watch for. I hope it’s helpful.

Playing on a Mac: Although Star Trek Online doesn’t officially have a Mac version, you can certainly play it on one. You’ll need a copy of Boot Camp running either Windows XP SP2 / Windows Vista / or Windows 7 (32 bit). I don’t recommend playing STO using Parallels on a Macintosh, running in emulation mode is too slow. I don’t know how fast your Mac needs to be in order to run the game well in Boot Camp, but obviously the faster the better. I’m running on a 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 iMac with 8 GB of RAM and the game purrs like a space kitten. TUAW has a great illustrated guide on how to install Win 7 on Boot Camp, check it out.

Before You Buy: Some special in-game equipment and abilities can only be obtained by ordering the game through a certain retailer. If you order the Deluxe Collector Edition for instance, you’ll get access to Next Generation & movie era uniforms and more. Cryptic offers a complete list of retailers and what you get when you order from each of them. Do your research before you purchase.

Take Your Time: Customize the appearance of your character at creation. Changing physical attributes, the look of your uniform, etc after your character has been created costs “money” in Star Trek Online in the form of energy credits. The same goes for crew members you recruit.

Use Your Map: Pressing the “M” key in aboard ship, in spacedock or on a planet displays various types of maps. Before shouting out “where is so-and-so” take a look at your map first, it will often display what you’re looking for. FYI, at Starfleet headquarters, Sulu is in the Admiral’s office.

Linking Items: You can easily link in-game items you pick up in chat by control-clicking on them.

Item Rarity: Energy credits can be earned by selling items in your inventory. The more uncommon an item, the more it’s worth. Items in Star Trek Online follow a similar path as those in Warcraft. White: Standard issue, Green: Uncommon, Blue: Rare, Purple: Epic. I don’t know if there are colors beyond purple or even what they’re called yet.

Loot System: Loot “drops” when certain ships are destroyed, usually the last ship in a squadron. If loot is available to pick up, you’ll see a glowing, floating orange pylon in space or an orange sphere in ground missions. Unlike Warcraft, loot in Star Trek Online is only available to a specific player, so don’t be afraid to pick it up by pressing “F” when you see it.

You’re In Charge: Don’t forget about equipping your crew as you progress. Those under your command will not pick up loot and equip themselves, so it’s important that you do so for them. A low-level shield may not be useful to you, but could be just what your science officer needs to keep from being sent to sickbay every away mission. Be sure to examine everything before selling it.

Instances: As of this writing there are no “realms” in Star Trek Online. The game is played on a single, massive server for everyone. There are however, instances within this server. So you can be talking to someone in zone chat who’s at the same location you are and not see them floating in space next to you. You can change instances by clicking on the small downward pointing arrow in the upper right of your HUD.

Powers: As soon as you get your own ship and are floating above Sol Spacedock, press “P” and open the available list of powers. Drag and drop the shield power management controls into your HUD so you always have access to them during battle. Throwing power to a particular shield has saved me more times than I can count in Star Trek Online.

Emotes: Click the little Starfleet badge icon in the corner of your chat window to list all of the emotes your character can perform. I especially love the “Tug”, “Dance: Robot” and “Prosper” emotes.

What about you? Do you have tips and tricks for Star Trek Online that other players can benefit from? If so, please leave them in the comments of this post and I’ll add the best ones to the list. Thanks and feel free to add me to your list of in-game friends, I’m Kodos@Gedeon.


Favorite Film Funnies

I’ve been seeing quite a few of these “Best Movie Lines” videos on YouTube and so I thought I would take a shot at making my own. It took some work to grab all of the clips, but the result was worth it. Editing this short ode to silver screen silliness was really fun. Next up, my favorite dramatic lines. Enjoy!

1 Comment

All I ask is a tall ship…

Thanks to the generosity of a friend, I’ve been lucky enough to beta test the new MMO, Star Trek Online from Cryptic Studios. The game is set to launch in early February and at least for this Star Trek fan, it’s a winner. Playing around in Gene Roddenberry’s universe has given me a new appreciation for the art direction of designers such as Matt Jeffries and Michael Okuda. Designing anything is challenging, but designing interiors, user interfaces and uniforms of things that have yet to be must be especially difficult.

Most beloved of all the designs of Star Trek is perhaps the bridge of the Starship Enterprise itself. The bridge is the command center of the ship and is often the focus of action on both the big and small screens. Jeffries’ original utilitarian layout eventually gave way to more modern looking interiors, but the basic design (center command chair, flanking support positions) has withstood the test of time. The bridge is such an integral part of Star Trek that due to popular demand, the developers of Star Trek Online recently announced they were implementing them for individual ships within the game. Virtual captains told Cryptic they wanted their “big chair” and the game designers responded in kind.

All of this got me thinking about which starship bridge I liked the best. The answer has to be that of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. To many Trek fans this bridge seemed more like a hotel lobby than a high-tech command center, but I always admired its sleek curves, high-tech surfaces and muted colors. The original TV design was modified slightly for Star Trek Generations (seen here) to accommodate new science/tactical stations, giving the set a more cinematic feel.

Designed by Andrew Probert, the bridge of the Enterprise-D was the ultimate set for the weekly TV series. The layout was big enough to allow the actors room to move around comfortably as well as give characters space for private conversations, tucked away from prying ears. The raised back level provided an elevated platform that made Worf look even more imposing while offering Geordi and Data stations where they could work out solutions to the problem of the week. The set also introduced flanking seats to those of the Captain’s something that Star Trek Voyager would also adopt.

In contrast to The Next Generation’s warm earth tones, the bridge of the U.S.S. Voyager presented TV viewers with the cool grays and electric blues so often associated with science fiction. Created by production designer Richard D. James and illustrator Rick Sternbach, the interior design of the bridge of Voyager introduced subtle under lighting techniques that contributed to the “deep space feel” of the show. This design also reduced the traditional two-man con and navigator positions to a single console, putting emphasis on Captain Janeway.

I love the look of these two sets because they put the focus on the characters and their actions rather than the technology all around them. Some production designers tend to get out of hand with their creations and let the look of the set overpower its inhabitants. Voyager’s and Next Gen’s bridges are awesome examples of futuristic interior design precisely because they don’t go overboard. Compare these simple designs to the complex bridges of the Enterprise-E or the franchise reboot and you’ll see Star Trek art direction run amuck. Overlapping lines, textures and lens flares get in the way of the action and detract from the audience’s ability to focus on the characters.

Designing anything, even a fictional universe is an art form. More so when a large part of that universe’s appeal centers around details. Through the years, those entrusted with designing the bridges of Starfleet have evolved and molded it again and again. These talented artists have put their stamp on Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of the future and given Trek fans a place they could easily call home. Star Trek Online will soon give players a chance to roam the bridges of some of the most beloved starships in Star Trek history, all from the comfort of their computers. So until we can all afford to build a bridge in our basement, a virtual one has to be the next best thing.


Biff’s Question Song

To be fair to actor Tom Wilson, who played the infamous bully Biff from the Back to the Future films, I’d probably ask him all of these questions too. That’s why I’m so glad I discovered this gem of a clip where Tom puts all of the answers to song. The result is something that should somehow be worked into the next season of Big Bang Theory. Enjoy!

Hat tip to IO9 for this post