Movie Thoughts: 12 STRONG – The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers

12 STRONG – The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers is an excellent war-is-hell film that is also a second unit director’s hottest fantasy, filled with post-9/11 Middle East conflict tropes we’ve seen before and an overabundance of the use of the word “flank.” They keep using it. I do not think it means what they think it means. In fact, you could make it a drinking game out of how often it’s used on screen.

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Past Thoughts: The Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery

A neon Daft Punk Logo is flanked by posters featuring licensed Daft Punk Merchandise at the Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery in Los Angeles in February of 2017.

Back in February of 2017 (aka, a year ago), Daft Punk announced a collaboration between lifestyle purveyor Maxfield, and a couple of designers I’d never heard of (except for Hervet Manufacturier, more on him/them later) to open a pop-up shop in Maxfield Gallery across the street from Maxfield LA on Melrose Avenue.

The shop was slated to remain open for only eight days and feature merchandise from a variety of collaborators including:

• Gosh Rubchinskiy
• Off-White
• Enfants Riches Déprimés
• Darkdron
• Hervet Manufacturier
• Han Cholo
• New Era
• Medicom
• K-Way
• Wham-O
• Russell Yo-Yo
• Fisher Space Pen

Which I guess it all said in the marketing material leading up to the shop’s opening, which raises the question, why did I bother to type all that out when I could just show you this amazing poster?

Daft punk pop up

Right, well, I guess I’m just a hard worker like that. Anyway, while the interior of Maxfield Gallery (not to be confused with Maxfield LA (across the street) is just four walls and a glass window looking out on Melrose, but they always manage to fill it with the coolest f*cking stuff on the planet as part of their pop-up and collaboration series and Daft Punk’s pop up did not disappoint.

Two 1/3 scale robot dolls monitor the line outside the Daft Punk Pop Up at Maxfield Gallery

Let me clarify: It did not disappoint from the standpoint of being an astonishing archive of the group’s creative output over the past two decades, even if I couldn’t wrap my head around a lot of the fashion collaborations that I, personally not being a trust fund hypebeast, wouldn’t be caught dead in. The walls were lined in officially authorized merchandise, but for the most part, it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be purchased from Daft Punk’s website itself save for certain items that pre-dated the formation of the site, such as the Medicom action figures, and the skateboard collaboration with Hervet Manufacturier, an item I regret not purchasing while I was there.

The aforementioned company revolves primarily around STUNNING furniture design for STUNNING prices that are STUNNINGLY worth it if you have that kind of STUNNING money. The brainchild of Cedric Hervet and his brother, Cedric is the creative third leg (still developing the dick joke on this one), of Daft Punk, responsible for helping Thomas and Guy-Man with the visual and story aspects of most of their endeavors.

Okay, that’s enough about sofas and skateboards, back to the Pop Up:

As previously stated, the walls were lined with merchandise found on Daft Punk’s website – things like candles, shirts, posters, skate decks, Christmas ornaments. And all that stuff was cool, especially considering the fact that to the extent I could tell, it’s all ethically made stuff (which matters to me), but the floor space was incredible, with a absolutely incredible array of artifacts from their past, including multiple iterations of their famed robot costumes as well as costume pieces pre-dating even discovery, such has Halloween masks worn prior to adopting their robot personas.

The helmets themselves were heavily influenced on anime characters and 1950’s American sci-fi with Guy-Man’s helmet a tribute to helmets worn by Scott Bernard and other characters from Mospeada (Robotech and Macross) and Thomas’ helmet being largely influenced by Addison Hehr’s design for Gort from the 1951 film, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ A myriad of versions of the duo’s coveted helmets have been made, so let’s go through what was there:

1. Discovery: 2001 – 2004

Most impressive were the fully-lit helmets from the Discovery Era (2001-2004). The helmets were designed in collaboration between Daft Punk (and probably Cedric), special effects make-up godfather Tony Gardner and his company Alterian Inc, and later modified by show design firm LED Effects. Initially, they were not lit and featured chromic visors, but later, LED Effects (now seemingly no longer in business) stuffed them chock full, at the time, groundbreaking LED matrix displays that could output any number of pre-programmed colorful lighting animations, or scripts, or recipes, or whatever you want to call them. Below are some examples of them in action:

Initially powered by heavy battery packs, the helmets were later converted to AC as, I speculate, they realized that they would never be used in public beyond one video done for publicity prior to the final iteration of the helmets in their full LED splendor. The switch to AC allowed for further electronics, removal of heavy backpacks, and the realization that power cords could be photoshopped out or hidden with camera angles in press materials.

