A Favorite from Cinequest 2014: Nothing in Los Angeles

I’ve always regretted not writing a full review of one of my favorite films from the Cinequest film festival in 2014. Nothing in Los Angeles was one of the most entertaining and satisfying films I saw that year, which is saying a lot as Cinequest never fails to bring in a ton of innovative, inspiring, thought-provoking, and amazing films to San Jose.

Nothing in Los Angeles

Nothing in Los Angeles

I could go on and on about how you really missed out in not seeing this during the festival. Yeah, independent films are often hard to run down and I typically feel like I’m teasing the reader when I tell them how great a film was… that they missed.

But today, I’ll simply point you to a number of online sites that host the film, and recommend you treat yourself to a viewing.  Personally, if you already are a member of Amazon Prime, I’d go there because it’s a free viewing (at the moment).  But it’s also available on iTunes, and are promised to be available on Hulu and Google Play soon.

Oh, and here’s a trailer!

So, you have my recommendation, it’s simply an engaging, witty, and well done film.  Your viewing time will be well spent.

And just fair warning. It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2016 starts on March 1st, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year.  And watch here and at Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

And if you’re curious, here are my Cinequest reviews from prior years.

Ric Bretschneider
January 27, 2016

 

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Media, Personal, Review | Leave a comment

Fixing the PowerPoint Animation UI: A Modest Proposal

Since the release of PowerPoint with the new “Ribbon UI” in 2010, there’s been a problem that has driven me crazy on two points.  First, I was on the PowerPoint team when the problem was created, and I spoke out against it on several occasions, to no avail. Second, it introduced a confused and confusing set of changes in working with animation, causing both novice and experienced users to lose a lot of work.

presentation-summit-2015While attending the Presentation Summit last year I participated in a session where people presented 5 minute tricks they could share with the rest of the convention.  I’d just lost a few minutes work to the issue at hand, and had been struck with an easy to effect solution.  When I presented my solution I was rewarded by gasps and applause, even from very expert presentation creation professionals. I made a note to share that solution more widely. And today I make good on that note.

This video is basically the demo, expanded to ease even a novice PowerPoint user into being able to understand the problem and create the solution. Along the way you may also learn some tips about combining animation effects, as well as manipulating Office ribbon user interface.

Enjoy.

You may want to adjust the setting (the gear icon in the lower-right corner) for the following video to assure you’re watching in an HD format, or even watch in full screen view, because some of the text in the user interface is quite small.

Ric Bretschneider
January 22, 2016

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PowerPoint Tip: Stacking Artistic Effects

I decided this morning it had been too long between posts.  So I decided to put together a quick PowerPoint video tutorial on how to apply multiple artistic effects to a single image.

Artistic effects are a great set of preset visual transformations you can apply to your presentation’s photographs with exciting and useful changes to their appearance. It’s one of my favorite features and featured heavily in one of my most popular tips:
The PowerPoint Blur Trick.

Normally you can only have one effect at a time, but with this very simple process, you can combine them to create whole new effects in your PowerPoint presentations.

Hint: the video is easier to view if you expand it to full screen.

Ric Bretschneider
January 11, 2016

Posted in Geeking around, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does Bill Gates read?

The_Best_Books_I_Read_in_2015___Bill_Gates

I’ve always found Bill Gates fascinating. Small minds will focus on his bland way of dressing, somewhat awkward social interaction, and a misguided misunderstanding of his monumental contributions to computers and devices as we know them today.

That’s all well and good, and I’m not here to fight with the stereotypes that so many love to clutch, it’s really not relevant here.  I find Bill Gates fascinating because he’s always surprising me with some new way to think about something we all think we already know. One of the first truly high-profile billionaires to focus on hands-on charitable work. Malaria, fresh water, financial services for the poor, agriculture… such basic issues that simply weren’t getting the attention they deserved before he stepped in. It’s like his mind just stepped back from everything and sorted out a few neglected yet critical areas that really mattered.

Where do minds get ideas like that? From percolating in the thoughts of other minds of course. And the best way to do that is by reading. Stepping outside what you’re more likely to read and jumping on a subject that you’ve never entertained before.  That’s why it’s kind of cool to check out what Bill’s been reading this year.  I see at least three that I’m going to jump on myself. Maybe you will too.

Bill Gates shares his list of best books he read in 2015: “Eradication” by Nancy Leys Stepan, “Thing Explainer” by Randall Munroe, “Sustainable Materials With Both Eyes Open” by Julian Allwood and Jonathan Cullen, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, “Being Nixon” by Evan Thomas, and “The Road to Character” by David Brooks.

Source: The Best Books I Read in 2015

Ric Bretschneider
December 7, 2015 12:06pm pst

Posted in Books, Geeking around, Health and wellness, History, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Technology, Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally, I’m Sold on Microsoft Office Subscriptions


UPDATE 10/17/2015: Microsoft has made the Windows 10 free upgrade even easier to do.  If you’re in the same position as I was, having to format your hard disc before installing, you really weren’t registered as “upgrading” because there was no prior operating system  on your machine. Well, MS fixed that.  Read Gordon Kelly’s Forbes article for a nice and clean description of all the rule changes that have been made, in your favor!

