Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Credit: Marvel
(Grace and I found the time to go see Ant-Man on Sunday.)

So, I just have one question for you . . . how prepared are you to be emotionally invested in the life and death of an ant? Because if you aren't willing to give that ant a tiny space in your heart for two hours, then the new Marvel Cinematic Universe cog Ant-Man is maybe not the right movie for you.

But if you can possibly suspend your disbelief long enough to wonder if one insect among billions is worth your time, and if you . . . like me . . . enjoy the interconnections between the various tales of super heroes living independently but possibly working together? Well, then . . .

Ant-Man never stops being a piece in the MCU master plan, but I am not mad at it for being that. Last summer Guardians of the Galaxy was exactly that, and it boogied its way to many, many millions of dollars and many people seemed really happy about it. (And THAT move heavily featured a monosyllabic tree creature. So hows about that for emotional disbelief?)

Back to the MCU cog comment. What do I mean? Take the confrontation Ant-Man had with Falcon, at the Avengers training ground--which was shown in a scene at the end of Age of Ultron. But that location was first introduced with Captain America: The First Avenger and was also called back to in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This doubling-down on information gives enjoyment because it lends depth to the MCU world you are inhabiting. As with all easter eggs, it rewards you for prior knowledge and makes you feel a bit like a participant in the story rather than a passive consumer. And, I'm a sucker for that fan wish fulfillment. I like knowing things that the narrative isn't going to spend five minutes expositioning to me. I like being aware of the story as it is being told.

It is this depth of knowledge that has contributed to the comic book industry for decades, a steady accretion of information, connections, relationships, and history. And if you are accepting of that information, then you are already in line for Captain America: Civil Wars no questions asked and while you are waiting for your ticket, you'll expound on whether or not Black Panther should have gotten his own movie before Black Widow even gets anything to herself.

But enough about the overall strategies of global cinema synergies. How was the movie?!??

I thought it was loads of fun. Many of these superhero movies have a tendency to become ponderous and weighty as the characters battle for the fate of everything or the possible futures of something. But Paul Rudd's tiny hero recognizes the humor inherent in what he's doing. He shrinks and sneaks around. He rides ants like a Vietnam soldier being dropped into a hot zone. He commands other ants like Aquaman and asks them to do his bidding. He's got no guns--just stealth, agility, the proportional strength of an adult human in a teeny, tiny package . . . and the willingness to call insectoid billions to his aid.

Rudd's Scott Lang is trying to be better than was before, earn the respect of his ex-wife and daughter, and live up to his own potential. Those goals could turn Ant-Man into another version of the Thomas Hayden Church's Sandman portrayal that we got in Sam Raimi's Spider-man 3). But Rudd keeps it light, as do the other characters in the movie--especially Scott's ex-con roommates, who are an endearing combination of social bumblers and reliable technocriminals. Add in Evangeline Lilly as the stoic Hope van Dyne and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym (your grandfather's Ant-Man) and you've got your cast. I don't know who was playing the bad guy, but it doesn't matter. He doesn't have the charisma of Red Skull or the fighting skills of Winter Soldier. He's just an evil businessman, like Robert Redford's head of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a corrupt bureaucrat.

The plot is a heist break in type of thing that you might encounter in the first Mission: Impossible movie. The only wide-scale destruction (on the scale of the first Avengers movie or Man of Steel) that you have to endure in this movie is the collapse of a scale model city block that our tiny hero has to run through on a CEO's desk. And once the plot is resolved, we get the required additional scenes that suggest future events and firmly predict upcoming tie ins.

In all of the most important corporate ways, this movie hits the beats of the MCU template. But it did so with an awareness that I enjoyed and with a tone that I welcomed.

[Sidenote: Grace and I sat beside two couples that appeared to be in the later 60s or maybe even their 70s. At first I wondered why they were at this film, since most of the MCU isn't really targeting Baby Boomers in their demographic breakdowns. But, they were really into the movie, laughing at all of the same things that I laughed at, and staying for the end-of-credit scenes along with us. And, why not, after all? For all I know, they grew up reading Hank Pym's adventures as Ant-Man in actual comic books--which is something that I never did. Why wouldn't people like that want to watch a fun movie about something that maybe meant something to them a long time ago? Or . . . what do I know . . . maybe they just dig movies?]

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Movie review: ex machina

Credit: consequenceofsound

I decided to watch ex machina last night. And here is what I knew about it from the few trailer scenes I'd watched and a few vague clues from headlines and cautious movie reviews.