Despite being used only for publicity in controlled settings, their vacuum-metalizing had shown some wear over the intervening seventeen years. You might guess that they were not treated well but their electronics remained in perfect condition, suggesting that the metal pitting was nobody’s fault, but simply a shortcoming of the processes available at the time. It’s also worth noting, that using these helmets basically rendered the wearers blind as the gauge of the wires and ribbons used was THICK. These helmets were heavy, and likely got pretty hot inside. I can’t help but wonder if they still work. It stands to reason that they should.

2. Human After All / Electroma / Alive 2007: 2005 – 2007

I’m unsure as to the order of events here with regards to what the duo decided to do first, whether it was the film Electroma, record Human After All, or sign a deal to go on a tour, but all two of these three creative endeavors necessitated an evolution of the Robots’ costumes purely from the standpoint of practicality. They couldn’t expect the electronic helmets to hold up to the physical rigors of a live tour or film production and perhaps they were over the hassle from the standpoint of marketing a new record, so all electronics were ditched in favor of lightweight fiberglass helmets that could easily be mass produced as costume pieces for a film and swapped out on tour should one be damaged. Added bonus, you could walk more than eight feet since you weren’t plugged in to the wall.

Also Daft Punk ditched the quirky fashion associated with the Discovery era and donned leather motorcycle suits designed by Hedi Slimane, who also photographed the Alive 2007 tour and whose photographs are used in the album art for the accompanying live album. His photography is decent, and he gets high points for shooting film. Love that grain. Additional costumes were developed in collaboration with Janet Hansen of Enlightened Designs, an early adopter of EL wire as costume element, for the Alive 2007 tour’s encore in which the robots lit up like programs from the 1982 Disney film TRON. This had the added subversive element of Daft Punk communicating subliminally with Disney that they wanted to collaborate on something, anything. A couple of lines of business at Disney eventually came calling, and the duo opted to score the sequel to Tron, TRON: LEGACY in 2010, which brings us to…

3. TRON: LEGACY: 2010

For their not-a-cameo-cameo in the film, the group wore new motorcycle-style suits that utilized scotch light fabric to create a glowing effect on film. This was decidedly lower tech than the costumes everyone else got on the film, which used actual LEDs for illumination. It also appears that the lights on the faces of the helmets were digital effects as there were no wires or any indication that these helmets were powered. Of slight interest is that the bezels on these helmets were noticeably thicker than previous helmets, which suggests a redesign from scratch.

Change one dimension…and you have to change everything else.

4. Random Access Memories’ Grammy Win: 2014 

On the day I went to the Pop Up, the costumes conceived for the Random Access Memories marketing and promotion were not on display (they showed up on a later date), however the white outfits worn for their Grammy win were. They were white with gold visors. Not much more to say about that other than that we’ve seen a continued evolution and refinement of the robotic elements over time, which hints at the notion that the robots are aging, not in a linear organic fashion, but rather, a cerebral synthetic fashion. They change with time, just like the rest of us, but as their appearance becomes more perfected and precise, their interests have become more organic and analog, and indicated by their music and pursuit of visual arts.

Well that’s about all there is left in my memory from the Pop-Up. Of course if you’re in LA, don’t not go to Maxfield because the Daft Punk Pop-Up is no longer there. The Maxfield Gallery consistently hosts amazing exhibitions and limited runs of merchandise and is a joy to check out.

Feel free to check out hi-res photos from my visit over in the gallery. As always, no license is granted to use them without my explicit permission. Thanks for understanding.

If you’re wondering if I got anything while I was there….I did. But I guess you had to be there. 😉

Movie Thoughts: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Whereas the first Guardians of the Galaxy was fun and funny and really entertaining and had heart and wit and a great playlist and that intangible energy that makes you love it, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was just really enjoyable.

You know, like when your uber driver is an architect by day and drives a Saab.

Car Thoughts: The Ballad of Norman Bent

My little limerick about Norman Bent and his shop tricycle (referred to as a traffic car back in the day) was originally published on DriveTribe six months ago, but the site, still in its infancy, had issues with formatting the verses, so here it is, looking the way it’s supposed to:

Before you go to bed
Have you heard the tale?
Of a fellow who’s a legend
Not one mission did he fail.

The man of whom I speak
The man who we all know
Would go to anyone anywhere
With his parts and tools in tow

This man was Norman Bent
He was kind and dedicated
He treated all with respect
As if they were related

Got a broken moto?
Got a broken bicycle too?
Got a broken model airplane?
Norman Bent can bring the glue.