It’s an amazing new day for Microsoft Windows and Office customers.
-Ric


 

I’ve been looking forward to writing this article for a couple of weeks now, ever since I got a sneak preview of things to come in the PowerPoint program. It’s not particularly hard for me to keep a secret, but it’s much more fun to share…

Sure, I’m a Microsoft Alumni, and PowerPoint MVP, but I’m not a Microsoft shill or apologist.  I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to “big changes” at Microsoft.  I blame 17 years of working in the Microsoft Office org on the PowerPoint application for this.  I won’t call out specifics, but far too often these big changes were the result of an individual manager or director who wanted to do something they’d be remembered for, not necessarily something that was good for the customer.

Microsoft Office Subscriptions

Microsoft Office Subscriptions

So when Microsoft started pushing the subscription model for Office users I was unconvinced that this was truly a good thing for customers.  It seemed to me, like it must have to many, as a cash grab that they could justify as being “the new model for software development and distribution.”  After all, so much of serious web services were going this way, and Adobe was certainly paving a path with their Creative Cloud Suite.  There were plenty of opportunities for Microsoft to point at the rest of the industry and say “we’re just another case of the same.”

And for a while that seemed to be the state of things.  But today I’d like to point out some indicators that are making me believe in the subscription-based Office.

First, you have to look at a pretty amazing last couple of years of development they’ve been focusing on getting Office on every platform that makes a difference.  And they’ve expanded what they mean by platform.  Windows and Mac for sure.  iOS, as in iPhone and iPad are a natural.  Who would have thought they’d do similar efforts for Android?  And while they got off to a rocky start (and I was part of that rocky start) the Office Web Apps coupled with OneDrive make it unlikely you’re ever in an online situation where you can’t access and edit your documents.

PowerPoint, Excel and Word are now on every major platform and device.

PowerPoint, Excel and Word are now on every major platform and device.

Of course that was a huge amount of work. And the apps (yes, you may have heard otherwise at some point) are free to anyone who has an Office subscription.  They’re even free to those without subscriptions, but without registration are basically just super-good viewers with reduced editing function. So points for effort, and they’re not entirely crazy.

The teams completed this milestone a while ago, and while they still must maintain these new platforms, their program designers and developers are now free to go back to the core application functionality and innovate.  All the Microsoft MVPs get occasional insights into what’s coming up, we’re not allowed to say anything until it actually gets announced by Microsoft, so today I’m so happy to share the press release below so you can learn about two of the new upcoming PowerPoint features that will be automatically distributed to Office subscribers.  There’s even a “bleeding edge” program you can opt-into if you want to get new features even faster.  Read the article linked below for details.

So I say Microsoft has finally made the subscription worth your consideration.  Specifically I’d point to the five-user Office 365 Home subscription. That includes five machines plus devices for a full year.  That’s $20 apiece (Amazon price) or about 6¢ a day per user.  I don’t know about you, but even brewing  at home that’s cheaper than a cup of coffee.  And to think that every now and then an update to the software will provide me with cool new features, even groundbreaking stuff like Designer and Morph, that pushes me right over the edge into saying I’m sold on subscriptions.  At least I’m sold on the Office subscriptions.

Oh yeah, there’s new stuff in Excel, Word and OneNote too, but I’m that PowerPoint guy, you know?  I’ll write more on both of these shortly, but for now just check these out!

 

The evolution of PowerPoint—introducing Designer and Morph – Office Blogs

Introducing PowerPoint Designer and Morph, new intelligent tools that automate the creation of slides and presentations—helping everyone get more out of Microsoft Office. With a cloud-powered recommendation engine and smart animation technology, these new PowerPoint capabilities help anyone create polished slides and captivating motion effects with just a few quick steps.

Source: The evolution of PowerPoint—introducing Designer and Morph – Office Blogs

Ric Bretschneider
11/13/2015
3:30 PM PT

Posted in Business, Design, Graphics, Personal, PowerPoint, Presentations, Random thoughts, Software, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Star Wars VII trailer: Storytelling & the invisible structure

 

The great Watch__TEDxTokyo_-_Garr_Reynolds_-_Lessons_from_the_Bamboo_-__English___Video_at_TEDxTalksthing about living here in the future is that you can say things like “I was hanging out with a friend of mine who lives in Japan last night…”

No! It’s totally true, I was. My buddy, Presentation Zen master Garr Reynolds, and I had some things to discuss for an event we were planning so we fired up Skype for a video chat.

And of course we quickly got off the planning the conference stuff and drifted fully into how we were both looking forward to the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens film coming out in December of this year.  Somehow this conversation, no real surprise, went on longer than the business that had brought us “face to face” that evening.

There was the typical old-guy talk with stories about how we had seen the films originally as kids, and now introducing our children to the original trilogy. Garr does a great Yoda impression. But then he mentioned an article he wrote back in May about Storytelling & the invisible structure gleaned from some videos by Father Roderick.  I’m not going to try to explain Fr. Roderick, you have to check him out for yourself.  But he captured a bunch of joy of Star Wars and at the same time laid down some really cool lessons about storytelling and structure.

