Friday, December 2, 2011

It's Time

I don't really like the idea/want to get in the habit of citing Gawker as a good authority on social issues, but in this case they're dead on: the US absolutely does need ads like this one:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting Stoked for 'Shame'

I've been meaning to write about the upcoming movie Shame for a while now. The sophomore feature-length release from director Steve McQueen, Shame stars the incredible Michael Fassbender as a sex addict living in New York. When his younger sister (played by the increasingly daring Carey Mulligan) moves in with him, Fassbender's life begins to spiral out of control.

What's gotten me so excited for Shame is the bold approach distributor Fox Searchlight is taking with the film: they're embracing its NC-17 rating. More than that they're wearing it like "a badge of honour." This move is unusual in the extreme and it's strange but inspiring to see such a brave step forward coming from a member of the Fox family. Here's an incredible quote from Fox Searchlight director Steve Gilula:
I think NC-17 is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter. We believe it is time for the rating to become usable in a serious manner. The sheer talent of the actors and the vision of the filmmaker are extraordinary. It’s not a film that everyone will take easily, but it certainly breaks through the clutter and is distinctive and original. It’s a game changer.
The NC-17 rating has traditionally been a death mark for films that push the limits of social norms. When a film gets this rating most theatres typically won't play it, fearing public backlash against deviant content. Germaine Lussier over at /Film explains it best:

When a film gets branded with an NC-17 rating, most studios do one of four things. They re-cut it hoping to get an R-rating, release it unrated, doom it direct-to-DVD or suck it up and go for it.
That last option is a rarity because embracing the NC-17 rating means fighting an unfair, almost pornographic, connotation. The MPAA website itself explicitly states “NC-17 does not mean ‘obscene’ or ‘pornographic’ in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience.” But that doesn’t stop major theater chains from not playing the movies, major video distributors from not stocking the movies or TV channels from not advertising the movies. It’s a huge mountain to climb.

The resultant battles between filmmakers (at every level of the process) and the MPAA over ratings have been well documented. This phenomenon has spawned an interesting (albeit very one-sided) documentary, This Film is Not Yet Rated, that everyone who's interested in film should see.

Now to see a major indie distributor like Fox Searchlight coming out in support of a film that's been branded with the NC-17 rating is both refreshing and encouraging. Hopefully it's a sign that the stigma associated with the rating is deteriorating and that we'll be seeing more daring and unique cinema as a result.

Anyway, I bring this all up now because the red band trailer for Shame has been released and it is, in a word, electric. It's embedded below, but seeing as it's red band I'll warn you that it's definitely NSFW. The score and the acting are the highlights of this minimalistic but powerful taste of what we'll see. Without a single line of dialogue Fassbender manages to establish an incredible sense of tension and forced restraint. On top of that the music evokes memories of The Social Network and There Will Be Blood, two of my favourite film scores.

The trailer's gotten me excited for a film I would already have gone to see solely for the cinematic-political reasons stated above. Shame has received great reviews and this trailer gives credence to that buzz. Hopefully this film's success will match its quality so that it has the opportunity to positively impact the entire industry.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Red State

Red State is the latest film from Kevin Smith, the writer/director of 90's classics like ClerksChasing Amy, and Dogma. Set in an unnamed (but distinctly Texas-like) small town in the southern USA, Red State is about a familial religious cult known as the Five Points Church. The cult espouses some rather extreme interpretations of the Bible, particularly with regards to homosexuality, and has a distinctly holier-than-though type mindset. An incident early in the film results in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) being called in to raid the Church compound, and the ensuing conflict is the basis for most of the film.

As that brief plot summary indicates, Red State conflates elements from the real-life stories of the Waco siegethe Manson Family, and the Westboro Baptist Church. The film attempts to tell "both" sides of the story, intermittently showing the perspectives of the ATF force, the people of the cult, and the surrounding community. Given that kind of humanized engagement with highly controversial political topics, it seems natural to assume that Smith would use the opportunity to take a stance on the issues. At the very least you'd expect some sort of coherent message, something to give meaning to a story about belief-based hatred and killing. And I guess we sort of get that. Eventually.

In what is surely meant to be a P. T. Anderson-esque haunting monologue near the conclusion of the film, John Goodman as the head of the ATF force explains his prior actions to his superiors by stating that "People just do the strangest things when they believe they're entitled... But they do even stranger things when they just plain believe."

... Ok? 

This half-hearted attempt at depth fails to justify or add weight to the events of the film. It feels less like an explanation and more like an observation, and doesn't really do much to make sense of the proceedings. I'm not trying to suggest that movies have to be comprehensible as a rule. Rather it's clear that Smith is trying to take a political stance in this film, and unfortunately his writing fails to convey his position. The entire thing just feels unintentionally senseless and aimlessly political.

On that note, I can't help but feel that Red State would have been more topical around 2004 or so. "What's that you say Kevin Smith? The Patriot Act is bad? Oh, do tell me more!" Granted the topics covered in the movie are still alive in the American political landscape, but they're more like the basic context behind today's headlines. Given the fact that we're firmly entrenched in the post-Bush era, the conversation surrounding these types of issues has evolved in significant ways.

Maybe it's just that the politics don't fully resonate with me because I'm Canadian, maybe these issues really are the kinds of things keep Americans up at night. But I don't think so. I think that people have more or less gotten used to the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church is objectively evil, and that the political/corporate powers-that-be are maybe a little out of whack. With regards to that last one, I think people have not only gotten used to the fact but moreover have become fed up and started to do something about it, but I digress. That's a whole other discussion, and for now it's enough to say I don't think Red State says much that we don't already know, and says it poorly at that.

It's not that the movie is bad per se, on the contrary it's quite well made in many regards. The cinematography, lighting, special effects, and sound design are all incredible. Moreover the acting is perhaps the strongest ever featured in a Kevin Smith movie. John Goodman puts in a great performance, and Michael Parks is absolutely mesmerizing as the paternalistic cult leader. In a lot of ways Red State is the most mature thing Smith has ever produced, exhibiting real vision and control as a filmmaker.

