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pardon my dust. i'm turning it into glitter.

Hi, I'm Chris. If you subscribe to the MBTI, I'm an INFJ. I put myself through school for a seemingly useless English/Creative Writing degree, but writing is my passion and that's what I want to do when I grow up. Still figuring out what comes next, and pretty much everything else, so I'm feeling kinda adventurous. And yes, that's exactly how my OkCupid profile starts out. Why mess with a good thing, eh?

The site's a work in progress. I'll be adding content over time, and hopefully eventually it'll evolve into something halfway interesting. I'm glad you're still reading, though. Usually by this point I have to show a little skin to keep 'em interested.

Filtering by Category: reviews

A Dark Room.

(Updated 2014.07.20)

       Optimization may be officially dead to me. A bug introduced in the last iOS update has caused the app to freeze on the start screen, rendering it useless until a fix can be made. The ludicrous oversight by the developers (is anything tested anymore?) has made me realize that I don't really miss the tedium of activity-logging and that the benefits were short-lived. In the end, the only thing driving my progress in managing my time better, or at least in making more time for the activities I want to pursue, is simply my will to do so.

       However, while trying to find a fix or explanation in the App Store, I instead stumbled on a little text-based game that has quietly risen the charts. As a fan of the old King's Quest games, I naively had something similar in mind when I forked over the $0.99 to download the game. I had seen the reviews calling it "disturbing", which I typically avoid -- I tend to let myself slip a little too deeply into these sorts of things to enjoy the horrific. Heck, even Minecraft can scare the bejeezus out of me at times. But the many reviews calling it "cerebral, emotional, and dark" and "deeply stirring" (while also carefully noting that the game isn't scary -- after all, it's text-based) intrigued me.

       I can't say much about the game play here without spoiling it. It's certainly best to let the game reveal itself to you, layer by layer. The game doesn't give you much help in how to play it, but it's not difficult. You grope around and figure it out like a blind person might, always returning to your fire to keep it going. Then you start to notice things. At first they're small things that don't seem to fit. You wonder why she's so reluctant to build you a hut. You wonder why bits of cloth turn up in the hunting traps. Then you start to get an idea of what and who you are. Your actions in the game are disturbing, but they seem justified. Desperate times, after all, and dangerous ones.

       Then the game has a way of connecting with you on an emotional level. There's one particularly powerful turning point in the game when you start to call characters you were protecting by another name. It was a shocking, "What have I done?!" moment for me, and I tried in vain to reverse it. I heard stories of others being brought to tears. But then you get used to it. You keep going. You do what needs to be done. It is just a game, after all. And then you start to wonder what you're capable of.

       The game is addicting, but it doesn't take long. I went slowly, playing yesterday while I was doing laundry and other chores around the apartment, and I completed it in 297 minutes. The feeling upon completion was nearly profound. While the actions within the game itself cannot be called beautiful, the narrative, the way the story is told, certainly is. Seriously worth the $0.99, and I'd also very much like to see a movie made, if done correctly. Sorry, Androids, you can't play (at least not the official version),  but the original game is available online for free here. However, I highly recommend playing the iOS version if able. The app developer, Amir Rajan, added some subtle but significant depth to the game play and fleshes out the narrative more than the online original does. Also significant is the support added for blind users, which had some fascinating side-effects on the game play for sighted users. If time is an issue, the iOS version also moves a bit faster and allows for easy pausing, which is only available on the online version by downloading the code into a text file, then importing the text file into the game when you wish to resume.

       Anyway, the current challenge, once you've finished the game for the first time, is to go back and play it again without building any huts. You'll know what I mean when you get there. Until then, try seeing just how dark that room can get.

(Update): It does take significantly longer to complete the game without huts, which also makes it less exciting, but I slogged through it as a matter of principle. As a small reward, there is an alternate ending.

Persuasion.

       Jane Austen's final completed novel has always been the one that broke my heart the most, and is among my very favorites. Tonight I made the mistake of watching the 2007 BBC adaptation, which is the first time I've seen any of the "Persuasion" films. I had sort of avoided it before, but my boss, knowing how stressed I've been with our big annual event (which went quite well today), sent me home after with a stack of DVDs and instructions to take a couple days, get drunk, and watch the lot. She didn't have to tell me twice.

       We had discovered our mutual adoration of all things Jane during a work conference we attended about a month ago in DC, so most of the stack is comprised of BBC adaptations. "Persuasion" was the first I watched -- I've only just finished -- and it may have ruined me for the others. It didn't quite turn me into a blubbering idiot, but almost. It's far too easy to identify with both of them, really, but probably Captain Wentworth all the more. Perhaps all I have to do now is get rich...

       It's easy to believe that Austen may have tried to live through her novels, with all those happy endings to the stories of broken hearts. And it's a cold reminder that reality is often very different from the happy endings we imagine or hope for, when Austen herself died an "old maid".

