Colossal Kaiju

Yeah, it’s a redundant title. You come up with these things five days a week.

I love Kaiju. When I was a kid, WPIX-TV (channel 11) had “Chiller Theater,” which would run various “horror” movies, including kaiju like Godzilla on weekday afternoons. If the weather was bad, or if I was sick (which was frequent for a couple of years,) I would end up watching it.

The Chiller intro was more frightening than the movie:

I suspect Chiller Theater ran nights too, and that’s when they broadcast the really scary stuff.

Kaiju are cool again. They’ve even branched into movies that are supposed to be funny, instead of only unintentionally.

This looks like it could be an entertaining film, with a great idea and an excellent cast. Of course, a good cast didn’t help Kong: Skull Island, from what I have heard. That’s a shame since it is supposed to lead up to a crossover with the Godzilla in the 2014 reboot of that franchise, which I enjoyed.

Of course, I am one of the fifteen or so people that enjoyed the 1998 Godzilla with Matthew Broderick and Hank Azaria, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

Like all genre, kaiju movies have expectations. Cities need to be trashed. Man has to be taught a lesson about his/her place in nature. Efforts to control nature have to fail.

Expectations can become formulas, and that’s how many genre movies/books/comics, etc. end up being mediocre or just bad. “Destroy All Monsters,” one of my all-time favorite Showa-era Godzilla films (when I was 7 or 8 years old,) is so formulaic it’s put together using footage from other movies.  I also loved Gamera, the giant fire-breathing turtle, as a kid. I’ve tried to watch those movies again. They’re pretty bad.

Formula is the bane of genre fiction, and it’s something I am maybe a little too afraid of as I put together my War of the Worlds stories because, after all, I am starting with a basic formula: a sequel. Can I write an interesting sequel without falling into a formula or writing a mess that doesn’t make any sense?

We’ll see, I guess.

The Power of White Noise

I have a lot of writing to do. When I need to buckle down and focus, the music is shut off, and I switch over to white noise/ ambient sounds. Which means I am using top-of-the-line noise-cancelling headphones to listen to background noise. Isn’t the 21st Century wonderful?

The video above is one of my favorites. It’s part of the Relax Sleep ASMR channel.

.This is another favorite, from someone who seems to share my taste in movies and SciFi based on their Youtube username.

I just found this one tonight, and I may give it a try.


How Do You Keep a Reader in Suspense?

I’ll tell you next week.

Open Culture posted a few articles about Alfred Hitchcock a couple of weeks back. This one discusses how the master of suspense did his suspense-mastering.

The “ticking clock” is obviously how it’s done, but it’s interesting to hear Hitchcock talk about making sure the bomb never goes off. Interesting enough that my contrarian side, always a source of trouble, immediately wanted to go set a clock off.

I also immediately thought of Arrival, one of my favorite movies. Arrival’s ticking clock has no numbers. One of the superpowers is going to lose patience and attack the aliens if we don’t figure out how to communicate with them, but we don’t know when their patience will run out. There’s a deadline, but no clock, just a sword of Damocles, waiting to fall.

This is real suspense. Arrival has almost no action. It’s an “old-fashioned” movie that relies on story and not spectacle to entertain.

If you’ve seen it, watch Nerdwriter’s brilliant review below. It will make you want to see it again. If you haven’t, please watch it  (it’s easy to find online) and then come back and watch the

If you haven’t seen Arrival yet, please watch it  (it’s available where fine movies are streamed) and then come back and watch this review. There are spoilers here. You will thank me.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that a review that discusses masterful movie making mentions Hitchcock within the first 90 seconds.

The story I am working on right now has a ticking clock with no numbers. I didn’t realize that until I saw the Hitchcock video. I know now to accentuate some of that suspense a bit.

Both of these videos helped me learn how to understand suspense. How about you?

Please Awesome This and Share

How has Facebook’s “like” button changed the world? Is it responsible for the spread of inaccurate news and that thing that happened in November? Has it become so far detached from the simple concept of “liking” something that it’s become downright counterproductive and maybe even dangerous?

Leah Pearlman is one of the people that came up the idea behind the button (which she called the “awesome button” for awhile.) She’s since left the company and makes excellent webcomics.

It’s interesting to read how she uses Facebook in this article:

Leah Pearlman has grown wary of Facebook. The 35-year-old illustrator uses the social network to promote her business, Dharma Comics, but has set up various safeguards to avoid becoming too emotionally invested in the happenings on the site. She uses a web browser plug-in called News Feed Eradicator, which replaces the social network’s endless stream of status updates, auto-playing videos, and advertisements with a single inspiring quote.

The Like button was intended to give users a quick way to indicate that they, well,  like something without having to write a comment. However, given how Facebook’s real raison d’etre is to mine data about what we share and what we read, it’s turned into the pivot point for a circle jerk.

But the place where Like diverges from typical human vanity is the way it powers Facebook’s increasingly omniscient News Feed algorithm. Facebook takes into account thousands of factors to determine what posts to prioritize in people’s feeds, but Like is one of the most straightforward ways that users convey positive sentiment to the company’s algorithms. A Like isn’t just a digital pat on the back — it’s an ambiguous upvote that drives a piece of content to more eyeballs. Like is presented as a simple, rewarding interaction point, but the ways in which it dictates what we see are opaque.

We see things because our friends like them, we like them because our friends liked them, then more friends see them, and so it goes.

Vonnegut would have a field day with this.

I remember when Facebook changed the timeline from chronological to whatever the hell it was then. Since then they’ve further tweaked the super secret algorithm they use for showing us what we see.

At some point, my suspicion that they hold their users in contempt became a conviction.

Like many people, my feelings about Facebook are decidedly mixed. It’s a good place to keep track of friends and share interesting links, photos, etc. , but at the same time, it can be a pretty ugly place, and Facebook-the-company’s goals and motivations become more and more evident as time passes.

I’m going to need Facebook when it comes time to sell books, but I wish I could find a better way to stay in touch with friends.

I honestly think Twitter is a better tool for staying in touch and sharing links and images because it provides you what you ask for in chronological order with no filter. But “no filter” requires the ability to ignore or at least tolerate things that one doesn’t like and accept criticism and dissenting opinions. If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ll know that doing that is just impossible for too many people. (And it’s also threatening to kill Twitter.)

(By the way, Open Culture has instructions on how you can tweak your news feed if you are not ready to go the full feed eradicator route.)


Thinking is Hard

Veritasium is another favorite Youtube channel of mine.

Check this out. It’s long but well worth 12 minutes if you ever find yourself needing to use your brain for something more than a place to rest your hat.

“You have to be willing to be uncomfortable,” Muller says.

So what sounds like a quote from a self-help book has some scientific reasoning to it. The very act of slowing things down and focusing on them, makes our brain process them differently.

This difference explains why taking notes with a pen results in better retention than with a computer or even a phone for me. I find writing by hand to be very difficult due to several hand injuries, while typing is nearly effortless for me since it’s been a part of the day job for close to thirty years now. (Although I am starting to get some discomfort in one hand, but I don’t like to admit it, so nevermind.)

Subscribe to this Youtube channel. You won’t be sorry.


A Short Film Based on Yeats

When You Are Old

When you are old and gray and full of sleep
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace, 5
And loved your beauty with love false or true;
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled 10
And paced upon the mountains overhead,
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

I have nothing to add.