Oh? You haven’t seen the trailer?  Well, wait no more.

And now read all about storytelling and the invisible structure:
Star Wars VII trailer: Storytelling & the invisible structure

September 25, 2015 11:11 am

-Ric Bretschneider

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Geeking around, Media, Movies, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, SciFi Fantasy, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fibonacci Method of Dealing with Difficult Clients

Glenna Shaw is a good friend who is just full of wonderful insights into both the art and business of creating graphics.  While this runs the risk of being an inside joke that requires a little math and a deep knowledge of design consulting, it’s not too deep that most relatively skilled mortals can appreciate.  And it’s a strategy that can be applied in many circumstances…

I love a good Fibonacci sequence, especially one with humor. And a friend (thanks, Rob) recently shared a priceless pricelist that did just that. We’ve all dealt with those folks who want to be much more involved in the process than is good for them or you. These are typically the ones who want you…

Source: The Fibonacci Method of Dealing with Difficult Clients

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Want to Request a New PowerPoint feature?

waitfuzzy

Not an imaginary story, not a dream, this is real life!

Stop yelling at PowerPoint and start yelling directly at the PowerPoint team!

The Microsoft PowerPoint team has partnered with the customer communications specialists at UserVoice to set up a website where you can check out other feature requests and add your own.  Not just on Windows.  Not just on Macintosh.  It’s for every version you can imagine.  Yeah, that means iPad, iPhone, Android, Web, Windows Mobile… the whole universe of applications currently supporting PowerPoint!

Check it out:  http://powerpoint.uservoice.com/

Go, now!  Make some noise!

Thanks to Echo Swinford for her post on this. Go check out her site at Echo’sVoice. Tons of good info there and a mail list that will respect your inbox.

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Pebble Time Unboxing

I love the unboxing experience, even when it’s simply unzipping a package and unfolding the cover…

It’s a fun watch, lovely, functional and a proven platform. With a long battery life, I’m very happy with this purchase!

Posted in Business, Design, Geeking around, Hardware, Media, Personal, Technology, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is GMC In on the Joke?

vacationAllow me to digress.

Have to admit that I will listen to a song whose lyrics I don’t necessarily like if it’s got a good beat and I can dance to it.

Well, maybe just a good beat, kicky riff, sweet hook, or crazy combination of all of the above. Music says it all, lyrics only add to it, but still if I’d get a little embarrassed if someone caught me pogoing to The GoGo’s Vacation. It’s not really the image you’d expect.

Of course I’m not a corporation or political rally. Those guys can really pull some boners when it comes to picking the right song to get the hearts of the Boomers or similar generations beating in association with their product or platform.

Most prominent here are any number of right-wing rallies who have chosen to use Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA to light that fire. Of course they wave their flags as the “Born in the USA, I was born in the USA…” chant loops over their throngs. But they never get past that chant.  The song itself is a condemnation of the nation’s treatment of US Vietnam veterans, and quite bitter about, arguably, all those mindless flag wavers.

And it happens over and over, because irony just works that way.

Somewhat sillier, hilarious even, is the use of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. Again, only the “Lust for life” chant makes it into the commercial, but anyone who knows the song is rolling in laughter at wholesome American tourists on water slides and ice excursions.  They do carefully edit Jonny Yen’s liquor, drugs, strip tease, and other sideshow attractions from Iggy’s lyric, but somehow found the fact that the modern guy had “had in my ear before” went right along with basketball and an unlimited buffet.

I will admit, Royal Caribbean is my favorite cruise line. Had a great time on the Freedom of the Seas and someday hope to vacation on the Oasis.   Great company even if their marketing department had a bad day with Iggy.

I wish I had a video for my favorite musical accident. During Hillary Clinton’s 2000 run for the Senate, someone on her staff clicked the wrong track on a Billy Joel CD and entirely missed playing New York State of Mind.  Instead they got Captain Jack, which is a song that switches back and forth between a mellow and introspective main theme, punctuated by a rousing and really catchy chorus. The lyrics tell about a bored loser’s search for drug pusher Jack, and his plans to get high and masterbate that night. Not sure if the song played it’s full length before someone switched to the planned track.  Hillary did recover.

But this latest is my favorite.

GM picked one of The Who’s most elegant and expressive riffs to pimp their Denali.

Eminence Front by The Who is from their album It’s Hard, and according to Roger Daltrey it was the only song on it worthy of release. Everything musically works in this song, from the synth track, the guitar and bass, vocals and those drums (Kenny Jones, unfortunately not Keith Moon’s).  A confident instrumental lead-in where all the elements are previewed, and then a smash Who performance lead by Townsend.  It’s a complete masterpiece.

The lyrics are a modern return to the working class Who, the punk rebels turning a nose up to the upper class.  Townsend wrote about the delusions of the wealthy and hedonistic, who “take too much white powder” and their delusional stance, hiding behind an eminence front.

What better song to show pictures of the upper class citizens you’re trying to sell an expensive luxury SUV? And all those well-suited and good-living masters of industry stepping in time with the Townsend tune, how many even got the joke?

