Category Archives: General Life

Three peas in the pod (new Story Seed Vault tale)

A new small bit of humor this time (literally), is up on Story Seed Vault today.

The challenge for this market is to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. They can explain it a bit more and how you can tackle entry into the Vault yourself.

The current tale is at:

My previous tale is still on the site at:

The world didn’t end…

This last week I took off for the wilds of Oregon (Unity Lake Recreation Site, to be exact) to view the total eclipse. The days were hot, the nights were cold (around 5C/40F), and the stars magnificent. But it all paled to the 2 minutes of totality.

It wasn’t quite what I expected. It didn’t get dark like night, but more like a deep twilight. I didn’t get to hear all the animals go to sleep as none were hanging around making noise before the moment the sun winked out. But the difference between partial and full eclipse really indescribable, or as I tried to explain to a neighbor on my return, it is like being not pregnant and a little bit pregnant; it is all or nothing.

I took a slew of photos, but the best is probably this diamond ring at the end of totality:

Even at higher res, it isn’t brilliant photography, but I was there to see it, not photo it for magazines. And I took it, so I’m rather proud. Two minutes was not quite enough to satisfy, but I can completely understand why some people chase eclipses around the world. It is unlike anything you can picture if you haven’t seen one. One moment there is sunshine (even if dim and slightly red shifted) and the next there is a black hole in the sky. Staring up at that, you really understand why ancient civilizations were so terrified of them when they occurred.


New Tale to Tell in 140 Characters

My latest sold story is up on Story Seed Vault today. They can better explain  their mission and raison d’être.

The challenge for this market was to tell a whole story in 140 characters or less; essentially no more than one Tweet’s worth. And the story has to be based on some new bit of science. I can’t resist a challenge…

You can find it at:

I hope to be adding more to the vault over time as well. If I’m going to read science news all the time, I should also find more ways to make it pay!

A few decades ago…

Back in 1981, a whole different century, I began working out as a matter of sanity and as a substitute for sleep. Hey, I was young, stupid, and living on adrenaline.

Five years later, June of ’86 , I had my first (and only) portfolio created for my acting career. The photographer was great and among the shots was one that has lived in infamy as: Leatherman. It got passed around my friends and beyond for a while back then. Thank god the internet was nascent or it probably would have been sent much further. Uploading at 300 baud was not fun.

As it turns out, my twice-a-day, six-days-a-week workout schedule is something I got accustom to and managed to continue even till today (if you’re doing math, I’m starting my 36th year shortly). For the heck of it I decided, if not to recreate the portfolio piece this summer, to see how well I’d held up. I realize this is the worst of ego gone rampant, but WTF, I hardly ever take pics anymore or allow people to take pics, so why not?

So, here I am again just over 31 years later. The hair is shorter (and thinner) and, yeah I was ridiculously underweight back in ’86 (and got worse till the following year, which is another story), but the pic came out not too bad for someone who’s hit their mid-50s.

So, I’ll see you again in another 30 or so years and have a good laugh over it all atrophying…


1500 (and counting)

Image result for fireworks

I’ve been at this a few years now and this post marks my 1500th!

Many more movies and TV shows have been covered than the post number represents given that I double or triple-up items at times.

For those that have been finding it useful: you’re welcome. For those that aren’t following it… well, what can I say that you won’t have read anyway?

Seriously, this has been my passion for a while now. As I’ve said before, I do this as much for myself as my own memory aid and thought process as I do for all the friends and acquaintances that request recommendations. It also keeps me writing almost every day.

So what’s next? I’m still seeing about 250 films plus a ridiculous amount of TV a year, though I don’t write up everything…  For the record, yes, I still manage to have a life, see people, and do things. Really, I do. Film and TV are just how I unwind nearly every night, before trundling off to bed to read for a bit.

Thanks to all who’ve have continued to let me know you’re enjoying these posts. Most of that is off this site, but it is good to know it’s still being read.

And now on to 1501 and counting….