Norman Bent's Cycle Shop Tricycle

Norman Bent, he travels
On his trusty traffic car
Delivering parts and service
To people near and far

Norman Bent's Cycle Shop Tricycle

It’s got a suicide shifter
Three wheels of spoke and steel
And a cargo box weighed down with tools
To give it that stable feel

He’s the automotive Santa
On his trike of tools and parts
You could say he has a doctorate
In the automechanical arts

Norman Bent's Cycle Shop Tricycle

Norman he does travel
On his trusty Indian moto
But this was in the days
Before all could snap a photo

Now there’s all this sharing
These insta’s, tweets, and snaps
But of Norm there are no photos
On social media traps

Norman Bent's Cycle Shop Tricycle

But then one day he vanished
Friends searched far and wide
They were in need of services
That only Norm could provide

He left behind his trike
It’s still with us right here
But Norm was never heard from
The trike we hold so dear

Did he depart too early?
From something he could not heal?
Folks think it’s something better
They call her Norm’s “fourth wheel”

Norman Bent's Cycle Shop Tricycle

And so Norman Bent the legend
The mechanic we’re so fond of
He started a new journey
Just he and his newfound love

We all want Norman back
If we had our druthers
But let’s stop being selfish
Because Norm, he helped out others

So while we’ll never know
Where the legend went
We all can practice kindness
Like the helpful Norman Bent

Norman’s traffic car was on loan from the AMA Hall of Fame Museum to the Petersen Automotive Museum. I’m unsure as to whether or not it’s still there, but it doesn’t matter because the Petersen is an astonishing car museum, and you’ll see more posts from me there as I’m a member.

Thing Thoughts: Why The DJI Mavic Air Won’t Get My Money

DJI announced a new drone today and I must say, DJI is on a roll. Their drones get easier to fly with more intelligent features in smaller form factors for less money and look attractive to boot.

This little fella seems to have some pretty nifty features packed inside its cute little plastic chassis. They include:

  • 32 MP Sphere Panoramas
  • 3-Directional Environment Sensing
  • Smart Capture
  • A 3-Axis Gimbal mated to a 4K Camera
  • “Smart” Caputre
  • A maximum flight time of 21 minutes

But to date, they suck in the most important way possible: Their cameras. I have never seen decent footage pulled from a Mavic. I owned a Mavic Pro and thought that maybe, just maybe, it couldn’t possibly shoot as low quality video as it does in the year 2017 (yes, it’s 2018 now but I had it in 2017 and figured that firmware updates must have improved things since its introduction in 2016 when its footage sucked even for camera tech in 2016). No, really. They claimed it had high bitrates and could shoot LOG-ish footage, but the dynamic range and definition was disgustingly bad, even in the marketing footage, relative to what you could get out of the iPhone you had to connect to the remote to watch what you were filming. Sure, you could apply LUTS and grade it in DaVinci or the new FCP X (or other program), but its footage still looked like poop.

Here, I’ll show you:

 

On the left you have final graded footage, on the right you have a crop of the same video. The moire and total lack of sharpness or definition is appalling. Look at the way pixels swim around and moire that looks like a CRT display filmed at high speed.

Compare that to footage shot on an iPhone 7 Plus that came out a year before the Mavic Pro and there’s simply no comparison.

I realize I made the Ferrari video bigger, but that’s just for formatting, you can open the Mavic footage on YouTube and see it full size there as well. Also, the Ferrari footage was shot using Filmic Pro on the iPhone which ups the bitrate, but bear in mind, the Mavic Pro has a LARGER sensor at 1/2.3” vs the iPhone at 1/3”.

Now here’s the thing….

I’ve been talking this whole time about the Mavic Pro as opposed to the Mavic Air, but in my biased mind, there’s no way the Mavic Air is any better…in fact for all intents and purposes, it looks like it uses the same sensor as the Pro. And this isn’t about getting what you pay for, it’s just a simple fact that compact sensors are capable of WAY better quality nowadays and so I don’t know where DJI is sourcing their hardware. Frankly it looks like they merely further sliced up the pixel count on a “spy camera” sensor you might find in a cheap “spy watch”.

So until verifiable reviews come out showing that the DJI Mavic Air’s camera sensor can fold my laundry, I’m giving it a pass. The cameras in these arguably highly capable-but-inexpensive-toy-drones are their Achilles heels that prevent me from recommending any of them in the near future.

I’m not holding my breath.

Movie Thoughts: Phantom Thread

One simply cannot talk about how good the movie Phantom Thread is…unless they’re an old person with gray pubes, a shortcut to NPR on their iPhone 5C home screen, and a proclivity for crushing up and snorting lines of niacin tablets. I have an iPhone 5C lying around somewhere but I swear I have a newer iPhone now so I’m not gonna talk about Phantom Thread. I’m still young dammit.

