Saturday, March 15, 2014

Prepotent Kickstarter!

In 2010, I began working on a board game about horse-breeding. In 2011, I found a publisher in Numbskull Games. And now, after literally years of waiting, preparing, hair-pulling, and fine-tuning, my publisher is launching a kickstarter campaign.

You can get a copy of the game with free US shipping for only $40-- $10 less than retail. For $75, you get Prepotent, and any other Numbskull title-- that's $100 retail, and that's before the free-shipping.

Any crowd-funding campaign poses a risk, but there is an element about this one-- and really, about any board game related campaign-- that makes it a somewhat safer bet:

Unlike a film, where a billion things can and do go wrong, short of a global apocalypse, if this funds, you will get a game. The game is already designed, already finished, and just waiting for the money to print it. In a way, this functions as a kind of pre-order system. So, c'mon, order a copy.

Of course, this is assuming you're interested in the game. To help you make up your mind, here's a video in which some goober tells you all about it:

Saturday, September 21, 2013

On the Conceptual Brilliance of Craver Nation.

It's been a year or more since White Castle launched their pseudo-social networking website, Craver Nation. At first glance, and to the uninitiated, it seemed like a colossally dumb, if not completely insane, idea. Social networking sites are ways to reconnect with, and to meet, people with common interests. They require a considerable investment of time and energy on the part of the user, and who in their right mind would devote that much energy and time into connecting with people who, for example, also likes their Big Mac with extra Mac sauce and no cheese?

But the reason why the idea isn't completely insane is that we're not talking about McDonald's. This is White Castle, the only fast food restaurant with a bonafide cult following. A cult that exists not despite, but perhaps because of, the terrible violence these burgers inflict on our digestive systems.

Which reminds me of conversation I had in high school with one of my fellow students, who partook of various illicit substances, one of which was peyote. He explained to me that the first time you take peyote, no matter who you are, you will throw up. And it will be the worst vomiting of your entire life. The second time is a little better, and the third time, a little better than that. I had trouble understanding why anyone would subject themselves to that, and then he said, it's exactly like White Castle. And that made perfect sense, because at that time I was eating White Castle about six times a week.

Now, I never tried the stuff (peyote, I mean). I never tried any stuff, because education remains the only high I need. I have a visceral dislike of drugs and alcohol, and for that reason I don't particularly enjoy stoner movies, nor do I support them by going to see them at the theater.

But I was there opening day for Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. And that's because it was White Castle. I wouldn't have gone to see Harold and Kumar Go to McDonald's, because first off, they already made that movie, it was called Mac and Me and it was terrible. But secondly, I don't care about McDonald's. There is no "McDonald's type of person", because everyone goes to McDonald's. But there are White Castle people. There are Cravers.

The movie captures this pretty well. There's a scene where an employee of another burger joint, played by Anthony Anderson, waxes rhapsodic about "those tender little White Castle burgers, with those little itty-bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals" before flipping out because the burgers he serves just don't cut it. And people who don't know about White Castle might think that scene is exaggerating, that no one would talk that way about a fast-food burger. But I swear to God, I've heard Cravers talk like that. I've talked like that.

And though I've never been compelled to think of arson when denied my burger of choice, I have gone to pretty extreme measures at times. This is a story that people who know me have heard at least a dozen times. Of course I'm talking about The Time I Risked Getting Shot By the Secret Service to Get White Castle.

It was the summer of 2000. Election year in these United States. And Vice-President (and Democratic nominee) Al Gore was in my hometown of Dearborn, eating at Dmitri's, a Greek restaurant on Telegraph Road. Their food wasn't great (their opa was decent though) and they went out of business earlier this year. Now as it was then, my local White Castle was right smack-dab next-door.

Now, I didn't know that Gore was in town, or that he was eating at Dmitri's. All I knew at the time was that I wanted White Castle, and that traffic approaching the White Castle was down to one lane, that lane being the one farthest from that side of the street. The other three lanes of Telegraph were closed down. There were some cones, and some limousines. And standing at the Dmitri's lot were a few dudes with short haircuts, sunglasses, and black suits. (I assume there were more inside.)

There was no way to get to the White Castle. A sane person would have just went somewhere else. There was a McDonald's several blocks down. Heck, there was an Arby's just across the street. So I did a Michigan Left and pulled into the Arby's lot.

