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.


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

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.


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.

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Presentation Pros in NYC


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!


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

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


Ric Bretschneider
July 13, 2016 10:48am

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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.


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

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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.


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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.

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) -, Public Domain,

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,

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.


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.

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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.

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.


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

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.


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


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.


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.”


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.


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.

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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.



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


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

the_phoenix_incident_1000x316 (1)

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


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.


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.


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.


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

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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

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
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
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
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

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
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
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
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
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.

More Info and Tickets

Short Program 9B – College – American Voices
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.

More Info and Tickets

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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Cinequest 2016: The Brainwashing of My Dad

A Documentary By Jen Senko

A young woman explores the reasons her father would go from a caring inspiration to a devout, right-wing conservative, and she delivers a potent commentary of how the media is brainwashing a nation.THE_BRAINWASHING_OF_MY_DAD_-_A_Documentary_By_JEN_SENKO_on_Vimeo_4

Produced by Matthew Modine.
Directed by Jen Senko
Animation by Bill Plimpton

A simple change. A longer commute. Conservative talk radio. A loving father turns angry, hateful, bitter, and obsessive. Has he been brainwashed by a poisonous media? Jen Senko went to Kickstarter to fund a documentary that started with her father’s story and quickly became a national examination.

I’m not a real documentary watcher. Cinequest is one of the places where that preference falls aside. And my first documentary for this season is an amazing exacting look at the origins and history of the right-wing corruption of social and political discourse in America.


Senko’s personal story is the backbone to an exploration of this national change. Her story is a metaphor for the nation’s crumbling to noise from discourse. A father’s drastic emotional change, parallels that same change in America.

The Brainwashing of My Dad examines the trend beginning with  it’s roots in the 60’s. McCarthyism spawning the thought that the “bad guys” weren’t just in China and the Soviet Union, but they were in our homeland, our neighborhoods and our own government. It’s a thought through campaign whose success fed upon itself until it became a way of dealing with converting voters to the right’s point of view.

Again, many personal testimonials from similar families, paralleling Nixon’s moving conservative thought further and further to the right, with inspired vigilantes often working against their own self interests.


Similarly a the film provides a piercing exploration of the origins of supply side economics and trickle-down systems that supposedly would, by helping the wealthy, provide more equity for the middle and lower classes.  Even though those buzzwords are punchlines today, the effect they had on politics, economics and political thought remain today.

The escalation via the establishment of rightwing funded think tanks chartered with creating documents that fabricated evidence of phantom threats, engineered to continue fear mongering and a rightward movement in the targeted constituencies. Coordinating distributed talking points that would be drilled into viewers on cooperative media outlets. The creation of a “balance” principal, best demonstrated in rightwing media that gives the same weight of argument to a 1% of climate change deniers as it does to the 99% of scientists providing proof of climate change.


The film gets chilling when we get into the advent of Talk Radio, which began by providing a cult-like rejection of science, common sense, and progressive thought. Making people comfortable with racism, believe lies about forestation, nicotine, seat belts, climate change, and so much more. Again, individuals tell stories about their loved ones exhibiting incoherent and contrarian positions on the most basic facts of live. All this worsened by the creation of wild conspiracy theories which were taken on by listeners as factual, and even though easily rebuked became part of the fabric of their discourse. The fantasy of a war on Christmas caps it all, with “Merry Christmas” becoming more a war cry than a cheery greeting.


Commentators and historians like Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, David Brock of Media Matters, former Fox commentator Jeff Cohen, Claire Conner, are matched by the stories of everyday people, both those “recovering” from brainwashing, and those who have suffered through loved one’s infections.

Unique to this documentary is a clinical discussion of brainwashing techniques, specifically brainwashing by stealth whereby people aren’t forced to believe something, but slowly coerced by a pervasive narrowing of the horizon to one viewpoint.  This in turn makes it easier to insert similar thoughts and beliefs as the brain’s ability to challenge thoughts counter to this new basis has been compromised.  Through the use of isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition and strong emotions an actual brainwashing can occur, which becomes an addictive force in their lives. Again, the comparison to techniques used by rightwing media is stark and obvious.


Unfortunately this documentary, like so many others, does an exhaustive job at defining the history and breath of the problem, but sheds little light on a real solution to this cancer in our political system.  But there is the hint of a personal happy ending, a personal victory, which in itself does provide some hope.

In the end, as someone who deeply cares about our national health, I find The Brainwashing of My Dad is probably the most important documentary I’ve seen in years.