Oscars 2017 (nominations)

So I did pretty well with the nominations (my hit rate was 87% based on the full field of 103 choices across the major categories as listed on HSX), but there were definitely some surprises. I also didn’t list all of the potential categories, but I’ll be honest about where I hit or not below. Updates to my picks on winners will occur just prior to the big night… and I’m sure there will be some rethinking after the SAG awards this Sunday. This year, I also discovered 538’s ongoing statistical analysis of the choices, which was both surprising and a bit disappointing. But as we all know, stats often don’t tell the whole or a reliable story.

I still have some gaps at the time of the initial writing, but I hope to fill as many of them as possible before the great event.


Best supporting actress

Viola Davis has the edge here in a really tough field. I couldn’t argue with her win, but I think Spencer’s performance was more controlled and subtle.

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali is the clear front-runner, and deservedly so. While the other performances are all solid, his was the most ranging and subtle.

Best actress

I did get partially caught out here. Dropping Amy Adams and keeping Streep (who was also up for SAG) surprised me. Adams performance is solid, but understandably challenging to interpret due to the story. But Streep, as talented as she is, just wasn’t that good in Florence Foster Jenkins. Not adding Taraji Henson to this field was criminal. Huppert has a head of steam globally, and I did miss those winds previously, but it wasn’t that surprising. However I did call Negga for Blunt (again as compared to SAG).

The win here is tough. Stone will have a lot of focus and love. If I had to pick this moment, I’d go with the tidal wave of La La Land.

Best actor

Had this, though there was an outside chance Hanks would have been added over Mortenson.

The race here is Washington vs. Gosling. Washington is the better performance, but Gosling’s piano work alone is enough to astound. As of now, I think Washington will walk away with Oscar despite La La’s rolling thunder.

Best director

Chazelle is the likely winner here, but my personal preference would be Villenueuve, whose achievements in Arrival really outshine the other movies in this list.

Best foreign language film

Based on what’s been happening, Toni Erdmann is the likely win here.

Best picture

Had half-expected Silence to be part of this field, but had the rest of them, not that it was a difficult list to guess this year. The winner… now that gets more interesting.

My personal pick for best in this field is Arrival. It accomplished some very difficult feats and left the audience with some very interesting ideas and did it all honestly, while managing to let you trick yourself. Hidden Figures manages to deliver a powerful, but personal story. Either are solid choices for the win.

However, La La Land, which I did enjoy a great deal, has the Hollywood and Broadway inside track and massive momentum (not to mention 14 new nominations). I suspect La La takes the statuette.


Best adapted screenplay

Arrival. Period.  It even improved on the award-winning original story it was based upon. But, honestly, likely to be one of the others; probably Moonlight.

Best original screenplay

La La Land is the likely winner. While Lobster is quite unique, it just isn’t that great a script/story at the end of it all. Manchester, as well, fell flat for me, the strength it has is really the performances, not its words or story.

Best animated feature

Kubo and Two Strings was one of the best animated flicks I’ve seen in ages. It was original, unique, and flat-out gorgeous and fun. However, I know Zootopia is likely to win.

That said, I’m sticking to my guns on on this one and sticking with Kubo for the statuette because if it doesn’t I will scream a bit at the reveal.

Best documentary feature

This one is tough, but I’m thinking the politics of the moment insist that 13th takes the category.

Best original song

  • La La Land – Audition (The Fools Who Dream) by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • La La Land – City of Stars by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
  • Moana – How Far I’ll Go by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • Trolls – Can’t Stop the Feeling by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
  • Jim: The James Foley Story – The Empty Chair by J Ralph and Sting

La La may well work against itself here and split the vote. But, while not entirely upbeat as a song, I’d go with Fools Who Dream. If the vote splits, will probably go to Trolls.

The only wild card is Miranda. As I mentioned in the prelim to this post before the announcements, crowning another EGOT is a hard opportunity not to take for voters (and in this case PEGOT since he has a Pulitzer as well, which only 2 others have done before).

Best original score

Yeah, La La Land by a mile. No matter how you feel about this movie, the complexity and originality of the score is way beyond any of the other entrants.

Best live action short

  • Ennemis Interieurs
  • La Femme et le TGV
  • Silent Nights
  • Sing
  • Timecode

As usual, throw a dart and pick one (I really wish you could get to see these more easily). I’ll start with Sing as my choice and will revise based on buzz later.