       I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation, with the exception of the meaningful looks that Anne Elliott would sometimes give the audience by looking directly into the camera. They were disconcerting and incongruous. Apparently I'll not learn from my mistakes tonight, though -- on to the next!

Optimization.

My day so far...

       As of today, I have lived 11,111 days. Average life expectancy of a human being living in the United States is 28,703. That gives me, barring any unfortunate circumstances, approximately 17,592 days to live. Given my fitness level, more or less healthy diet, family history, etc., I'll probably have a few more than that, but this is all for illustration purposes.

       Yesterday I was surfing a news reader app called "DuckDuckGo" which pulls interesting stories from various news agencies, reddit, lifehacker, etc., which I love but really don't have the time to explore individually, and I stumbled upon (yes, I love that one too) an article from lifehacker touting the benefits of an iPhone app that basically invades your life and destroys your privacy. So of course I downloaded it.

        I'm on day 1 of using "OptimizeMe", and the first thing I've noticed is that it makes me acutely aware of the passage of time. Today I slept from 12a to 9a, fed the cat, took a shower, and did some groggy grooming until 9:24a, cooked and ate breakfast (this exact one here, except with whole wheat toast instead of sourdough -- so freaking good) while watching an HBO documentary "The Out List" until 9:55a, continued watching the documentary intermittently while doing some laundry and cleaning up, brushing my teeth, etc., until 11:38a, at which time I sat down to start writing this post. I have now been working on it (including a break to continue the laundry) for 32 minutes and 36 seconds.

       It kind of sounds like a nightmare, logging all of these activities, but the app makes it relatively simple. And the reason I'm doing all of this? I'm kind of terrible with my own personal time management. At work I'm on point and I get my stuff done, but after 9 hours of focus, another ±1.5 at the gym, I get home and things tend to fall apart. I've already failed that "3 hours a week of writing" goal that I set for myself earlier this month, so this is an attempt to reclaim that. The app breaks everything down into 4 categories: health, creativity, routine, and pleasure, with the goal of finding balance and optimizing behaviors to become more effective and improve your mood. It lets you set clear goals and gives you insights into how to improve. Basically: I'm excited. I'll let you know how it goes.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller directs and stars in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

       So today I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Along with The Desolation of Smaug (which I'll probably not talk about here because I'm too much of a fanboy), Mitty was one of my more highly anticipated movies of the season. I've always had a soft spot for characters who get lost in their own little fantasy worlds, notably Zach Braff's "J.D." on Scrubs or Calista Flockhart's titular Ally McBeal -- they're neurotic and sad and I very much identify.

       When leaving the theater after Mitty I overheard one little old lady comment to her two little old lady pals, "I didn't like the beginning much, but it got better" which strangely helped me organize my feelings about it. For about the first half you would have seen a look of horror on my face as my hopes and dreams for the film were slashed to bloody pieces: the writing was terrible. The jokes fell flat, the fantasies were utterly bizarre (the fantasies from the source material would have made much more sense, but apparently the film had to be stripped of anything at all resembling Thurber's original story), and there was a schizophrenic bleed of fantasy into reality (mountains crumbling to reveal text messages) that completely lacked any sort of charm.

       Even the cinematography, which briefly captured some truly stunning views of Iceland and Afghanistan, failed to let us linger in the beauty of those moments -- a central theme of the film. I remember very specifically one scene in Afghanistan where Mitty is hiking up the Himalayas and the music builds to this great crescendo a la The Return of the King when the beacons are lit, and we crest over one ridge to this gorgeous panoramic view of the mountains only to be drawn down with barely a glimpse of the beauty to Ben Stiller huffing and puffing up the trail.

       Some of the plot points -- like the sale of an old piano -- just don't make sense, and the oodles of product placements were annoying as hell (eHarmony probably financed half the damned film for an entirely pointless subplot, and the gushing over Cinnabon was laughable), but what did help to save the movie for me in the end was the adherence to and borderline overstatement of the fictional Life magazine motto about following your dreams and the purpose of life or some such sentimental bullshit, but it worked. It tied the film together and left us with a vague sense of having been inspired that lasted approximately until we reached the parking lot.

       Is it worth seeing? Sure, if you're bored, but don't have your hopes up too high. Netflix? Maybe, but the natural beauty that we're able to glimpse might make the cost of the big screen worth it. Better yet, let's take a trip to Iceland instead. I'll read you the short story on the way -- even it's not that great but it will only take about ten minutes.

Out for Blood.

       I just wrote an email to Andrew Christian and chewed their asses for using "your" instead of "you're" in an ad about underwear for the well-endowed. Then I electronically bitch-slapped a friend for using "alright" instead of "all right" on his private blog.

