Movie Thoughts Roundup: BlacKkKlansman, The Meg, The Happytime Murders

I know it has been a while since I’ve seen or written about movies but I have been going and loving the new AMC A-List service as an excellent alternative to the now imploding MoviePass. I’m going to hit the three major flicks that I’ve seen recently (BlacKkKlansman, The Meg, and The Happytime Murders) in this roundup or digest, or whatever you want to call it.

Movie #1: BlacKkKlansman

Okay, see here’s the thing. You can have a great true story with compelling characters and an important message and loads of talent….and still not make a good movie, as was the case here. I have to keep this short since this is a roundup, but as a movie and a story, Blackkklansman misses the mark. I humbly believe that Spike Lee’s hubris got in the way of making what could have been a truly amazing feel-good and fun movie about battling racism and winning – and YES you can have a feel-good summer movie on this topic – a passable and meandering tale that barely clings to its plot which teeters on the edge of story structure oblivion. There is no shortage of dark, disturbing, and discomforting movies on the topic. Instead what we get here is a mishmash of awkward segues moving the story forward (barely) and struggles to maintain a false narrative: that this is Ron Stalworth’s story and he stopped the Klan from doing something huge. The reality is, that this is a story not about a black police officer infiltrating the KKK, it’s a story about a black police officer who convinced a WHITE JEWISH police officer to infiltrate the KKK. That’s right, the reluctant hero in all of this is Adam Driver’s Flip Zimmerman, and yet you can tell that at the insistence of Lee, the story was rejiggered to focus on Stalworth and it comes across as awkward. At many points throughout the movie, you get inklings of a movie that might have been, whether it was the correct one featuring Driver/Zimmerman as the lead, or another where Stallworth’s assigned to David Duke’s security detail and hilarity ensues. But instead we just get a black rookie police officer who one day decides to call up the klan (for no reason really…) to stop an improvised assassination attempted on the leader of the black student union, and confusion ensues. The film is pockmarked with weird artsy moments, is largely shot out of focus and blurry, the musical score (not the soundtrack, the actual score) is a bit odd and uncomfortable, and in the end the film is wrapped up in a tight stupid little bow at the end when all our favorite characters form a cutesy sting operation to entrap the one dirty cop in the Colorado police station, just so we can nab every racist in the movie and feel good about ourselves, but Lee then decides to end of a low note, with the snuff film from the protests in Charlottesville, North Carolina. All of this is a far cry from the awesome buddy cops vs stupid racists movie that the trailer promised us. So, kudos for making it, but demerits for not making it well. Simply put: It’s not a good movie. Sorry to say.

Movie #2: The Meg

The Meg was, in my humble opinion, quite an interesting movie that combined Asian funding and sensibilities with western storytelling and cinematic know-how and the result is a hybrid film that is difficult to truly critique given the fact that it has a footing in two completely separate cultures and is trying to balance its delivery for both. As far as killer shark movies go, it is TAME and it doesn’t come close to knocking Jaws off its pedestal and Deep Blue Sea remains the best killer shark movie in recent memory (despite its notoriously bad CGI). Now, you can fault it for its low body count and tameness or you can realize that this is likely a byproduct of being made for the Chinese market and Chinese censors who may not be receptive to arms and legs being torn off people while they’re still alive. Sure you could argue that different edits could have been produced for the US and Asian markets, but if it’s Chinese money that’s contingent on delivering one film for both markets, then you roll over and do it and if box office receipts are any indication, it’s working. You could also point out that the no-touching/kissless love story between Statham/Taylor and BingBing Li/Suyin is just strange…but again, you have to look at the target market and what your funders want. Look at Bollywood films, all those couples ever do is hug. But the flicks accomplish their goal of making a lot of money. My point is that this is clearly a film meant for a certain audience in the east and they felt they could get a fair shake here in the US. It’s debatable as it currently hasn’t made back its production cost of $130 million in the US, but then again it’s tripled its budget in box office receipts overseas, so it’s connecting with a lot of people somewhere and that’s important. Did I like it? Yeah, its shortcomings didn’t bother me that much but believe it or not, it actually had a better put together story than did BlacKkKlansman so I give this an edge.

Movie #3: The Happytime Murders

If ever there was a movie I wanted so badly to enjoy, it was Happytime Murders, and wow did it just simply not work at all. I feel guilty saying this but there was nothing to be gained by making this a movie with puppets. The laughs were few and far between and it would have been far better as an R-Rated whodunit comedy with all humans than it turned out. I can’t figure out what went wrong here. The trailer was so great for this film as was the premise. Did producers mess up the edit? Was it the myriad of funders each having their say (this was a frequent topic tied to The Happytime Murders in the trades, just how many funders the film had)? The trailer had non-stop funny moments and so many were missing from the final film that I want to believe there’s an hysterical director’s cut out there that might some day grace the screens of smart TVs around the globe, but no, just no. This movie just didn’t work. While many don’t realize that the Henson company has NO affiliation with the Muppets any longer (they sold the property to Disney, lock, stock, and barrel), it is fair to draw comparisons here as the Henson company DID make the Muppet films up until 1999 so what we have here is basically a demonstration of what puppets are and are not good at. They excel at being clever character devices. They don’t at being raunchy character devices. Of course you might bring up Avenue Q, but then you make a separate point: This had already been done, and it was too late to try and come up with something else. This is the same reason the Ice Pirates failed after Star Wars. Star Wars was clever, Ice Pirates tried to be raunchy. Too late. So sadly, I found myself disappointed in THM, but won’t give up hope on a director’s cut some day, and will absolutely fork over $3.99 on iTunes to rent it and see if it’s better.

