Why I Judge Books by Their Cover

I have another site that I’ve been ignoring for far too long: Book Judgement. I still believe in the site, but I’ve been distracted from it and it’s been out of mind and stagnant. I really hate that.

Basically Book Judgement is someplace where I can review and express my love for the manufacture of books: the binding, typography, cover production, printing techniques, etc. Yes, everything that has nothing to do with the actual content of the book. I find it fun, maybe you will too.  And if you’ve got something you’d like to share there, let me know.  I specifically want to invite others to post their love, and there’s already one there by Hugo Award Winner Christopher J. Garcia.

So this morning’s mail brought me the new Star Wars book. I was not expecting it would end up being a Book Judgement entry. What could possibly be noteworthy about a mass market edition of a long-running science fiction series?  You’ll have to check it out yourself to see!

 

Posted in Books, Design, Film, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, Review, SciFi Fantasy, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2018: Little Women

Guest reviewer: Debbie Bretschneider

Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women 150 years ago, and [amazon asin=0147514010&text=the classic novel] has been made into several movies since. This year the newest version is showing at Cinequest! First-time Director Claire Niederpruem retells this ageless story in a modern setting.

The movie starts with Jo (Sarah Davenport), Meg (Melanie Stone), Beth (Allie Jennings), and Amy (Taylor Murphy) putting on a play from [amazon asin=1420953060&text=The Pilgrim’s Progress], but Beth is videotaping it. And in that one scene, the original book is represented, and yet we know it is a modern setting.

The March family has what may be considered “old-fashioned” values by modern standards and they struggle with trying to fit in with their peers. Meg tries to fit in by going to a high school party at the rich girl’s house, where everyone is drinking shots, but she can’t bring herself to follow the crowd. A reasonable update, and without spoiling anything you can expect that to be continued throughout the film.

All of the characters are there from the book, and the actors have done a wonderful job in bringing their updated selves to life.  The emotions are strong –I laughed and cried during this movie; the emotions felt real. Jo  is the emotional center of the story, and yet everyone is heard and their story told.

Can you tell I liked it?

Runtime: 115
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama
Premiere Status: United States
Language: English

Director: Clare Niederpruem
Screenwriter: Clare Niederpruem, Kristi Shimek

Cast:
Lea Thompson
Ian Bohen
Lucas Grabeel
Bart Johnson
Melanie Stone
Adam Johnson
Sarah Davenport
Taylor Murphy
Michael Flynn
Allie Jennings
Stuart Edge

Showings:

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 3 Tue, Mar 6 8:00 PM

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 3 Thu, Mar 8 5:00 PM

Get tickets!

Debbie Bretschneider
March 4, 2018
San Jose CA

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Personal, Review, Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2018: Peaches

In a future that never was…

One of the nice things about the people who produce Cinequest is that they apparently have a thing for time travel. Not that they travel in time to get their scheduling done, but that they tend to feature films and shorts where there is an element of moving forward or backwards in time.  This year, with Peaches they move forward and backwards in one film, but they start out kind of sideways to begin.

Imagine a near-future present where a company whose design sense borrows heavily from ATARI in the early 1980’s but the devices are all kind of chunky and bulky. A future where everyone has hover cars, and smartphones don’t have big displays, but instead print answers to questions out on paper tape. And a future, for some reason, where people in theaters are offered cans of peaches as a cinema snack. Frankly, you could have made a whole movie just on this premise.

But Peaches goes one better, bringing in a failing relationship and one man’s efforts to fix it with technology.

We all know the rules of time travel by now. Never travel to a time and place where you’re sure to meet yourself. Never do it twice at the same time. Three times is a very bad idea. And a dozen or so… well, that could be real trouble.

Laura and Diego have gone back to the scene of a prior romantic stay to fix their failing relationship. However, the cute set of bungalows they travel to are abandoned, barely holding together. But somehow Diego convinces the reluctant Laura to give it a try. Of course the inventive type-A Diego is incapable of acting spontaneously, and that’s exactly what Laura needs. So of course this getaway is obviously doomed. The appearance of Laura’s ex, a narcissistic stalker, pushes things right over the edge; their breakup is assured.

However, Diego works with some secret cutting edge technology that he just happens to have in the trunk of his car. He cobbles together a time machine (Yes, I know. Just go with it.) and travels back in time to “fix things.” Of course, Diego is still clueless about what Laura needs. Even confessing to Laura  his willingness to travel through time to fix things, he’s done nothing to deal with Laura’s objections. He blows it a second time.

So he goes back in time again, to fix the attempt to fix their relationship. I’m sure you see where this is going. Lather, rinse, repeat. Marty McFly had a much easier time just trying to get his parents to their first kiss. Diego is literally his own worst enemy.

Peaches is a funny, clever, and oddly voyeuristic set of loops through time, each getting more twisted in trying to undo or redo prior or future solutions to bringing the magic back into Diego and Laura’s relationship. Unlike other twisted time travel  tales, this one isn’t likely to make your brain hurt figuring out what’s going on right now and what version of Diego or Laura we’re currently following. You’ll spend too much time laughing, and wondering where you can get one of those phones.

Ric Bretschneider
March 3, 2018
San Jose, CA

Runtime: 80 minutes
Rating: Not rated (guessing PG-13 for nudity and language)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy
Language: Spanish (subtitled English)
Director:Hector Valdez
Screenwriter: Jose R. Alama, Felipe Jimenez Luna, Hugh Sullivan, Hector Valdez

Cast:
Peter Vives
Maria Guinea
Joaquin Ferreira

Showings:

 .

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, 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 Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

A version of this review first appeared on Fanboy Planet.

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

Cinequest 2018:
Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out

This is exactly what I love about film festivals.

Sure, a lot of the time you end up walking out of the theatre and back into daylight with a new perspective on a way of life, a hopefulness about our children’s futures, a dire warning, or even a quick little laugh. And that’s all great, very nice, a good use of time.

But occasionally you get to experience a film that mashes up a half-dozen things that shouldn’t work together, but somehow do, and exceed your growing expectations with each new creative scene. It’s the kind of film experience that has you chatting with other viewers about all the films it kind of reminds you of, but agree that you’ve really never seen something even close to this before.

And it starts with two girls getting ready for a night out.

Charlie and Hannah have friends, past lovers, prospective lovers, jobs they’re not excited about, and an evening free to get drunk and forget about things. They also have two foil-wrapped pieces of magic. Those packets may have looked like a drug, but they turn to the audience and assure us “it’s homeopathic” right before the lights begin to flash and a short kaleidoscope of psychedelica. Eventually things calm down and they decide to leave the party for other debauchery. But a door has been opened, and it’s time for a ride through.

This is where it no longer makes a lot of sense to follow the “plot.” Rather enjoy that we’re treated to a series of character introductions, tests, vignettes, an elegant bordello that offers a tryst with the Bennet Sisters, and part of town where the town’s parts discuss their own lives. The black and white of the film occasionally breaks into other soft-edged aspect ratios and old fashioned telescoping dissolves.  Scenes from earlier in the film play out later in the unacknowledged background. A quest for Tilda Swinton’s scalp is failed because, although a mummy in denial is in tow, “Fonzie” forgot to hop. It’s crazy, lovely, absurdist stuff, with sharply clever dialogue and amazingly creative situations for our characters to literally fall though.

Where else will you encounter Catherine the Great bumming a cigarette and making a reference to a sexual encounter using the Large Hadron Collider as a metaphor? Some unexpectedly high-brow dialogue occurs between Charlie’s left and right breast. And can you imagine how things go when Hannah ends up in as spooky old house where all of a sudden they’re washed in the somber blue and red lights of a Hammer horror flick? Of course you can.

Charlie and Hannah’s Grand Night Out draws deeply upon the best dialogue from late ’70s Woody Allen, Federico Fellini’s crazy night scenes, and physics and biology charmed from the films of David Lynch. I could go much further, but this is one of those cases where you’re best prepared when you’re unprepared.

Go, see the film. Trust me. This is what film festivals are for.

Oh, yeah. Don’t leave until the projector bulb goes dark or you’ll miss one of the funnier side stories resolve itself. It’s worth waiting for.

Runtime: 72 minutes
Rating: Not rated (guessing PG-13)
Genre: Comedy
Language: Dutch (subtitled English)
Director: Bert Scholiers
Screenwriter: Bert Scholiers
North American distribution: October 2018

Cast:
Evelien Bosmans
Daphne Wellens
Patrick Vervueren
Frances Lefebure

Showings:

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 2
Thu, Mar 8 7:15 PM Buy Tickets

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 3
Sat, Mar 10 9:15 PM Buy Tickets

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 10
Sun, Mar 11 5:55 PM

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, 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 Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

Ric Bretschneider
San Jose
March 2, 2018

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

Cinequest 2018: Hunting Lands

The snow is clean. The woods deep. The forest quiet. We watch the hunter prepare for the hunt, the stalking, siting, the eventual kill, all with solemnity and simple nobility. There are deep currents here, but we’re given none of the details. We only see that the view we are given is compelling and interesting.

And then, something abominable happens.

Hunting Lands takes us smoothly into the viewpoint of a veteran recluse, living off in the woods, self sufficient and capable. This is no crazy writing a manifesto in a shack, he’s got some backstory that allows him a life of relative comfort and solitude. There doesn’t seem to be a desperation here, so much as a choice to be alone.

The woods and the snow are almost characters themselves.  Not a heart of darkness mood, more light and pure in it’s unspoiled white. The camera plays with focus, alternating between branches in blurred and sharp resolve.  The hunter moves through it, patiently, takes one quick kill, and then prepares the deer for transport. And as he returns homeward, he is witness to the final step in a crime, certainly the work of a different type of killer.

Hunting Lands keeps us solidly in the point of view of the hunter as he moves from forest to small city stalking the killer and learning his background. He drives through the slush of small town main roads, carefully observing his prey, slowly assembling the background and reasoning. And we explore right along with him.