       This bitter old queen is brought to you tonight by Robert Mondavi's Private Selection Pinot Noir and a renewed self-hatred thanks to all the beautiful men at my gym.

       So I've started reading this book: "Young Man from the Provinces" by Alan Helms. It was recommended to me by that aforementioned blogger friend after my "Call Me Crazy" post. This is a sort of review before I get very far at all into it. Because I'm curious if my perception will change. It's a memoir by this gorgeous man who was something of a gay icon/sex symbol in the pre-Stonewall days. And we're supposed to feel sorry for him.

       First of all, I don't really trust people who write memoirs. We get it. You think your life is important and has meaning. You are a unique and beautiful flower. Just like the rest of us. Except you happen to be genetically gifted and that makes me want to hate you all the more. Yes, this is the first memoir I've ever read. So far I'm on page 20 and all he's done is try to make us cry over his tortured childhood, giving intelligence to a 4 year-old that you'd probably believe as much if I attributed it to my 4 year-old cat.

       I'm having trouble wrapping my head around it. The redeeming quality thus far was in the epigraph from Walt Whitman's "Calamus" in which he kind of acknowledges my frustrations: 

Who is now reading this?
Or may-be a stranger is reading this who has secretly
         loved me,
Or may-be one who meets all my grand assumptions
         and egotisms with derision,
Or may-be one who is puzzled at me.
As if I were not puzzled at myself!
Or as if I never deride myself! (O conscience-struck!
         O self-convicted!)
Or as if I do not secretly love strangers! (O tenderly,
         a long time, and never avow it;)
Or as if I did not see, perfectly well, interior in
         myself, the stuff of wrong-doing,
Or as if it could cease transpiring from me until it
         must cease.

 *sigh* Sometimes I have to remind myself that pretty people are indeed people too. If we cut them, they do bleed. Well, Mr. Helms, I'm sharpening the fangs of my wit. You have 186 pages before I strike.

 

Outed: J.K. Rowling's "The Cuckoo's Calling" is FABULOUS!

The Cuckoo's Calling
By Robert Galbraith, J. K. Rowling

       It has been ages since I've been so absorbed in a book that I almost missed my bus stop. With this book I've been close about a half dozen times. Like my stop, she wasn't exactly spotted a mile away -- in fact it took three months for the secret to get out -- but "The Cuckoo's Calling", written under the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith", has all the hallmarks of classic Jo Rowling.

       Fans who found themselves slogging through "The Casual Vacancy" (even if too proud to admit it)* will be quite buoyed by this effortless read. In "Cuckoo" Rowling's wit and ninja story-telling skills are stronger than ever. The mystery is deep, the suspense is goose-pimplingly gratifying, and the characterizations would make Jane Austen proud, all the more realistic for their lack of magic wands. Once again, Rowling has masterfully constructed a book that feels exactly the way reading should feel, effortlessly keeping the reader under it's spell. 

        Potter fans will love very subtle references to the series that brought Rowling her own wealth and fame. I giggled aloud when I read the phrase "you know who killed her", even if I can't be entirely sure it was intentional. Given Rowling's superhuman control of the language and a predilection for winks and nudges, I choose to believe that she was having fun with it.

       Entertainment value aside, do not make the mistake of reading the book lightly. From commentary on racial tensions (bigotry seems to be emerging as one of the author's favorite recurring themes) to our culture's obsession with wealth and fame and returning once again to discuss death, if even in a lighter context than her previous works, Rowling once again brings to the table an enviable wisdom and morality without the slightest hint of preachiness.

        The climax of the novel, while not some earth-shattering twist, is gratifying and not overly predictable. Ultimately, readers will likely find more satisfaction in the relationships between the characters, particularly that of Strike and his would-be secretary, Robin. We are left, inevitably, wanting more. Fortunately that desire will be fulfilled soon: in the FAQs on the author's pseudo-site, Rowling reveals that the sequel is due out next year. Overall, highly recommended (and yes, if you purchase through that link to the left I get a cut).

*not to say that it lacked any brilliance

Orange Is the New Black.

Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman in the Netflix Original "Orange Is the New Black". 

Taylor Schilling as Piper Chapman in the Netflix Original "Orange Is the New Black". 

 

       It's been a weekend of escapism.  Not only does my little apartment feel increasingly like a prison, but my mind is also playing some nasty tricks on me, making company simultaneously undesirable and yearned-for, thus completely ill-advised. So in my self-imposed solitary confinement I turned to the three things that have always been there for me: gin, my cat, and Netflix.

       Now Netflix's previous attempts at television were, to me, rather lame. It was a secret to no-one that the company's well-oiled machine of statistics collection and determining what audiences prefer was fully cranked up to make a perfectly packaged product with all the same flavors that we've been chewing on since television was invented, rendering them as bland as prison food. The latest attempt, however, was helmed by the genius that is Jenji Kohan and touted a supporting cast that included Jason Biggs and the great Kate Mulgrew. Round it out with another opening theme by Regina Spektor and they had this geek eating out of that well-oiled machine's rusty hands. 