Wow, this roundup did not go as expected. I thought I would love BlacKkKlansman, I thought I would be crazily entertained by the blood bath that was the Meg, and I thought Happytime would have me in stitches. Funny how things work out sometimes.

[UPDATED] Thing Thoughts: The OneWheel Is For Social Media Influencers

onewheel

[7/30 UPDATE] I’ve added below info on the original self-balancing  One Wheel scooter (that I know of) that was designed back in 2007 by Ben Smither (upon which Free Motion’s design is clearly based).

…and if there’s one thing I never was or will be, it’s a social media influencers, ergo, the OneWheel was a mistake for me. I also value my knees, and my overall physical health and wellbeing, and the OneWheel does not really take any of those things into account as a means of personal short range transportation. Very short range transportation that’s a pain to carry when it’s time to do that.

OneWheel+ (and its predecessor and successor the XR) have been pitched as the closest thing you can get to snowboarding in the summer. Maybe for some people this is true, but for me, notsomuch. Quite the opposite in fact. For me it was unwieldy, unstable, and unusable. I say borderline because sure, there are people who likely could find better balance on this thing that I could. But here’s the thing, what it does have in common with snowboarding, makes it significantly more dangerous – that is, you are going to fall off, and in some cases, you’ll fall off by design, and that’s simply unacceptable because unlike snow, hard asphalt and the hard packed dirt trails that Future Motion markets the OneWheel as being ideal for are just that: hard. Failling on snow isn’t going to do much to you, but hitting asphalt hurts. It hurts a lot. I know. I’ve done it without the help of a OneWheel or bicycle or anything else (although I’ve fallen from both of those too). You can do exceptional damage.

Additionally, OneWheel’s regenerative coasting has no way to stop charging the battery when it reaches a full charge, and so, should you find yourself coasting down a hill and you reach full charge, in order to prevent a power surge and damage to the battery, the OneWheel simply shuts off, leading to a nose dive and you, the rider, potentially tumbling down the hill and even worse, into oncoming traffic. This is absolutely dangerous beyond an acceptable level. It is also doubtful that regenerative coasting adds any kind of significant overall range to the OneWheel’s cap of seven miles.

onewheel

The method for activating the balance is hit and miss and depends largely on the type of shoe you’re wearing and your ability to break contact with both sensors in the pad. I never mastered it, and I don’t think most people do. So you spend most of your time dismounting it by awkwardly tilting it heel or toe side until it tips over on you. Not particularly smooth looking. The diameter of the wheel may also lead to a very uncomfortable stance and, in my case, knee pain. For reference, I’m 5 feet, eleven inches tall.

Speaking of stance, let’s talk about stability, it doesn’t have it. Because it has a singular footprint and its axis and center of gravity are in fact, dead center, every single variation of the surface you are riding on translates in to some kind of roll or yaw movement that you don’t see coming. Turns are wide, and if you are approaching a blind corner on a sidewalk, pray nobody’s coming up from the other corner because you will take them out.

When you’re not riding the OneWheel (due to its frequent need for charging or in areas it’s simply not allowed…like the place you rode it to, to begin with), it’s a royal pain to carry around. The ends feature a graspable lip, or you can buy an aftermarket handle (I did), but you also have no choice but to buy a fender as well, lest you want all the junk on the OneWheel’s tire rubbing up on your hipster chinos or shorts (spoiler alert: you don’t and it will), but setting aside figuring out how to carry it, there’s also the matter of its sheer size and weight. It’s big. Bigger than photos would suggest and because it has its giant kart wheel in the center, you have to sustain its weight at a distance from your body.

[Update] Another thing about OneWheel that had always irked me somewhat was their claim of being super innovative and unique in the transport space. They weren’t. The OneWheel’s design was largely cribbed from Ben Smither who developed the platform back in 2007. The two main differences between what Ben created and what Free Motion is selling are that Ben’s design utilized a belt-drive system and had low quality video of pasty white British lads riding it in a parking lot somewhere in the UK and OneWheels utilize a hub motor in the wheel and feature videos of tanned lean surfer hipster dudes and ladies  riding it in on California coast highways, forests, and beaches. Okay, and the foot sensor, but the foot sensor in the OneWheel really isn’t that good yet.

I had wanted to include the above when I originally posted this but the original site and info had moved to a different URL so I had to do a little digging to find it.