It makes it that much sweeter that they don’t.

Kinda like catching them dancing to We Got the Beat.

Posted in Commercials, Entertainment, Media, Music, Organizations, Personal, Random thoughts, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coca-Cola Life

20150310_121601

OK, ran across Coka-Cola Life in the store today. Here’s their pitch:
8oz of cane sugar-sweetened Coke weighing in at 60 calories.

Fine print: also contains Stevia sweetener.

Not actually fine print, but a weird script that I guess they’re hoping you won’t parse that point.

Contains 19mg of caffeine. They don’t have a caffeine free version that I could tell.

The Taste Test

OK, poured over huge ice cube and let settle for a minute. The first sip is initially quite good. Then the Stevia aftertaste kicks in and you’re just drinking another diet soda. Not feeling the “life.”

The Result

Was better with food, which tends to cover the Stevia. But it was kind of a New-Coke taste, missing the classic Coke bite at the end of the swallow. That’s the main reason to drink Coke over the more syrupy Pepsi and you killed it! I’ve got five more bottles of this stuff, probably won’t buy again.

The Wish

Can they just let us have a less sweet cola, less sugar and no crappy “sweeteners?”

Posted in Food, Geeking around, Health, Health and wellness, Personal, Review | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2015: Short Catch-Up Reviews

FoCCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

We’re at that unfortunate time in any film festival I can only write about films that have already had all their showings.  

However, with Cinequest there is still the hope that any of the movies I’m able to review will get one final fling Sunday March 8th on “Encore Day.” Saturday night additional showings based on film feedback will be announced.  

So with that in mind, may the reviews be ever in your favor.

Short Catch-Up Reviews

Catch today and watch for possible encores on Sunday March 8th.
Buy tickets here

Let’s dive right in here. Although I’ve written up a good many of the films I’ve seen at Cinequest, there are several I just hadn’t gotten to yet. Given this is the closing weekend and we have a day of encore showings on Sunday, I wanted to get some notes out to you and hopefully help your viewing decisions.

We’ll start with a couple of shorts programs. Short films are at once very important to a festival and at the same time difficult to review. Does one good entry make viewing all the others worthwhile? Do you really understand what a category is all about?  Let’s check in on a few of this year’s offerings.

Shorts Program 4 – Animated Worlds

s4-1

A good collection of animated styles and technologies, as well as storytelling excellence.  This was my favorite of the shorts programs, hitting on both technical diversity and an array of stories that evoke so many different emotions and reactions. Highly recommended, you catch this if you can.

Shorts Program 5 – Mindbenders

s5-1Another technically excellent set of short films. A wide array of filming techniques, some of these are specifically set to show off the mastery of craft and leave the story open to interpretation. Probably the widest variety of films in the shorts programs, never boring, something to challenge your mind and give you a ton to talk to other viewers and the filmmakers about.

Shorts Program 7 – Something Funny

s7-1Where the short dramatic or experimental film is akin to a short story, the short humor piece is a couple of quick jabs to the funny bone and typically ends with a belly laugh.  Easily the most accessible set of short films in the calendar, these uniformly deliver on the promise, you will laugh!

Now on to other feature films.

Dermaphoria

Directed and written by Ross Clarke

dermComparisons to Christopher Nolan’s Momento are obvious and easy to make to this story of an amnesiac chemist slowly regaining his memory after an explosion in a secluded drug lab. But the comparisons stop reasonably shallow because we’re not in the Nolan’s perpetually twisting puzzle box, here we’re in a compelling story of a potentially likeable narrator who is dealing with a wide array of uniquely dangerous individuals. While you may get a little tired of blurred images backing up the fundamentally unreliable narrator’s recollections, the film is solid and compelling.

Factory Boss

Directed by Wei Zhang

FactoryBoss_2_1000x316A solid cast provides insight into China’s factory system where laborers are a resource that is continually abused in the name of delivering exports at the lowest prices possible. Both sides are argued fairly in this dramatic story of what seems to be a no-win situation. This will provide some faces and situations to haunt you the next time you read a story about conditions in the factories where our iPhones are made.
(No iPhones were made in the filming of this movie.)

How to Lose Jobs & Alienate Girlfriends

Directed, Produced, and Starring Thomas Meadmore

HowToLose_2_1000x316This film deserves a longer review. Thomas Meadmore has basically created a “selfie” documentary. His narrative starts with the availability of a willing and able mentor and the search for a documentary subject. In admitting he’s breaking the first rule of documentaries, you don’t influence the subject in the filming of the subject, he extracts himself from typical efforts and provides a second (third?) layer of narrative here. The musical goals of both his mentor and girlfriend are examined, recorded, and unintentionally sabotaged by his efforts.  Really compelling in its honesty, Meadmore may just have invented a new documentary style.