The cinematography moves between the stark and beautiful shots of the woods, and the dirty and tawdry city streets and buildings.  Each draws us in with its own compelling power. The observation is done from afar, long camera shots from the hunter’s perspective, and most of the film has no dialogue at all. Instead we’re provided with vignettes and pantomimes that peel back a view into the killers likely motivation and opportunity. There is no one certainty here, the detective work is more a confirmation of suspicions than the discovery of a smoking gun. But there is some very compelling evidence that before the end something else will die.

It’s noteworthy to repeat that we are treated to just a few pages of conversation through the whole film, and that in turn lends itself to my one complaint. When these conversations finally happen, it feels like a cheat to the rest of the quiet power in the film. It’s an unfortunate deus ex machina where I wish the writer had continued to let us discover the truth from afar.  How much more powerful and creative would this have been if the whole film had been free of any spoken word, the story told only told through distant observation, like a hunter patiently sighting down through the scope of a rifle.  I don’t mean to say this is by any means a fatal flaw, just something I wish they’d explored.

So far, Hunting Lands is my favorite Cinequest offering. And it’s early enough that you should be able to work it into your schedule at one of the four showings over the next two weeks.

Runtime: 83 minutes
Rating: Not Rated (We’d guess PG-13)
Genre: Drama
Premiere Status: World
Director: Zack Wilcox
Screenwriter: Zack Wilcox

Cast:
Marshall Cook
Joe Raffa

Showings:

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 11
Sat, Mar 3 5:50PM

Century 20 Redwood City – Screen 18
Mon, Mar 5 6:15PM

California Theatre, San Jose
Wed, Mar 7 5:00PM

3Below, San Jose
Sat, Mar 10 7:35 PM

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, 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 Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

A version of this review was first published on Fanboy Planet.

Posted in Audience, Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Media, Movies, Review, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2018: How to Cinequest!

As regular listeners to the Fanboy Planet Podcast know, San Jose’s award-winning Cinequest film festival opened last night.  Opening night at Cinequest typically features an independent film that has or is expected to shortly gain general distribution, and last night’s film Krystal, featuring Rosario Dawson and actor/director William H. Macy should be no exception. But yeah, unless you were there, you missed it.

Sorry.

Burt Reynolds and Ariel Winter in ‘The Last Movie Star’

But like I said, it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of this film.  The Fanboy Planet review will be up shortly. Still, it does point out one of the beautiful downsides of this festival. Get your plan going quick, or you’ll miss it.

Luckily you still have two more weeks of Cinequest to enjoy! And we’ll help you do just that in this article.

For many, Cinequest is more about the indies; smaller independent films. Indies are a joy. Why? Because independent filmmakers and their crew are typically trying to tell stories they love and believe in, using a medium with which they’re similarly in love. And they do this without the interference of large corporate studios who answer to stockholders more often than their heart. And so you get some unique and memorable experiences, unlike what you’ll see in general release.

Aw. Isn’t that sweet.

But indies can be hard to find. Or rather, can be hard to find just the right ones for you.  There are hundreds of films being shown at Cinequest, you likely have not heard of most because they simply don’t have the backing money to advertise to you. So how do you decide what to see?

Short Film Program 4: Animated Worlds

Well, you can browse the program guide, if you have the time. Note the ones that sound interesting. Head down to the festival and discuss them with other film lovers, and sometimes just take a chance. It’s common for a long conversation between strangers at Cinequest to start with “what film are you looking forward to?” Because at its heart Cinequest is two weeks where a community of film lovers gathers, enjoys films and each other’s company, and occasionally makes a few new long-term friends.

Before I Forget

Cinequest is also an opportunity for audience and creators to mingle. That guy sitting next to you might be the director of this film, or may give you a postcard advertising his film that’s showing later in the day. If you’re a film fan, the opportunity to discuss what went right and wrong, what you loved or didn’t, and to get feedback from the creators themselves, is a terrific experience. Often for them as well. People involved in independent film are doing it all for the love of the subject matter and the art.

So, from this we can wrap up with a few pointers on getting the most out of your time at Cinequest:

  • Look for World Premieres!  There are lots. And you get the “yes, great film! I was at the premiere back in 2018!” bragging rights.
  • Look for the names you recognize, this is often a chance to see actors stretching into roles we’re not accustomed to seeing them in. (You missed Grant “The Flash” Gustin playing a pot smoking artist in Krystal already!)
  • But don’t ignore the films and actors you’ve never heard of. One of the real joys of cinema is going to a film where all the big beats haven’t already been spoiled by weeks of advertising trailers.  Again, think future bragging here. (Come on, you know you love that.)

Virtual Reality at Cinequest

And don’t forget, Cinequest is also a VR film festival again this year. These programs are easy to fit into your schedule, and short, so there’s really no excuse not to attend a couple. The danger is you may decide that now is the time to buy a VR setup for your home. Don’t laugh, it’s happened.

Most of all, for Bay Area / Silicon Valley folks, this is an opportunity to get out to an annual event that celebrates the love of creativity in Cinema, bringing to you unique and memorable experiences. You can go out and catch your 8th viewing of Coco later in the month. Now is time for something new and exciting.

By the way, if you act right now you can get tickets to the Nicolas Cage event tonight at 7:30pm. Rumor has it he’s getting a Maverick Spirit Award!

And don’t miss his VR program ‘The Humanity Bureau VRevolution’

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2018 starts on February 27 and runs through March 11th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year.  And Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

A version of this review was first published on Fanboy Planet.

Ric Bretschneider
February 28, 2018
San Jose, CA

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Games, Geeking around, Media, Movies, Technology, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How Many PowerPoints in the World?

I thought it would end when I left Microsoft. But no, to this day I get variations on the question on a regular basis:

“How much PowerPoint is there in the world?”

Most of it stems from an old article where an unnamed Microsoft employee (I’ve come to assume this was an otherwise uninformed salesman, perhaps not even a full-time employee) said something to a reporter to the effect that <some large number> of PowerPoints are created every day. While that source, the quote and the number have been largely discredited, the misinformation still hangs around the internet because it was quoted so often by people trying to impress their audience.

So why be concerned about this in the age of Alt-facts? Because it tasks me. It’s a ridiculous endeavor, it need not be used, and in the end it’s actually working against someone who is trying to sound impressive using it.

Allow me to break that down, here, just the two of us chatting.

Recently Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, was at a conference and made the claim that Microsoft Office had more than 1 billion users. The actual quote was Office has 1 billion plus users.  There even used to be a video of him saying it, but in typical Microsoft web site fashion, the links have gone stale and no longer render. You could even get suspicious that there’s a plot afoot there, but let’s avoid that tempation.

We can assume Nadella shared this information to impress the audience with Office’s continued dominance in the field of business software. Fair enough, he was talking to developers and trying to convince them to continue using Office as a development platform. But since the statement, there’s been a fair amount of discussion among my PowerPoint Cognescenti friends as to how that comment could be used in their own presentations and writing. Seems like a small thing, but I love these folks for their needing to be exacting and perfect in their own quotes and statements.

So, given Nadella did say this let’s really examine what we can actually say about this, and how it could be said.

First, it’s important to try not to extrapolate more than the info you’ve gotten, and to be conservative if when you have to.  Again, the offhand quote from Satya was “Office has 1 billion plus users.” Now break that down from the POV that Microsoft uses.

Define user. OK, Microsoft pretty much defines a user as someone who has Office on their machine. While they do try, they don’t get instrumented data from all those machines for dozens of reasons, they get them from a fraction of the installed population. So we can’t really break down usage of Word, Excel or even PowerPoint based on that 1B+ number.

Helping pollute the value of this number is the fact that Office gets installed on almost every PC sold. Yes, it’s the full build of office, but it’s limited in function until you enter a special numeric code you need to buy.  Does that original installation count in the 1B+?  Likely. But then lots of PCs get reformatted, especially in business where they install the approved corporate disc image on new machines.

So the number already feels kind of amorphous. But let’s use it anyway because we can credit it’s viability to Nadella. That’s as close to official Microsoft as you can get.

What about use?  Let’s say a “user” must “run Office” to qualify. This is an inherently faulty assumption because we already admitted MSFT can’t flawlessly tell if Office has even been launched.  What does “run Office” mean?  At least one of the apps must be run. In business cases I think this is overwhelmingly Outlook, because of adoption of Exchange servers and email being something you basically can’t ignore in business. Of course there are plenty of people who also run Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But can we tell how many of those use Office to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations? We’ve already admitted defeat there. But it’s very safe to say a high percentage of use is to consume the work of others using the apps; reading attachments, company policy docs, etc.  Maybe talking about “use” is a non-starter given what we have to go on.

So “one billion plus.” We have a number at a point in time. That leads us to ask what about was it about that point in time, and the significance of the number. One billion sounds huge of course. Was it just the most recent statistic Satya had at hand? Seems most likely. Was it extrapolated from sales of individual units, license activations, and existing subscriptions? No doubt. But was there something special about that point in time? We can gain no perspective, and that’s really important. Was that a high point? Did it represent a growth trend? Are they on the way out?  You just can’t tell from one data point. We’ll get back to that.

So where does that leave us? What can you say to WOW your audience about the way PowerPoint has conquered the business world?

I’d say, the best statement you can make to regular folks, if you feel you have to, is something like this:

While Microsoft doesn’t typically announce official usage, in 2016, and such numbers are very hard to accurately account for, Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, claimed that Microsoft Office had more than 1 billion users. No matter how you look at it, that’s a lot of Office/PowerPoint out there in the world.

But my real point is, is there anyone alive who really needs to be told this?  It’s a silly statistic now, kind of like calculating the average number of heartbeats someone has by age 50. Big numbers are typically impressive, but essentially useless in application. Think about the National budget, debt, exports, imports… do you recall those numbers without looking them up? Did knowing any of them (providing you’re not a Senator seeking reelection) matter in your day-to-day? Do they mean anything in isolation? No, of course not. The population of bluefin tuna being estimated at 3.7 million doesn’t sound so bad until you understand it is off 97% from historic numbers. One data point doesn’t work in isolation.