But let’s give it credit where credit is due. The build quality was utterly superb (as it should be being made in a small facility in Santa Cruz, California), it’s tough as nails for a complex electronic device, and let’s face it, it’s cool. Really cool. I got tons of praise during my time riding it (little did they know what was going through my mind on the thing…I still said ‘thank you.’). But the issue there, is that it doesn’t bestow it’s coolness onto uncool people who do cool things. I snowboard, I ride motorcycles, I travel to the ends of the earth, but people don’t think I’m cool, they think I’m foolish and dangerous (not the cool kind of dangerous, the kind they don’t want around). So in the end, a symbiotic relationship the OneWheel and I did not make, so I sold it.

Really, you’re going to go down. And knee pain, you’re going to feel a lot of knee pain.

Rover Thoughts: So Far, Bertram’s Doing Okay…

rover

Well, if I’m being completely honest, Bertram the Range Rover Sport L320 doing only okay in terms of reliability and cost. If you want to look at the RoverLog Spreadsheet, you can see that since purchasing Bertram in March of 2018, I’ve spent a $5,500 on it (in round numbers). But that total doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. This is due in part to the amount of elective work I’ve done in the form of upgrades and non-critical repairs that I was aware of at the time I bought Bertram, that did not affect its drivability (ie like when Clarkson, Hammond, and May buy used challenge vehicles that clearly don’t work like they did when showroom new).

If we want to look at repairs that were totally utterly necessary for me to drive it around, then as of this posting, we should only look at Line 4 and Line 8: The door latches and the air conditioning compressor (which failed on what must have been the hottest day of the year thus far here in Los Angeles). If we accept that I elected to fix other items that could have gone unaddressed, then that means the total repair bill on a 13 year old Range Rover Sport with 130,000 miles is roughly $2300. Spread over five months, that comes out to roughly $461 in repairs per month.

$461 per month is about $30 per month more than my financed Ford Focus EV was costing me, however I was also dining out 3-4 nights a week at between $20-$30 per meal while I waited for the damn thing to charge up since I was unable to charge at home. So right now it’s in line with the Focus…however, let’s take a look at a spreadsheet showing what I’m getting or not getting for this current $30 monthly disparity:

As you can see, a 2006 Range Rover Sport offers a lot more than a 2016 Ford Focus Electric…except maybe for gas mileage (or the equivalent cost in an EV, aka eMPG). By the way, I’ll probably add to the smackdown from time to time, just for fun.

I realize I’m manipulating numbers here to make myself feel a little bit better about the overall amount of money I’ve spent on Bertram since I got it. If we’re being objective about the money I’ve spent, it’s more than Kelley Blue Book subjectively rates its average value. But I didn’t get this truck expecting it to go up in value. Anyone who does that with any car that costs less than  $1 million (no I am not kidding), is going on a fool’s errand. No I got this as a comfy workhorse that could service just about any occasion thrown at it and given that I didn’t spend $60,000 on it new, I still think I’m well ahead of the game. In fact, I’m basically one <$400 cruise control repair away from having a vehicle that performs like it did when it was new. In other words, a $60k vehicle for $13,500.

Of course, when I parked him and got out to go type up this post, I noticed that my coolant level sensor had failed. Fortunately, that’s only like a $35 repair.

Okay, make that a $13,535 vehicle…

Geek Thoughts: San Diego Comic-Con 2018

You know how there are things nearby you that you never do because they’re nearby you and so you figure you can do them any time but then one day you’re on your deathbed and realized you never did those things, well, for me that was San Diego Comic-Con, almost.

I say almost for two reasons:

  1. Because I’m nowhere near my deathbed (I hope)
  2. Because I finally did Comic-Con for the first time this year.

The circumstances surrounding this first visit are pretty straightforward. I had befriended a rather talented individual and voice actor by the name of Wally Wingert (check out his IMDB) and one of his compadres Mark Fullerton (a connoisseur of all things pop and geek culture) and they had both won the lottery for onsite Comic-Con hotels and to host a panel at Comic-Con, a double-whammy of awesomeness. Given our shared passioned, I proceeded to assist with the Keynote deck that Wally used for his panel, and the whole panel aspect of things was an incredible success AND I got what many consider to be the most coveted of Comic-Con recognitions: A panel placard with my name on it.

I mentioned how successful the panel was, but the yang to that yin was that, it being my first time, I beautifully, brilliantly, brazenly failed to do anything else right with regards to Comic-Con. What I learned was that:

  • The Exhibition hall is a marketplace, one that can largely be avoided unless you want to spend money on collectibles and comics. As I am not currently collecting anything, I did not need to spend much time there.
  • Film and TV studios no longer promoted their upcoming projects on the exhibition hall floor and that had mostly moved across the street and into the adjoining hotels and public spaces of Down town San Diego.
  • The Exhibition hall was about 50% legitimate comic book “conventioneering” with numerous dealers and a large chunk of the space devoted to individual artists. I had heard Comic-Con had lost its way (for better or worse) and no longer devoted this much space to comics and artists but it looks like they’re back and that’s a good thing and makes me happy.
  • Comic-Con has stopped paying for sexy cosplay “con-girls” to walk the floor. I did not see anything approaching the photos that would get posted to blogs in the mid-to-late 2000’s and 2010’s. Rather, I kept seeing ridiculously ripped shirtless cosplay “con-men” and so I have to say ladies, this was your year. If you didn’t show up, you missed out.
  • I didn’t bring sunblock and a good hat. I should have, because the interactive experiences across the street from the convention center out in the blistering sun would have been fun but I got sunburnt on my first day and sun sick that night. It was hot as f***.
  • The exhibition hall will not give you room to breathe. It is packed beyond belief. Give it an hour or two, then move on.
  • Go to the panels!! There are so many interesting ones to learn from and I regret not giving more of my time to that.
  • If you’re driving down for Comic-Con…just pay the $50 daily rate for parking. Don’t try to cheap out and walk. It’s not worth it.
  • I think I mentioned this before but it bears repeating: bring as much sun protection as you can for the amazing stuff across the street from the convention center.
  • No matter how close you may think you live, you’re probably better off getting a hotel and paying for it. Of course if this isn’t an option with regards to your travel budget, don’t not go, just know it’s going to be a little more challenging. I canceled my hotel due to needing to repair my car’s air conditioning, and I should have just paid for the hotel too.

Getting back to the panel I helped with, it was titled ‘I Was Cosplay Before Cosplay Was Cool’ It was a look back through Wally’s early years building costumes from his favorite comic-book, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror shows and movies back in the 60’s to the present, long before reference material and patterns had become ubiquitous and easy to make. Some of the improvisations Wally made were amazingly effective, many the result of no better a reference than a black and white 35mm photo he took on the spur of the moment from an episode playing on his television set (long before DVR’s let you pause of course). The Panel and subsequent Q&A inspired me to try and apply for a couple of my own Comic-Con panel ideas in the years to come, and I can’t wait to go back again, and again, and again.

Oh and one more thing I kind of failed at, was decent photographs, so hopefully the ones you see on this page will suffice. I didn’t really get anything good enough for the gallery. Maybe next year.

[UPDATED] Movie Thoughts: Touring the Creature Effects Shop StudioADI

StudioADI Amalgamated Dynamics Inc

[UPDATE: Added a slideshow of photos on 7/18/18] When I was a young lad (still am by the way…) I attended a Showbiz Expo at the LA Convention center in 1992. One of the booths was for a publisher called Cinefex, who was promoting their latest issue of their incredible behind-the-scenes special effects magazine, and the upcoming film Alien3. This was my first introduction to the work of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr and their company, Amagalmated Dynamics Inc., aka StudioADI.

Okay that’s a little refresher of the flick if you haven’t see it [in a long time]. The pair were(are) alumni of the Stan Winston studio and have gone on to create the creatures for a litany of sci-fi, horror, comedy, and well any other genre of movie you could think of.

My tour was led by Alec Gillis, a gentleman and scholar who has a rather hilarious IG account and should add comedy to the list of services provided by StudioADI (an abbreviation Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. later adopted). The tour was of particular interest to me as Alec not only covered the making-of and cultural aspects of the effects industry, but also the business-of-the-business and memories of the Winston days as well.

At times along the tour, we were allowed to take photos, (which can be found in the gallery), and then there were times when we couldn’t due to the nature of upcoming projects or works that Gillis knew studios wouldn’t be happy with him sharing the aftermath of a given project with the world.

The trophy room (that’s what I’m calling it), was spectacular and contained souvenirs of their work dating back almost thirty years, including items that had been screen used in Alien3 and featured in that first Cinefex I got (FYI Cinefex did exist before Alien3). You can see a plethora of them in the panorama at the top of this screen (utilizing my recently refined technique of course…) and it’s a challenge to try and name every single movie that has an artifact displayed here.

Of course there was more than this to see and I do encourage a visit to the gallery, and after you’re done there, you should hop on over to StudioADI’s YouTube channel as it’s full of great behind the scenes videos showing how some of our favorite movie creatures were made and then operated behind the scenes.

Rover Thoughts: The RoverLog is Live!

Well, as promised, I finally built the RoverLog!

Rover RoverLog Range Rover Sport l320 repairs and reliability

The RoverLog will be the central repository of all relevant data I can think of with regards to maintaining, servicing, and repairing the 2006 Land Rover Range Rover Sport L320 I bought in 2018 with 126,000 miles on the odometer. I hope this log serves to entertain, inform and educate on just what a high mileage vehicle like this needs to stay running. I fully recognize that this Rover is going to need work. It’s no spring chicken, but I love it, and this is an objective log of the TLC it will get from here on out or something in my life changes significantly and I have to let it go (I certainly hope not. Head on over to the dedicated page (which you can also find a link to in the menu at the top of my page) for further info, an explanation of the spreadsheet is included in the spreadsheet as well.



I hope this sheet serves as a good representation of Rover reliability from 126,000 miles onward. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the service history for this vehicle from the dealer it was serviced at, as they cited privacy concerns related to the former owner…and I don’t think they want to get sued for something, even if that’s not my intent (spoiler alert: it’s not). Maybe some day I’ll figure out how to get my hands on that data and integrated it into the living spreadsheet I’ve created. Of course if you have any ideas on how to go about that, I’m all ears. Feel free to contact me. This would qualify as nice correspondence and I always look forward to that.