And then I made a mad sprint across Telegraph. Sometime after I got to the median one of the Secret Service guys must've seen me. As I ran across the rest of telegraph, darting between the cones and limousines, I became aware of the fact that one of them was power-walking in my direction. I poured on the speed, my body in agony.

I got to the door of the White Castle. I stopped, taking huge gasping breaths. I turned my head. The Secret Service guy had stopped moving in my direction. He let his hand wave downwards in a "just let him go" kind of motion: the kid just wants a sack of ten.

The point of all this is that White Castle isn't just a fast-food restaurant. It's a sort of nerdy hobby, like comic books and board games, that demands and rewards the same kind of investment. If anyone can make a social networking site work, it's them.

Now I have no idea if the Craver Nation site is actually any good. Thirteen years ago I was living on White Castle: at thirty-nine cents a pop, I could have a meal for two bucks and some change. Since that time, I've gotten married to a woman who is wonderful in every respect, save that the charms of Castle-fueled flatulence are hopelessly lost on her. I'm no longer a Craver, no longer the kind of person who gets up at three in the morning and says, you know what, I want to have the flux all day tomorrow, thank goodness White Castle is open twenty-four hours a day.

So I no longer have the passion that would lead me to devote any of my time to a social networking website for hamburgers. When the site launched, I logged in to get a coupon for free burgers, which I never actually got around to using before it expired. In practice, the site could be a dismal failure. But conceptually? I think it's kind of brilliant.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Two Varieties of Terror Experienced During the Blackout of 2003

Ten years ago, I was at work when the power went out. That wasn't terribly disconcerting-- we had lost power in the building once before for nearly a month, and would for a few days lose it once again after. What was disconcerting, though, was that my cell phone couldn't get any reception, nor anyone else's, that it became clear that the power outage wasn't just our building but everywhere. And the fact that, at that place and time where I was, nobody knew why.

I remember feeling a little scared, especially with others thinking out-loud that perhaps it was some kind of terrorist attack. I must confess that I was never really scared of terrorists or terrorism before then. Even after the terrorist attacks in September of 2001, I didn't feel that I, personally, was unsafe or threatened. My heart went out to the victims of the attack, and I felt a great deal of sorrow for them and anger towards those that took their lives. At the same time, it felt a little distant and removed, like it happened in some far-off-place, and that it couldn't happen here. Demographically at least it seemed unlikely that Dearborn would be the target of a terrorist attack by radical Muslims.

But the blackout changed that-- it made me feel quite vulnerable and made terrorism something to fear in the now rather than in abstract. Of course it turned out to be nothing of that sort, but the feeling lingers.

Up until that summer, Mary and I had been sort-of friends for a few years. That is, we didn't hang out or anything, but when we ran into each other, we'd talk for awhile, mostly about movies. That summer I had invited her to one of my film shoots, and we started spending deliberate time together. We went to a movie together at the dollar show (Ang Lee's HULK), had gone to lunch together.

I had always had a crush on her since the first time I met her. And having spent actual social time with her that summer, that crush, which had been something casual, became deeper and stronger. Something that was deeper and stronger than anything I had ever felt or anticipated. Something that was tearing me apart.

Which was strange. I was hardly a ladies' man, but in the past, when I had a crush, I had absolutely no qualms about telling the object of my desire how I felt. I was always open and bold about it. But with Mary...

With Mary, it was a secret thing. I wanted so badly to tell her, to be open and bold, but I couldn't; the words just wouldn't come out. I was so terrified that she would say no, or stop talking to me, and I couldn't bare the thought of it. And, like I said, it was tearing me up. It was an agony. Some nights I cried. But I couldn't tell her.

Then came the blackout. The first day, like I said, my phone was out. But on the second day of the blackout, my phone was working, and as soon as it was, I called her to make sure she was okay (she was).