In the Company of Women

Directed by Kahlil Silver, Written by and Starring Shogi Silver

InTheCompany_2_1000x316Another I deeply regret not covering in a longer review during the festival. The story of a male escort who is hired by an older man to be his “wingman” for an evening’s attempt at finding a woman who can replace is deceased wife. An evening of encounters and stories builds their relationship as neither expected. I think this stands a good chance at an encore primarily on the basis of young Shogi Silvers script, in which he authentically captures the complexity of the older man’s conflicts and desires.

Meet the Hitlers

Directed by Matt Ogens

MeetTheHitlers_4_1000x316What’s it like to have the name Hitler? An interesting and diverse investigation into a number of very different individuals who each share that one aspect of their lives.  This documentary is at times a little scattered in its progress, and perhaps could have been served by a bit of editing for length, but the journey here is interesting and eye opening.

Sweden’s Coolest National Team

Directed by Per-Eric Malm

SwedensCoolest_1_1000x316A documentary about the world memory championships might sound a bit dry, but nothing could be further from the truth in this tale of an underdog group of Swedes who set out to bring home the trophy. Beyond the examples of mastering unthinkably complex sets of data, the personal stories of the four-man team are brought forward with both humor and quirky charm far too often missing in the documentary format. The silent struggles in the arena of the mind are awesome and inspiring.

So that brings me current with two days of Cinequest remaining. Remember that tonight, Saturday March 7th, the encore films for Sunday will be announced here.  So watch and see what second chances might be available.

Ric Bretschneider
March 7h, 2015

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Media, Movies, Personal | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Cinequest 2015: Bad Exorcists

FoCCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

We’re at that unfortunate time in any film festival I can only write about films that have already had all their showings.  

However, with Cinequest there is still the hope that any of the movies I’m able to review will get one final fling Sunday March 8th on “Encore Day.” Saturday night additional showings based on film feedback will be announced.  

So with that in mind, may the reviews be ever in your favor.

 Bad Exorcists

Written and Directed by Kyle Steinbach
Watch for possible encore on Sunday March 8th. 
Buy tickets here

Bad_Exorcists_-_Festival_Trailer_-_Cinequest_25_-_YouTube 3Bad_Exorcists_-_Festival_Trailer_-_Cinequest_25_-_YouTubeThe awkward teen comedy is a wonderful thing, even if typically formulaic. The hero is shy and awkward. His stalwart friend has issues with his family, the school, and society. And the fat comic relief guy… well that’s way open to interpretation. But add to this mix a horror theme, a spell gone wrong, and it’s a combination that refreshes both genres.

At least it does in Bad Exorcists.

Our trio are aspiring filmmakers in a Catholic school where one of the Nuns apparently teaches a class where the nuances of exorcism will be on the final exam. As filmmakers, the boys are in the lower ranks of high school talent. But there’s Bad_Exorcists_-_Festival_Trailer_-_Cinequest_25_-_YouTube 4an upcoming horror film contest where they could use what they’ve learned in school, film everything, and win the respect they so desperately want.

At least that’s the plan.

Bad_Exorcists_-_Festival_Trailer_-_Cinequest_25_-_YouTube 2Cute Lisa (Claire Berger), recently returned to school and possibly unaware of the boy’s lame reputations, convinced to play the subject of the filmed exorcism, and of course drives the romantically conflicted Charlie (Sean Roney) to distraction. A distraction made frantic when, post possession by an actual demon, her comments and texts are mistaken for sexting and other come hither invitations. Seriously, the circumstances surrounding her unfortunate selfie is a cinematic first.

Matt (Alex Knapp) is all about keeping the film going, even once things get a little too weird. And he’s more than aware that the countdown to exorcism and delivery of their final film fall on the same midnight hour.

Bad_Exorcists_-_Festival_Trailer_-_Cinequest_25_-_YouTube 5While all of this is good and fun, the strongest laughs in Bad Exorcists are delivered by Julian Master’s realization of the dense and clueless Dana. Channeling the best parts of both John Belushi and John Candy, Dana simply isn’t living in the same world as his friends and all of his off-track nonsequiturs land fabulously. Particularly his rant about a particular benefit of being a rap star, which threads through the film and is delivered with the deadpan seriousness of someone trying to make people understand about an impending pandemic. Wonderful.

It’s hard to point out weaknesses in this small indy (Kickstarter based) film, so I’m not going to.  Really, they’d just be nits. In the end this film delivers a lot of laughs, mixed with just enough shocks and scares. And that’s exactly what I was looking for.

PS. If this film doesn’t get an encore I’ll very surprised.  So watch for that announcement! 

Ric Bretschneider
March 6th, 2015

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Media, Movies, Personal, Review, SciFi Fantasy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2015: The House On Pine Street

FoCCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 The House On Pine Street

Written and Directed by Aaron and Austin Keeling, and co-written by Nathalie Jones
Mon, Mar 2 10:00 PM,Sat, Mar 7 11:59 PM 
Buy tickets here

thops0The elements are all there. The kind of creepy house. The somewhat distant husband. Wife with a recent problem in her past that strains the marriage, and the nosey relative with her own manipulative agenda. And oh yeah, creepy neighbors with strange twins. And it all delivers in The House on Pine Street, the second “haunting” story I’ve viewed at Cinequest, but one distinctly more tense and frightening than Afterlife.