Image courtesy of Animal Life : http://animalia-life.club/openphoto.php?img=http://newenglandbluefintuna.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Tuna-Decline.png

 

But let’s get a little sillier before you go.  When you can add a little perspective, sometimes the actual number’s effect is diminished as opposed to common perception.

Help me out here.  How many of your acquaintances have launched PowerPoint this year? That includes anyone who had to read an e-mail attachment. If you’re reading this blog I think it’s safe to say a conservative 7 out of 10. We won’t quibble up or down a point,  just go with it so we can do a little reasonable calculating.

Warning, I’m going to play it a little fast and loose with the presentation of the maths here. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong, I’m just trying to stay in the ballpark and keep it easy to follow. The deeper calculations are unnecessarily mathy for our purposes here.

There are 7.5 billion people on earth. So that means that given Satya’s 1B+ number, we can say that the ratio is 1:6.7 ish. We’ll use 1 in 7 as this is easier to illustrate the math and close enough for our purposes.  So 1 in 7 people on the planet are Office Users.

But remember that your personal perception, the number based on your experience with actual people, was closer to 7 out of 10 (I still think that number is low, but I’m trying to make this an example, not an argument.)

By giving your audience an “accurate” number, you’ve just taken your general perspective of use down from 7 out of 10 to 1 in 7.  Or, easier to compare, 49 in 70 vs 10 in 70.  About a fifth or the impression you had before you tried to include “The World.”

And that’s why I think it’s kind of pointless to talk about world’s use of PowerPoint. Your audience already knows it’s essentially ubiquitous in their world, you don’t need to confuse them with math. Instead, focus on just making good presentations that compel your audience. That’s tough enough, and appreciated more.

Ric Bretschneider
San Jose CA
8/8/2017

Posted in Business, Geeking around, Graphics, Media, Organizations, Personal, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Random thoughts, Software, Technology, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Dark Tower – Defending the Rose

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Probably the best opening line in literature. Yeah, better than Call me Ishmael.
(Seriously Ishmael, I was just asking you for a name to write on your coffee cup!)

OK, settle down. The Dark Tower movie came out this week to meh reviews at best.  And that’s a real shame, because it’s kind of special. No it’s not as epic as I would have liked. You can see that the studio didn’t fund it as much as it should have, and the writers turned in a script that was a tad short, a bit weaker than most of the King novels.

But I want to come to the defense of The Tower. (And I wanted to write that line.)

To provide some backing: I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and perhaps a bigger fan of his Dark Tower series. I’ve been a Tower junkie since the beginning, before it was an amazing epic, back when it was a handful of novellas all bound together in a very limited edition “never to be reprinted.” (Luckily King broke that promise.)

Roland, today's Gunslinger

Roland, today’s Gunslinger

So I’ll tell you that while The Dark Tower movie does not follow the books faithfully, that’s entirely fine by me.  It’s totally in keeping with some secrets we learn in the book. I’d say more, but I’d spoil some of the best moments in any book series for you. So I have to talk around the secrets, my gift to you.

That’s what makes this difficult. You just have to trust me. The series has my highest recommendation, even though I’ll admit that the first book is hard to get through. But that first volume is quite short, and the payoff in reading from the 2nd book on is tremendous, a unique experience. And lucky you! You don’t have to wait the 22 years to have them all ready for you.(Or was that 30? Hard to count in this case.) When you’re “done” you’ll sit there thinking “I wish there was more.”

And the movie is a way of granting that wish.

The Gunslinger and the Rose

The Gunslinger, the Rose, and the Tower

So it saddens me that reviewers of the movie, who apparently haven’t read the books themselves, depend on “so many people” complaining how movie doesn’t closely follow the book. It’s obvious that their screening of vox-populi-sub-reviewers didn’t include anyone who actually understood what was going on in said books. And that’s tragic because it’s that much cooler to realize that the movie is a continuation of the series, not a traditional adaptation.

Of course there are also some people, let’s call them ignorant racists, who are upset about casting a black man as Roland. Idris Elba’s reputation aside, I had my doubts. But that was just because my picture of the literary Gunslinger Roland of Gilead and the House Deschain, also know as Will Dearborn, son of Stephen, last of the line of Arthur Eld was vividly painted over decades. Of course Elba isn’t exactly the Gunslinger I had crossed Midworld with. But that’s exactly right, exactly correct, entirely in keeping with all that has come before. You’ll just have to trust me on that. And know that with a television series and perhaps more movies in the future, I’m looking forward to walking a new path along the beam with Roland’s new Ka-tet very soon.

Ric Bretschneider
August 6, 2017
San Jose CA

And for those reading all the way to the end. Should you want the secrets spoiled, or just enough to make a bit more sense…

Read the books!  Thank me later.

Still not convinced? OK, there’s a great little page that will let you expose yourself to some or all of the answers right here. If you want more speculation, read the comments on that page, but note that like any comments page, they’re best left unread.

And that serves as an invitation to leave your comments below.

Thought that didn’t fit in comfortably anywhere else: 
One definition of “adaptation” is a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel. But it’s also a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. Think about that. 

Posted in Books, Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Geeking around, Media, Movies, Personal, Random thoughts, Review, SciFi Fantasy, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Pointer Points for PowerPoint (And Keynote, and Excel, and…)

In my time designing features on the PowerPoint team, one of my favorite “secret” features was the built-in laser pointer. The fact that its a secret also means it’s a failure, because we made a nice feature that to this day few people know exists.

Because of this, I need to demo it for you right now, just so you can have some context for both my shame, and my specific interest in this area.

So, pretty cool, right? You’ll use it the next time you need it right? If you remember.

So, it’s a great thing to have in a pinch, but it doesn’t really eliminate the need for an regular laser pointer, they don’t require you to be at the computer with both hands free to work the computer. And we haven’t really needed a separate laser pointer for quite a while because any decent hand-held presentation remote control has a laser pointer built-in.

Except for the pointer that recently arrived in the mail. And it’s my new favorite.

Logitech’s Spotlight Presentation Remote, is a sleek bit of design and manufacturing. Available in silver, slate and gold colors. It’s very “minimal” having only three buttons.

The Logitech Spotlight Presentation Remote

The Logitech Spotlight Presentation Remote

Minimal design is terribly important to me when it comes to presentation remotes. I get questions all the time from companies designing them. They want to know what PowerPoint can do, what sneaky trick in the software would make a great new feature in their remote. They want their remote to have a unique selling point over their competition. And they think that adding more feature-specific buttons and adding things like virtual mice to their pointer is going to make their sales improve.

And maybe it does, but in the end I wonder how many of those special buttons get used, and how many are just sitting there waiting to accidenally confuse the presenter. So my answer to these designers is always something to the effect of: Presenters are in a terribly stressful situation, up there in front of an audience, and they need things to be kept simple. Keep your design simple, make it so they don’t have to think about it, that it just works and they can concentrate on their presentation, and you’ll win.

And that’s kind of what Logitech has done here. Understand though, this is a fairly complex bit of hardware, it just shields the presenter from potential confusion very well. Mostly this is because Logitech has put control of the pointer’s configuration, the the complexity of the device, into the support application. You can literally turn off what you’re not going to use in that software.

Setup and configuring is easy. Here’s a quick demo of their application.  It’s fine if you want to skip it, you can trust me on this, it’s easy and pretty cool.

The actual Spotlight remote feels good in your hand. Not exactly form-fitting, but solid. Its burnished metal surface and contoured main “advance” button are both pleasing to the touch and provide enough tactile feedback to be functionally orienting. OK, that’s enough geekspeak. Holding it is nice, and you can tell which end is up without looking.

As I mentioned, there are three buttons clustered on the surface, the spotlight button on the top, the larger and sculpted play/forward button in the middle, and the back/previous button at the bottom. The only other thing you’re going to notice is the rubberized fabric strap on the base that is connected to a removable dongle.

The dongle allows you to connect to computers that don’t have Bluetooth, so enough said about that, but it also covers the charging port. The charging port itself is the newish USB-C, and the remote comes with a 5.5″ charger cord with USB-C on one end and standard USB on the other. With a 2.5 hour charge, Logitech says you’re going to be good for 40 days. I’ve only been using it for a few weeks, but it hasn’t gotten down to the red blinking light yet.

To use the Spotlight, you need to install a nifty application (Windows and Mac) that is at the heart of making this a superior pointer. Takes just a moment, and in my experience hasn’t caused any problems with other applications or devices.

So let’s see a quick demo of the Spotlight in use.

It’s kind of important to note that the Spotlight manages all of it’s control through the use of a motion sensor, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope, all built into the control.  This means that the control doesn’t actually know if your facing out toward the audience, likely using your laptop to monitor what’s happening on the screen behind you, or facing the larger screen itself.  There’s no orientation to worry about. This means, unlike a laser pointer, you could point out something on your screen without having to face the screen that your audience is viewing. I’m not really sure if that’s as intuitive as it might sound, I think the audience may want you physically involved in pointing something out on their screen as a shared experience, but I’m kind of anxious to try this technique out soon.

As I mentioned, this works for both Mac and Windows, but it also works for Mac & Windows; I did most of my initial testing on a MacBook Pro running Parallels so I could use Windows PowerPoint on that laptop. Even though I only installed the Mac version of the Spotlight software, the product worked great in Windows as well. This was a welcome surprise.

And of course, because the pointer software is integrated at the system, instead of the application, layer, it worked with any application I tried. This is important because there are actually people out there who present using Excel. I’m personally not going to try to shame them, but I am happy that I rarely have to sit through such presentations myself.  Of course it also means that the pointer should work with web-based presentation applications, like Microsoft’s PowerPoint Online, Prezi, Google Slides, and whatever similar applications have come out while I’ve been writing this.