Given all these positives it's especially tragic that the writing is so disappointing. That's usually Smith's one reliable strength, but here it's underwhelming and strictly functional. The minute-to-minute dialogue between the characters is natural and effective in driving the plot forward, but it never really adds up to anything. Nothing in the script establishes much of a perspective with the exception of the aforementioned monologue. Even there, where Smith speaks directly to the audience through Goodman's character, the closest thing we get to a message is a vague sentiment that extremism is bad in any form. Given that I suppose it's appropriate that Red State is moderate to the point of irrelevance, but that's way more cynical than I wanted to be about this movie.

(Originally published in The Weldon Times)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

R.I.P. Anne McCaffrey

I just learned from Topless Robot that Anne McCaffrey has passed away. The author of over a hundred books, McCaffrey will be sorely missed by fans of science-fiction and fantasy.

Anne McCaffrey, 1926-2011

McCaffrey leaves a wonderful legacy behind and hopefully her works will continue to be enjoyed for years to come. The Dragonriders of Pern series was particularly important to me when I was growing up and so I was sad to hear the news. If you're at all interest in sci-fi/fantasy then I strongly recommend picking up either Dragonflight or Dragonsong and letting yourself get lost in Pern.

PS: It might be wrong/insensitive to say this right now, but I don't see myself getting another opportunity: the photo of Anne McCaffrey on her Wikipedia page is the worst photo I have ever seen of a person, ever. Like, wow. So unfortunate.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Way the Occupy Cookie Crumbles

Occupy Sesame Street
A commenter over at The Onion's AV Club who writes from the perspective of Sesame Street's Cookie Monster has put together the most coherent and concise explanation of the Occupy Movement that I've seen. I'm reposting it here because it's both hilarious and so clear that it needs to get spread around as much as possible. Lately I've noticed too little understanding and too much misinformation about OWS going around for my liking. Especially with regards to the reasons behind the protests and the "lack of clear goals." This short piece doesn't pull any punches and gets right to the heart of the issue by responding to the far-too-typical "You're just complaining that you're poor" critique.

Anyway, enough talk, here's the post:
Yes, there always going to be rich and poor.  But we used to live in country where rich owned factory and make 30 times what factory worked make.  Now we live in country where rich make money by lying about value of derivative bonds and make 3000 times what factory worker would make if factories hadn't all moved to China.

Capitalism great system.  We won Cold War because people behind Iron Curtain look over wall, and see how much more plentiful and delicious cookies are in West, and how we have choice of different bakeries, not just state-owned one.  It great system.  It got us out of Depression, won WWII, built middle class, built country's infrastructure from highways to Hoover Dam to Oreo factory to electrifying rural South.  It system that reward hard work and fair play, and everyone do fair share and everyone benefit.  Rich get richer, poor get richer, everyone happy.  It great system.

Then after Reagan, Republicans decide to make number one priority destroying that system.  Now we have system where richest Americans ones who find ways to game system - your friends on Wall Street - and poorest Americans ones who thought working hard would get them American dream, when in fact it get them pink slip when job outsourced to 10-year-old in Mumbai slum.  And corporations have more influence over government than people (or monsters).

It not about rich people having more money.  It about how they got money.  It about how they take opportunity away from rest of us, for sake of having more money.  It how they willing to take risks that destroy economy - knowing full well that what could and would happen - putting millions out of work, while creating nothing of value, and all the while crowing that they John Galt, creating wealth for everyone.

That what the soul-searching about.  When Liberals run country for 30 years following New Deal, American economy double in size, and wages double along with it.  That fair.  When Conservatives run country for 30 years following Reagan, American economy double again, and wages stay flat.  What happen to our share of money?  All of it go to richest 1%.  That not "there always going to be rich people".  That unfair system.  That why we upset.  That what Occupy Sesame Street about.
(Via SF Weekly. Thanks Sarah!)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Internet Has Isolated The Essence of Sadness

Apologies in advance for the ridiculously emo title of this post. Also for the infinite sadness you might feel in a few moments.

About a month back I came across an interesting post on reddit by user KhaoticLegacy. Apparently Thai insurance commercials are generally short films unto themselves that depict tragic human stories meant to evoke compassion, heartbreak, and a very strong sense that you need life insurance. Like, yesterday. This Google search pulls up a whole bunch of them so you can see for yourself (thanks tiexano). Anyway, KhaoticLegacy noted that if you take any one of these ads and use YouTube Doubler to change the audio to the music from the (much adored) Dead Island trailer, what you end up with is the most sad thing ever. Every time. For real.

Check out this one example:

It's uncanny how well this works with every single Thai insurance ad. Seriously, here's another "favourite" of mine (make sure to mute the Thai ad). The first time I watched on of these videos I was instantly transformed from a grown, reasonably competent adult into an angsty, "misunderstood" teenager. Equally devastating is the mashup of the Dead Island trailer music with the already heartbreaking opening montage from Up! that you can find here if you're just feeling too chipper today.

This strange but mesmerizing phenomenon raises a number of important questions:
1) Why are these instantly depressing videos so strangely compelling? What does it say about the human condition that we can enjoy the experience of sadness?
2) Have the composers of the Dead Island trailer music found the perfect combination of notes to instantly evoke simultaneous feelings of compassion, futility, and despair? Can it make anything sad? Is that dog dead?
3) What is the deal with Thai insurance commercials?!

These questions and more plague me while I continue to find new, more poignant combinations of internet videos with the Dead Island trailer music...

Editor's note: I've been meaning to post about this one for a few weeks, sorry for the delay Chris!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Usage-Based Internet Billing Is a Good Thing

My dad wrote a great piece for the Toronto Star explaining why UBB is, contrary to popular opinion, a good thing. The article makes it pretty clear why UBB is not just fair for the average user but also necessary for businesses. A lot of the negative attention that UBB attracted earlier in the year was largely misinformed and came in response to Bell's bad plan for implementation. My dad's piece is a good explanation of a largely misunderstood issue and definitely worth a read if you're interested in Canadian broadcast issues. It'll be interesting to see what happens on Tuesday when the CRTC releases their revised decision about UBB.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Games As Art: PBS Off Book

Just a quick post to share this sweet video that I found over on Kotaku. It's the latest in a series called "Off Book" by PBS Arts, and it features a number of people in the video game industry talking about why they see video games as an artistic medium. They raise some interesting points, particularly about the meaning of interaction and emotional inspiration, that are great contributions to the ongoing debate about games as art. Plus they describe Portal in a way that I completely hadn't considered but that is so interesting it makes me want to go back and play that incredible game all over again for the umpteenth time. That alone would make the video worth posting, but here it's just a minor point in the larger discussion.