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 1, 2016

Posted in Cinequest, Film, Media, Movies, Review, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cinequest 2016: The Brainwashing of My Dad

Cinequest 2016: Friends Effing Friends Effing Friends

Written, Produced & Directed by Quincy Rose

A post-modern romantic comedy about luck and timing in relationships, missed opportunities, unrequited love and how the grass always appears to be greener on the other side…

Tyler Dawson – Jacob
Christina Gooding – Sarah
Jillian Leigh – Laura
Graham Skipper – Steve
Vanessa Dubasso – Camille

Friends_Effing_Friends_Effing_Friends__Feature__Written__Produced___Directed_by_Quincy_Rose_on_Vimeo 5

My Cinequest 2016 viewing started out with one of the more evocatively titled films on the schedule. The Effing, is a casual reference implying casual sex. Or at least as casual as things can be when multiple Friends are involved. It’s indeed a plurality of friends with benefits.

Of course the film makes sure it does not disappoint on either counts. Although the entirety of the cast can be counted off on one hand, the combinations and complications within are of course limited only by a plot where most of the characters are more than curious about sex with each of the others. But this isn’t really a story about mathematics.

Friends_Effing_Friends_Effing_Friends__Feature__Written__Produced___Directed_by_Quincy_Rose_on_Vimeo 2Jacob and Steve are childhood friends, now locked in their roles as manchildren. Each approaching sex and relationships from slightly different angles. Steve is dating Laura, a long-term relationship, but is in no means faithful to her. Jacob is a copyeditor, introduced to a writer Sarah, by Laura. The writer needs editing; Jacob almost immediately decides he needs Sarah. But then just as suddenly he becomes intrigued by Sarah’s roommate Camille. He effs Camille almost immediately as she’s about to leave the country; his limited opportunity forces his hand so to speak.

Camille gone, Sarah and Jacob settle down to their own long-term relationship, just as Steve and Laura end theirs. With each break-up, new patterns emerge and of course new opportunities are explored. Sarah and Laura are still friends, and after an evening of too much wine…

Friends_Effing_Friends_Effing_Friends__Feature__Written__Produced___Directed_by_Quincy_Rose_on_Vimeo 3

This is a sexy film that takes the “friends with benefits” motif to the next level. The attractive cast is at once playful, sensual, clinging, exploratory, resentful, and questioning. Jacob is at once the most and least stable of them, although speaking to the beneficial aspects of a monogamous relationship, is continually tempted and giving in to the same temptation. This contrasts well with Steve who seems out of control, but is honest about his crazy impulses and trysts.


While this could have easily been a small ensemble stage play, director Quincy Rose provides us with a cinematically active yet relaxed view into these lives. The gentle sway of Howard Wexler’s hand-held camera is just enough to invite us into the kitchens and bedrooms of these friends. It’s intimate, as is appropriate, and draws the viewer into these stories.

Friends_Effing_Friends_Effing_Friends__Feature__Written__Produced___Directed_by_Quincy_Rose_on_Vimeo 4

Quincy Rose’s writing is light and clever. The story is fairly simple, but still captivating. We know the inevitable discoveries of lies and histories await as both are accidentally and purposefully disclosed by the players. Again, there isn’t anyone here who is actually a bad person, (well maybe one has bad-ish tendencies), they’re all just looking for something more than they currently have. And they’re willing to look everywhere. And it’s very entertaining to watch them look.

This is my first must-see film for Cinequest.

Click here for film schedule and to buy tickets.

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

Ric Bretschneider
February 29, 2016

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

Introducing Neo / Ipsum for PowerPoint

I hope you won’t read this as just a father gushing about how talented his son is. Of course I’m proud. I’m also amazed and astounded that some aspect of my decades-long involvement with PowerPoint is now carried on by what is literally the next generation here.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First a bit of product announcement, then you can decide if you want to read about the back-story.

Introducing Neo / Ipsum

Today I’m privileged to announce the first PowerPoint add-in from 2D10 Development.



Neo / Ipsum is a tool for PowerPoint users who need to quickly check or evaluate a presentation slide or template without having to fill it in by hand. Screenshot_021816_090044_AMIt does this by adding “filler text,” known as Loren Ipsumto empty placeholders. This lets you see what the slides will look like when you’ve actually added your real content. (Of course there’s nothing that says you can’t try to present using Neo / Ipsum text, in fact it might make for a fun office party activity!)

Of course, the neo in Neo / Ipsum means new. So there are multiple styles of Ipsum collections to choose from. The initial release includes:

Classic – Lorem Ipsum fake Latin text

Comics – Comic book phrases and exclamations

Gaming – Related to electronic and board games

Hipster – 100% artisan crafted, trust-fund verbiage

Famous Final Words – Deathbed quotes

Science Fiction – Spaced-out, artificial intelligence

Sports – A home run of extra points efforts

Now PowerPoint power users know that you can type =lorem(3) in any placeholder to add lorem ipsum text to a placeholder. It works, but it’s kind of boring and limited. Neo / Ipsum takes filling your placeholders with text up to the next three levels.