Onward and upward and above and beyond!

Thing Thoughts: Taylor Stitch has Gone Global

Taylor Stitch Jack Shirt Made in California

There’s nothing I love more than small local homegrown businesses that put out exceptional quality stuff via local manufacturing. One of the businesses I love that does that is Taylor Stitch, although they aren’t so much anymore and that makes me sad.

I discovered Taylor Stitch back in 2016 when I lost a lot of weight and no longer fit into any of my clothes. Of course since I wasn’t spending as much money on food, naturally, I decided to put it into clothes that fit. Having already been enamored of US-made stuff (which consistently cost more but lasted much much longer) I started looking up local clothing designers and manufacturers and came across Taylor Stitch, a small company based out of San Francisco that was making their clothing in California. I jumped on the opportunity to redo do things. For all intents and purposes, I have since become a Taylor Stitch collector. I have bought their Jack shirt in numerous colors and also own their Chore Pant in all available colors, including some not available on the site (only available in their San Francisco stores.). The Chore pant is awesome, but it does suffer from some fading issues. I might cover that later in a separate post.

Unfortunately, earlier this year, Taylor Stitch decided to move much of their production overseas to, most notably, China. One of the things I like about Taylor Stitch is that they often let customers vote on future clothing releases by sending you to a survey site to gauge your interest in upcoming releases. The most recent survey was entirely items made in China. In the past, they had outsourced items like some of their leather accessories and their Democratic Chinos to factories in Spain. It would appear that both Spanish-made items were/are consistent in quality to the goods they were making here in the US and this may be that they were made under the auspices of Taylor Stitch’s initial charter and what it expected in outsourced goods. In fact the only real issue I have with the Democratic China (which is an awesome pair of pants) is its use of a print of a map of San Francisco inside the pants…despite being made in another country. It’s just weird.

Unfortunately, I have no faith in the quality, materials, or fit and finish of items made in China. I’ve consistently been let down by clothes and shoes coming from China, and while I understand that it allows fashion designers to tag items with a 100,000% markup on items, it also allows them to rely solely on their branding and visual design to earn repeat business, which they get by importing Chinese-made clothing that [possibly deliberately] wears out and falls apart quickly. Given that there is little to no accountability and quality control, this is to be expected from countries with garment factories that place high volume/low price above high quality/low output. One consistently sees a difference here.

To digress for a moment, last year I made the switch from Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star lows (made in China) to SOM Footwear Zephyrs made in Colorado. The difference in fit, finish, and manufacturing is astonishing. I have highly arched small toes which would wear holes through the sides of Chucks in under three months and the sides of the midsole would crack and split. I am now eight months in wearing my Zephyrs and there is ZERO sign of fatigue in the shoe fabric and the soles aren’t cracking at all. On top of that, these shoes can be resoled for $35. I’m so happy with them, I haven’t ordered a resole yet…I ordered a new pair of SOMs (the Briquette) to start a collection, and will get my Zephyr’s resoled once the Briquettes get here. You can make the argument that the Chucks are cheaper, but with the option of resoling, the SOMs will outlast any single pair of Chucks by years. I’d show you a comparison pic, but I tossed the Chucks out eight months ago. I’m still getting used to the whole notion of documenting things here. I covered SOMs briefly in an earlier post when they sent me stuff for winning a contest, I’ll talk about the shoes more themselves in a later post.

Getting back to Taylor Stitch, For me, the red flag went up when I pre-ordered/crowd-funded my favorite cut of shirt ever, the Taylor Stitch Jack insofar as the reverse jacquard variant was the only one I’ve received that wasn’t made in California, rather, it was made in Portugal. The difference in sizing and cut was noticeable and I wonder how it will hold up. In fact, as I write this, I wonder if perhaps Taylor Stitch’s owners sold the company recently, whether as an ouster or part of a planned exit with venture capital investors. If that is the case, that is unfortunate and I would highly recommend you go buy up whatever US-made goods remain in their inventory, I know I’ll be taking a careful look myself.

So in conclusion, I have every intention of continuing to support Taylor Stitch’s domestic efforts, but the more production they move overseas, the less interested I become.

Thing Thoughts: It’s 2018 and I Still Can’t Find a Computer Mouse That Fits…or Have I?

I have a problem, and that problem is finding a comfortable, responsive, well made computer mouse. Seriously.

I’ve opted to embed separate video reviews of the mice included in this post. I recognize that my problems may not be reflective of everyone’s potential experience and I encourage you to try these mice even though my experience was just plain horrible.

As with many of my “life equipment” purchases of the past few years, I’ve relied heavily on The Wirecutter to guide me in the right direction, typically going with their Upgrade Picks on items. Unfortunately, in the arena of computer mice, I wasn’t able to find anything good.

Let’s rewind for a moment to a couple of years ago when I stopped using mice and transitioned to an Apple Magic Trackpad 2. I’ve really enjoyed using the trackpad (although there’s no way I’ve found to utilize even basic PC functions when it’s plugged in via USB to a non-bootcamp Windows machine) and given that I’ve worked on a laptop with a trackpad for the better part of my life, it was a logical move to make when using my laptop shut with an external display.