I knew that the main characters were: a female humanoid robot and (presumably) its bearded creator who liked to dance in red lighted areas. And from the movie reviews, I knew that there was something about the final scene. (And, for reasons that I won't explain, I thought that final scene involved the red lighted dancing and that the bearded dude was dancing with the robot mentioned above.)

So, I thought going into the film that there was some sort of twist ending and that the relationship between the creator and the machine was REVEALED in some dynamic way at the end. (I was purposely avoiding spoilers for a lot of this, so if you have already seen the movie, maybe you can forgive the mistakes that I have already outlined.)

It turns out that I was sort of right in these assumptions and completely wrong in many others. The dance scene--while cool--was not at all a pivotal moment at the end of the movie. And there was a complete THIRD character that I didn't even know about in the plot. (Well, now that I think about it a bit, I guess there were a total of 3 and three-quarters characters in the plot. And I only count that fourth person as less than one because that character has very minimal dialogue and isn't in every scene.)

My misunderstandings aside, the goal of the movie is to get you to consider the nature of humanity and individualism and truth and power and self-identity. These are often the themes of robot movies.This one does add additional tension that is most often felt in a thriller--a new wrinkle that I did like.

A few extra things that I will say. The photography and visual design of the movie was really, really strong. The house that the movie takes place in is wonderful and mostly real (note that there are probably spoilers in the linked article) and I'd love to spend time there. And Ava (the robot protagonist . . . or is it antagonist, hmmm?) has a great design that emphasizes her mechanicalness strongly while allowing for humanity as well.

All in all, I recommend the movie. It has a sort of indie feel that reminded me of Primer, though the subject matter is very different and ex machina is much more understandable, and truthfully the visual quality of ex machina is better than Primer. But they are both small, intimate, focused movies on scientific conundrums . . . but they never lose the humanity that gets trapped within the science. You know what I mean?

See it! (Most likely only available as Video On Demand at this point.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Curriculum Night

Last night I went to Grace's 7th grade curriculum night at the middle school.

Sarah has already gone through all of these grades at this building and Grace is in her second year at Walnut Springs, so there was no completely new information to be learned there. But it was good to see the teachers--not all of whom are familiar--and to learn what their plans are for the year.

One of the first things that I enjoy is the simple act of walking to the school from our house. It is on the next street over and you can cut between people's yards to get to the athletic fields on the back end of the school. I will miss having such convenient access to the school when Hannah is finally done. But the (good?) news is that this won't happen for another six . . . what, really? . . . years.Ugh. I'll be almost 50 before Hannah makes it to high school.

And then when I got to the school and started following Grace's classes, I just enjoyed the fantasy of being back in school and learning stuff again.

It's probably not fair to think that way since I am adult now and I can look back on the effort of middle school learning with casualness and a lack of stress. I can see it for the opportunity of learning and thought that it is. I didn't view it so casually and with fun back when I was actually experiencing it. Still, I am glad that I can look at the opportunity of learning with a positive twinge.

And the other thing I enjoyed was hearing teachers talk about the electronic materials that they are using--especially (obviously) in the social studies class. And, yes, they are using an Ohio version of our U.S. history program--a custom creation by the looks of it, but based on the title made by my friends and colleagues just a few cubicle rows over. I am pleased that they are adopting and using the materials that we make here at MHE--and I am hopeful that it is more than simply using the electronic version of the text. I hope they are trying the digital assets and exploring the depth of stuff that we have created in the last several years.

(I wanted to speak up to the teacher and the class and let them know that I work for the company. I wanted to say that if they experience online problems, to send me an email. But I didn't. And that is probably best. The company DOES have tech support professionals--as the teacher mentioned--who can aid when needed. It is their job to clear up those sorts of problems, so I guess I should let them do it better than I could.)

Credit: me

And beyond that, the best thing about the evening was seeing the impressive reimagining of the old library space into a slick new Media Center/hangout/collaborative area/whatever. I posted some pictures of it on my Facebook page if you are over there some.