One thing in the video I found particularly interesting was the description of the Jason Rohr's game Passage. The basic gist is that the game presents a world that you are free to explore, but only for a short time before your character dies; in that time you can get a partner who explores with you, but eventually dies shortly before you do. The concept and execution are simple and yet the game invites an emotional reaction by emphasizing a sense of the impermanence and unimportance of human existence. This use of interactivity to present an emotional concept is an elegant demonstration of the potential/truth of games as art, and demands further investigation. I'll see if I can get my hands on a copy of Passage, it sounds like a short but worthwhile experience/experiment.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Big Picture: Frankenstein Conquers the World

Over the summer I started watching a weekly video series called "The Big Picture" over at The Escapist. Basically the gist of the videos is that one of the Escapist's regular contributors, MovieBob, has free range to rant about whatever strikes his fancy each week. Topics have ranged from a set on Hollywood History to the revolution in animation that is encapsulated in Yogi Bear's collar (seriously, watch that one, it's AMAZING). 

Considering that content description and the fact that the series' subtitle is "A Hard Look At All Things Geek," it's really no surprise the videos strike my fancy more often than not. I've been planning to feature an episode here on the blog, and I think last week's installment presents the perfect conflux of MovieBob's style with a number of my personal interests. I hope you enjoy The Big Picture: Frankenstein Conquers the World.

Ok, now that you've seen that I want to present a quick commentary on why I selected that video in particular. First and foremost it's about a movie I have never seen, and one that features Frankenstein's monster no less. This immediately piques my interest since Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one of my all-time favourite novels, and I love to explore its various adaptations (even though most of them are kinda crap). I realize now that I haven't talked about Frankenstein at all on this blog, and perhaps that's something I need to rectify in the near future... Regardless though, that fact alone has me curious, but the hits don't stop coming. On top of that the movie is made by Toho of freaking Godzilla fame, and I've made no secret of my love for all things big, radioactive, and green.

So the movie features a giant, radioactive monster that's (inexplicably) referred to as Frankenstein stomping around Japan and generally acting like everyone's (read: my) favourite king of the monsters. That's more than enough to sell me, but wait! There's more! MovieBob rightly tells us how this is one of the only movies to really dive right into the darker aspects of Japan's 20th century history, featuring not only their alliance with the Nazis in WWII but also the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima as major plot points. Holy shit! 

I've mentioned before how one of the reasons I find Godzilla so interesting is the fact that he's more or less a cinematic manifestation of the social/cultural/political/psychological scars left on the Japanese populace by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are some of the darkest moments in modern history and the orignal Gojira was a clear attempt to negotiate the literal and figurative damage done. Regardless of the increasingly ridiculous and irreverent latter films in the series (although I would argue they build off the initial framework in interesting ways) that first movie dealt with some very serious subject matter via metaphor, leaving the real context off-screen in the hearts and minds of the audience.
Frankenstein Conquers the World eschews subtlety altogether and dives head-first into the historical fray. The movie not only deals with the bombing of Hiroshima as a historical fact and incorporates it as an integral plot point, it moreover depicts this event on film. Seriously! You saw the video above, you know as much as I do, even MovieBob is stunned by this choice. On the one hand this honestly doesn't sound nearly as tasteful or clever as the approach taken in the Godzilla franchise; there the idea of nuclear power was the plot rather than merely an event driving it forward, and the actual history was respectfully left to the audience to remember. On the other hand, Frankenstein Conquers the World is unique in its explicit response to such a horrifying event a scant two decades after it actually occurred! The movie was made in 1965 so the damage done was still very much fresh in the minds of the Japanese populace, and yet Frankenstein seems to use the event as a mere justification for getting a dude to stomp around miniature sets. Hell, the bombings are (rightfully) still a touchy subject, so it's incredible to think that they were depicted on film at all so shortly after occurring, and moreover that they were used in such a (seemingly) irreverent way.

So Frankenstein Conquers the World has shot right to the top of my "To Watch" list, number one with a bullet! I don't expect it to be deep, artistic, or even good for that matter, but I do expect it to be an "interesting" take on Frankenstein and a uniquely explicit look at Japan's response to the bombing of Hiroshima. I expect it'll play on a lot of the themes and concepts that I find so captivating about the Godzilla franchise, albeit a little less tastefully. Finally, I expect to have a good time enjoying some classic "MAN-IN-SUIT" action (Frankenstein fights Baragon!!!).

This post ended up being more about Godzilla (again) than about The Big Picture or even Frankenstein, but I think it served its purpose. I wanted to give a shout out to one of my new favourite video series and also talk about a movie that I really want to see, and I'm always happy to talk about Godzilla. Plus now I have a few new post ideas in the bank. Anyway, take my advice and check out The Big Picture, it's pretty damn awesome (again I specifically recommend the one about Yogi Bear's collar). And if you've seen Frankenstein Conquers the World or have a different opinion on Godzilla or whatever then, as always, let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Never Thought I'd Be Afraid of a Graphics Editing Program

At the recent MAX 2011 fest (what the...), Adobe unveiled a prototype for an upcoming feature in Photoshop: unblurring. I tried to sum up how this new technology works but Geekosystem's Eric Limer does so better than I ever could have: "The algorithm actually calculates the movement of the camera during the time the shutter was open and uses it to retroactively correct the blurring that occurred. Impressive."

Fuck yeah that's impressive! It's like the future is now, and without any shitty motion controls!

Watch the video below for the announcement. Listen carefully to the crowd and you can hear the astounded cries of "That's impossible!" and "Holy shit!" and "Witch! Burn it! Burn the witch!"

(Via Geekosystem)

Monday, October 10, 2011

India's $35 USD Tablet Computer

In Hindi the word "aakash" means "sky"
A few days ago news hit about the release of the Aakash tablet, a computer that costs less than $35 USD per unit to manufacture. The idea behind the computer is to introduce modern communications technologies into India's rural communities, and specifically to facilitate the education of children living in poverty. At a press conference for the release of the computer, Indian Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal announced, "Today we reach to the sky and demonstrate what is possible ... Let me send a message, not just to our children but the children of the world ... This is for all those who are marginalized."