Pregnant Jennifer, Emily Goss, and her husband, Taylor Bottles, have recently left Chicago for a change of scenery, and to be closer to Jennifer’s Mother. A friend happened to have a fully furnished house, yes on Pine Street, where they can go and recuthops3perate as they prepare for Jennifer’s delivery. Jennifer takes an instant dislike to the house, feels wrong from the start, but gives in to her husband and mother’s arguments to make a go of it here for a while. Something happened in Chicago, and we feel that Jennifer may not be fully recovered, and hopefully the slower pace and family support will be just what she needs.

Of course, it’s not.

thops2Alone at home much of the time while here husband begins work at a new office, Jennifer begins to feel that there’s more than a bit of creepy feeling about this house. There’s something definitely leaving doors open where they were closed. Knocks on the door with no one there. Things just slightly out of place, make things just slightly too upsetting for Jennifer. None of this done in a manner anyone else can see, Jennifer is the only witness. A visit from a close girlfriend and her child, meant to settle her in with the comfort of familiarity ends badly with Jennifer looking like more of a threat than a victim.

thops1Of course that isolates her more, the family still trying to work in her best interests now puts her much more in direct conflict with whatever is going on in their home. Her marriage is strained and we learn more about the problems she had in Chicago, which of course do not work in her favor here.

To say more would go directly into the realm of spoilers so I’ll just say that the plot and script are excellent, there are few places where you’re not on edge, you simply aren’t allowed to relax and enjoy the terrific cinematography. This film does not come off as a traditional independent effort, and could easily be a standard release. Casting is is great especially Emily Goss’ as Jennifer, who is both tremendously at risk as the pregnant victim of the haunting who is able to muster herself as necessary without becoming one of those stereotypical badass ghost hunters. Love you Sigourney and Milla, but you just aren’t believable in a realistic context. Emily is.

The House on Pine Street is both a well-crafted traditional horror story, and a modern exploration of what haunting and haunted actually mean. More than a little is left up to your interpretation at the end. But that’s cool, because a film like this should haunt you long after you leave the theater.

Ric Bretschneider
March 1st, 2015

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Media, Movies, Personal, Review, SciFi Fantasy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2015: Clew

FoCCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Clew

Directed by Eric Badros, written by Eric Badros, Heather Weeks and Taylor Graham
Sat, Feb 28 11:45 AM, Wed, Mar 4 4:15 PM 
Buy tickets here

c5I’ve previously mentioned the unexpected beauty of films where constraints of time and budget have required the creative team to be clever and thoughtful. Small films tend to benefit from this while larger budget films are just “dialing it in” on story and relying on special effects and revisiting popular themes.

c3The science fiction tale Clew is a good example of this phenomenon.

Jack Hadrian is a painter living in the mid-21st century who has tragically lost his wife. After adopting a secluded lifestyle, he pathologically never leaves his apartment relying on home delivery of groceries and basically shutting off the outside world, he finally decides to contract the persistent Muse corporation for a new perfect partner.  Muse creates Muses, a genetically engineered “humans” who are designed to be the perfect fit for the customer. A new companion, with a zero percent return rate.

c1Of course there seems to be something shady about the Muse corporation. Not obviously evil, but maybe…

There are a couple of rules that go along with the contract. Jack is responsible for the well-being and support of his muse, and he must never, ever get her wet or feed her after midnight… oh wait.  No. Wrong movie. <shuffles notes> Ah, yes. He must never, ever tell her that she is a Muse.

And then there’s the warning that occasionally Muses will… maybe… break things.

c4What follows is a slow descent from heaven into hell for Jack. Or is it? Could it be that this Muse is exactly like the mythological Muses who inspired artists? Could it be it’s actually all for the best? Or is something entirely different going on here?

c2If you like puzzles, especially those that expose a new  puzzle when you’ve gotten past the first answer, Clew is for you. While appearing quite spartan in its staging and photography, it’s absolutely packed with metaphors, references, and of course clues.  Pay attention to the word that flashes when Jack is getting a brain scan, and look up the mythological reference to the word clew. What were those muttered words? Now check out the poster design. Yes, you may need to see it twice to catch everything.

But I’ve said too much. I wasn’t supposed to tell you that you’re a…

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 28th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Astraea

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Astraea

Directed by Kristjan Thor, Written by Ashlin Halfnight
Sun, Mar 1 11:30 AM, Tue, Mar 3 2:00 PM 
Buy tickets here

Astraea1

The independent science fiction film is a wonderful place to play. Because your funding is smaller, there are fewer expectations from backers that you’ll “follow the trends.” The lower funding also tends to force filmmakers to be more creative in their filming, rely on fewer special effects and focus on the story and the character’s development.

And that’s a great place to grow an inventive movie.

In a market where every post-apocalyptic movie has it’s heart in an alien invasion or zombie uprising, we’re faced in Astraea with an all-too-possible scenario where a disease quickly and efficiently wiped out most of the population. The few survivors are crafty and cautious, knowing that men are far worse danger than any rotting corpse, and that making connections with the few remaining good folks is probably the most precious thing to pursue.