I mean, look at this space. Wouldn't you want to hang out in there? And yes, there are still plenty of books to check out--which I admit was my initial concern when Grace was describing the place to me. But the design makes the whole place more appealing and encouraging to students. So, I'm a fan.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thoughts from Work (Aug. 25, 2015)

Credit: me
  1.  Today is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I should have anticipated that and made a btw story focused on it.
  2. Yesterday I used "Suck it, haters." in a Facebook comment. And now I want to work that phrase into each conversation that I have.
  3. I am enjoying my standing desk. (Thanks, John!) I hope that it is helping me stay marginally healthy--or at least offset the occasional consumption of office doughnuts.
  4.  I made beef stew last night for dinner. If I'd had more time, I would have made it slower and maybe been able to develop the flavors more. But it was a pretty good success overall--especially for a Monday evening.
  5. I'm giving blood this morning. Do you give blood? If you can, you should. It does a lot of good for lots of people. And your body will make more, so why not offer up some to someone else? But don't say thank you to me just yet. The truth is . . . I almost only ever give here when the Red Cross holds a drive at my office building. It just makes it so convenient for me. (And as usual, I am making this act of giving about me. Sorry.)
  6. I need to write one of these thoughts without the use of ellipses . . . or parentheses. (Like THAT is going to happen.)
  7. Speaking of standing while working--I am trying to do it all day and avoid sitting, except for when I eat. To sit down while I have this desk would seem to invalidate the whining and complaining that I childishly did when I couldn't get one. And now that I do have one--thanks to the generosity of a colleague who chose not to continue using his, I am now obligated to use it as much as possible. So, if you don't like to see me stand--suck it, haters!
  8. Do you feel that I haven't utilized the Official Hat of Summer enough this season, as we enter into summer's final weeks? Full disclosure--I have had that worry a few times this summer. But I have tried to wear it when out and about on weekends. And I've tried to take relevant pictures documenting this whenever possible. So, I am keeping it mindful as I make wardrobe choices. As of yet, no one in a crowd has reacted with excitement when I walk up, whispering "Hey . . . everybody, look over there! It's The Official Hat of Summer!" But I remain hopeful that it will happen someday if I just keep trying.
  9. Still not sitting down. (My thighs are gonna be SO strong, you guys.)
  10. Do you ever find yourself inundated with podcasts that you just aren't catching up on? And they keep piling up every day because the work that you are doing isn't really conducive to listening to podcasts while being effective, so things just keep piling and piling? And then, somehow, you catch up again and everything is fine? Has that ever happened to you?
  11. What podcasts am I listening to? Well, they are: Dear Hank & John, PTI: Pardon the Interruption, Fresh Air w/ Terri Gross, Judge John Hodgman, some of the episodes of the Nerdist; (and Serial . . . whenever a new season begins). I miss listening to (some of the episodes of) the BS Report--but since Bill Simmons got fired by ESPN, that has been gone. But he tweeted yesterday that once his new HBO gig begins, his rebranded podcast will start again.
  12. Standing update--I'm constantly wanting to cross my legs and lean. But I don't think that is the correct posture. I should stay distributed evenly on both feet and just wiggle back and forth to keep from getting too tired, right?
  13. Probably my dad would be pretty upset that I am willingly choosing to stand while working, as he worked in cornfields for years, standing and sweating. He'd think it is dumb to stand when you have the opportunity to sit. Some white-collar worker I am.
  14. (Next  time I do this, I should put time stamps for when I thought of and typed down each thought.)
  15. Should I be regretful that I didn't watch that talked about show "Mr. Robot" this summer? (I did watch "Humans" and enjoyed it quite a lot, so maybe I can get a pass?) But what I REALLY want to be watching is more of "Better Call Saul".
  16. Just went to fill up my coffee cup and the vending machine was being restocked. There is a cart full of chips, candy bars, and other snacks. The vendor technician was occupied with something on the machine and had his back turned as I slipped past in and out to the coffee pot. In neither instance, did I dart out my hand to grab a free candy bar. Would it have been successful had I tried? Or would I have miscalculated, gone for the boxes of empties and therefore drawn attention to myself? And . . . as you were reading this, did you consider--even briefly . . . that I was going to tell you that I stole something?
  17. Someone is daily using my filing cabinet magnetic letters to spell out LOPEZ.
  18. In a world with free oatmeal raisin, sugar, and double chocolate cookies--which is the correct choice?
  19. Afternoon updates--I chose to sit down after lunch (and after my blood donation). I thought it might be unwise to stand for the next several hours while I am "recovering" from being down a pint of blood. And I will definitely use this opportunity to eat a cookie while finishing out the afternoon. These are the justifications that we must all face.
  20. The college football season is fast approaching. Are you interested in my continuing to write Football Counter-Programming posts that go live each Saturday game day? If you are interested, what sorts of topics would you want me to muse upon? (I would really like your help in topic suggestions. Please leave any thoughts you have in the comments.)
  21. Should I be bothered by the effort to create a playground from shipping containers? Or is it a good, temporary solution to a problem? And why does this use of shipping containers (and according to the artist drawing . . . shipping pallets) disturb me . . . but the idea of living in a modest home made from shipping containers feels like a grand solution.
Alright . . . leaving now to pick up the kids from school. Think about what you've learned and don't forget to leave me Counter-Programming topics in comments.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Perspective and Patterns and Time