        The show is definitely reminiscent of "Weeds" and likely not by accident, but Kohan's perfect blend of comedy and drama works well for the story, and the cheap-cliff-hanger-at-the-end-of-every-episode device (there has to be a name for that) a la Dan Brown makes me feel like an insatiable drama whore. Yes, I watched all thirteen episodes in a roughly 48-hour period. Probably safe to say that I liked it.

       While many of the story elements are fairly predictable, particularly surrounding the relationship between our protagonist, Piper (Taylor Schilling), and her fiancée Larry (Biggs), the results are no less gratifying. The characters are for the most part realistic even when aided by racial or cultural cliché, but the show doesn't get bogged down in racism either. Instead it tackles some of today's hotly debated topics with a light touch, from many issues along the queer spectrum to shady government to religion. The villains are who you'd expect and sometimes over the top, but not so much that you can't picture them as human, and in fact the show goes out of its way to remind you of how human each of the characters are. There's an interview by Sir Ian McKellan that I love to reference in which he says (paraphrasing) that straight people should be so lucky to be forced to look in the mirror and come to terms with who they are; and in this show they rather deftly force the characters to do the same, reflecting on how they came to be where they are and what they are reduced to when stripped of their freedom. It's a fascinating struggle of self-discovery on a level you don't often see in television.

       And of course it's always important to pay attention to literary references, none seemingly so important in this show as Frost's "The Road Less Taken", with which Piper shows off her literary skills and offers the interpretation that: "everyone wants to look back and think that their choices matter, but in reality shit just happens the way that it happens and it does not mean anything." Most quick interpretations cling to that titular line as a reason to go one's own way and forget that the narrator calls the roads "really about the same". "Orange" effectively strips our protagonist of her self-deception that one road could have made all the difference and forces her to look at herself as a flawed human being. 

       So Netflix finally seems to have found it's footing in the world of entertainment production with "Orange", and I'm definitely looking forward to the second season, but right now I'm feeling the urge to go for a run.

Cumberbitchin.

         After far too long a wait for this trekkie, with blame going equally to laziness, busy-ness, and speeding bus-drivers that zoom by my stop about 5 minutes too early when I'm only about 100 feet away, I was finally able to go see Into Darkness yesterday. It was the first movie I've been able to see in a theater since The Hobbit back in January, so it was kind of a special treat, and it didn't disappoint.

       Especially for an action/adventure flick, I thought the pacing was well-balanced, which I couldn't say for its immediate predecessor. Films like these often get too carried away in their break-neck speed then have boring little interludes mixed in as an attempt to even things out. It doesn't often work, but my attention was never diverted here by thoughts of "oh-my-god-this-is-too-much", nor did I want for a fast-forward button. It was kept tight, but not too tight.

 <minor spoilers>

       My only real complaints about the film included the gratuitously alien planet in the beginning that was far too stylized to be believable and the reliance on "Spock Prime" near the climax. The former can be forgiven, but the latter is starting to get old. I love Nimoy, of course, and his appearance in the first film was thrilling and it worked. Here, though, I think it drew a bit too much attention to the fact that this was a rework of the original sequel, The Wrath of Khan. 2009's Trek, with its diversion into an alternate timeline, was a great way to both reboot and continue the series, but it's not much of a continuation if you start retelling the same stories over again. With all of the remakes flooding the film industry I, for one, am starved for original material, and while I did prefer this rework to the original Khan, it also left me hoping that they'll come up with something new for the next installment. Given the significant switch at the end of Darkness that upends the story arc that would otherwise have been the next two films, I'm optimistic.

</spoilers> 

       Now to the point: I do have to admit that I squealed a little (just a little) when I heard that the formerly titular character would be played by my übercrush from BBC's Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch. The man is just so gorgeously British that he would melt any Anglophile. And I'm copying directly from the Into Darkness Wikipedia page here to drive that point home, but "Jonathan Romney of The Independent specifically noted Cumberbatch's voice saying it was 'So sepulchrally resonant that it could have been synthesised from the combined timbres of Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Alan Rickman holding an elocution contest down a well'." Considering he just named three of my favorite British men, you might begin to understand my excitement. But the man just ran away with the show. We already know he can play the genius, but he was such an awesome villain that I found myself wanting him to win. I love a good villain, especially those you can sympathize with: those whose actions are understood to a point where you're forced to reflect on whether you would chose the same if in their position. Their motivation isn't some evil madness or blind revenge, but some very applicable situation. This shift from the original Khan was a stroke of genius, and Benedict's portrayal left me even more hopelessly than before his Cumberbitch.

Copyright © 2018 Christopher Postlethwait