Best documentary short

  • 4.1 Miles
  • Extremis
  • Joe’s Violin
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

Ditto: but going with Joe’s Violin for now cause I like the title.

Best animated short

  • Blind Vaysha
  • Borrowed Time
  • Pear Cider and Cigarettes
  • Pearl
  • Piper

Second ditto: Going with Pear Cider and Cigarettes in honor of the nod to Jarmusch.


Best costume design

This gets interesting. Usually this goes to a period piece… but they are all period pieces. Several are flamboyant period pieces. Based on scope and challenge, I’m thinking Fantastic Beasts. While the others all did wonderfully, they were invisible (a feat in itself) but Beasts had both ends… the invisible and the inventive, which tips the scales in its favor.

Best make-up and hairstyling

Wow, just not the three I’d have expected. Suicide Squad, I think in this case. Harley Quinn and the Joker alone deserve it; utterly unforgettable, the pair of them.

Best production design

Another tough choice as each succeeds quite well in its way. I’m going to go to an outlier here because, honestly, the production design really did impress me: Passengers. However, Beasts is likely to take this one as well for similar reasons as costume. But I didn’t think the design in Beasts was really all that good… it felt forced and unreal rather than magical to me. Passengers was seamless and felt real to the tale rather than distracting from it.

Best cinematography

For this it is between Arrival and Silence. Arrival’s work is more complex, with focus and framing adding to the story telling. Silence is just plain pretty, from what I’ve seen. With no other nods, Silence may get its shot here. For my sensibilities, though, Arrival deserves it in this field.

Best film editing

Arrival, without question for me. The editing made this film. No other nominee can claim that integral a role for its success.

Best sound editing

La La Land for this. The soundscape of the film is just as important as its story in this case.

Best sound mixing

Thinking Rogue One for this one… keeping any dialogue intelligible over all that racket took some serious effort.

Best visual effects

For sheer inventiveness, probably Doctor Strange, though Jungle Book rewrote the tech handbook quite a bit and it has nothing else on order this year despite being such a huge, popular hit. And I’m not sure I could pull apart Kubo to place it in this category… so suspect others can’t either.

The uncanny plot valley of the strange

There is a concept, “the uncanny valley,” that describes the human ability to unconsciously recognize things that are, well, just wrong. For example, how a CGI object moves, or even if a robot or computer is human, making it a bit of an overlap with the Turing test in concept.

These concepts have been around for a while and speak to the human level of comfort with the real over the artificial, and the consistent over the mixed. Recently, I recognized a reverse of that when it comes to plot construction thanks to the increased approach of using improv in the midst of scripts rather than fully scripted or fully improvised movies. A great example of this is Adult Beginners, where some nicely crafted script is interspersed with improvised scenes. Those moments, while well played and nicely edited into the film, sit oddly. In other words, the fully real interchanges appear unreal, while the crafted, more artificial bits, if you will, feel more natural. I don’t think this is just a matter of the quality of the improv, but more about the juxtaposition of the two which rub against each other in the wrong way. However, I do think there is a preferred leaning to the crafted script over improv for viewers.

Film has gone through many movements over the century-plus it has been around. We have been trained to expect fully crafted moments. This has been true for millennia with stage plays as well. This is a plus and a minus. We have expectations based on structure. Those structures are often unconsciously recognized by most of the audience, but are very obvious to those aware of the tropes and standards. Those expectations help us pick up clues and allow for great catharsis when love conquers, evil falls, or the little guy wins. But if you consciously know it is coming from the outset of the story, the result can sometimes be very unmoving. Scenes of improv have been used to help shake up those expectations, break the rhythms; make you sit up and take notice and think of the story as unpredictable as life really is. But it tends not to work as they stand out as, well, wrong.

This is why I tend to watch a lot of foreign fare; it riffs on the plots I grew up with rather than delivering them as expected. I typically recognize plots in seconds when watching something from the States. Both domestic and foreign approaches are similar, but I get moments of surprise by viewing the foreign because they are based on slightly different cultural templates. Templates, to be fair, which are highly familiar to their local audiences, just foreign (literally) to me.