So the upshot:Logitech’s Spotlight Presentation Remote  delivers on every level promised. It seems ready for anything, and the fact that so much of its smarts are tied to software that should be able to be updated and expanded appears to future-proof it quite nicely. I highly recommend this any presenter.

Disclaimer: I received the Spotlight Presentation Remote for free from Logitech for the purposes of this review. But, frankly, it’s in the price range that I would have bought it anyway and returned it if it hadn’t lived up to its claims. Of course, it did live up to every claim, I’m happy with it, and they can’t have it back now. Sorry, I’m keeping it. Hope you guys understand.

Ric Bretschneider
April 21, 2017
San Jose CA

Posted in Audience, Design, Geeking around, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Review, Software, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cinequest 2017: Two Euro Thrillers – Loop and Pyromaniac

 

Granted, like any other art, not every film is for everyone. We try to focus on giving you reviews that meet our fannish criteria. And today, on the fourth day of San Jose’s Cinequest we have two thrillers, one with a science fiction bent, that you may  want to check out.

Loop

You are your own worst enemy.

Imagine the worst day of your life. Now, insert Adam who happens to be reliving his day endlessly. Loop pulls together a supernatural story of a man who gets a second chance to do what is right… then a third, and a fourth. In hopes of saving his wife and future child, Adam has to brave his nightmares and prove himself worthy. Fighting to uncover a scandal that leads to his own demise, Adam seems to be getting in the way of himself. This fast-paced, sci-fi thriller re-defines “the edge of your seat,” leaving one with a thorough boggling of the mind. – Nobuki Fujioka

Runtime: 95
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller
Premiere Status: North America
Language: Hungarian
Subtitles: English
Production Country: Hungary

Director: Isti Madarasz
Screenwriter: Isti Madarasz
Cast
Denes Szaraz
Dorina Martinovics
Zsolt Anger

It’s easy to say that Loop is just a grim and gritty Groundhog Day. But you would be very, very wrong. At first this seems to be a very simple plot of a man and his girlfriend caught in a drug deal gone wrong. There’s a fairly sparse cast, a set of somewhat crumbling urban sets for the action (OK, the hospital seems fairly up-to-date) and a real sense of urgency to find a way out. Complications set in when the girlfriend discovers she is pregnant. OK, there’s enough to make a good Coen Brothers / Tarantino movie, and that’s not a bad thing.

Of course, this thriller is thriller/science fiction, so we know going in that there are more unforeseen complications.

Did I say complications? That’s putting it mildly. The “loop” here would have really destroyed Bill Murray’s character’s “everything resets when I die” gimmick. This loop is more like a mobius strip linked with the infinity symbol, with several interstate bypasses thrown in for fun. And yeah, beyond the grim thriller aspects, it’s pretty fun watching how Isti Madarasz keeps teasing us with things that just shouldn’t work out the way we’re experiencing them, only to show us as things progress how it all fits together.  I’m spoiling nothing here, other than to say this may be one of the most complex time-displacement stories, and at the same time easiest to follow, that I’ve ever seen. 

And it’s amazing how few special effects are used. Very little that young filmmakers with their first day using Adobe Premiere couldn’t carry off. The real magic here is in the script, the cinematography, and the acting, all of which are top-notch.

Highly recommended you don’t miss Loop at this year’s Cinequest.  You have two more opportunities to do so:

Showings:

CineArts Santana Row – Sat, Mar 4 9:45 PM
California Theatre – Thu, Mar 9 9:45 PM

More info and buy tickets

Pyromaniac

One of the things you begin to notice about films from Central Europe is that many exhibit a slower pace in their storytelling style, in story and character development in particular. It does seem to reflect on a more relaxed lifestyle, and very much complements that slower paced environment. So if you were expecting the kind of frantic and startling film that would be titled Pyromaniac in the United States, you’d be calmly surprised at what the same subject matter does when it comes out of Norway.

Pyromaniac (Pyromanen)

He can’t say no to the urge to burn.

In a peaceful and closely-knit Norwegian village, fear spreads like wildfire, as night by night, an unidentified arsonist goes on a wrecking spree of starting a series of fires. Unbeknownst to villagers, the pyromaniac is no less than an avid fireman himself, Dag – the son of the fire brigade’s chief. As suspicions among his closest grow, Dag’s reach becomes increasingly sinister and audacious, and dread takes over the village. Coming from one of Norway’s most internationally acclaimed directors, Erik Skjoldbjærg (Insomnia), Pyromaniac plays like a disquieting, yet irresistibly alluring dream. It is an impressive, dark delight of suspense and a visual and cinematic tour-de-force, as we delve into the murky waters of a disturbed young mind and the terror he instills in others. – Liva Petersone

Runtime: 96
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Thriller
Language: Norwegian
Subtitles: English
Production Country: Norway

Cast/Crew
Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg
Producer: Edward A. Dreyer, Aage Aaberge, John Einar Hagen, Geir Eikeland, Stig Haug
Screenwriter: Bjorn Olaf Johannessen
Cinematographer: Gosta Reiland

Cast
Trond Hjort Nilsen
Per Frisch
Liv Bernhoft Osa
Henrik Rafaelsen

Pyromaniac has an interesting and somewhat puzzling protagonist. Dag is a fireman, the son of a fireman, and remembered in his town as having been very smart in school. He’s somewhere in the post education period of his life where he must start to make decisions on what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Of course these fires keep breaking out throughout the rural areas, and he and his fire chief father join the rest of the firefighters to deal with these increasingly dangerous events.

Of course, it’s Dag who is starting the fires. He may not know exactly what he wants to do with his life, but he does seem to have a way with matches and gasoline. As you might expect, adults all think he’s a wonderful kid, even if he doesn’t really fit in with his peers. There’s more than a little frustration there, but unless the first event we see in the film is his initial excursion into pyromania, we’re never given insight into the real how and why of his fascination.

And that’s kind of the depth of this film, and what sets this apart from what we’re expecting. The real tragedy isn’t vest on Dag, in fact you can make a strong case that he’s successful right through the end. The real tragedy, the real victims, aren’t those whose property is lost. It’s the people who loved Dag, and… well, that would be telling.

While not the film you’re expecting here, this is a film worth spending an afternoon with. Even if all that fire is chilling rather than warming.

Showings
CineArts Santana Row – Fri, Mar 3 1:30 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Sat, Mar 4 10:15 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Thu, Mar 9 4:30 PM

More info and buy tickets

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2017 starts on February 28 and runs through March 12th, so if you’re in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay Area you might check out the films and events for this year.  And Fanboy Planet for upcoming reviews and podcasts from the Planet’s crew.

Posted in Cinequest, Movies, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2017: The Festival Opens – This is Meg

As regular listeners to the Fanboy Planet Podcast know, San Jose’s award-winning Cinequest film festival opens tonight.  While the opening event features Mark Pellington’s The Last Wordstarring Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried, it’s likely that unless you’ve already made plans to see it or move very quickly, you will have missed it by now.

Sorry.

Shirley MacLaine and Amanda Seyfried are sorry you missed their film.

But that’s OK, The Last Word will be available in general release in a few days.

You still have two more weeks of Cinequest to enjoy!

For many, Cinequest is more about the indies; smaller independent films. Indies are a joy. Why? Because independent filmmakers and their crew are typically trying to tell stories they love and believe in, using a medium with which they’re similarly in love. And they do this without the interference of large corporate studios who answer to stockholders more often than their heart. And so you get some unique and memorable experiences, unlike what you’ll see in general release.

Aw. Isn’t that sweet.

But indies can be hard to find. Or rather, can be hard to find just the right ones for you.  There are hundreds of films being shown at Cinequest, you likely have not heard of most because they simply don’t have the backing money to advertise to you. So how do you decide what to see?

Well, you can read the program guide, if you have the time. Note the ones that sound interesting. Head down to the festival and discuss them with other film lovers, and sometimes just take a chance. It’s not uncommon for a long conversation between strangers at Cinequest to start with “what’s the best thing you’ve seen so far?” Because at its heart Cinequest is two weeks where a community of film lovers gathers, enjoys films and each other’s company, and occasionally makes a few new long-term friends.

Cinequest is also an opportunity for audience and creators to mingle. That guy sitting next to you might be the director of this film, or may give you a postcard advertising his film that’s showing later in the day. If you’re a film fan, the opportunity to discuss what went right and wrong, what you loved or didn’t, and to get feedback from the creators themselves, is a terrific experience. Often for them as well. People involved in independent film are doing it all for the love of the subject matter and the art.

A moment of quiet reflection between hilarious encounters…

Which is close to why I chose This is Meg for my first Cinequest 2017 review.  Here’s the write-up from the festival guide:

This Is Meg
Runtime: 85
Rating: Not Rated
Genre:Comedy, Drama
Premiere Status: World
Director: Alex Ferrari
Screenwriter: Jill-Michele Melean

Cast:
Jill-Michele Meleán
Joseph Reitman
Carlos Alazraqui
Krista Allen
Debra Wilson
Jenica Bergere
She isn’t married. She’s out of a job. She is Meg.

“30 is the new 50 here, lose 15 pounds, Meg! You need to be on new age social media, Meg!” From nagging agents to nagging parents, aspiring comedienne/actress Meg finds herself in a rut as she evaluates how far she is from making it big in Los Angeles. Even the girl singing nude (with tasteful pasties) reached 2 million subscribers. How many chakras need to be awakened to be truly happy in this rough industry? Based on true events (of ANY woman in Hollywood), This is Meg sends us on a whirlwind of an adventure from struggle to enlightenment, the Los Angeles way. – Zarin Khan

So, from this we can see the following:

  • World Premier, always fun to get in on the ground floor when you discuss this later with friends, especially if the film becomes a big hit later.
  • Cast has a few names we recognize, always a good sign.
  • The plot focuses on the lead actress is going through some stuff on her way to “bigger things” (she hopes).
  • There’s going to be a supporting cast of diverse characters, all of whom will either help or hinder her on the way there.
  • And it’s a bit of a Hollywood send-up.