Astraea3

Nerea Duhart plays Astraea, a driven young woman. Haunted by visions, she finds herself unexpectedly developing a form of telepathy or clairvoyance.  In what is probably one of the best explanations for such a turn, Astraea’s gifts are potentially manifesting now because the population has dwindled, or electricity is rare, or both or something else. She and her brother, played by Scotty Crow, are literally trekking across the country in search of family that Astraea is absolutely sure are still alive.

Astraea2Hard decisions surface when they encounter another couple, cousins played by Jessica Cummings and Dan O’Brien. Of course, there’s a lot of trust and faith to be built, and the eventual decision whether to move forward on Astraea’s quest or stay in the relative comfort of this new family. Can they actually trust Astrea’s visions? And if they stay, are they truly welcome?

Astraea4Beautifully shot, and nicely paced, this is easily the most reserved and realistic post-apocalyptic story since the BBC’s legendary Survivors series. The cast is wonderful and the resolution as complete as you could wish for in such a situation.

We recommend this apocalypse.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Aspie Seeks Love

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Aspie Seeks Love

Directed, Written by Julie Sokolow
Fri, Feb 27 7:45 PM, Sun, Mar 1 4:45 PM, Wed, Mar 4 2:45 PM 
Buy tickets here

asl1

The documentary is not a form I’m drawn to, except perhaps during Cinequest. So far we’re two for two, with the splendid Batkid Begins which opened the festival, and now with the surprisingly pleasant, humorous, and inspiring Aspie Seeks Love.

asl4Aspie is not a person, at least not directly. Aspie is short for Asperger’s Syndrome, or Disorder, which notably manifests in difficulties in social interaction. The person here is David Mathews, who reminds us in the film that he is not related to the “caterwauling alt-rock singer.” And that’s pretty much David, he’s clever, funny, and a bit out of touch with how he’s going to be perceived by people he meets.

So what does David want? Pretty much what everyone wants; someone to talk to, to listen, a companion, hopefully eventually a sexual partner. When watching another older couple, he expresses hopes that someday when he’ll similarly have grown old with his own companion. And that’s pretty much what the documentary promises.

asl3Except it’s not.

While we’re entertained by the oddly composed and posted flyers,  the quirky locations David chooses for them, and the short interviews with prospective dates, that’s really the shallow end of this pool.

David, we find, is a persistent writer of fiction, performs public readings, is an artist, a devout vegan, and an extremely honest fellow when it comes to discussing his good and bad points. He has clearly formed and tightly held social and political views that he shares freely and with no small amount of sarcasm. He’s a fully rendered human being, and that’s really not what we expected. With the main narrative charmingly delivered in his self-admitted robotically hesitant voice, which is totally clear in pronunciation, he grows on us. Even though for the first few minutes you may wonder why an older Macintosh is narrating the film.

asl2Bringing this picture of a different form of coping and creation, admittedly still full of personal frustration and failures, is the real gift of this movie. David is shown to be working to overcome the problems he has in interactions with others, and does manage to make connections with more people than so many unafflicted might hope for.

And that’s hopeful in itself.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 27th, 2015

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They Called Me Spock

Spock-Leonard-Nimoy When I was in middle school, I had the undeserved reputation of being a “smug and superior brainiac,” and was punished for it repeatedly by those who were neither. Of course, my grades were only slightly above average, and my standoffishness was just the result of being terribly shy.

This preceding paragraph is no doubt the beginning of so many geeky monologues, as is the rest of this confession. In truth, and cutting to the big finish, we and those like us, have hopefully all found our clans and bonded. But at least in my youth this was not going to happen until many years later.leonard-nimoy-as-mr-spock-in-star-trek-the

The oddest thing about this time was the label, not a name but a word meant to discourage and dismay, my tormentors used to embarrass me was the name of my hero. They called me Spock. And, of course, the confusion and dismay of being ridiculed for just being me was still hurtful, and made me feel rejected, socially a failure, and even more shy. The label itself didn’t matter, it was what the label meant to them, not me.

2013-03-25-leonard_nimoy_as_spockThis never stopped me from talking to anyone who felt similarly about how awesome (I think at the time the translation of awesome was boss) the Star Trek show had been. The three seasons were over, the show long cancelled, and was now available only in reruns. If I discovered a like-minded person we would bond. Friends forever. People like Jeff Smith, Tom Rose, and Gordon Storga were Vulcan brothers to me, and still are to this day.

Of course, Star Trek became The Star Trek Franchise, and with movies and many more television shows the geeky series became as close to mainstream as you can expect. But you know all that. What you don’t know is that Leonard Nimoy stuck with me as being the most important part of my fandom. I really can think of nothing more influential than the portrayal of the ever logical Mr. Spock, who even with all that rational thought at his disposal, could never quite get the hang of his human half.  I admired Nimoy for this and followed his career unflinchingly through everything from Mission Impossible to Fringe.  And of course I enjoyed all his characters, as well as whatever speaking engagements I was able to attend, and his writing. But it they never spoke to me like Spock.

star-trek-2-nimoy-as-spockAnd that is why his death today, even though he had a wonderful and productive life and died at home among family and friends, hits me hard. It’s not rational and, of course, the Spock side of me will try to reason that I should simply shelve the event and honor the man’s life. But the human is inconsolable at the moment. And frankly I’m fine with that.