Initially envisioned as a $10 solar-powered device, the Aakash is nevertheless an incredible technological achievement. The computer offers a colour touchscreen, 2 GB of internal memory that's expandable via an internal microSD card reader, 256 MB of RAM, and two USB slots. In terms of software the tablet runs off a version of Android 2.2 and features word processing, web browsing, video conferencing, and multimedia capabilities. 

I'm no expert but given the $35 production cost (and price point for students and teachers) I am positively flabbergasted by those stats. On the one hand it really drives home the disparity between production and consumer costs of devices made by certain popular electronics producers. On the other hand, it's an admirable humanitarian gesture on the parts of both developer DataWind and the Indian government (granted I'm ignoring a multitude of potential/probable ulterior motivations, but lets just focus on the warm and fuzzy aspects of this news for a moment, shall we?).

(Via reddit)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some thoughts on the "decline" of men

William J. Bennett's recent opinion piece on, "Why men are in trouble," is an interesting read. The gist of the article seems to be that men aren't so obviously/distinctly the dominant sex anymore, and that's a bad thing. Today's "men" spend too much time playing video games, watching movies, listening to music, and generally enjoying an extended adolescence. We've lost sight of the values of marriage and religion and are out of touch with "Masculinity."

Even if we ignore the egregious problems with Bennett's basic premise, a cursory glance at his "evidence" shows a textbook example in how to skew statistics. He complains that "Women's earnings grew 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men," as if this clearly demonstrates that men aren't upwardly mobile enough anymore. It's not like that stat (if it's accurate) could be a result of general societal trends leaning towards the correction of gross gender inequalities. Oh no! It's most certainly an indication that the new generation isn't manly enough to make sure it's earning more money than women. Bennett admits that "Men still maintain a majority of the highest paid and most powerful occupations," but warns that "women are catching them and will soon be passing them if this trend continues." Heaven forbid!

Speaking of which, apparently we men are also losing the piety contest: Bennett notes that only "39% of men reported attending church regularly in 2010, compared to 47% of women." Those uppity women-folk are starting to catch up with us here in the corporeal world, and if we don't man-up soon they'll have a stranglehold on the sweet hereafter as well! 

Moreover, Bennett says that if we don't believe his stats we should listen to the "many young women" he's apparently spoken with, all of whom are "asking, 'Where are the decent single men?'" I'd hazard a guess that such fabled 'good guys' are somewhere with the kinds of women who wouldn't give Bennett the time of day, but that's just me. It boggles the mind to think that Bennett took a few poor women's dating woes as evidence of the "tragic" decline of patriarchal values, yet that seems to be the implication.

But Bennett's all-star line-up of "evidence" doesn't stop there: he goes on to cite Hanna Rosin's "seminal article, 'The End of Men'" (which actually might be where he cribbed many of his stats). Rosin asserts that women are taking over traditionally male-dominated roles, and Bennett takes this as a sign of a multi-generational failure in masculinity. He (again) blames video games for distracting young men and disrupting their sense of what it means to be a man, and furthermore accuses their fathers of failing in their Platonic duty to raise "Men." In a clever move that I assume is meant as a subtle rejection of Bennett's argument, has included a link in his piece to another article by Rosin entitled "Are women leaving men behind?" There she makes clear that her point is not "feminist gloating" but rather an empiric societal shift.
It's not any kind of value judgment. It just is. Women are in so many ways filling the roles that men traditionally filled ... I talk about the "end of men" not to make [men] feel hopeless and doomed to failure, but to open their eyes to the idea that gender roles are more fluid than ever, and that they do not have to fill some particular expectation. If you are prepared for it, then the end of a particular kind of macho can be a relief, not a curse.
Clearly Bennett sees the decline of traditional masculinity as a sign of the apocalypse, and to be honest that's not exactly surprising. He's an old white guy with a successful career behind him and so it makes perfect sense that he supports the "historical" dominance of the patriarchy. I'm making a wild generalization, granted, and I should clarify that I don't think that Bennett or all old white guys are horrifyingly sexist or anything like that. I'm just not surprised that Bennett's in support of traditional masculinity because it significantly informed the world in which he was able to become so successful. 

My real problem with the article is that it asserts that male dominance is over and explicitly says that's a bad thing. It's ludicrous to think that women have suddenly taken over and are now beating men in the gender war or somesuch nonsense. There continues to be widespread gender inequality in society (and I'm really only talking about North America here), especially when you start talking about career opportunities and professional earnings. Hell, the very fact that a major website like is willing to host this kind of argument is itself a sign that traditional masculinity and patriarchal values are still deeply imbedded in our society. That's not meant as an individualized criticism of (again I don't think they agree with Bennett). Rather the fact that it's worthy of posting (because he's a successful, influential person) is indicative of a larger framework of values.

Bennett cites some (assumably) valid statistics about how conditions are improving for women but takes them as signs that the very foundations of society are crumbling before our eyes. Implicit in that analysis are the beliefs that men should be in charge, that traditional male dominance over women is a good thing, and that the position and benefits men have enjoyed in the past are right. These are repugnant beliefs that I am not willing to accept, and Bennett takes them for granted, assuming them as natural principles. He doesn't even bother to make them explicit as ideology because he does not see them as such. That is among the many problems with his position, and with the larger value set that he is representing when he talks about what he believes it means to be a man.

Anyway, that's all the rant I have in me right now. Not sure if this had much of a point beyond calling out Bennett's argument as abhorrent. For the record, I'm not even sure why I bother getting angry about/critiquing this kind of nonsense. I suppose it's productive insofar as it's a mouthpiece for my personal politics, but beyond that... who knows? Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.