OK, sold! We’re in for 85 minutes!

So what more can I tell you in a review of the movie? It’s the perfect first movie for a film festival because it is so representative of film festival movies.  Yes, indies do tend to tell their own story. By that I mean that it is not uncommon for indy films, particularly comedies and dramas, to tell stories of independent entertainers and artists trying to make their way to more successful and satisfying expressions of their art. Yes, very meta. Not a bad thing, but certainly something to expect.

 

Typically an independent film won’t be answering to “notes” from the producers or other high-level studio staff. Notes are recommendations, or requirements provided back to the director suggesting changes to the film in production. Of course the idea of “getting notes” is played up in a lot of films as a negative, something impinging on the creative juices of the actual artists. But its easy to imagine that many scenes or even a whole picture has been saved by one or more essential notes.

I would only have one note for this film. There are two scenes went a bit long, feeling like the same joke just kept being repeated. It’s not that they were ruined, but if they had been edited or broken up into four scenes they wouldn’t have felt like they overstayed their welcome. And even at that, the dialog within each is clever and complete. These characters, as crazy or self-absorbed as some of them may be, are well realized within Meg’s world. And that’s pretty cool for comedy where the secondary characters are often just there to deliver the writer’s punchlines.

It’s worth calling out that Meg (Jill-Michele Meleán) and Eric (Joseph Reitman) have some cool chemistry that while not over-the-top comedic, is certainly going to make you wish for a friend or two with whom you could interact as they do. When Brooke (Krista Allen) is added the three provide a scene that is both painfully awkward and laugh-out-loud funny, making the film worthy of a second viewing just to dissect all the so enthusiastically misunderstood and frenetic aspects of Hollywood-style self awareness philosophies.

Ultimately I’d say that you can’t go far wrong giving This is Meg 90 minutes of your two weeks of Cinequest.

Showings:

Century 20 Redwood City – Sat, Mar 4 3:20 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Sun, Mar 5 8:30 PM
Hammer Theatre SJ – Wed, Mar 8 1:15 PM
CineArts Santana Row – Thu, Mar 9 6:15 PM
Century 20 Redwood City – Sat, Mar 11 10:50 AM

More info and buy tickets

-Ric Bretschneider
February 28, 2017

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2017 starts on February 28 and runs through March 12th, 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.

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Presentation Pros in NYC

Screenshot_7_13_16__11_14_AM

It is so trite, but I do love New York. And it’s been too long since I’ve been to Manhattan. I love the theatre, and it’s probably a good thing I’m not there right now because I’d be running around like a madman trying to get tickets to Hamilton, Fun Home, Shuffle Along, Something Rotten… yeah, did I mention it gets really expensive for me to be anywhere near a TKTS?

But right now I’m also wishing I was in New York for a special kind of meeting.  A gathering of PowerPoint and Presentation Professionals. A an evening of professional fellowship, information sharing, and making contacts. Yeah, getting out there among my people!

https_proxy

What’s that you say? You’re in or near New York, or will be there around July 19th? Well, let me hook you up! Cuz I’ve got the secret password that will get you in the door for free.

You see the Presentation Guild is a co-sponsor of the event, one of the benefits is we can pass along our password to you so you’re in the door and drinking that free wine and beer as you listen to folks like Nolan Haims filling you in on all the new “game-changing” features that have shown up in PowerPoint lately.  You’ll even get an introduction to the Presentation Guild by Marshall Makstein. And several other folks presenting, but seriously, what else would they be doing?

OK, enough. I can tell that you want me to just dump all the data on you and stop whining about how sad I am that I can’t join you. So here you are. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016, 6:30 PM
Russell Tobin, 30th Floor
420 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10170

The 2016 gathering of PowerPoint and presentation professionals is just a few days away. Network with colleagues, creatives and clients on a fabulous rooftop deck in midtown Manhattan while enjoying free wine and beer.

There has never been a better opportunity on the East Coast to hear the country’s top presentation experts.

  • Nolan Haims will speak on Office 365 and the latest game-changing features to have come to PowerPoint.
  • Ellen Finkelstein will be discussing how to design presentations for webinars.
  • P-Spice will share new presentation tips and tricks.
  • Dan Ecker, Director of Creative Services at Russell Tobin, the event host, will give us the low-down on career challenges and opportunities.
  • Marshall Makstein will introduce the Presentation Guild, the new professional organization for presentation design. The Guild is a co-sponsor of the event!

Registration and information at Presentersnet.com.

(Use promo code PresentationGuildGuest to come as our free guest.)

420_Lexington_Ave_-_Google_Maps

Ric Bretschneider
July 13, 2016 10:48am

Posted in Business, Food, Food and drink, Graphics, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Some music just moves me…

Really enjoying Mr. Robot. Yeah, everyone who told me that I would love it is right, and I should have watched it earlier.

Loving it on many levels. But the one that keeps coming home for me is finding it kind of a Taxi Driver for the 21st century. No small part of this is Mac Quayle’s original soundtrack, often present when Rami Malek’s Elliot Alderson is monologuing, so similar to Robert De Nero’s Travis Bickle in the NYC rain. I get this vibe at least once an episode, and it’s usually enhanced by Quayle’s music which has been an Bernard Herrman/Vangelis/Tangerine Dream heartbeat, rhythm and tonal subtext. And for me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

RISKY_TRAIN_RIDE_-_YouTube

So I just got to episode 5 of Mr. Robot, in which the last scenes end with Tangerine Dream’s “Love on a Real Train” underscoring the dialog. If you’ve seen Risky Business, you’ll remember this as the theme when Joel and Lana take a particularly interesting train ride very early in the morning. Yeah, it was a hot scene, but the music is what my young self really took away from that, buying every Tangerine Dream album I could lay my hands on for the next few months.

I’ve always felt that this instrumental is one of those perfect pieces of music, the way it builds, the consistent themes that layer within, the relatively slow pace that carries a precise speed… just wonderful.

If my life generated a musical soundtrack, I’d want this piece to play at least once a day…

Ric Bretschneider
The Bretcave
July 9, 2016 2:00pm

Posted in Film, Music, Personal, Random thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not the book you expect… the one you need.

Impossible_to_Ignore__Creating_Memorable_Content_to_Influence_Decisions__Carmen_Simon__9781259584138__Amazon_com__BooksRight off the top, this is not the book you expect. This is no a paint-by-number, 15 steps to being a better communicator, lightweight feel-good-about-your-limitations book for snowflakes. This is a book that expects you to learn and remember the keys to memory. This is a deep book, but clear in its ability to guide you through an area of learning that far too few have mastered. It is an honest representation of the author’s voice, a voice that I’ve personally enjoyed listening to a number of conventions. In short, if you’re ready for the next step in making your business communications something that your audience remembers and acts upon, it’s here.

On first glance you might underestimate author Carmen Simon. She is not tall, is always impeccably dressed, full of smiles and exuberance. But that surface level impression quickly gives way to a deeper appreciation of the depth of her knowledge and the ease in which she is able to apply it to relatable communication situations. Her work is clinical without being sterile, deep without being obscure, and actually applies a surprising amount of wit and humor that is part of the message, not merely pasted-on for relief.

So many of her lectures have made me wish I’d been able to take better notes, something I could share with peers, something I could go back to when my own failing memory can’t. I needed Impossible_to_Ignore__Creating_Memorable_Content_to_Influence_Decisions__Carmen_Simon__9781259584138__Amazon_com__Books 3her notes, specific and complete, and those essential illustrations that set the memory clues you can act on later.

And here you have it, at close to 300 pages, my copy of which is already highlighted and dog-eared for future reference.

Memory, as Simon explains, is essential to successful communications. Without memory, your target will not act on your message, will not have established the cues and reactions you need them to develop. If you are forgettable, you fail. Learning to be unforgettable is one of the most important activities any communicator can undertake.

Simon takes you through the complex subject of memory, or rather the process by which ideas, instruction, and similar directives can be composed so that your audience will fail to forget your message. It’s a fairly layered approach, and not too challenging for the layman. I’m an English/Comp Sci. major with very little recollection of my college psych classes, but I never felt at lost in her prose.

Yes, as many other reviewers have noted, this is not a light read. But it’s not really a heavy read either. It’s just that so many books in this area tend to scrape the surface, try to limit what you have to apply to just the basics. (Seriously, how many times must we be subjected to “Five Simple Ways to Succeed” style books that carry as much weight as the average Cosmopolitan article.) There is a lot here but I anticipated rather than dreaded the remaining pages in the book. I’d chalk that up to both Simon’s own voice, and the manner in which she practices what she’s teaching throughout.

This is a book that will change your communication style, and the results your communications will foster, for the better.

Ric Bretschneider
May 19, 2016

Note for Kindle readers: I read an advance proof of the book that did not have spot-color in the illustrations. It never occurred to me that I was missing a color highlight, the illustrations were all easy to connect to the relative prose. This would likely be a similar experience to reading on the Kindle, as I verified that with a Kindle sample of the book on my Oasis. Having been able to compare the final published version with that greyscale version I can assure you that you’re not missing out on essential information. Color is generally replaced with a grey and that stands out against what is mostly line drawing anyway. So if you prefer the ebook experience, I’d say there’s nothing to hold you back from reading that version. Plus, you can download the sample for free to try it out!

Disclosure: As should be obvious, this review was based on a pre-production proof that was provided to me without charge.

 

Posted in Audience, Books, Business, Personal, Presentations, Presenting, Review, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Presentation Guild

If you read all the footnotes in yesterday’s post you noted that I promised to tell you “how to get a little magic in that whole presentation construction part of being perfect.”  So, here goes…

 Last year I was honored to be asked to join the board of an exciting new group.  A group whose goal it is to connect and support professional presentation builders. A group whose initial board and membership reads like the who’s-who of amazing presentations. Yeah, I joined. Took me about 30 seconds to decide.