I didn't tell her how I felt then, but by calling I think I tipped my hand.  Two weeks later, she told me, in effect, "Tom, you have a crush on me", which was a very Mary sort of thing for her to do. I had still been too scared to tell her. The next day, though, the last day of August, I wasn't too scared to kiss her.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Snyder's Lousy MAN OF STEEL (with spoilers)

Man of Steel is not just a lousy movie; it is the lousiest Superman movie that's ever been made. Don't get me wrong: there are certainly things I liked about it. The dystopian Krypton sequence that begins the film is a film unto itself, with Russell Crowe providing a brawny, muscular, but appropriately clinical take on Jor-El. Young Clark being overwhelmed by his powers (and the film's villains having the same problem later on) is just the sort of detail I like in my superhero fiction. Lois Lane coming into Superman's circle of trust from the beginning makes a lot of sense. The performances are strong across the board (particularly Michael Shannon).

But that doesn't make it a good movie, or a good Superman movie. I mean, there were things I liked about Superman IV (well, okay, just Mariel Hemingway). But I'd rather suffer through that again before I'd submit to another whirl at Man of Steel.

I could go on a harangue about how the film completely misunderstands key elements of its central character and his mythos, but, c'mon, that's just going to sound like another comic book nerd losing his shit because Spider-Man has organic web-shooters. Things get changed, lost, and made more accessible in the act of adaptation. And that's understandable. I mean, my ideal Superman movie would have Red Kryptonite, the Bottle City of Kandor, and the Giant Fricking Key to the Fortress of Solitude. And I know that's sure as hell never going to happen. If I expected every 150 million dollar movie to adhere to my tastes and proclivities, I would never enjoy anything, ever. And I sure as heck wouldn't shell out the cash to go see a movie I didn't fully intend on enjoying.

I went into this movie wanting to like it. And ultimately, what I didn't like about it-- the things that made it lousy-- had little to do with how they adapted the character, but how they failed to deliver on the premises of their adaptation.

Time and again, characters in the film talk about how the "S" stands for hope. How Superman represents hope. How he must, should, and can inspire the people of Earth to be better than they are. And that is, at its core, a big part of what Superman is about. They pay a lot of lip-service to this concept.

But that's all it is. Nothing Superman does in the film is particularly inspiring or hopeful. Mostly he punches the bad guys through buildings and gas stations, causing massive explosions.

And boy, are there explosions. There is devastation and property damage and implied carnage on a scale that I've never before seen in a superhero movie. A death toll is never given, but let's not kid ourselves: probably thousands of people die during the film's last climactic seven-and-a-half hours of buildings toppling over. It's a very dark, unsettling, disturbing vision. And actually it kind of makes sense.

It makes sense because superheroes, and that goes double for superhero movies, are products of their times, Zeitgeist with a capital Z (the same goes for zombies, but that's an essay for another time). It makes sense to dramatize the things we're afraid of, and to reflect the times in the film. It sets up a world that desperately needs inspiration. That needs hope. That needs Superman. And I think the filmmakers were acutely aware of this.

I like the idea a lot, and was ready to respond it. Unfortunately, as I said, he doesn't really do anything other than punch the bad guys and crash through buildings. At least until the end, when (spoiler alert) he snaps Zod's neck and then cries about it. I'm not going to get into everything that's completely wrong, from a true-meaning-of-Superman perspective, with this scene (again, trying to keep my inner comics-nerd at bay). But taking the film on its own terms, this act wouldn't inspire anything other than terror and distrust.

The Superman of Man of Steel is a really terrifying and alien thing. The film plays up this angle, that people will be scared of him and that it will take time for people to trust him and thus be inspired. But it sets it up in such a way where the onus is on the character, by his actions, to overcome those fears. Instead all of his actions simply confirm them.

Nor do we see what would be the logical extension of the inspiration premise: that is, seeing the people of Earth following in his example. In fact, the closest thing we get is a scene in which Perry White and another Daily Planet reporter try to save a third trapped under a pile of rubble. It's a very good scene, and there's a lovely quiet moment in which White holds the trapped woman's hand as they wait for what they assume will be their end. But it's a scene that says something about the basic decency of Perry White, and of people in general.

I would say perhaps that that scene even refutes the premise that people need Superman to give them hope. The movie as a whole seems to refute the premise that we could be inspired by anything so alien. There is no denouement to suggest otherwise.

