Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Raindrops on Roses (Part Sixteen): Searching (2018)

(I had trouble getting blogspot to cooperate this week so no images for right now)

It’s been three weeks since I last talked about screen-only media, and in that three weeks, I had a revelation that some might say is obvious but, I mean, I’m the one writing this blog so I’m still going to share it. Fundamentally, it’s the same lesson one learns when writing to anyone, through any medium, be that Internet Relay Chat, text messaging, or even handwriting letters: It’s difficult to identify the emotions in text like it is in sound.

Here’s a fun fact about the internet: The solution to this problem, universally, is appending a “/s” to any text that’s meant to be sarcastic. And when the original writer thinks it’s obvious they’re meant to be read as sarcastic, there’s inevitably still someone replying with something like, “Can’t tell if /s or not.”

Searching and Secret Little Haven both have similar themes in this regard. Both of their plots involve a father failing to understand his daughter and almost losing them. The question remains, though. How do you convey a character’s emotion through a screen? And that’s where these two pieces of media diverge.

Let’s focus on Searching for now. Between it and Secret Little Haven, Searching is much more sympathetic to the father, if only because it’s shot almost entirely from his perspective. The audience gets to see all the messages John Cho’s character, David, doesn’t send. We get to see his mouse move across the screen, click between tabs or windows, and can therefore get a sense of what’s inside his head. There are also a number of instances of webcams set up to allow for, you know, the actual acting.

In fact, the film makes a point to introduce all the necessary characters by video call or similar means before dropping into the text messages. This idea works not only because the audience gets to see these character’s faces match them to text, but also because we get to see how David reacts to them. How does he react to his brother having weed just in shot, for example.

In fact, the film tries to avoid the problem for as long as possible. Video, whether for chatting or otherwise, is used at every opportunity, sometimes in some admittedly contrived ways. But the film is also good at setting up these opportunities. A few times late in the film are of note here, though to speak more about them would be to spoil them.

This is a film built on its twists and turns. It is a thriller, after all. And it’s got a pretty tight script to help it, too. That was one of the problems of Unfriended and its sequel: those films were built upon their gimmick and had little else to offer. Searching, on the other hand, is tied to its gimmick to the point that it becomes a necessary part of the film.

Again, I’m not going to spoil it because I do want people to experience this movie as blind as possible, but we’re introduced to a phrase pretty early on in the film that keeps coming up in the back of David’s mind. At the end of the film, when it finally comes out, the way it’s presented makes it all the more rewarding.

-F

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Mr. Bird

I’ve been focusing on other projects recently, so this is another “week off” sort of post. Many of the people who read this blog on the regular have probably seen this one already, but it’s also one of the ones I’ve been consistently happy with, so hopefully that balances out.

It also means I finally have to pick a title for it, so here you go: Mr. Bird

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Ruminations on Oscar Gold (Part Two)

I was going to talk about the Oscars again, but then I remembered that, well, I’d already done that. I thought that, well, maybe my opinions had changed or improved in the year since I’d last written about it, but it turns out that actually, well, they really hadn’t. My previous post even contains some of the same buzzwords that I’ve used to describe my opinions this year (“Cultural touchstone” stands out, for example).

But I still want to talk about it, I think. Like, I’m not going to directly comment on any of the results, largely because, not having seen either Bohemian Rhapsody or Green Book -- the two major pushbacks focus on the Best Editing and Best Picture awards to these two movies respectively -- I can only comment on the metatext of these two films. To put it another way, being blissfully ignorant of these two films means I can only talk about what people are saying about them, and there are dozens of takes now that the awards are over about how these were bad choices, enough that that’s not something that really interests me.

I do enjoy some of the trivia, though, like how this is the second time a Spike Lee joint has lost to a “solving deep south racism through the medium of cars” film (Driving Miss Daisy won in 1990, while Do The Right Thing was snubbed), or how Best Actor winner said the ghost of Freddie Mercury protected him from director Bryan Singer, who has had multiple sexual assault allegations pointed at him.

In fact, it’s really easy to get caught up in the bread and circuses of it all. I was working during the ceremony itself and I was still checking, poking around to see which film won what and the associated reactions therein. And that’s kind of how I put it last year. The reactions are more important to me, I think, than the awards themselves. So while I’m disappointed that some of my picks didn’t get chosen, I’m glad the discourse around those picks is there.