The founding members of the Presentation Guild, a not-for-profit organization, have been hard at work getting ready for you.  Quietly creating an environment where presentation professionals can enjoy just the right mix of community, training, support and comradery. Someplace we can all hang out at the virtual water cooler, go to classes, listen to experts in our field talk, and definitively set the presentation professional in the public spotlight as an essential industry position.

And it’s all about to launch. It’s about to get loud.

The Presentation Guild

The Presentation Guild

You can get in on the pre-launch activities now. There are many benefits for those who become active early. The website is available, even though it is still working the last few startup-kinks out. You can sign up for the newsletter which will provide you with advance notice as all the cool things come online; training, forums, webinars, guest speakers, articles… everything you can imagine. And if you can imagine something that isn’t there, you’ll have a venue for letting us know, or even helping build it. That’s one of the benefits of getting involved with the guild now; you can be one of the creators and shapers right along with the rest of us.

So obviously we’re all super excited about the guild. And we hope you’ll join. We’re anxious to meet you. And we don’t want you to miss the launch party.

Check it out today.  https://www.presentationguild.org

Ric Bretschneider
May 19, 2016

Posted in Business, Design, Graphics, Organizations, Personal, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Death By PowerPoint? No Such Thing.

This is the first time I’ve used the phrase Death By PowerPoint in a title, and it will be the last. Why? Because the phrase is so fraught with bold stupidity I refuse to endorse it. Death by PowerPoint focuses failure away from the real source of the problem. It actually hides the problem it purports to expose. It’s the ultimate look over there of inept redirection in presentations.

And yet, it gets used by so many hacks to draw attention to articles that basically regurgitate other articles advice as if they had discovered a new untreatable virus. If you subscribe to any number of presenting social media groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, et. al. the day doesn’t go by when you see the phrase in someone’s update. “Saving You From Death by PowerPoint!” “Five Simple Things You Can Do to Prevent Death By PowerPoint!” “I Was Hitler’s Alien Death by PowerPoint for the CIA!” The list goes on and on.

And it’s all rubbish. And you really should know it’s rubbish. We shouldn’t even need to have this conversation. But you’ve read so far, so I’ll make it worth your while. Let me break this down for you with a story about fancy writing.

page from a French Book of Hours, ca.1400

Page from a French Book of Hours, ca.1400

There’s an art, an amazing art, called Calligraphy. It’s been practiced since the Middle-ages, maybe earlier – it gets fuzzy when it actually began and where, but stating that it at least goes back to castles and monks working tirelessly sitting behind desks illuminated by candles is far back enough to give it a sense of gravitas. Calligraphy is about writing, not the composition of phrases but the techniques used in the composition of individual letter characters. Appropriate to the times, it was originally accomplished with the crudest of tools, literally split feathers and ink made out of whatever organic substances were native to your area that could be used to permanently stain paper. But sprung from such rudimentary tools the results were so beautiful as to be inspiring.

Now to compress the timeline a bit, the Renaissance came and went, the mechanical revolution brought us black lung disease and moveable type, and so forth. Technology eventually moved 99% of all communication* to glowing dots on a computer screen. Today calligraphy is primarily practiced as a hobby, rarely one that pays, even though it can still be used to create amazing and lovely works.

By Eadfrith of Lindisfarne (presumed) - http://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/ILLUMIN.ASP?Size=mid&IllID=2222&MSID=6469, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=196226

By Eadfrith of Lindisfarne

Of course there are two types of calligraphers. Those who diligently learned, practiced, exercised, trained, disciplined, and basically worked at it until they developed the skills. With practiced and controlled motions, they know what stroke to use in every occasion to lay ink down on paper in just the right way as to be beautiful.

And then there are those who haven’t learned. Haven’t practiced, exercised, trained… who basically want to do the art, but not bad enough to sit and draw parallel lines and curves for a couple of hours to train their hands and minds.

There are some astonishing tools available to both types of calligraphers. Fabulous pen barrels, a seemingly endless variety of nibs, a full spectrum of inks, papers, portable surfaces, and additional accoutrements. Anyone with a small amount of money and a desire to own them can basically afford an impressive armoury of Calligraphic weapons. And both the practiced and unpracticed head off to stationery and boutique shops to bring home the latest tools to try out on a regular basis.

By Adrian Pingstone - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68618

By Adrian Pingstone

At this point you probably see where I’m going with this, but let’s finish anyway. Stick with me.

So both the practiced and talented calligraphers and the, well let’s just call them the dilettantes, use the same tools and get different results. Seems rather obvious, right? And only the most ridiculously self-deluding dilettante looks at their sagging and inconsistent scribbling and says “wow, I sure bought the wrong tools for that!” (Well, in fairness they may have, but that’s not really the point.)

So what is the point?

Like calligraphy, presenting at its core has nothing to do with special tools. Yeah, you can have fun quoting the guy who worked developing the PowerPoint program for 17 years on that bon mot. Presenting is about three things: Collecting information, fashioning an argument with that information that will move their audience10980398-magic-pen-series-C--Stock-Photo-pen-feather-quill, and delivering that information to the audience. It doesn’t matter how you’re delivering the presentation. You can present compellingly without slides, with slides made of sheets of paper, or with a computer program that projects compelling arguments on a huge wall behind them. Practically any method can be just as powerful as the others.

What matters is the amount of skill and effort that is brought to bear in creating and delivering that argument.

Tools can assist in creating and performing a quality presentation. There’s no doubt of that. But tools do not do your research for you. Tools do not supply the skill to compose. Tools cannot replace thinking about your audience’s resistances and goals. Shiny and bright tools, most dangerously, often make you feel accomplished enough you forego practicing. This is not the tool’s fault, you’re simply delusional if you don’t practice. Never fail to practice. Never. Fail. To. Practice.

Never.

PowerPoint, for all its magical animations, fabulous color matching, ability to adjust your message by moving blocks of the argument around easily, is still no smarter where it counts than a fountain pen. You can get beautiful results with a fountain pen, or you can create ugly blotches of ink on your clothes that no amount of laundering will remove. And while PowerPoint is unlikely to send you to the dry cleaners, it can be used to create ugly blotches of memory or beautiful experiences depending on how you use it.

Wake up. The tool didn't put this guy to sleep. The presenter did.

Wake up. The tool didn’t put this guy to sleep. The presenter did.

The difference is you recognizing that there are no short cuts. There is no magic in creating a good presentation, other than the magic you bring. No tool will make it happen. It’s much simpler. It comes down to the amount of actual work you put into making yourself a presenter, and the effort you put into each and every presentation, each and every time you step in front of an audience. Time, effort, skill, and persistence, that is what makes perfection.

Remember.  The only thing that is going to kill that audience is you. You have the choice: you can make them wish they were dead**, or you can simply knock ’em dead. Both will be remembered, and the tool won’t be the reason for the result.

-Ric Bretschneider
May 17, 2016

*Plus or minus 60% just to be on the safe side.
**To be fair, they’re actually wishing you were dead.
*** Bonus hidden blog; copy this blog into your favorite text editor and global search and replace “PowerPoint” for “Keynote.” It’s just as valid. Same with Prezi, same with…
**** Oh, and tomorrow I’m going to tell you how to get a little magic in that whole presentation construction part of being perfect.  Check back tomorrow.  Or just hit that Subscribe link and I’ll do it all for you. Like magic.

Posted in Audience, Business, Design, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cinequest 2016: Encores and Last Chances

We’re down to the wire at Cinequest!

Late last night, the Cinequest encores were announced.  These make up the bulk of Sunday programming in the festival’s final day. As I predicted, there are still too many great films to see them all.  I covered my recommendations through Saturday last time. So here are my picks for your viewing on Sunday, with one update for Saturday.

Saturday:
The Empire of Corpses

Well of course it’s a zombie film. It’s a full-length anime adventure story. It’s also an alternate reality film, a period drama, and a Wold Newton addition. It’s anime, from the creators of the current hit anime series Attack on Titian, and while the style is a bit more matured and refined here but you can still see the DNA of the prior works in the animation and characterizations.

So, it’s got a lot going for it.

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In this way-sideways version of our late 19oo’s, Victor Frankenstein’s not-fully-understood techniques in reanimating the dead have led to Zombie Technology where the walking dead are porters, day-laborers, soldiers, and even personal assistants. The quest for a the next step in this tech would likely lead to a nation’s global advantage, and is being sought by several factions with different goals in mind. We race around the world, encountering various hazards, enemies, allies, and surprising new zombies, as the plot moves ever closer to an apocalyptic edge of revelations into the true meaning of having a soul.

My only problem with Empire is that it falls into a repetition of statement and action that extends its welcome by about 20 minutes past what it should have been. To be clear, I find this endemic in most long-form anime.  However, if you are intrigued by the premise, and have already established a patience with such plot-plodding, you’ll likely find The Empire of Corpses‘ the lovely animation and wild devices exactly to your liking.

Oh, and stay for the whole credits.  Yes, it’s one of those.  Or maybe not… it reveals a twist that really contributes nothing to the film unless there’s actually a sequel in the works. And even that’s a stretch.

Info and Tickets

Sunday:
Love is All You Need?

If you’ve read my prior reviews or listened to the Fanboy Planet Podcast, you already know that I’m a big fan of this film. Bullying has become a cancer in our society, happening on so many levels, extending even into our political forums and a duality of religious intolerance. As with so many things, empathy is at once terribly important to cultivate in our understanding of others, and tremendously hard to do in the face of ignorant righteousness.