However my computer use increased tremendously in 2016 when I began writing and working on other media (such as this site) to a much greater degree than I ever had before in my life. The result was that I began to experience discomfort in using input peripherals such as my keyboard and mouse. I’ve written a separate article on my keyboard quest, and I am currently on a one-year test of the Leopold FC660C (deemed by a Wirecutter editor as his favorite for nonstop 40 hour per week typing…if not officially reviewed and picked by the site). You can read up on that separately. So far…it’s decent.

But the trackpad had also become a bit uncomfortable as well, not in my wrists per se, but the top of my hand was definitely feeling it. And so I turned to the WireCutter for mouse advice.

At the outset, I was at a disadvantage as I didn’t want anything wireless that would require battery charging, and it seemed that The WireCutter had only three categories they had reviewed mice in, and all three were wireless. The categories were:

As a rule, I always go with the upgrade pick as, well, it’s better than the best according to Wirecutter, and they haven’t let me down yet…scratch that, they did with the Matias Ergo Pro, but that’s a separate post, and technically, it was Matias who let me down, not Wirecutter.

I didn’t want a wireless mouse because I always have issues with connections and don’t like to charge or replace batteries. I didn’t want a gaming mouse because I didn’t want extra buttons nor glowy-flashy rainbow lights (which are just silly), and I didn’t want a trackball because I’ve never been a fan of trackballs. Regardless of all my policies, I decided to give Wirecutter a chance on their picks.

For best Wireless Mouse Upgrade Pic, The Wirecutter chose the Logitech MX Master 2S. Luckily, unlike many Wirecutter choices, this was something I could actually find in a store so I went on down to Best Buy to check it out.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t buy the thing. It felt cheap and flimsy and imprecise in its handling, and at $75 (at the time), I just didn’t think it was worth giving it a chance. Given that it was the upgrade pick, I saw no point in pursuing the main pick because I was already not interested in a wireless mouse, let alone a lesser one. So we can check this one off the list.

While at first I thought I was done, I then considered the possibility of using a gaming mouse, given their reputation for precision movement and ability to have their myriad of extra buttons customized. In looking at the Wirecutter’s upgrade pick, the Logitech G703, I was at first turned off by the fact that it was wireless, but was intrigued by its DPI settings and configurable buttons. Given my proclivity for writing, I had warmed to the idea of having hotkeys/buttons for, among other things, cut/copy/paste (which I wound up doing to my keyboard) Also, ironically, it was easier to find the G703 in stores and it did allow for use when plugged in via USB. I also liked the fact that full mouse functionality was available across both Mac and PC platforms, something that is not the case with my Magic Trackpad 2 (I cannot scroll or right-click on it when using a PC).

I found the G703 in stock at the local Fry’s Electronics (Amazon had a 1-3 week shipping estimate) and went down there only to discover that it was a bait and switch. They were plum out of G703’s but had the top of the line G903 in stock there, naturally, for more money. After some hemming and hawing and some youtube review research, I came to the conclusion that G903 might in fact be the better choice as reviewers claimed its strengths over the G703 made it better suited to media work (audio/photo/video)

It was f*********g terrible.

Where do I begin? Anywhere, so we’ll start with the wired/wireless aspect of it. I decided that at home I would use the G903 via its USB connection as that is where I do most of my photo and video work, and at work in the office, I would use the wireless USB receiver for convenience’s sake and one less cable to tote back and forth with me. At home I didn’t want to deal with any potential latency or choppiness that might result from a wireless connection that, Logitech claims, is eliminated by using their super spiffy light wave speed whatever technology that includes a female-to-female USB adapter that lets you plug in the USB receiver for the mouse to a normal USB cable so you can have it near the mouse itself. To me that was an utterly ridiculous concept (in photos on the Wirecutter they show this application and seriously, you might as well plug the mouse in for a better and guaranteed connection), but also one that I guess matters because I found myself needing to use it because, YES, the mouse does have latency issues and cuts out even when using an extension cable with the USB receiver right in front of the mouse. Another thing I noticed (which was reflected in a YouTube review) was that the fit/finish/refinement on the mouse was not particularly great for the price point of $126. The scroll wheel was wobbly (probably due to its half-baked implementation of left/right scrolling that was slow and arduous at best) and button on top to switch from smooth up/down scrolling to ratcheted (or stepped) scrolling had an incredibly cheap-sounding spring mechanism that brought back memories of switches from the 80’s. While its optical sensor tracked well, its scrolling functionality on a Mac was abysmal with choppy vertical scroll, and an atrocious forced incremental horizontal scroll that I could count a full second between each increment it moved to the left or right. The $20 purchase of the utility USB Overdrive helped a little, with the vertical, but did nothing for the horizontal.