There are uses of improv that do work, but they are, typically, used as the whole of the film and are then highly edited (aka crafted) into a cohesive whole. Robin Williams turn in Aladdin comes immediately to mind, but there are many out there. In these cases the improv was either an exploration to find opportunity in a story, or a way to provide a uniqueness and deep well of raw material from which the director could shape the story for audiences. Once crafted, it is no longer pure improv, it is scripted, just not in the traditional sense. And by being given shapes we recognize as part of the story-teller’s toolbox, we find it real and comfortable, though it is utterly artificial. Watch for these reactions in yourself as you view movies… what parts feel right and real versus artificial or out of place. This isn’t about bad directing or acting or script, it is about finding those pieces that don’t fit by their very nature, not because the craft was weak… it provides an interesting lens on the post-modernist films and experimentations with social media conventions that are starting to flood the market.

For further reading: A wonderful little retrospective of 2015 movies around the uncanny valley over at Fandor many of which are discussed on this site. There are also some nice examples of the idea over at Stranger Dimensions as well. (And for some truly silly, completely off-topic analytic fun, check out Wired’s Force Awakens vs. A New Hope statistical comparison if you haven’t found it yet.)

Buy, lease, steal

When the stats on disc purchase came out at the beginning of this year, I found myself wondering about economic and generational differences that drive the decision to purchase a film, versus leasing it from someone like Amazon, versus just outright theft by downloading off a share somewhere.

At the time I started to write this post up, there were several conversations on entertainment sales and the interaction of steams versus discs, but here are a couple:

I continued to update, add to, and rethink this post on and off for a while. It is a long one, but there was a lot to cover. At this point, I realized I could keep adjusting it forever or just get it out there and write new ones as the landscape changes. So, with all that in mind, here we go…

For the record, I have well over 2400 discs, in my collection. I’ve been collecting them since the format first released. A significant number are now blu-ray, and a chunk of those also 3D.

I originally built up that collection like a starving man finding an unattended feast. When discs first came out, it was a chance to get to see a film or show that was no longer available… anywhere… other than a studio vault somewhere or from a topsite somewhere, if you had clue, bandwidth, and disk space to spare. That since has changed radically, but the habits remain.

So let me define the terms for the sake of this conversation

  • Buying only covers physical discs or non-DRM’d files on a local drive.
  • Leasing is any DRM’d file or available stream that is non-local. So, renting or streaming via Netflix or Amazon is the same as leasing… they’re just shorter term and may or may not involve physical discs. Many DRM’d files can be deactivated at will so are included in this collection. The idea is the same.
  • Stealing is, well, stealing. That can be downloading files, VPNing to outside television feeds, peer-to-peer sharing, etc. Anything that actively circumvents the intended restriction of use either via geography or intended distribution. And if you want a really interesting insight as to how that all got started, read the New Yorker article: The Man that Broke the Music Business.

Streaming services have bridged a lot of the “lost” gap for shows and movies. More become available all the time as contracts and rights are worked out. But streaming still doesn’t cover the entire disc world (forgive me Mr. Pratchett) and contracts always have to be renegotiated over time, meaning things available today, may not be tomorrow. They really are being leased to you in exchange for a subscription fee to the larger service, which retains the right to offer or restrict the content or quality of the material they offer.

In this quasi-owned arena, leases for books, movies, and shows are becoming much more common for people, particularly younger audiences, who mostly don’t realize they are only leasing material. Amazon, Vudu, or any of the services have the right to just kill the stream (online or downloaded version) with little or no notice. They’ve already done so. ScribD and KindleUlimited can do the same for books.

But consumers younger than, say, 30 or so think of the world very differently. To overly generalize, to them it is all ephemeral. The digital world is intended to morph and evolve and, yes, occasionally vanish. Now, cut them off from the ‘net and you’d see them go into convulsions (again, yes, generally) but as long as there is some feed somewhere, they feel served.

So why, I asked myself, do I feel the need to own outright… as long as the technology allows me to view my discs? Why are fewer and fewer people purchasing discs when that is the only way to ensure quality and availability?