(Via Kotaku, oddly enough)

(10/8/11: Minor gramatical edits because I'm sloppy sometimes)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Schrödinger's Cat in Under 2 Minutes

Not a lot of commentary today, just found a cool video explaining the basic idea behind the "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment. I've always been a fan of this particular pop-paradox, so I figured I'd share with the group. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dead Island Trailer to Get Feature-Length Adaptation

Back in February I flipped out over the outstanding trailer for the videogame Dead Island. Since then the game has been released, and while it's received generally positive reviews the final product isn't exactly groundbreaking. The trailer, on the other hand, has continued to garner critical acclaim. First it won a Gold prize at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (yeah, I hadn't heard of it either, but still). Now the franchise has been optioned by Lionsgate for a feature film adaptation, and it seems pretty damn clear that the trailer is the primary influence for the movie. The announcement press release reads,

Like the trailer that will serve as its primary creative inspiration, the film DEAD ISLAND will be an innovation of the zombie genre because of its focus on human emotion, family ties and non-linear storytelling. Said Drake of the property's acquisition, "Like the hundreds of journalists and millions of fans who were so passionate and vocal about the Dead Island trailer, we too were awestruck." He continued, "This is exactly the type of property we're looking to adapt at Lionsgate – it's sophisticated, edgy, and a true elevation of a genre that we know and love. It also has built in brand recognition around the world, and franchise potential."
So yeah, they're making a movie out the clear Dead Island trailer. I have kind of mixed feelings about this. On the one hand it's kind of ridiculous to think that they're making a trailer (that it should be noted had almost nothing in common with the game it ostensibly represented) into a movie. Writing that out feels like I'm describing a bad Mad TV / sketch. It also reeks of creative bankruptcy, like taking the whole remake/reboot phenomenon to its natural extension. The idea just leaves me feeling kind of... dirty...

On the other hand, the trailer was FUCKING INCREDIBLE. If they can capture the same kind of pathos and emotional resonance that made the original trailer so good then I'll be first in line on opening night. The press release seems to indicate that the powers-that-be have at least some sense of what made the trailer so good, namely "its focus on human emotion, family ties and non-linear storytelling." I don't actually care if we get anything like the simultaneous backwards/forwards storytelling like we saw in the trailer. As far as I'm concerned the key aspect is the original's tone, the sense of tragic inevitability that made the trailer so devastating. Granted the non-linear nature of the storytelling had a lot to do with evoking that sentiment, but I don't necessarily think it's absolutely necessary for the film to be successful.

Time will tell if this movie ends up being more along the lines of the incredible trailer or the fun but relatively unemotional game. Fingers-crossed that it's the former. For now, take a few minutes to re-watch the trailer (at the top of this post) and remember what all the fuss is about.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Ballad of Mike Haggar

Over a month after it was first brought to my attention, the incredible Ballad of Mike Haggar still leaves me speechless after every viewing. I don't care if you're not interested in video games, poetry, or general geekery, everyone should bear witness to this amazing video. And if you just so happen to be very much interested in all those things (and if you're reading this blog then the chances of that are pretty decent) then this awesome epic will quite simply blow you away. The only possible downside is that it might leave you semi-catatonic, but trust me: it's worth it.

Did you watch it yet? Good. Now watch it again.

In other news, let this stand as my second "apology for not posting" post. This fall is gearing up to be among the busiest I've ever had and so my time/energy for posting has been at an all time low. But I have not abandoned this blog! Far from it, I am positively bursting with ideas/opinions/etc, I just need to schedule some time to write them. I should be settling into a routine in the next week or so and then I'll make sure to get this blog back in business.

So if you've stuck with this blog (or even this post) long enough to be reading this then thank you, I promise not to make you wait much longer for some good old Max Rambles-brand pretension and attitude.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Lannister Always Pays His Debts...

Hey everyone. So remember when I said back in April that there'd be a "brief" interruption in my blogging schedule while I was writing my first year law exams? Well, as you can see, that turned into three month long, unexplained hiatus. I figure it's about time I give a bit of an explanation, and a statement about the status/future of this blog.

So, first thing's first, what have I been doing all this time? Well, a few things: I've been working for a professor doing research on the state of Internet/e-commerce law in Canada (way more interesting than it sounds, to me at least); I've also been enjoying the summer sun, spending as much time outside as possible; mostly, however, I've been reading the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R. R. Martin.

If you've been living under a rock for the last few months then you may not have heard about HBO's latest show, A Game of Thrones. Named after and based upon the first book in Martin's saga, the show's first season was a huge success. Going forward the show will continue with the events of A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, the recently released A Dance With Dragons, and the unreleased final books in the series. As a result of the show's success, sales of the books have skyrocketed, and I have very much been caught up in the excitement. I started the first book right after finishing my exams in mid-April, and am currently halfway through the fourth book.

I won't bother to get into why I'm loving the books so much (I'll save that for a later post) but if you're interested/curious then I strongly encourage you to read this article. It avoids spoilers but contains just enough info on the basic premise to get you into the first book, and is a great way to whet your appetite.
Suffice to say these books have been taking up a great deal of my time. Specifically I've been feeling far more inclined to read them in my spare time than I have been to blog.

That doesn't mean Max Rambles is over. I fully intend to get back to this in the coming weeks (possibly with a post or two on the Ice and Fire books), although not necessarily immediately. For the moment I'm quite enjoying spending my days working, reading, and relaxing. I will get to blogging in my own time, most likely when I finish the books Martin has currently released. At that point I'll start back up posting the latest and greatest things I find online, and providing scathing pseudo-intellectual critiques of movies.

Until then, I'll leave you with what I think is a hilarious song called "Damn It Feels Good To Be A Lannister." And yes, in case you hadn't figured it out by now, I am fairly one-track minded these days. Cheers for now!

Monday, April 4, 2011

'The Governator' Trailer Wreaks Havoc on Reality/Human Consciousness

This.... THING.... simply must be seen to be believed:

My first thought, naturally, was that this had to be some sort of joke. A cruel prank James Cameron was pulling on his old buddy Arnie at this momentous point in his already legendary career. But no, it is real, terrifyingly and unapologetically real. More than that, I'm starting to think it might be the perfect weapon, politically and commercially speaking.

Lets break it down:
- It's a cartoon about former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger retiring from politics (which is actually happening)
- He decides not to return to cinema, instead choosing to become a private citizen (which is... sort of happening? Does voice acting count as returning to film? I don't even know)
- When evil robots that can transform into what look like Smart Cars (suck it, Michael Bay) attack, Arnold is forced back into action
- With the help of his team of teenagers (interns?) he runs a complex military facility which houses his weapons, including a combination Kaneda's bike from Akira and Arnold's own hog from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
- Apparently Arnold's now some sort of cyborg/Power Ranger? Also he's been training with Neo from The Matrix?