All of these things were dealbreakers, but the worst part of this mouse wasn’t that it functioned, well, barely. The worst part of it was its ergonomics. It caused (and I am not understating this) my carpal tunnel syndrome to explode with my right hand/forearm becoming the symphony orchestra equivalent of amplified CT symptoms. Really. It was intense beyond belief and lasted for a couple of days after I gave up on the mouse. I can’t believe I’m the only person who’s had such a viscerally negative physical reaction to this mouse and I don’t see how an esports athlete could possibly use this for extended periods of time. To be fair to the Wirecutter, they didn’t recommend this mouse at all, but I thought that it was merely because its price point relative to the additional features it offered over the G703 wasn’t justified. I only wish they would have noted it’s severe ergonomic shortcomings. Either that or I have freakish joints, which I don’t think is the case. And so I gave up on the G903 and returned it. I couldn’t help but notice upon returning it to Fry’s that when I walked the gaming mouse aisle, there was an unusually high number of open-box G903’s for sale in the Logitech portion of the aisle. It would seem to be the case that users, be they gamers or otherwise, aren’t happy with it. Also, the G703 still was not back in stock.


(I have no idea if this review is any good but 60 days is a good amount of time to suffer through this mouse’s strengths and weaknesses)

Not the one to be deterred, and still believing in the Wirecutter, I went back to the site to look at trackballs (which I had in a former life not been a huge fan of but thought things might have changed in the 15 or so years since I last tried one). I settled on the Wirecutter’s pick for a thumb-operated trackball – the Logitech MX Ergo Advanced Wireless Trackball. It appeared to offer a natural resting position for my hand, seemed comfortable, and I liked its heavy solid construction. But of course, its weaknesses far outweighed its strengths. Like the G903 it was wireless, but unlike the G903, it was simply normal bluetooth and didn’t make use of the G903’s super-fancy Light-dingle-dangle technology. Like the G903, that didn’t matter anyway as I found it had the exact same latency and skipping issues the G903. But it also had other problems. One, that was irredeemable, was that it emitted an extremely high-pitched whine. You know the type of sound. It’s the unnerving sound your USB battery pack makes while charging that makes you think it’s going to combust. The thing about this trackball though, is that it did it all the time and it was loud enough to keep me awake at night (if I didn’t remember to switch off the mouse…but then again, who ever does that?).

The other baffling thing about this mouse was that the only way to connect it to a computer was via bluetooth or a Logitech Unifying USB receiver. The micro-USB plug on the mouse itself did not work for connecting it to a computer…so no luck in avoiding latency or interference issues there. To me this was a bizarre thing to leave off a $90 trackball. Scrolling had the same issues, although this being the fifth Logitech mouse I had used in recent memories (apart from the G903 I’ve gone through several at work), I have now come to the conclusion that there is ZERO consistency in terms of feel and feedback from the scroll wheels on all of Logitech’s mouse offerings. Each one is different, and bad, and Logitech needs to do something about this or at least do a better job of giving would be users the option of tailoring the scroll wheels to their individual liking. There are clearly a variety of ratchet settings and styles Logitech offers, so why not make them optional on every mouse they make? I’m probably asking too much. While I originally perceived the MX Ergo’s shape to be comfortable, it turned out to not be good enough to make up for the rest of the device’s shortcomings, and so I also wound up returning this mouse too.

You might be wondering why I haven’t included any photos of these devices in my post. Well…it’s because I disliked them so much I saw no reason to photograph them. You can’t really articulate the feelings of carpal tunnel syndrome and other discomfort while using a mouse in a photo, so I didn’t bother. I do regret not recording a video of the piercing noise the MX Ergo made though. In hindsight, I should have done that. You can also find pics of all these mice (not the Trackpad) on the WireCutter’s site, or google images and youtube of course.

After these two frustrating and genuinely painful experiences, I wound up reevaluating my Magic Trackpad 2. In the end I realized that, for my needs, it remained the best of the bunch. It’s only shortcomings being that it can’t right-click or two finger scroll on a native PC, and so I keep a dirt cheap mouse nearby for its right button and occasional scroll. Other than that, the Magic Trackpad scrolls beautifully (whether by bluetooth or connected USB) and naturally and takes into account “physics” so-to-speak in the way the scrolling action decelerates over time. It also scrolls smoothly from left to right, making it ideal for media timeline work unlike anything else I’ve tried. On top of that, I have never suffered from latency or choppy movement from the cursor.

I did wind up buying a cheap Glorious Gaming wrist rest for use with the track pad and that has helped quite a bit with my discomfort, so until somebody comes up with my grail mouse (which should have happened by now…), I’ve decided I’m perfectly content to continue on with my Magic Track Pad 2.

Local Thoughts: The Los Angeles Theatre and Perfecting My Panorama

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of the seminal movies of my life and holds up better than nuclear fuel rods, so when I heard that it was going to be screened at the iconic Los Angeles Theatre in Downtown LA, I knew I had to go see it and also capture a panorama of the interior. We all know the Los Angeles Theatre well from a variety of movies, TV shows, and excellent commercials. For example:

  

Okay that’s enough pop-culture referencing for the moment. The point is, you probably knew about this place, and as theaters go, it’s pretty epic inside, although not in the greatest of shape, as are none of the formerly grand Broadway movie palaces of the early 20th Century.

