I’m in the NY Times… (or at least, on their website)

The New York Times “Room for Debate” section is talking about football today.  They asked me to give voice to the former fans who can no longer stomach the sport.  Here’s a link.

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Baby Whiplash

This is a little something I made with my daughter last February. We rushed to get a version online before the Oscars. Here’s a better cut of it.

People who say “Hollywood has run out of ideas” aren’t being very original

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Just a typical day in the comment section of almost any film-centric website…

I always cringe a little when I hear people say anything to effect of “Hollywood has run out of ideas” or “there’s no originality in Hollywood anymore.”  Not just because they’re lazy criticisms typically uttered with disdain, detachment, and smugness (and by someone who acts like they’re the first person to say it), but because it’s not even true.  The film industry has never been about original ideas, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The main formula of “Hollywood” has always been 4 parts something familiar plus 1 part something different (to give you a reason to pay for it again).  That’s the way it’s been for over a century.

Case in point:  1939

When I first started writing this blog post, I wanted to examine “the greatest year in the history of American cinema.”  Two years kept coming up over and over again in my searches.  The first is 1939, because a startling number of films produced that year have truly stood the test of time.  Here are the ten movies nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards that year:  Gone with the Wind – Stagecoach – Wuthering Heights – Dark Victory – Love Affair – Goodbye, Mr. Chips – Ninotchka – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Of Mice and Men – and The Wizard of Oz.

Though Dark Victory (with Bette Davis, Bogart, and Reagan) and Ninotchka (a Lubitsch/Billy Wilder collaboration) have failed to leave an indilible mark on the cinematic consciousness of America, the others easily rank amongst all-time classics — movies that are constantly referenced as high points of their genre.

Now, you might say: “Exactly, Hollywood has tried to imitate those eight other films to death!  So I’m right. Hollywood is unoriginal.”

Except, of course, for the fact there’s a stunning dearth of “originality” on that list.

1. Gone with the Wind – based on a novel.

2. Stagecoach – Both a genre film and an adaptation of a short story “The Stage to Lordsburg”

3. Wuthering Heights – Novel.

4. Dark Victory – Based on a play.

5.  Love Affair – Look, an original story for the screen!

6. Goodbye, Mr. Chips – Novel (though it should be noted this movie wasn’t made by “Hollywood” — it’s British)

7. Ninotchka – An original screen story.

8.  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Based on an unpublished story.

9. Of Mice and Men – Novel.

10. The Wizard of Oz – Novel.

So of the best picture nominees from one of the most historical years in movies, 8 were adaptions of preexisting material.  But you know what?  I’ll knock it down to 7,  since the original story for Mr. Smith was never published.  So there you go.  7 out of 10, and no one has ever called Gone With The Wind or The Wizard of Oz unnecessary adaptations.  And as for Love Affair… It may be a classic, and it may be original, but you know what’s considered even more of a classic?  The 1957 remake:  An Affair to Remember.

Also noteworthy about Love Affair, its success led to two more films starring the same leads (Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer) being produced soon thereafter.  Hollywood did that a lot in the pre-home video era.  To satisfy the audience’s desire to see certain actors together again, when they couldn’t make a sequel they’d just pair them up again and again in other (very similar) films.  In other words, the golden age of movies was filled with a lot more You’ve Got Mail’s than Sleepless in Seattle‘s.

If Hollywood had as much of a habit of doing that today as they did back then, what would the internet call them?  Faux-quels?

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A Conversation Between Anne Frank and St. Peter Thanks To A Couple Mitt Romney Supporters

A lot has been said about the controversial Mormon practice of baptizing holocaust victims after they’ve died, so I won’t say anything more on the matter. I’m just going to print this “conversation” that came to me in a dream; a conversation that I think sums up the feelings of those who support the practice (and allowed me to see this issue in a much better light):

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Why is Sprint still airing their “first” Evo commercial?

I saw this commercial again just last night.  I get that when the HTC Evo came out in June, Sprint wanted to really play up its “first” status among 4G cell phones, which was a great idea back when it was the only 4G phone.  But all Sprint’s doing now is reminding people the Evo is the oldest 4G phone out there.  Not sure that’s the message they want to be sending.