Those are the facts, presented with minimal commentary. So the question then becomes, how do you make fun of that? Seriously, Arnold's an old dude, he's gained a lot of weight since he went into office (as referenced in his cameo in The Expendables); he's more than likely concerned about his image now that he's returning to... entertainment. This cartoon is literally the most ridiculous thing he possibly could have put out, and seems to predict all possible mockery. What do you say about something that is totally serious about being completely ludicrous? He's subverted any possibility of satire or derision by making it totally clear that he knows. What do you say to that?

The thing that really gets me about The Governator, though, is how fucking mind-bendingly meta it is. Upon retiring, Arnold has decided to make a cartoon about him retiring. Does the Arnold in the cartoon make a cartoon in the cartoon about him not becoming a politically themed superhero? (Note: if that story becomes an episode somehow I want royalties. You are my witness, the Internet) I'm having a mental Crisis on Infinite Earths just thinking about the possibilities. Large Hadron Collider be damned, Arnold Schwarzenegger's cartoon about his own retirement is going to create a black hole that swallows us whole, at least culturally.

On an unrelated note, I hope you'll excuse me if this is the last post for a while. I'm about to go into exams and so I'm probably not going to be posting for a few weeks. Cheers till then!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Captain America Trailer; Or, How I Learned To Stop Hating and Get Behind The Shield

I've never had particularly strong feelings about Captain America, but historically I've written him off as another 'boy scout' superhero like Superman. These two characters, symbolic of Marvel and DC comics, have always bored me because they're just so damn wholesome. They're good guys because that's the right and just, and there's not much more to their characters than that.

Superman in particular has never interested me in his pure form, although he can be interesting when you start to mess about with his origins or situation. Mark Millar's miniseries, "Red Son," for example, imagined Superman if his spaceship had crashed in Soviet Russia instead of middle America. That change made for a hugely interesting read because it explored the character as a sociological object, originally created by and emblematic of America but now stripped of that identity. It was an incredible concept but it did fall apart as a narrative, collapsing under the weight of consistency and the need to similarly reinvent every other DC superhero (the Soviet Batman was particularly far fetched, though still interesting). Likewise I felt that the much maligned Superman Returns was intriguing for how it took Lois Lane away from Superman and depicted him struggling with the loss. This put the man of steel in a distinctly human position of frailty, caught between their feelings for another person and the reality that they have moved on. The result were some truly creepy shots of Superman floating outside Lane's house and using his x-ray vision to stalk her, but that was infinitely more interesting to watch than to see him struggle against an evil enemy only to inevitably come out victorious.

I know I'm in the minority, but I'd much rather watch a super-human being struggle with being human than beat the crap out of some other equally far-fetched entity. I never enjoyed comics for the "Kapow!" fights, I loved them because they put characters I could relate to in situations that spoke to my own life metaphorically. That's why I always loved flawed characters like Batman, and was completely disinterested in characters like Superman.

I always sort of assumed that Captain America was basically the Marvel equivalent of Superman. I never really read Captain America comics, but he was always mentioned tangentially in the other Marvel titles. Spiderman, for example, was always a hugely relatable character in that he continually struggled with human issues. He dealt with school, girls, bills, etc, and on more than one occasion he dealt with guilt over his own actions. In particular I remember a few times when Parker would express his shame by referring to Captain America as the epitome of moral righteousness, saying that "Cap' would have found a better way, but I'm just a man." Spiderman coped with his guilty by recognizing his humanity in the face of Captain America, the "unstoppable force" of goodness. The Cap' was literally so good that he was beyond mere humanity, he existed as a conceptual totem of justice, and that was exactly what made him so overwhelmingly uninteresting to me.

The trailer that was released last week for the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, completely changed my mind. Take a look at it below and then I'll explain how and why:

I watched this trailer and I thought, "Yeah... That actually looks kinda worthwhile...," which was a complete 180 from my previous stance of "Captain America, pfft, that's just another crap flick Marvel is crapping out in order to get to The Avengers, which is only worth thinking about because of Joss Whedon." I was prepared to ignore Captain America completely and probably would have, but something in this trailer changed my mind. At first I thought it was the novelty of seeing a superhero use a Luger pistol, but it's actually more than that.

Rob Bricken over at Topless Robot puts it best:
But the thing I like most of all is that line "Because a weak man knows the value of strength." That's something I never considered about Captain America before, something I never saw or realized reading all those Avengers comics in the '80s. The reason he's so compassionate and determined to help the weak and powerless is because he was weak and powerless himself.
The fact that Captain America was once weak makes him more than just righteousness incarnate, it makes him human. As soon as I heard that line Cap' stopped being a concept and started being a character. Moreover he suddenly started to be one that made sense in a way that was separable from his overt Americanness. Let me try to explain that last bit...

Captain America is known for his shield. That's his symbol, his "totem," if you'll excuse the reference. There's a meaning to that object that I never realized before but makes total sense in light of the fantastic line about weakness and strength. At one point in the trailer the pre-super Captain America is shown trying to defend himself from a bully in an alleyway, and he grabs a trashcan lid to shield himself. I initially thought the scene was just a throwaway reference to the Cap's eventual transformation, but the more I thought about it the more I like the scene for how well it establishes his character.

Captain America never forgets about what it means to be weak, which is why he tirelessly uses his strength to defend those around him. That trashcan lid Cap' grabs in the alleyway, and to a greater extent the famous shield he eventually holds, act as symbols of Captain America himself: they are objects of strength that protect the weak from those who prey upon them. That is exactly what Captain America does, that is his very reason for being a superhero: he stands in front of the weak and protects them. That idea is elegantly conveyed by the image of him as a weakling using a trashcan lid as a shield, and then brilliantly summarized by the line explaining why he of all people ends up being chosen to become the ultimate hero.

I still don't know very much about Captain America, but at least now I know he's worthwhile. Apparently he's also got some sort of "hero out of time" angle to his character that I am aware of but haven't rationalized conceptually, but frankly that doesn't much matter. I once thought Captain America was nothing more than a boy scout who symbolized American righteousness in the abstract, and to a certain extent I still do think that. But now I see that the Cap' is actually quite well fleshed out in terms of his design and character. He is a guardian of the weak, literally embodied by the shield he carries. The trailer has made me respect the character conceptually, and has gotten me excited to see the movie.