Certainly space comes into play. I have 5 DJ cases full of movies and shows. If they weren’t in those containers, I’d have a wall or four of jewel cases to contend with. As I also have over 5000 books, that would get crowded. Again, why the drive to hang onto these physical representations of entertainment and information?

To begin with, I do like the extras on discs (though changing, most streams do not include these), so that is one reason. I also prefer the quality of discs. I don’t live on a fibre line, so streaming is decidedly lower quality than my Oppo blu-ray. But that is only a part of it all.

Though it disturbs me, I am seeing a bit of an echo of the Great Depression mentality I saw in my grandparents and the Cold War fears of my parents. It is a version of hoarding against potential disaster. The assumption is that if the world goes tits-up, I’ll still have the material and information to help rebuild and repopulate the loss. It is absurd, of course, but it comes out of being raised in that atmosphere as well as living through 3 stock market crashes and seeing multiple wars spread across the globe… seemingly without end.

Books and discs capture and preserve the past, providing something tangible in my control rather than someone else’s. In the case of books, it is truly a preservation effort… many books disappear after only a few weeks. If you want to read them or share them with others, you have to own them. While more books are being made available digitally (and some with loaning rights) as a matter of course, that is fairly recent. And many of the books I do own are no longer available in any format. Even libraries have frequent sales to clear their shelves and storage for new material rather than pay to warehouse them.

Ultimately, though, the real question is why do so many folks feel the need or the right to steal content as so much of the current and legacy material is coming online? Certainly there is a generational thing where most younger adults and kids feel they have a right to content, regardless of which country it is licensed in or how it is distributed.  While some of this is driven by entitlement, some is simply driven by the expectation of ease of access. You can look at web sites around the world, why can’t you see the shows and movies they’re producing as well? But copyright law and contracts have dragged far behind technology on this, leaving a gap.

Into that gap technology has made it easy to either download or stream by spoofing IPs. But producers still haven’t quite caught up despite the fact that after years of study, we know that making a lot of content easy to access and free often leads to more sales, not less. And even when the governments tried to resolve these issues, producers push back as they have recently in the EU (and eventually left it in a hybrid approach that will begin to break down the country borders).

Interestingly, there is a contradiction here of so many films being privately funded, via Kickstarter or Indiegogo or simply self-made, thus being directly marketed or sold to the purchasing/contributing public regardless of geography. Even the SEC is getting involved. But the desire to keep aspects of the studio system sacrosanct is rather entertaining. The studios are realizing the model is changing and even they are offering many films in day and date VOD and theater, though many folks still have limits on what they’d pay for such viewing.

One of the biggest, recent shifts in availability and breaking down of the structural walls was, after huge deliberation and teases, HBO finally announced their sojourn into a solo service… except it isn’t. They partnered with AppleTV and Sling for the first few months, which cuts out a huge chunk of people (only about 25M AppleTV devices are in the wild). It is a great deal for Apple and Sling, but a blow to getting the content more available. I’d been anticipating the new stand-alone service as I only have broadcast stations over my cable, but I’m not buying new devices to get HBO NOW. I will continue to go to friends or wait for discs to get my Game of Thrones fix (which is also the only current show I really care about on HBO). And you can still buy the whole season on iTunes for less than a 3 month subscription. For HBO, however, they see a real potential to turn the most pirated show in history into having more paying subscribers by cutting out one of the impediments: availability. As a stand-alone service, you don’t need to have premium cable TV in order to access. I think their price point is a bit high still, but the results will speak for themselves at the end of the first few months, I’m sure.

The general feeling is that content should be available to everyone, wherever they are, on whatever device they are using from TV to a mobile phone and everything in between. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be free. The biggest challenge remaining is really country borders and the potentially shattering of content into thousands of a la carte services. How many systems do you want to subscribe to in order to see the content you want? There is value in aggregation, though it does tend to put power into a few hands (yes, Comcast, I speak of you).