-F

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Screentime (Raindrops on Roses Part Fifteen-And-A-Half)

This was going to be a whole Raindrops on Roses series but I couldn’t remember a book to match the theme. But it’s still something I wanted to write about, so here it is anyway.

There have been enough pieces of media focused entirely on the computer screen that I, someone who is definitely not an art critic, would call it its own genre. In a way, this sort of creativity, almost unbounded in variation up to this point. I first heard about it in an Every Frame a Painting video called “A Brief Look At Texting And Internet In Film,” which in turn lead me to the three short films, Noah (2013), a relationship drama/coming of age story; Internet Story (2010), a docu-thriller(?); and Transformers: the Premake (2014), a documentary. And since that video has come out, there have been three pretty prominent feature-length examples as well. Unfriended (2014) and Unfriended: Dark Web (2018), both horror films; and Searching (2018), a mystery/thriller.

Stylistically, it makes sense. By cropping the film’s screen down to only parts of the computer’s, it’s easy to direct the audience’s attention to where it might be important. Noah has a whole gag centered around this idea, for example. It also allows for an easily-explainable diegetic soundtrack, which further increases immersion. Plus, because webcams have basically become default parts of the computer experience for most people, actor performance isn’t diminished at all.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that these screen-as-film ideas are one of the first ideas to become outdated. It really isn’t their fault; it’s just how the evolution of the internet works. Operating systems and the design of websites and applications continues to iterate upon itself, while these movies are stuck in their own era. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing -- we don’t hate older movies for not having cell-phones, for example -- but it is a noticeable one, made all the more prominent by the medium through which the film is conveyed.

What’s interesting, then, is video game’s attempts at the same presentation. Instead of film’s looks towards modernity and capturing the present, video games instead seem to be looking at certain aesthetics that only existed decades in the past.

I first noticed this in the visual novel Emily Is Away, which revolves around being in an IRC with an old high-school friend. It has a sequel, entitled Emily Is Away Too, which is more of a reimagining of the original’s scenario and has the same visual themes as its predecessor.

But there are other, more stylized games out there as well. Arc Symphony, for example, revolves around a message board back when message boards were tied directly to email accounts, and is played with a CRT-screen effect to further immerse the player in that era. It shares themes (fandom, discovery of identity) with another game called Secret Little Haven, which, as far as I’ve encountered, seems to take the best lessons from all the previous examples and wrap it into a single package.

The two examples I would have chosen for the Raindrops on Roses series would have been Searching and Secret Little Haven. And, to be honest, I still kind of want to. So here’s what I’ll do. These two works will be the next two posts for that series, and the third in the theme will be imagining what a book with the same visual aesthetic might look like.

See you then!

-F

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"May-Mays"

I’ve been listening to a lot of what people would call “meme music” lately. Stuff like Never Gonna Give You Up (yes that link leads exactly where you think it leads), or What’s Up? or songs similar, if that makes sense. Stuff that, for some reason, the internet has latched onto as “the paragon of funny things.” Gangnam Style is another one.

I don’t know why specifically I’ve been listening to these songs, nor do I have the best reason for why these songs became popular in the first place. The closest I can come up with is that they’re all kind of unaware of their own charm? Like that paradoxical One Direction lyric, they don’t know how charming they are.

That sort of thinking, of course, extends to other mediums as well. Tommy Wiseau, for example, managed to make The Room, but everything else he’s made has been with that paratext in mind. “From the guy that made that disaster-of-a-movie The Room” all the promotional material seems to say. This can also be exemplified in music. People don’t remember Saturday at all, even if it’s technically a better song (or so I’m told. I’m not a music critic). Did you know that Rick Astley’s still making music?

But turning to more strict definitions of the word “meme,” I’ve also been listening to what people would call “memetic genres.” Entire types of music that get relegated to the “it’s just memes” category of listening. And to be fair, some of that derision is probably well deserved. The premier Vaporwave song is called “リサフランク420 / 現代のコンピュー” (Lisa Frank 420 / Modern Computing), for example, and other songs in the genre only get more esoteric. And I like to think Eurobeat (that’s “Techno Bluegrass” for those that remember that) would be a lot better received if it didn’t have Running in the 90s as its headlining song.

But both of those genres have a sort of cheesiness to them as well. Vaporwave’s major aesthetic is in reimagining 80s pop songs, and Eurobeat lyrics are frequently so obsessed with sex and cars and sex in cars that anything else is just an outlier.