Side note: Does anyone even remember what the first 3G or 2G phones were? Nope. I don’t, and I actually pay attention to these things. The commercial pretends like being the first 4G phone is as iconic and groundbreaking as being the first rotary phone or the first rocket into space, but as far as I can tell, only three cell phones have officially reached icon status:  the first iPhone, the Motorola Razr, and Zack Morris’s grey brick mobile phone.  That’s it.

Though it helped make Zack popular at school, it also lead to his fatal brain tumor.

So you want to break up with your cable company…

There’s nothing worse than staying in a bad relationship way past it’s natural expiration date, yet that’s what always winds up happening. We worry we can’t find anything better. We focus too much on the few good times, not enough on the multitudes of bad ones. We deceive ourselves into thinking things will get better.

That’s why I’m here.

I’m here to tell you can do better.

I’m here to tell you that things don’t have to be this way.

I’m here to tell you how to break up with your cable company.

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So I’m beginning to think Facebook might really be evil…

This shouldn’t be so shocking to me.  I mean, I knew Facebook had the ability to backlog every personal detail about your life, even the stuff you deleted.  I just didn’t think they’d ever flaunt that Big Brotherness so boldly.

Before I vent, let me say that I actually like Facebook.  It’s ubiquity makes it an ideal way for friends and family to stay connected.  Myspace was ugly, Friendster was never fully embraced, but Facebook fell into the sweet-spot that attracted both techies and their aunts.  The only catch is that whatever you post to Facebook is then going to be used to target advertising towards you.  Small price to pay, right?

I really don’t have a problem with the targeted ads part.  It’s the other potentially nefarious uses that bothered me.  Part of Facebook’s master plan (well, the master plan we know about, at least) is to claim all info/pics/videos/etc. you post to the site becomes their property, and they can exploit that content in any way they wish.   As a writer, such appropriation of other people’s work just feels wrong to me.

So well over a year ago I decided to minimize my Facebook footprint.  I stopped uploading pictures, especially of my artwork.  I vowed not to post anything to the site that I might want to turn into a script or book (if “Shit My Dad Says” had originated on Facebook and not Twitter, you better believe Facebook would want a massive piece of the action).  And I also erased just about all the personal info from my profile.  Interests, favorite music, tv shows I liked, etc.  All gone.

Or so I thought.

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Trick to touch-typing on an iPad: Retrain your eyes, not your fingers

I noticed something interesting about people’s responses to the iPad’s virtual keyboard: people who are slow typists tend to like it (or at least not mind it) while people who are touch-typists either avoid it at all costs (got an external keyboard) or didn’t even buy the darn thing because it was a dealbreaker.

Keyboards Side By Side

Okay, so that’s not very interesting. Of course touch-typists are more sensitive to anything that can slow down their process — like, for example, not having actual keys to press. As a touch typist, I used to be in the “avoid the virtual keyboard” camp. But not anymore. I’m now a firm believer in the power of the virtual keyboard, typing away at it on speeds that I’m now happy with. And all I had to do was… (spoiler alert)

Watch my fingers.

At first it was unintuitive. As a speedy typer, I was taught to watch the screen. The reasoning is that you’ll catch typos quicker that way. Or maybe it’s just to show off.

But if that’s creating more typos than it’s fixing, time to change approaches.

The iPad’s problem isn’t key size. The keys are more than big enough. The problem also isn’t the virtuality of it all. The fingers don’t care whether the button is real or not. The problem is mostly that the keys are spaced out differently than on a typical real keyboard. But instead of retraining my fingers to work on a different space (a massive task), I simply retrained my eyes to look down while I type. The simple act of tracking my fingers erased the vast majority of errors that slowed me down.

My typing still isn’t perfect, and I still prefer to use a real keyboard when I have a tight deadline, but the keyboard is no longer something I warn people about. And now the iPad is one step closer to replacing my laptop completely… (don’t worry, my dear MacBook, there’s still several steps to go, you’ve got some time left…)

-Eric

ps -yes, I know this isn’t going to help a lot of people… in fact, I suspect the better the typist you are with a standard keyboard, the less any “trick” will help you with non-standard keyboards. But this worked for me, and it’s working for a couple of people who I’ve given this advice to already as well.