The theatre is part of the LA Conservancy’s annual ‘Last Remaining Seats’ festival that screens classic cinema in formerly glorious and ornate movie palaces mostly located in the Broadway Theatre District in Downtown Los Angeles, but also in other locations around Los Angeles as well. Previously, I had seen Citizen Kane at the Orpheum Theatre. Not sure which theatre I’ll see something in next time. For better or worse, the conservancy did not let us in to the theatre until 45 minutes prior to the screening of Roger Rabbit and so I had limited time to document the interior, but then I remembered: technically, the glass is always full and I can always come back. I shot this hasty video as I was more interested in photos this time out. Perhaps at a future screening, I’ll get better video:

What I really wanted to get, however, was a humdinger of a panorama of that glorious interior (barbershop quartet notwithstanding) and I put to use many bits of wisdom I had learned over the years from taking many many many less-than-satisfactory-to-me panoramas.

The first thing I learned was:

1. NEVER EVER EVER take a panorama with your smartphone. They suck. Of course I say that based on the assumption that you take photos with something other than a smartphone when you go out. Sure, a smartphone can stitch together a panorama in real time but the end result is incredibly distorted, has no additional stops of dynamic range, makes use of heavy JPG compression, and has to be quite cropped to account for variations in the user’s y & z axis jitters when panning. I could continue onward as to why smartphone panoramas are bad bad bad, but I won’t. Moving on.

2. While you should never use your iPhone, you should use your iPhone’s orientation (ie vertical) for taking panoramas. A normal camera’s horizontal bias (ie 4:3 or 3:2) may seem like the way to take panoramas, but this leads to a lot of distortion and eventual cropping of image data at the top and bottom of your photo and if the point is to capture as much area as possible, then you want to take more pictures in a 2:3/3:4 format to get maximum coverage.

2. Identify the center of your panorama and take a reference photo first to determine the look and focus and feel of the end result. Switch to full manual mode. Set your focus, shutter speed, aperture, ISO. All the things. Now take the picture of the center, and do not change any settings. Including focus. This is important. Most helper-functions on digital cameras have you start your panorama from the left or the right side of your perceived frame and base their settings for the entire panorama off of how the far left or right of the picture looks. The helper function is also typically limited to jpg output which crushes bit depth, compresses colors, bakes in white balance, and a slew of other undesirable things to your pictures, so that’s why we go full manual for this. Your camera is now ready.

3. Depending on your disposition, now start taking your photos from left to right, or right to left (in your camera’s RAW format). Remember. Your camera’s settings are locked from step 2. You haven’t changed anything right? Good. Here’s how many photos I took to capture this panorama:

Los Angeles Theatre Panorama Component Images

4. Load your raw files into your editor of choice. Mine was Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. (Note: Lightroom CC can’t handle this project. Adobe stripped features from the newer version which baffles me).

5. Again, process your middle photo first to taste, and then use those settings for every other photo in the series. Lightroom makes this very easy with the standard ‘cmd+c’ and ‘cmd+v’ allowing you to copy+paste your settings from one photo to another. Very natural.

6. Merge your photos. Again, this is handily done in Lightroom or Photoshop. I prefer Lightroom because it preserves raw data and still allows you to perform additional non-destructive final adjustments to your merged photo.

7. Happy with it? Good. Here’s how it came out:

Los Angeles Theatre Panorama - 20,000 Thoughts

And that, folks, is how I take panoramas these days. I guess you could just use your phone too though.

Seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit was great as well. In person to take about the film was Don Hahn, Charlie Fleischer, and Joanna Cassidy, and the print used was an old film print instead of a digital file. This was nice because it fit with the theme of the old movie palace, and the visual effects held up better since they were designed to work in the more forgiving 35mm Vistavision format. When you watch a restored HD or 4K version, you can spot the old effects. Notsomuch here. It was great.

I do hope to return to see more flicks in the grand movie palaces downtown. If you’d like to know more about the LA Conservancy and Last Remaining Seats, please do check them out.

Movie Thoughts: Hotel Artemis Was Great But Needed to be 30-40 Minutes Longer

Hotel Artemis could have, and should have, and probably was, better than what came out and so I’m going to say I liked it based on what I speculate was cut.

Hotel Artemis felt like it had all the substance cut from it, and had its B&C plots tossed in a blender with the main plot to cut down running time.  Perhaps it was an exercise in efficiency, but my hope is that a director’s or uncut version will eventually be released to streaming or home video as this was a movie that was way too short…in my humble opinion. To that point, it was the product of Drew Pearce, a really talented writer who cleared earned the right to direct a movie based on his previous body of work. Hotel Artemis’  production design is gorgeous, everyone turns in great, if short performances (again it seems like so much was cut), and of course, I love the fact that it was shot in LA, and just as importantly, felt like LA. In many films now, Atlanta is doubling as LA, which is just silly and dumb and you can pretty much tell every time.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but the final shot just got me in the feels and I loved the notion that a franchise could come out of that one scene that, sure, maybe nobody but me (and every other intelligent moviegoer) would go to see. But it probably won’t and that makes me sad.

Anyway, a good movie with all the good stuff cut out. That’s The Hotel Artemis.