This is a picture of the tiles in the bathroom flooring of my office building. The reason that I took this picture was because I caught myself about a week ago trying to find a pattern to the seemingly random mosaic of colored tiles. Where, I wondered, was the border between one square of randomness and the next. How was it laid down by contractors? Was one square of small tiles set and then the next, identical one, rotated 90 degrees to mix the pattern and confuse the sequence even further

I tried breaking the tiles into imaginary blocks of 9 (like a Rubic's cube) to see if that made it any easier to decipher. But eventually I had to admit that I didn't see the pattern--though I am still sure that there is one.

But that is how the brain works. It looks for patterns. It collects facial details and stores them away. The brain can't accept randomness and wants to figure things out and make sense of it all.

I am trying to tie this photo idea from a week ago into this 12th anniversary post for the start of WWYG?! Because, I think as much as for any other reason, when I started writing this blog 12 years ago today, I was trying somehow to find my own pattern. I was trying to sort out my young life--with a career just getting established, two young children, and lots of unknowns still a part in my life. I was settling down into my adulthood, leaving behind my college years and the original concept for what I first thought those adult years would be. I would not become a professor. And Lynda and I were very much committed to raising a family--but we didn't really know what that meant . . . yet.

Sarah was only 4 and Grace was still a very young toddler. Lynda and I had good jobs at MHE, but I was still a project worker and there were no guarantees in anything. We had families in Georgia and our friends and church family in Hilliard and at St. Nicholas. So, by no means were things bad or even uncertain. But there was still much unknown and--as yet--unexperienced.

Twelve years later, much of that experience has passed.

(Here is where I drop in the plug for you to peruse back through this blog archive and see what some of them were. Most of it is dumb and pointless. But, hey. . . a lot of life back then was--at least for me sometimes. All of my experiences with my work friends was a chance to reignite a bit of fun in life at a time when I was walking away from a particular set of goals and dreams and years of study and "seriousness". I was glad to embrace frivolity and fun.)

And that makes it sound like all of that fun has gone away in recent years and that's not true or fair to the friends I still have at work and the fun I still have a lot of the time. But no one can pretend that a lot of changes haven't happened around there in the last ten years. And . . . I'm over 40 and getting more boring every day.

BUT--I ain't dead yet.

There is still lots to do and I hope I can still find time now and again to carve out space to describe some of it on the blog going forward. There are always TV previews to write. And while I may not think Tom Cruise is as crazy as I once said he was, you never quite know what those Thetans are going to ask him to do for the next Mission: Impossible movie stunt. And, certainly, my family and my kids aren't going away--and that was what I wrote about the most over the years anyhow.

So, there is still stuff to see and do. And you'll keep hearing about it here. Here's to more years of not yet figuring out how to grow.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Acknowledging Esther Day

I'm not having the best day of my life today (and who is, I guess . . . really). But I think I want to try and snap my brain out of that cycle for a few minutes and put aside work and thoughts and bad glasses and uncomfortableness so that I can honor the terms of Esther Day.


What is Esther Day, you may ask?

Well, follow the link to learn what it is.

So, in the spirit of that, I want to say to my own family and friends that I love them. And I'm not going to do it in a video because I'm at work and there is no place to do that and I shouldn't be spending MORE time with something like that. But I will take a few computer moments to type this together quickly with little editing and not as much thought and craft as it deserves.

I am lucky and I'm privileged to have a good life. And that life is built off of the generosity and kindness of many people--family and friends and colleagues. People who support me and work with me and love me back and know me well and those that don't. I'm a part of a modern world that chops us up into little buckets and segments of personality and skill. And I try to plug in my talents where needed and as best I can every day. But I can't operate alone. None of us can operate alone . . . and I don't think we want to. We want to work with others--even when it creates new challenges. We reach out to others and hope they accept that connection.

So, I guess I'm stopping to acknowledge that need that I have, every day, to be with others and to cooperate with them--privately, personally, professionally. Thanks for putting up with me. Thanks for helping me do better than I do on my own.