But back to geography. The US and the UK share a huge amount of content, but shifted in release from one another. But anyone who cares is aware of every release on either side of the pond. Those with the wherewithal will find a way to watch it as soon as possible. Generally this hurts the UK more as they’re selling adverts, but the US tends to air most UK shows on PBS which is 99% paid for by its viewers in advance; no commercials involved and as long as the station gets funding, no lost revenue. PBS in the States is probably safe for another decade as the generation supporting them isn’t as tech savvy and is happy to wait for their shows.

So to return to the original self-examination, why purchase? For me it really comes down to a confidence of control of the material. I like knowing that what I value will still be around so I can see or share it out without wondering if it will still be there. I see value in leasing, as there is plenty of material that seeing it once will be enough. I am opposed to stealing, but understand the frustration of geographic boundaries, in particular, that make no sense in a digital world. Clearly the law has to catch up to reality and market place needs to evolve to serve a near practical infinity of material to a population that craves streams like crack. As the lease side of the equation improves, and should my broadband actually become stable and useful, I can see relying on a service or two to provide the general entertainment I crave where ownership does not feel a necessity.

I realize I’m a bit of a freak… anyone out there working through these issues themselves?

A bit of a shift coming

You may have noticed double postings from my site for the last week or two. I’ve tracked it down to an old NetworkedBlogs connection that I can’t seem to adjust to notify followers of new posts to this site, but not post out to Twitter and FB.

After investigating, and due to some changes in offerings in the ever changing interwebs, I will be turning off NetworkedBlogs in the next few days. If you are following this site via that service, please refollow from my main location ( or receive notifications via Twitter (@haroldgross) or Facebook (if you’re connected to me there).

Sorry for any inconvenience and I hope, if you are affected, that you’ll continue to despite the change in tech.



Oscars 2015 (final tally)

I knew I wouldn’t get them all… too many variables and some of the smaller awards were guesses based on the thinnest of information (getting the short subjects out there is something that really needs to happen). The winners weren’t necessarily who I wanted to win (see my original post for that commentary), but they  but they were who I thought would win.

However, I did respectably, picking 18 out of 25 (including all the majors other than animation).

Missed (7)

  • Best animated feature film of the year:
    “Big Hero 6”
    This is the only miss I’m not happy about. This film was the weakest in its category. Pretty, yes, but not the best by a long shot.
  • Original screenplay:
    Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
    Still a solid choice. In my defense I did say “Birdman may sweep if it gets this as well.”
  • Achievement in makeup and hairstyling:
    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Well deserved… I just didn’t think they’d get it over the big F/X options.
  • Achievement in film editing:
    And I couldn’t be happier, to be honest. Boyhood seemed a lock and would have been well deserved, but Whiplash is put together well in a very subtle and invisible way that pushes the movie along. Who knew anyone would notice?
  •  Achievement in visual effects:
    While impressive, wasn’t my favorite or even second favorite to win. Was surprised Guardians got no nods at all.
  • Best live action short film:
    “The Phone Call”
    From what I knew, this was the likely alternative to my pick and, apparently, also well deserved.

Got right (18)


Performance by an actor in a leading role

Eddie Redmayne in “The Theory of Everything

Performance by an actor in a supporting role

J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash

Performance by an actress in a leading role

Julianne Moore in “Still Alice

Performance by an actress in a supporting role

Patricia Arquette in “Boyhood

Achievement in directing

Alejandro G. Iñárritu “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Best motion picture of the year

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole, Producers

Best foreign language film of the year

“Ida” Poland


Achievement in cinematography

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Emmanuel Lubezki

Achievement in costume design

The Grand Budapest Hotel” Milena Canonero

Achievement in production design

The Grand Budapest Hotel” Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock


Adapted screenplay

The Imitation Game” Written by Graham Moore

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)

The Grand Budapest Hotel” Alexandre Desplat

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)

“Glory” from “Selma”
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn


Achievement in sound editing

“American Sniper” Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman

Achievement in sound mixing

Whiplash” Craig Mann, Ben Wilkins and Thomas Curley


Best documentary feature

“CitizenFour” Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky

Best documentary short subject

“Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1” Ellen Goosenberg Kent and Dana Perry

Best animated short film

“Feast” Patrick Osborne and Kristina Reed