The conclusion we are given is committed to putting the last bits of mythology in place. The closing minutes are focused so intensely and myopically on Superman, on Clark Kent, and not on the impact, if any, he has had on our world. This might be part of my problem with the film as a whole. The Donner Superman, the first half of which might be the closest thing we'll ever get to a perfect Superman movie, was bigger than the character. It had room for many things, people, and wonders within its epic sweep. This film by contrast feels quite small, and there's no room for wonder in its dusty dark world. No room, in fact, for hope.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On Rappaport and Carney

I've been lucky enough to see two of Mark Rappaport's films, both of them years ago on VHS, and I have been eagerly awaiting the day that I could see more of them. As anyone who is reading this is no doubt aware, that day at the very least seems very far off due to Ray Carney's possession of the materials Rappaport needs to make them available to stream online. I don't have much to say about this that hasn't already been said, but the situation is so morally repugnant to me that I feel compelled to say it anyway: Rappaport made the films. He absolutely has the right to them, and to make some kind of living off of them. It is abhorrent to claim otherwise.

I would stop there, but in the interest of full disclosure, I present the following:  It was Carney who introduced me to Rappaport's work. Ray Carney introduced me to a lot of artists I wouldn't have heard of otherwise, including some contemporaries whom I consider friends. For a time, I considered Ray a friend, and we corresponded often. Much of that correspondence, I was to find later, he put on his website. Had I known it'd be public I'd probably have sounded less like a mewling little sycophant most of the time, which doesn't speak well for the person I was at that time.

When his website was "shut down" (it's still there, just not updated) some years back, Ray suddenly stopped responding to my emails. I knew from mutual internet-acquaintances, all of them much more successful and "established-ish" filmmakers than Mary and myself, that he still checked his email, still responded to them, etc. But he just stopped talking to me. It felt like that since he didn't have a website to post my letters on, that since he lacked a forum with which to post my embarrassingly effusive praise, he didn't have any further use for me. I was sore about that for a while. I got over it. I haven't heard from him in years.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

On "Plot Holes" in Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS.

Mary and I saw Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS during its opening weekend at a matinee showing. I really dug it. Coming out of the theater, I was convinced that it was both a great work of spectacle and authentic science fiction. What a great movie! So I was somewhat blindsided when I found out that a sizable number of folks found it less than great-- that the plot was impossible to follow, the characters suffering from severe mental defects, etc.

And, sure, maybe a biologist confronted with a snake-like life-form really shouldn't try to pet it, especially after it hisses at him, and maybe helmets-on is a good exploring-another-planet policy, and maybe when something is rolling towards you and threatening to crush you, maybe you should run perpendicular to it instead of along its path. And why the hell did David (Fassbender's robot) do anything that he did? And reading these sort of complaints, I started to dread seeing the film again, because I thought it might not hold up the second time, and I wanted to preserve the exhilarating experience I got the first time through.

Well, it came to the dollar show this weekend, and Mary and I just went to see it again. (Or, rather, given the MJR Allen Park's policy of screening 2.35:1 films in 1.85:1, we saw a fascimile entitled ROMETHEU. Which I find amusing because at the same theater, we saw J. J. Abrams's film TAR TRE.)

I enjoyed it just as much this time, if not more. And there were a couple of things that really came across on a second viewing, things that address those "plot holes".

The first is Wonder. The crew of the Prometheus constantly encounter wondrous (if not necessarily wonderful) things. If, at this point in the Alien universe (or whatever alternate sub-pocket PROMETHEUS takes place in), there has been no contact with extraterrestrial life, it would make sense for a biologist to lose his head momentarily. It makes "sense" that they take off their helmets, because Oh my God, we're on another planet and we can breathe the air! Confronted with wondrous things-- confronted with the secrets of creation!-- they rush headlong into it, they embrace it. They're not acting like characters, stupid or clever, in a science fiction film. They're acting like people. And it's sad to me, deeply sad, that some people are so closed off from their sense of Wonder that they can't recognize it when it's onscreen. (See also: Cameron's AVATAR, and especially Sam Worthington's performance: watch him curl his toes in the sand and smile, watch him touch the glowing fungus: see the palpable sense of giddy wonder.)