With two or three clicks, you can fill every empty placeholder on a slide, or fill all the empty placeholders in the entire presentation!  And no, it won’t replace any text that already exists in your presentation, it leaves that alone.


Three clicks takes you from this… this!

…to this!

And what could be better than that?  Well, how about this. Neo / Ipsum is free. No charge. Enjoy. I think you’ll agree that not only is this a useful tool for PowerPoint designers and users, but it’s actually a lot of fun to use. And you can’t say that about many utilities.

You can download it here.

Oh, and if you want your own custom ipsum version, the cost for that will be quite reasonable. Yeah, we’re talking buying your work group a round of lattes reasonable. You can ask 2D10 Development to build a version just for you!  If you want a version for Macintosh PowerPoint, let him know – it’s an ongoing evaluation.

So go ahead, download and enjoy.

And now the personal story…

If you follow this blog there’s a good chance you know that I worked on multiple versions of the PowerPoint application at Microsoft over 17 years. That represented a large portion of my son Justin’s growing up, and I often apologize to him for the nights and weekends I was working on getting the next version of PowerPoint finished instead of throwing a baseball around. OK, we’d likely have played more video games together than playing any sportzball, but time lost to work is still never recovered.

During that stay on the PowerPoint team, I was one of three or four of developers who coded PowerPoint features using the brand-new-not-ready-for-prime-time Object Model and VBA. It’s totally OK if you don’t know what that means. VBA is a way that people can create additional functionality that shows up in PowerPoint, also known as “add-ins.”


Yes, I’m guilty of creating the AutoContent Wizard in PowerPoint 2000.

The story twist is this. Recently my son completed a degree in Digital Arts Engineering, with a focus on games development. Basically he was training to be a games developer. The Catch-22 in getting a job in games development, is you need experience in games development, and so the job search there has been slow-going. He’s persevered in daily coding of his own projects, created Android apps, and other tasks to grow his coding experience and expertise.

I’ve always told him that as a programmer, his skills were applicable to a diverse number of applications. To that point, a few months ago I suggested he look at the Office Object Model and VBA development tools, and give them a try. I also gave him the kernel of the idea that turned into Neo / Ipsum. I pointed him at a couple of potential mentors should he get stuck, but that’s about all I did as far as teaching went. He learned 99% of what he needed to finish this project entirely on his own, although I do believe he learned a couple of programmer-approved swear words that weren’t previously in his vocabulary. (Microsoft’s Object Models have that effect on everyone. Ask anyone.)

Justin and I had daily meetings to go over his progress. I gave feedback, and suggested improvements, just like any pointy-haired boss might provide. But I didn’t touch one line of code here. It’s all Justin’s. And I’m very proud of what he did in a strange (really strange!) development environment with tools he’d never laid hands on before.

Shameless Plug

And of course, he’s available for hire should you need someone to code a game or PowerPoint Add-in. In the meantime, hope you enjoy Neo / Ipsum.

Don’t be shy about sending feedback – Justin does expect to do a second version with a few tricks that didn’t make it into this release.

Ric Bretschneider
February 18, 2016

Posted in Audience, Business, Design, Personal, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Software, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Favorite from Cinequest 2014: Nothing in Los Angeles

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

Nothing in Los Angeles

Nothing in Los Angeles

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

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

Oh, and here’s a trailer!

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

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

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

Ric Bretschneider
January 27, 2016


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Fixing the PowerPoint Animation UI: A Modest Proposal

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

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

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


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

Ric Bretschneider
January 22, 2016

Posted in PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Tricks | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

PowerPoint Tip: Stacking Artistic Effects

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

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

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

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

Ric Bretschneider
January 11, 2016

Posted in Geeking around, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on PowerPoint Tip: Stacking Artistic Effects

What does Bill Gates read?


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

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

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

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

Source: The Best Books I Read in 2015

Ric Bretschneider
December 7, 2015 12:06pm pst

Posted in Books, Geeking around, Health and wellness, History, Media, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, Technology, Thoughts, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on What does Bill Gates read?

Finally, I’m Sold on Microsoft Office Subscriptions

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

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


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

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

Microsoft Office Subscriptions

Microsoft Office Subscriptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ric Bretschneider
3:30 PM PT

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

Star Wars VII trailer: Storytelling & the invisible structure


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

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

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

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

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

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

September 25, 2015 11:11 am

-Ric Bretschneider

Posted in Entertainment, Film, Geeking around, Media, Movies, PowerPoint, Presentations, Presenting, SciFi Fantasy, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Star Wars VII trailer: Storytelling & the invisible structure

The Fibonacci Method of Dealing with Difficult Clients

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

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

Source: The Fibonacci Method of Dealing with Difficult Clients

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