If that's not effective marketing then I don't know what is.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Many reviewers have likened the Oscar-nominated Incendies to a Greek tragedy, and that comparison is - in a word - apt. The movie tells the devastating story of how the Lebanese Civil War forever altered the lives of Nawal Marwan and her children. Without getting into spoilers, the narrative serves as an allegory for the reproductive nature of hatred. It explores how violence has a rippling effect that hurts everyone it touches, and how forgiveness and love are required to end the resultant suffering. But while that might sound like the perfect setup for a hopeful drama about finding a way to end cycles of hatred, nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than focusing on solutions, Incendies instead depicts the most horrifying possible outcomes of hate begetting hate in self-perpetuating patterns. Make no mistake, this is not an uplifting movie. It is a brutal experience that wallows in the misery and pain that human beings cause one another.

It makes sense that Incendies was nominated for an Oscar, but it is unsurprising that it did not win given how unflinchingly tragic the movie is. Towards the end the story becomes so harrowing that it is only bearable for how obviously contrived it is, and that is both the movie's finest moment as well as its greatest failing.

I'm really straining to avoid spoilers here, but suffice to say that at Incendies' climax it's revealed that all the pain the characters suffer is not meaningless. It is made abundantly clear that the whole story is figuratively about the effects of endless cycles of hate, and the kind of work that is required the resultant suffering. In one sense it's the perfect ending, because it gives greater significance to everything that's come before. Even the most distressing scenes in the film become strangely beautiful when their context in the whole meaning becomes clear.

On the other hand, the way in which this is achieved is so quick and blunt that it makes the artifice so painfully obvious the whole experience loses some of its tragic tone. The climactic transition is marked by M. Night. Shyamalan-esque twist that you can see coming a mile away, and it's quite literally the most horrible thing that could possibly happen. I spent the last few minutes leading up to it silently begging the story not to go where I rightly suspected it was headed.

But the problem isn't with what happens per se. It's over the top, granted, but it actually does make sense in terms of Incendies' overall tone and thematic structure. Rather the problem is with how the final piece of the puzzle is presented. As I said, you can see it coming form a mile away, but it's just so horrible that you don't actually expect the movie to go there. Once it does you're left amazed at the level of depravity the film has stooped to and the overabundance of human suffering, and above all else stupefied by the utter tactlessness with which the surprise conclusion is presented.

And that's just it: the ending of Incendies is so contrived and clumsily presented that it brings you out of the filmgoing experience. Everything fits, artistically speaking, but it's just so obviously art that it actually makes the entire experience less affective. Right up until the big reveal I was absolutely devastated, the movie had reduced me to an emotional wreck; but as soon as the big picture was revealed I suddenly didn't care anymore. I couldn't. None of it seemed real anymore.

Since seeing Incendies I've discovered that it's adapted from a play called Scorched, and from what I've read online it sounds like one of the primary differences between the original play and this film adaptation is the way the ending is handled. Liam Lacey calls the film version "stripped-down," and takes issue with the loss of "the playwright's poetic language." Both critiques make a lot of sense given how rushed and poorly written the film's ending comes off. Again, the issue with Incendies isn't the content so much as it is the form, and it's actually somewhat relieving to hear that the original play succeeds exactly where the movie fails. At least one presentation of the powerful story lives up to its poetic design.

I thought Incendies was a stellar film and I'm glad I saw it. That said, I never want to see it again. Ever. I could be tempted to go see a good production of the original play, Scorched, but even that's a maybe at best. It's an incredible tale and a true modern Greek tragedy, in every sense of the comparison, but frankly I don't need that kind of unhappiness in my life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nuclear Boy

Above is a video that (I assume) has been created to educate Japanese children about what's going on with the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It simply must be seen to be believed. On the one hand it's admirable that there's an effort to inform the children and put the crisis in terms they can easily understand. On the other hand, the video's summation of what happened at Chernobyl (at 1:45)... Well, lets just say it's quirky.

Props to Liz for the link.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

RIP Michael Gough

Michael Gough, 1917-2011

From /Film comes the sad news that actor Michael Gough has passed away at the age of 94.

Mr. Gough was best known to many (myself included) as the original Alfred in Tim Burton's Batman and its three sequels. He was not only the most consistent aspect of that series but also its best feature. As a rule he improved every film he appeared in by virtue of honouring the film with his presence.

He will be sorely missed.

Happy Irish Stereotypes Day!

Today is March 17th, and as such people around the world (myself included) are wearing green and embracing alcoholism. To slightly assuage my guilt over the matter, I'd like to share a few links identifying and debunking Irish stereotypes.

I don't know about you, but my alcohol abuse today will not be in honour of the Irish as much as because I am clearly a lush who takes advantage of any excuse to drink and be merry with friends. Please be safe, drink (relatively) responsibly, and keep an eye out for those around you.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Godzilla is American: A Response to "Japan's Long Nuclear Disaster Film"

Peter Wynn Kirby has an opinion piece in the New York Times called "Japan's Long Nuclear Disaster Film," discussing the Godzilla movies and the dangers of nuclear technology. It's an interesting article with some in-depth historical insights that are worth reading, and it reminded me of my old post about Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and kaiju films generally. However I had some major issues with Kirby's approach to the subject of Godzilla as an expression of anti-nuclear sentiments, and I wanted to discuss them here (mostly as an excuse to talk about Gojira again).

Firstly, I want to point out how Kirby seems to completely miss the environmental message that is so integral to Gojira and its immediate sequels. The 1954 film explores where Gojira came from, and in stark contrast to the 1998 remake, the original monster is a natural phenomenon as opposed to a product of nuclear technology. Rather Japan's testing of nuclear bombs is responsible for awaking the creature from centuries of hibernation, precipitating its attacks on Japan in retaliation for interrupting its slumber. Throughout Gojira there is a running discussion as to whether or not to use the Oxygen Destroyer, a weapon that kills all life in the sea and is therefore capable of eliminating the monster. The characters debate whether or not the cost is justified, and moreover whether or not they even have a right to cause such horrifying destruction to kill a beast that they irresponsibly awakened. It's heavy stuff, and the theme of humanity's negative impact on nature carries on throughout the entire series. Kirby talks about the dangers of nuclear power and how Gojira discusses such fears, but he misses the intertwined environmental message. This doesn't ruin his point, but it does make the whole piece come off a little hallow and humanist, although that's far from the worst part of his argument.