The other major complaint I've heard-- that David does things for reasons that aren't clear or logical-- is, on a second viewing, obviously intentional. That is: I believe the character's motivations are meant to be inscrutable and alien to the viewer, just as they're inscrutable and alien to the human beings on the ship. He's very similar to the film's Engineers in this sense. There's something very chilling about not knowing why they hate and want to destroy their creations; Fassbender is equally chilling exactly because we can't begin to deconstruct his thought process. Fassbender's David is a doppelganger of sorts for the remaining Engineer, and through David, Scott and his screenwriters develop their heady questions before the Engineer shows up and Dr. Shaw gives them voice. The character's squiggily "motivations", then, aren't evidence of shoddy construction, but of an admirably solid one. It's the heart of the film-- everything it does, every idea it has, comes down to and out of us wondering what the hell is up with David.

As for why people just don't run in the other direction, I got nothin'.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

On Advantages.

I used to be mad at Jason Reitman. Now, I don't like the man's films, but that's no reason to be mad at someone you haven't met.

No, I was mad at Jason Reitman because he was Ivan Reitman's son; because here Mary and I were, struggling independent filmmakers, without advantages, without connections, without wealth, getting nowhere, and there he was, being nominated for Oscars. Not that I wanted Oscars. But you get what I mean.

The thing is-- and it took me longer than I'd like to admit to come around to this-- that's not a reason to be mad at someone, either. I wasn't born with the same advantages that he has, but if I was, I certainly would use them: it'd be foolish not to. Every filmmaker, indie or otherwise, calls in favors and uses whatever edge they have to get the film done. Every person does this, to do the things they want in this life-- they exploit whatever advantages life has given them to further their own goals and desires. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I can be mad that I didn't get those advantages, but it's no reason to begrudge anyone else their good fortune. And in the end, it's what you do with those advantages that count. I might not care for Reitman's films, but somebody does, a lot of somebodies, or else they wouldn't be putting bottoms in seats. Nobody gets anywhere-- or rather, stays there-- without working at it. (And some work awfully hard without ever getting much of anywhere. So it goes.)

So, stop worrying about whether or not somebody "deserves" their success or their notoriety, internet. And stop being Mr. Snarky Pants about it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Loren Kantor's Woodcuts

You know how someone will send you something to look at, and you'll say, "Oh, that looks cool, I'll have to check that out later"? And then the next time you see it, you'll say "Oh yeah, I was going to look at that, I better remember to check it out when I have some time", and so on, and before you know it, it's been two months and you still haven't looked at it?

Well, it was nearly two months ago that Loren Kantor sent me an e-mail. He's a woodcut artist and movie/music enthusiast in Los Angeles. Many of his woodcuts feature actors, musicians, and film posters. Here are a few of my favorites from his site, Woodcuttingfool:

Pretty neat stuff, and definitely worth taking a look at. Do yourself a favor and don't wait two months to do it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Son of a DVD

No, seriously, the new Son of a Seahorse DVD will be available very soon. Like, mid-January (probably).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Angry Wishlist

Like everyone else on the planet, I like Angry Birds. But after the first fifty or sixty levels or so, I started to hit a wall where my frustration with the game overwhelmed my desire to play it. Ragequits became quite common.

Granted, how many games can you say that about-- that the ragequit wall comes after the first fifty or sixty levels? A lot of games-- especially physics puzzles-- hit that wall a lot sooner.

But it's got me thinking about which features I'd like to see in a sequel:

  • Guidelines. I don't think it would do the game irrepable harm if the game told me where a bird would hit given its current angle and the tug of the rubber-band. You don't need to tell me how hard it's going to hit, what kind of damage it's going to do, or give me lines for blue splitters and yellow dashers-- just let me know where I'm aiming. Because too often I think I have something lined up the same way, and it ends up completely different. Make it less about my dexterity/precision and more about my brain.

  • Have stars unlock levels, rather than beating the level before it. Circumvents the ragequit wall.

  • Level Editor. Because UGC is all the rage these days.

  • Creative Mode. Give me a mode where I'm assigned the birds, yes, but I can choose the order in which they strike.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Divided Republic

In the past, I've been something of a vocal Kickstarter party-pooper, though it was less that I was anti-kickstarter, per se, so much as I didn't have the money to even chip in a few bucks here or there for this guy or that one, and I kinda resented the idea that if I didn't chip in said bucks, I was anti-indie-film or something. People pointed out that if I gave to so many films, people might give to our films, but we never intend to kickstart our films, for the simple reason that we've seen our films, and we certainly wouldn't give us money to make them.