So now I’m going to break rules (unlike Reynolds Woodcock) and review this movie in spite of the fact that I’m still young (dammit):

It’s just about a relationship between two people, but it’s brilliantly shot using vintage equipment that could make this a film as easily made in the 60’s as today, although arguably harder nowadays in an ecosystem dominated by Arri and RED cinema cameras. There’s this lovely and heavily contrasty grain that’s not unlike watching beach sand swirl in water and the use of natural light is superb.

Anderson peaked with Magnolia, one of the greatest movies ever made, in my humble opinion, and hasn’t made something as consummately perfect since then, but I do think this one was a return to form after The Master and Inherent Vice, which were both movies about seriously messed up people.

To be fair, all his films are about seriously messed up people. I guess I don’t have a point, do I?

I think I’m having a hard time articulating why I liked Phantom Thread because I don’t wear New Balance 990’s and go to Meetups. I should have stopped while I was ahead.

Go see it. Jeeze.

Sad Thoughts: RIP PF Chang’s in Burbank

The other morning, I noticed this sign outside PF Chang’s:

This makes me sad. I am far from an alcoholic, I’m a lightweight in fact. My poison of choice is probably coffee, but even coffee I can’t stomach after 10:00am. That being said, I was very sad to find out that P.F. Chang’s had closed the doors of the location in Burbank, California.

You see, I’m not a big drinker, and because of that, it only takes a couple for me to not feel so great the morning after imbibing with friends, and everyone knows the cure for any hangover is terribly awesome greasy food.

*Disclaimer – I know it’s not actually a cure. There is no cure for a hangover the same way there is no cure for being born straight.

**Double Disclaimer – There is, of course, Hangover Heaven if you happen to live in, or be near the area it serves.

With all that being said, PF Chang’s was an excellent hangover placebo. Their Lo Mein consistently made me feel better and left me with such a fond memory that I typically would go back roughly three days later and order it again…and regret the hell out of that second visit, swearing I would never be hung over again.

This sort of thing typically happened to me once a year, and I almost found myself looking forward to it, but alas, no more.

I wildly speculate that this was not the result of people not going there (PF Chang’s appeals to a lower-but-not-lowest common denominator, and thus, is is usually pretty full of people, but rather, it could be that Chang’s decided to pull out of their lease after the Burbank Town Center Mall failed to complete their renovation on time, and by on time, it was supposed to be done before Thanksgiving 2017, and is nowhere near being complete.

Of course, there are no winners here, whether it’s the staff of the restaurant (who hopefully got reassigned to other nearby locations…but probably didn’t), mall patrons, regular diners, casual diners with one less option , or sad sorry hung over folks such as yours truly looking for a little comfort on their day of suffering, nobody comes out ahead here.

With any luck, the new tenant will serve up a similar style of salty greasy goodness that brings joy. That’s all one can hope for.

Movie Thoughts: Den of Thieves

I went and saw Den of Thieves this afternoon and it’s worth pointing out that it was completely sold out all day on both screens it was showing in at the local multiplex which is scientific proof that not one woman in LA who participated in the 1 Year Anniversary Women’s March was able to get her boyfriend or husband to participate alongside her. But then again, we’ve always known that this is the dynamic in relationships.

With that bit of social science fact out of the way, let’s talk about the movie itself:

There’s nothing new under the sun so saying Den of Thieves is basically Heat isn’t enough and just makes you a dime store movie watcher if that’s the best you can come up with. Also, it’s good so just saying it’s Heat doesn’t acknowledge its twist. While it still may not be as good as Heat, it’s still good! So here are my thoughts:

It’s the goldenrod draft of Heat recut in iMovie while sipping on brotein & brown rice smoothies as you shop for a new ford vehicle (but can’t decide between a Fusion or a Taurus) on Autotrader.

So basically at the end of the day today, it’s going to be tough determining which half of the American couple had a better day: Women who marched rightly in the name of empowerment and women’s rights, or their boyfriends who got to fantasize about guns and periwinkle-blue collar criminals with ridiculous criminal technology robbing banks with guns and high-tech stuff that no ex-con could rightly get his hands on.

Welcome to My Social Media

This post on social media is going to stay sticky for a while as an introduction to what exactly is going on here:

I’m leaving social media as a tool for sharing ideas and sharing content.

I’m tired of places like FaceBook and Twitter where all anyone does anymore is complain about politics and share false or temporary happy moments from their romantic relationships, all with the intent of being validated with ‘likes’ and comments and shares and re-shares.

And things aren’t getting better.

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