So is “cheesy charm” what makes a song a meme? I mean, maybe. There are definitely outliers out there, of course. For example, Hurt as performed by Johnny Cash is not particularly cheesy at all (okay, maybe the shot of Cash pouring wine over everything is kind of funny). But it’s definitely a common factor for a lot of songs.

-F

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Correlation, Not Causation

I’m not normally a superstitious person, but I am superstitious when it comes to the food service industry. Of course, there are so many ways to be miserable working at a restaurant, that of course I’m going to start drawing parallels where they probably don’t belong. I thought it’d be interesting, though, to go down the list of some of the more prominent jinxes, even just as an observational exercise.

Whenever a screen breaks, we get busy immediately after. This used to be more general, a sort of “When you spend time fixing something, that’s not time helping customers” sort of idea, which then leads to a back-up on the line and a miserable me. But in this more specific case, there have been a number of times when the system we’ve been using to keep track of orders just freezes up. Every time that’s happened, at least ten new people come in and we have to start tracking orders by hand. And that never turns out good for anybody.

Whatever we’re already low on (for whatever reason), we’re going to get an intense demand for the rest of the meal period. I mean, this one seems obvious, right? If we’re in a position that we’re low on something, it either means someone screwed up in prep (not an unlikely situation, to be honest) or the item’s in high demand. Meatballs are the most notable here, as it’s really easy to run out of servable ones and it takes forever to heat up more.

Never ever ever say that we’re probably going to be slow that shift. That just invites trouble. The worst part is that this is normally said before our normal rush periods, so the promise is even more hollow than it seems. Fortunately for this one, people have started catching on and calling each other on this. It doesn’t help, but it’s a good step forward.

Catering orders are the devil. They really just are. It’s a lot of food for some faceless individual over the internet, and sometimes if the order’s big enough, they even have a manager (and it’s always a manager, they’re the only staff allowed) deliver it to them. So not only are we down someone who could help out on the line or serve or take orders, but it seems every time we start making one of these orders, five new orders come in.

So… yeah! Those are the big ones, the ones that come up again and again. As the title implies, I know that these are just coincidences. Like, there are probably times I just don’t think about when stuff like this doesn’t happen despite an inciting incident, and I don’t notice those times, but when you’re so busy trying to make sure everyone gets their food in any time close to reasonable, you don’t really think about those times.

-F

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Block

I’m really bad at dealing with writer’s block. That’s the primary reason I started this blog, after all, that and dealing with actually ending pieces I start. For the most part, the latter has since not really been an issue for me; I think last year’s Write What You Know is a good example of that, given the goals I had set out for it. But I don’t really feel the same way about that incessant issue that is the former.

Now, to be fair, it’s not like I haven’t tried the various cure-alls that circulate the internet. And a lot of them do work. A particular favorite of mine is the “do nothing but” approach where the author dedicates an amount of time to either writing or “doing nothing.” It’s one of the more extreme methods, I’ve found, and I don’t always have the willpower for it, but when I do manage it, I tend to enjoy the results. Another one is changing scenery, which I like not specifically because of the explicit change, but because of the time it takes to make it, giving me time to think about the approach I want to take on a piece.

Time is a key factor in both of those methods. Maybe that’s the reason that, despite knowing about them, I still feel I’m “really bad” at them. There’s still a part of me that wants some sort of magical solution that fixes my problem, even if the rest of me knows there never will be.

The word “angst” gets a bad rap, I think, though it’s not like it doesn’t deserve at least some of it. Being associated with terms like “dark”, “teenage”, and “brooding”, will do that to a word. But I still think it’s the best way to describe how I feel in this instance. “Writer’s block” might as well be “writer’s angst” for me. That’s why the most popular solution, “Do whatever it takes to get words onto a page” never seemed to work for me. There’s that niggling self-doubt that it’s never going to be good enough. So things get retread on and deleted or left open in a tab that I never seem to get back to no matter how many times I say I’m definitely going to finish that. There’s a whole hierarchy at the top of my browser screen for which projects need finishing first and which are just pieces of wishful thinking.

Am I spreading myself too thin? I never feel that I am, though maybe that’s because I just never go back and look at some of these tabs, so the fear of unfinished-ness never fully develops. I do get posts here finished on a regular basis, not to mention, you know, actual schoolwork. But there’s also the wonder of what happens when those deadlines are stripped away and I’m left with a blank Word doc and not much else.

-F