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And that’s why K. Rocco Shields’ film is so important.  By turning the issue on it’s head, we hope others can see how flawed is their logic-of-hate. We can continue to reverse the roles back and forth in our heads until we give up, exhausted, and accept that they just don’t matter.  That everyone has the right to living a life without persecution because of who they love. It’s fundamental, ironically simple, and brought out wonderfully in the film.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you really lucked out because it’s back for an encore.  If you saw it once, you should try to bring a friend or five to the Sunday showing. It’s a gift they’ll thank you for, even through their inevitable tears.

Info and Tickets

Creedmoria

I’m hard-pressed to come up with films that are like Creedmoria where that comparison will provide you with a background that helps understand this nicely crafted, uniquely charming film. Tragic and funny, uniquely archetypical, a family story where the individuals peel off until we’re left with the core two personalities that matter, a sister and brother.

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I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling anything for you here, so I’ll borrow Kadie Sutherland’s write up from the Cinequest guide.

Family is an institution. Sometimes, you gotta break out.
Candy injects the “fun” in her dysfunctional life. When your brother is found at the neighbor’s naked and drunk, you’re stuck with a caveman of a boyfriend, you have a dickhead boss, and the madness of everyday life competes with your mother’s need to appear “normal,” you have to peek between the cracks to find the warm rays of hope. But, maybe normalcy is just a construct for other people. And, maybe breaking out of the institution is more important than fitting in. Breakfast Club meets Little Miss Sunshine in director Alicia Slimmer’s debut feature—a brilliantly-crafted comedy that asks the question: Who wants to be normal anyway?

That’s all pretty cool, but it doesn’t cover some of the neater mechanisms in the filming. Watch how they shorthand for the audience that a bit of time has passed, or the idea that institutions bounding the town actually bound growth that could let us leave it behind.  And  enjoy Stef (Hunger Games: Mockingjay) Dawson’s performance as Candy, whose growth is subtle without any betrayal of youthful dedications.

Oh yeah, the soundtrack is awesome too. It sent me directly to Spotify to make a playlist of a few loved songs I’d forgotten I’d loved.

Info and Tickets

Dependent’s Day

OK, my wife doesn’t typically watch modern goofball comedy romances where the main male character is painfully flawed but somehow still in a relationship with a solid, focused woman. So I was somewhat floored when she said “I’d watch that one again.”

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Dependent’s Day is Cinequest’s sole contribution to this male vs his own flaws in maintaining a solid relationship genre. But it’s unfair to try to slot this into a genre so crazily described. To say Cam is a struggling actor is to imply that he’s getting acting jobs at all. So, under pressure to prove he’s not dependent on his girl friend, he attempts to step it up, but simply gets cast as… well, he gets babysitting jobs. And even those prove a bit too much for his somewhat distracted demeanor. Sure, he’s his own worst enemy, but he’s also his wife’s best friend. Can their relationship strengthen, or is it simply doomed by Cam’s inability to focus and apply his actual abilities?

With Director Michael David Lynch’s tight script, and the rapid-fire delivery by Joe Burke, we follow fascinated through Cam’s journey of both denial and revelation. There are so many bits neatly strung along here the film never drags, the plot and characters are always moving along nicely. Case in point; the sequence with the VHS tape, could be made into a complete short film in itself (watch the trailer for a clue about that).  It’s a fun and funny journey, providing you’re not a “Cam” out on a date yourself.  That would be awkward.

If you’re looking for something that will literally make you laugh (and groan) out loud, this is the film you’re looking for.

Info and Tickets

Shorts Program 4 – Animated Worlds

Just going to touch on this.  I told you the shorts programs were safe bets for viewing and the Animated Worlds collection was one of my Sight Unseen spotlighted recommendations.

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No surprise it’s back for an encore.  You’ll be charmed, amused, surprised, shocked, and inspired by this collection of a variety of animation techniques telling clever short stories.

The world of robots tangles itself with stories of omnipotent children, obsessed stilt-walkers, and musical bovines. Every kind of animation possible, from ultra-high-tech, computer generated tales to lo-fi creations, stop-motion puppet films to traditional hand-drawn pieces, all combine to make Animated Worlds a program people will be talking about.

As I said before, you really lucked out with this season’s encores.

Info and Tickets

So …

It’s a rainy weekend in San Jose, the best time to get out there and discover new films! These last two days of Cinequest are the perfect hunting ground for filmgoers looking for those amazing experiences.

-Ric Bretschneider
March 12, 2016

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2016 starts on March 1st and runs through the 13th, 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.

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

Cinequest 2016: Catch-up Reviews

I said it earlier, there are just far too many good films to see at Cinequest.  Balancing the viewing with the reviewing is a tough act, and I’m a bit behind.  So today we’ll catch up on a few highlights from the festival.  So in no order that you’ll be able to discern…

Eye in the Sky

Cinequest’s opening night film featured the last performance of Alan Rickman, and he brings it.  Hellen Mirren as Colonel Katherine Powell turns in a performance in keeping with her status as one of cinema’s great actors as she displays amazing depth in commanding an operation to take down two of the leading terrorist threats and try to prevent an impending disaster. The human element in Eye in the Sky is shown on two levels, both the “estimated/acceptable innocent casualties” in a preemptive strike balanced against the potential devastation of delaying that same strike.  It’s tense and heart wrenching as we focus on a young girl selling bread just outside the drone strike target, and the last ditch efforts to extract her before everything goes boom.

Cinequest_-_Eye_In_The_Sky_-_Opening_Night_Film

 

Technically this is a fairly amazing film, showing what I expect are not exaggerated technologies for observation and elimination of enemy threats. The pace is fast, the film unfolds in real time, and while there isn’t a ticking clock here, there is a rapidly approaching deadline which raises the tension with each passing moment.

Touching on so many hot points of today’s war on terror, Eye in the Sky does what films do best; starts conversations on topics where there are no clear answers, no easy solutions. There isn’t a sour performance in the group, and Rickman takes a role that might have otherwise been forgettable and provides a character that can sum up both sides of the argument in a few sincere lines. Similarly Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul is surprising as a young drone pilot who must wrestle with his conflicting conscience and the commands he’s been given as he literally has his finger on the trigger.

Highly recommended.

Directed by Gavin Hood.

Official Web Site

Friends Effing Friends Effing Friends

Friends_Effing_Friends_Effing_Friends__Feature__Written__Produced___Directed_by_Quincy_Rose_on_Vimeo 3

Let’s leave it at this.  This is one of my top three films for Cinequest 2016. Just a solid piece of work, with a great cast, clever script, and very clean camera work.  It doesn’t hurt that this commentary on the sexual adventures of a few friends who are continuing to see greener grass on the other side is complemented by a cast that delivers Quincy Rose’s lines perfectly. And that they are uniformly attractive enough that we appreciate their temptations helps too.  Read my earlier review or listen in to the Fanboy Planet Podcast where we all sit down to talk about… everything.

Hurry though, the last Cinequest showing is today at 4:30pm.

Cinequest Ticket Info

Demimonde (Félvilág)

Set prior to the beginning of World War I, Demimonde is an accessible period drama with commentary on class, getting ahead in society, and the price replacing friendship with betrayal can exact. A young woman talks her way into service of “The Lady”, a kept woman who entertains some of Hungary’s more elite, both socially and sexually. Friendships both false, convenient, and true are born between the maid, the lady’s housekeeper, and the lady until drastic and fatal measures come into play.

There are some fairly ornate sets and an unbroken air of the old-world charm evidenced throughout the film, but the undercurrent of untold stories and origins darkens this gaslight drama. A compelling set of characters moves us through deception and broken promises.  Not necessarily complex, many will jump to the ending long before the story actually gets there. But it seems unlikely they’ll stop watching.

Cinequest Ticket Info

Parabellium

How do you prepare for the impending end of the world? You enroll in End of the World Camp.

We follow a few potential survivors through this training and their eventual re-release back into the world as it drifts towards armageddon. The training seems almost surreal in this Spanish film by Lukas Valenta Rinner, and the individuals never quite engender themselves beyond somewhat vague archetypes. Still the training takes on an almost summer vacation camp aspect, bizarre given the paramilitary nature, and when our group heads out into the jungle with no stated goal that we’re aware of, things get appropriately surreal in a manner reminiscent of Apocalypse Now’s jungle experiences.

Parabellum is perhaps filled with more questions than answers, but once you join everyone in their training it is very hard to look away.

Cinequest Ticket Info

Lost In MunichCinequest_-_Lost_In_Munich__Ztraceni_V_Mnichove_

Director Petr Zelenka provides us with what seems a simple enough, if somewhat improbable, tale of a parrot who can recite some particularly embarrassing history, and the journalist who steals him so that that historical view can be told to the world.  At its heart, this drama/comedy could simply be a series of encounters and rising political farces, but Zelenka has something else in mind.  Without spoiling the twists, and they are fundamentally impossible to foresee and fundamentally unique, the entire cast takes on a new… well, that would be telling.  I really don’t want to go further here, at risk of spoiling your fun.

Still, at the risk of saying too much, if you have loved films like Day For Night or The Stuntman, you’re going to enjoy Lost In Munich.  And if you don’t, it’s not too much of a stretch to say this is a film experience that film lovers looking for new experiences will appreciate.

Cinequest Ticket Info

The Phoenix Incident

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Another film we covered on this week’s Fanboy Planet Podcast, The Phoenix Incident is  a dramatized documentary. It mixes real-life reports of a sighting over Phoenix witnessed by thousands and a supposition as to what was actually going on told through found footage of four men lost to the experience.

While the surprises here are primarily the kind you expect to find in thrillers, it’s intriguing due to the basis in fact and all of the actual footage that merges seamlessly into the drama.

And I do advise you to stay all the way through the credits.  Yes, it’s one of those.

Cinequest Ticket Info

That’s it for now.  I’m trying to focus on recommending films that Cinequest attendees still have a chance to see, as well as those I’m confident you’re likely to see in other festivals throughout the year.  Cinequest lasts through the weekend, with encores based on attendee score cards sponsoring additional Sunday showings.  The winning films will be announced Saturday afternoon, so some of the films no longer scheduled may be reborn into the schedule on Sunday.