Because I’m not Spock, I just wanted to be.

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Geeking around, History, Home and Family, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, SciFi Fantasy, Thoughts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2015: Beast Of Cardo (Bestia de Cardo)

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Beast Of Cardo (Bestia de Cardo)

Directed, Written by, and Starring Virginia Sanchez Navarro
Tue, Mar 3 6:00 PM, Sat, Mar 7 4:30 PM
Buy tickets here

boc1
Let me confess. I’m not drawn to movies that are wildly open to interpretation. I have enough vagueries in my regular life to figure out, and the therapeutic or instructional exercise in films that seem to make a virtue of being ungrounded, while not exactly lost on me, are not as welcome as simpler escapism.  Beast of Cardo mostly escapes this criticism, but does fall solidly into the drawer in scenes and themes that bookend an otherwise fairly interesting slice of life tale. How much is metaphor, how much is imagined, or is it all actually  meant to be rationalized in a semi-magical and mythological sense of world?
boc3The film opens with two somewhat unbalancing aspects. First a narrative tale of the city of Cardo, a seemingly unfinished story of a city plunged into darkness and the ruling families that continue to rule based on their recollections of the city when it had light. And second, a brief vision of players, perhaps fleshy marionettes or victims of some loose bondage, suspended on ropes. With little but asides that later might be interpreted as connected, these are not commented on again by the filmmaker until the end of the film, bookending it, and then only one actually makes mute comment.

boc2So almost at once the story begins and shifts to a fairly straightforward tale of a daughter,Moira, previously shamed by rumors of promiscuity, returning to a well-to-do family desperately trying to regain their prestige after another shameful event. Much of the film is discussions of the difficulty, necessity, or even desirability of mending relationships or simply escaping the situation altogether.  Moira and the local dressmaker Hermes (again, the mythological reference is a bit blunt) form a loose friendship, and even execute a blood ritual spell to cause Cardo to be eliminated so they both can be free.

I will say that many of the images crafted in the film are intriguing to watch, and the narrative although repetitive didn’t actually drag. Moira takes very little action to either counter or affect people’s opinion of her, and the idea that she and Hermes need to turn to the supernatural to escape Cardo never really held much weight for me.

Did the spell take, was it successful, are the lighting shifts intended to be representative of supernatural events or just bad wiring in the Dominican Republic? Is this a literal viewing of what happened, or somehow a glimpse into Moira’s eventual disposing of her connections to Cardo and physical escape.

boc4I really don’t know. The answer is either ethereal or blunt, depending on your interpretation of metaphor or perhaps a truly disturbing potential ramification of their actions. You can have it both ways I suppose, but like Moira and Hermes I just want to escape Cardo.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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Cinequest 2015: Afterlife (Utoelet)

CFoCinequest is San Jose’s preeminent film festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In this daily film journal, I’ll be trying to spotlight films you might otherwise miss and let you know when you’ll be able to catch them again.

 Afterlife (Utoelet)

Directed and Written by Virág Zomborácz, Starring Márton Kristóf, László Gálffi
Tue, Mar 3 9:45 PM, Fri, Mar 6 7:30 PM
Buy tickets here

afterlife3There’s a subtle difference between a ghost story and a haunting story, but we’re not going to go deep there, this is a haunting story. It’s also loveable, funny, and as close to a realistic slice of life as you can get while still entertaining conversations with your dead father.

Mozes, Márton Kristóf, is recently discharged from a therapeutic stay in a facility which may or may not have helped his general confidence issues. His father, László Gálffi,  is overbearing, demanding, and has just decided that Mozes will head out to help leppers when he drops dead. While freeing Mozes from his impending undesired service fate, he soon realizes that the now somewhat mopey ghost of his father is following him about, providing bad and useless advice, and generally disturbing all aspects of Mozes’ life.

afterlifeThe rest of the family is cut from similarly flawed stock. The adopted sister is unable to fend for herself or explain why she returns home with smeared mud and crows feathers decorating her head and clothes. His Aunt is trying to have an affair with a local religious leader, when she isn’t otherwise trying to rule over her sister’s family. And the mother walks from scene to scene as if she were a ghost herself.

afterlife2Mozes’ struggle to figure out why his father won’t pass along is similarly “helped” by the local auto repairman who is a psychic on the side, and a somewhat undependable sometimes girlfriend who just can’t seem to quit any number of addictions.Of course, neither is much help in the end, it’s up to Mozes to actually figure things out, or just stumble into a solution.

So, not exactly Ghostbusters in its scope or plot, but this film does deliver a lot of fun and charm as we watch the dour Mozes struggle through afterlife with father.

This week and next we’ll take daily looks at Cinequest movie offerings that still offer opportunities for you to catch at the festival.  Subscribe now so you won’t miss any!

Ric Bretschneider
February 25th, 2015

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