Kirby spends a lot of time talking about an American thermonuclear test near Bikini Atoll in March 1954. Without re-hashing the details too much, the detonation ended up being significantly larger than predicted, and a Japanese tuna trawler called the Lucky Dragon No. 5 was covered in radioactive ash from the explosion. The men on board were horribly injured and returned to Japan with radioactive fish that famously ended up finding its way to the Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. The whole incident caused something of a scandal in Japan and, as Kirby puts it, significantly impacted the psyche of the "nation fixated on purity."

The historical breakdown is a fascinating read, and it's obvious how this kind of thing would inform the country's sentiments towards nuclear technology. In terms of informing Gojira, I'm not sure how significant an influence the scandal could have had given that the film came out only a few months later. It's clear, however that the incident impacted the 1998 American remake, the opening scene of which featured a Japanese fishing boat being attacked by a giant lizard that was itself the result of French nuclear tests in French Polynesia. Wow. It's honestly worthy of a post in-and-of itself, but for now I'll just sum it up as food for thought: American filmmakers, remaking a Japanese movie about the horrifying effects of nuclear power, recast America as the victim of French imprudence. Recall now how the Japanese original also depicted the Japanese as being responsible for the nuclear testing that awakened the monster, as opposed to, say, the nuclear activities of other nations.

That brings up my biggest problem with Kirby's piece: it completely ignores the American nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In talking about Gojira as a response to nuclear technology, that isn't just a forgetful omission, it's downright offensive. The uncomfortable silence on those events reflects the article's complete ignorance towards America's role in the scar on Japan's cultural psyche. It's not as though the Japanese people were just presciently mindful of nuclear technology in the abstract. The horrifying destruction unleashed upon the country had a lasting impact that is measurable in the success of Gojira. It's telling that American audiences received a "jingoistic, shoot-em-up, stomp-em-down" while Japanese audiences "watched Gojira in sombre silence, broken by periodic weeping," although the article does nothing with this captivating insight. The article also critiques Japan for its "unusually shoddy record for nuclear safety," which isn't necessarily wrong; but in an article that ignores America's nuclear bombing of Japan, the accusation comes off as both hypocritical and callous. Moreover the article touches upon how the series is coloured a sense of "the profound vulnerability of Japan," but does nothing to acknowledge the role of the bombings in engendering/exacerbating such fears. It's not as though the country's entire complex about nuclear technology was engendered by some radioactive fish, Japan was given a very good reason to be afraid of nuclear technology long before the Lucky Dragon No. 5. Kirby's skirting the issue of America's impact on the cultural setting that produced Gojira is insensitive and hard to believe, particularly in a piece about how America should take recent events as a sign of the dangers of nuclear technology.

There's a lot to be said in the examination of American attitudes towards Gojira, and I might eventually write an entire post to the subject. The Japanese original was remade within two years as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, and many changes were made in order to make the film more palatable for American audiences. Some of these changes included the addition of an American main character, the removal of an incestuous subplot, and the complete removal of debate about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Almost 60 years later, it's startling to see an article that continues this incredible wilful ignorance of America's responsibility in Japan's fears of nuclear technology.

- - -

On a more sombre note, it's impossible to talk about this stuff without thinking about the tragic events going on in Japan right now. I'd like to point you all towards Google's Crisis Response page, a resource centre for realtime updates, information on how to get in touch with people and organizations in Japan, and a place to make donations. If you are able then please consider giving, the Japanese people need all the help they can get in such difficult times.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Max Rambles Does New Orleans Part 2

The promised second half of my photos from New Orleans:

Bourbon St. has its own rules

Bourbon St. doesn't beat around the bush

New Orleans: a blissful heart-attack waiting to happen

Friday, March 11, 2011

Games As (More Than?) Art: Reality Is Broken

This isn't a traditional Games As Art post in that it's not about a video game. Rather I'm writing about a book I recently heard about, Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal. The basic premise behind the book is that video games are good for us, they make us better people in our real lives. The website for Reality is Broken describes the book as such:
"Drawing on positive psychology, cognitive science, and sociology, Reality Is Broken uncovers how game designers have hit on core truths about what makes us happy and utilized these discoveries to astonishing effect in virtual environments. Videogames consistently provide the exhilarating rewards, stimulating challenges, and epic victories that are so often lacking in the real world. But why, McGonigal asks, should we use the power of games for escapist entertainment alone? Her research suggests that gamers are expert problem solvers and collaborators because they regularly cooperate with other players to overcome daunting virtual challenges, and she helped pioneer a fast-growing genre of games that aims to turn gameplay to socially positive ends."
In the video below McGonigal explains her premise at a recent TED talk:

Jane McGonigal speaking at TED

I won't talk about McGonigal's ideas too much given that I haven't read Reality is Broken yet, and I don't want to purport authority on something I haven't yet fully considered. A post over at Boing Boing seems to have done a good job of that. However, based on what I'm reading the core premise seems completely plausible, and is indeed confirmed by my own experiences.

Given that my parents had the good sense to buy me edutainment style games like Math Blaster and Treasure Galaxy, it seems trite to say that video games can have a positive effect on players. My problem solving and critical thinking skills were undoubtably improved by my enjoyment of video games, and not exclusively ones that were designed to promote education. There's no doubt in my mind that my gaming habits improved things like my abilities to tackle unfamiliar problems, accept failure, and retry with greater knowledge. The idea that such talents could be more effectively harnessed in the real world in ways that make us happier and solve real problems is exhilarating, nay, intoxicating.

I first heard about McGonigal's book via a recent post by Tycho over at Penny-Arcade, and an accompanying comic. While the specific example might not be the best one possible (my hours playing video games have done nothing for my plumbing skills), the point is exactly right: if I can see and understand a problem, there is a good chance I will feel capable of solving the problem. I have spent a significant proportion of my life facing new problems and solving them with the means available to me. The effect that time has had on me is not negligible, and the potential it has created/expanded is palpable.