Keep watching, I’ll be covering another group this Saturday with highlights of encore performances and awards!

-Ric Bretschneider
March 10, 2016

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2016 starts on March 1st and runs through the 13th, 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.

Posted in Cinequest, Entertainment, Film, Media, Movies, Review | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cinequest 2016: Embers


Embers_Still_GirlAlone_300dpi

Director: Claire Carré
Producer: Charles Spano

Those who remain search for meaning and connection in a world without memory.
No one knows what happened yesterday. No one will remember today. The survivors of a terrifying global virus must experience life one moment at a time in a decaying landscape of a world no longer resembling their own.

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We see so many media representations of the end of civilization. Not so much the end of the world, but the end of our infrastructure, our progress, our society due to catastrophe or war or whatever.

Embers takes a path less traveled by in this genre. There’s been some form of disease loosed on the world.  It doesn’t make zombies, or kill outright.  It causes a different type of collateral loss. Loss of memory. It’s a quiet armageddon. Every day you wake with a limited knowledge of the world, of yourself, and of those around you. Some smaller things do stick, but the cohesiveness of what we were, of who we were, is no longer available.  Waking experience teases some of this out to consciousness, but we still see a stranger in the mirror.

Embers_Still_Miranda_300dpi

But apparently not all of us. There are apparently degrees of infection.  And are likely free of infection have sealed themselves away from the rest of the world. They’re secure there, but very concerned about that continued security.

Embers walks slowly through the lives of several the infected, and the uninfected, letting the observe without the benefit of a single narrative character to tell the tale of this new world. It’s no rebirth of Eden, and you have to wonder how long these drowsy inhabitants will be able to survive on the leavings of a prior civilization. And of course in this world we still play true to type, good and bad, and there are some very bad. But there’s something to be said about those experiencing moments without the weight of prior experience and memory and it’s effect on happiness.

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Embers shows us that not all tragedy is marked by material loss, and not all loss is evidenced by tragedy. I found it a mildly Buddhist message of self and life; at once evoking a mature sadness and a childlike joy. An end of the world for everyone? Perhaps. Certainly a unique addition a genre that could use a bit of rebirth.

Click here for film schedule and to buy tickets.

It’s film festival season again! Cinequest 2016 starts on March 1st and runs through the 13th, 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.

-Ric Bretschneider
March 3, 2016

Posted in Cinequest, Film, Media, Movies, Review, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cinequest 2016: Sight Unseen Recommendations

Now that Cinequest is fully upon us, I need to touch on a small subject of interest to those of you going to the festival.  There are WAY too many great films to see everything. Way too many.  And some are terribly hard to review for reasons that will be obvious in a few paragraphs.  But luckily those same programs are very easy to recommend, and do fall on my “Don’t Miss” list.

My isn’t that an intriguing introduction.

So what are we talking about?  Well, Cinequest does an extremely great job of putting together short film programs. In the course of the festival you’ll have the opportunity to view eight separate themed selections of short films. This is an opportunity to consume so many stories in a short time, as well as building an awareness of this film genre which so many of us simply miss. How many times to you watch the list of short film nominees at the Oscars only to say “gee, I recognized one of those but didn’t actually see it.”

Well, if you’d attended last year’s Animated Shorts at Cinequest, you would have already seen this year’s Oscar winner for short films “Bear Story.” Those of us who did were able to cheer when it won!

Of course today marks the first day of Cinequest’s regular film schedule, so I haven’t had the opportunity to see any of the shorts programs.  But I have years of experience watching prior short film offerings curated by the festival, so I’m pretty sure I know what to expect.  And I want to share that with you.

So here are my unseen recommendations for your viewing pleasure at Cinequest 2016. First I’m just listing the ten programs so you can see what might appeal to your own taste.  I realize that ten is still a lot for a “must see” list, so if you want to trim your options down a little, jump to the end of this article for my hard-core recommendations.

Short Program 1 – Life, Death, and Everything In Between
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Explore intriguing questions about the darker side of life and death and the struggle between the two forces that occupy our world.

You’ll see encounters in convenience stores, on the football field, at carnivals, and on commuter trains, all of which examine what it means to be alive and the fragility of our comfortable world. See the world through other eyes in an international sampling of stories about the burdens we carry with us at all times—whether or not we choose to acknowledge them.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 2 – Transitions
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If there is a constant in this universe, it is transition: transition from young to old, ignorant to wise, living to dead.

These ten shorts explore all such moments and how the effects of a single change can ripple through thoughts, through lives, and through worlds. Here we witness how a last request can be a difficult journey, how an unusual brother can define your youth, how we can sometimes achieve our greatest wish, and how a relationship can be defined by something as simple as turning into a meteorological event. Experiencing these worlds through the eyes of filmmakers from around the world will bring everything into a bit more focus.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 3 – The Art In Everyone
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Enjoy a glimpse into the world of creating in these magnificent short films.

Through music, fine art, film, typesetting, and stagecraft, encounter stories that ask incredibly difficult questions. Can we accept country music that ventures beyond bros and beer? Can we create stunning new forms from existing works? Is it possible to be the one who sticks out without being the one who is ostracized? Do pigs like movies? We’ll find answers, or at least highly pointed questions, from a unique blend of documentary, animated, and narrative miniature masterpieces.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 4 – Animated Worlds
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Cinequest continues its tradition of presenting some of the best animated stories from around the world that will amaze, delight, and potentially confuse your senses.
The world of robots tangles itself with stories of omnipotent children, obsessed stilt-walkers, and musical bovines. Every kind of animation possible, from ultra-high-tech, computer generated tales to lo-fi creations, stop-motion puppet films to traditional hand-drawn pieces, all combine to make Animated Worlds a program people will be talking about.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 5 – Mindbenders
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Cinequest presents its annual collection of shorts so freaking bizarre and twisted, they can only exist alongside one another.

Experience what it means to release the monster within, to develop the monster outside, and to manage the darkness upstairs. Worlds where everything is painted mingle with the kind of environment that produces rampaging tyrannosauruses. You’ll questions everything you know, everything you think you know, and everything you really wish weren’t true. WARNING: these films may contain adult themes and weirdness.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 6 – DocuNation
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The annual Cinequest collection of documentary shorts brings together stories of life from around the world—and around the corner.

These remarkable films cover a wide range of topics: how communities react to the increasing visibility of the LGBT community, how we view the world, and about the service we must give to our gods, our country, and ourselves. We meet characters who are tragically flawed, incredibly redeemed, and impossibly delusional. This collection will make you smile, laugh, scream, cry, and possibly even froth at the mouth.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 7 – Comedy Shorts
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If comedy equals tragedy plus distance, this collection of films from around the world must be a LONG way away from its roots!

Incredibly funny stories of strange first dates, terms of service, and soccer mishaps mix it up with epic tales of children’s party performers at the end of their rope, the search for reliable childcare, and bear safety. Sometimes, the truth is funnier than fiction, and we mix in a little documentary just to keep things real! All of this, and Billy Ripken, make it the kind of comedy program that really does have a bit of everything.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 8 – High School
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With the availability of modern technological resources, high school students prove their skill at making impressive films on a tiny budget.

These young storytellers create works that showcase both rawness and innocence; from narrative films with a youthful perspective to a collection of documentary shorts exploring the Syrian refugee experience – you’ll be amazed by the artistry of these teenage filmmakers.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 9A – College – International Stories
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Sink in to this collection of student films that tell enlightening stories from a global perspective.

In styles that range from comedy to drama, documentary to animation, these shorts explore culture and identity, tragedy and heartache, inspiration and connection. You’ll be taken from the shores of the Yuanjiang River to the top of the Eiffel Tower; from an orchard in Mexico to the backroom of a BDSM leather shop in Israel – and beyond.

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Short Program 9B – College – American Voices
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The American experience today is as diverse as ever – as demonstrated by this slate of films from colleges across the country.

Explore the excitement of new love; laugh along with the Grim Reaper’s offspring; experience hopelessness through the eyes of a struggling actress and the collapse of a marriage; regain your faith in humanity through a futuristic story of survival and a real-life tale of perseverance. You might even learn a thing or two.

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Further Handicapping the Shorts Programs

As I mentioned earlier, 10 shorts programs is likely to be difficult for anyone to add to their other scheduled films, so I’ll give you my handicapping of these, cut it down to just a handful, to try to help you a bit.  This is not to say that the ones not included on my list, if they’re intriguing to you in their write-ups, shouldn’t trump these recommendations.  You need to go with your gut there.

So here’s what I’d recommend to just about anyone as far as short films history goes.

Short Program 7 – Comedy Shorts

Short films and comedy go together like a well told joke in a bar. The time is typically just enough to set the scene and pull a gag or two before getting to the payoff punchline.  You owe yourself to abandon some of the more serious aspects of the film festival and just sit down for a smorgasbord of cleverly crafted laughter.

Short Program 4 – Animated Worlds

Animation and short films have a long history. Again, well done animation is a painstaking endeavor, and for independent film makers the short form is both the economical choice and serves as a demo for what they might do if funded for the longer form.  There’s so much exploration of form and storytelling here that you’ll regret not seeing it once you hear what you missed from others.

Short Program 5 – Mindbenders

Similar to Animation, the Mindbenders category allows the filmmaker to experiment and explore new stories often augmented by film techniquest prohibitively difficult to fund or incorporate in longer form stories.  Mindbenders at Cinequest has a history of providing multiple WTF moments in a couple of hours. Again, these will be memorable cinematic experiences, some disturbing, some thought provoking, some just plain fun. You never quite know what you’re in for, but you’ll be glad you went in afterwards.

So that’s it for my Sight Unseen recommendations.  I’m hoping you’ll share your experiences with me here and if we run into each other at Cinequest.  I really need to head downtown for today’s viewing!

-Ric Bretschneider
March 2, 2016

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