And I still don't have the cash, though I recently broke my long-standing Kickstarter abstinence for Alex Bagosy's board game, Divided Republic. Partially, this is because I have a better sense of what I'm going to get out of it. With a film, so many things can and often do go wrong, and before push comes to shove you're out x amount of money for a DVD copy of and T-shirt for a film that never got finished, or a film that maybe shouldn't have been finished. With a board game, you pretty much know what you're going to get: you can read the rules to grasp the mechanics, sometimes even print-and-play the game beforehand. It's less of a, "Sure, I'll give you this money and cross my fingers" and more of a, "I am for all intents and purposes pre-ordering this game, and in doing so, I am helping it get published."

There's no print-and-play available of Divided Republic, but there is this video,

and this gorgeous board:

It's in a sorta desperate situation; it has ten days left to raise over $9000. If kickstarting is your kinda thing, or board games about the 1860 Presidential election, well, you know what to do.

Disclaimer: The game's publisher, Numbskull Games, is also publishing my game Prepotent.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

An Actual Conversation Between Two Middle-Aged Men, Heard In Passing.

"So, I just stayed home and watched Two and a Half Men. I could watch that all day long. Doesn't matter how many times I've seen it, I just laugh and laugh."

"Charlie Sheen was funny."

"I don't know how he screwed that up."

"How could he?"

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chicken and Moose.

Disclosure one: Our friend Jamie Maurer made this.
Disclosure two: It's really a ploy to make you buy metal sculptures from Metal Imagination.

In my opinion, that doesn't make them any less worth while. They exhibit the same humor and sensibility that's such a wonderful part of the Needs More Gay series that Jamie hosts as Rantasmo.

On the Popularity of Angry Birds

I don't think Angry Birds is popular because of its gameplay. Physics puzzles are a dime a dozen. I think it is popular because there's a profound and inexorable sadness at the heart of the game.

Because, look at those pigs. They've no limbs, and probably suffer from developmental disabilities-- certainly, their facial features exhibit some kind of congenital defect. They took the birds' eggs, but I don't think they understood that they were doing anything wrong; they were just hungry.

The birds swingshot themselves to death attemping to murder these crippled, developmentally-disabled pigs as a form of ultimately pointless and morally ambiguous vengeance. The yellow bird is graphically battered when it collides; the black bird explodes; the white bird drops an egg-- the very reason for their titular emotional state-- as a weapon.

It's not a deep game by any means; it is a bizarre one, though, and one that's very much a product of its time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Tartar Sauce

Mix the following, more-or-less in order, in a bowl.

  • Enough lemon zest to lightly dust the bottom of the mixing bowl

  • The same amount of green onion, very finely diced

  • x scoops of mayonaisse (do not use Miracle Whip, it is the devil)

  • x-1 scoops of relish

  • Enough Spicey Brown Mustard to give it a slight brown color while mixing

  • A liberal amount of freshly-ground pepper, until the mixture is clearly speckled

  • And sometimes diced bacon, if that's your thing

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Name On A Box.

Look, it's my name on a box!

I'm proud to announce that my board game Prepotent is an anticipated Winter 2011 release from Numbskull Games.

It's a really weird feeling, having someone say "Yes." In my twenty-nine years, with one magical exception (hi Mary!), it has, to this point, always been "No", or some variation thereof. No, we don't like your movie. No, we don't want to play your shmup. No, I don't like your music. No, I don't want to publish an awesome novel about homeless superheroes doing wheelies in people's faces on unicycles and taking to snails. No, we don't want you to be Mayor of Dearborn. Which, frankly, I can't blame them on that last one. But, anyway.

I wouldn't say I was bad at any of those things-- I was quite good at some of them-- but I was never successful at them, financially, critically, what-have-you. And I felt that, and my own limitations, acutely; I enjoyed making films, writing fiction, being generally weird, but it never got my anywhere, and I was always searching for That Something, that one thing that I was good at. I never felt like Tom Russell, Filmmaker or Tom Russell, Novelist; I was always Tom Russell, Wearer Of Many Hats, None Of Which Especially Suit His Unusual Head-Shape.

Until last year, when I discovered board games, almost by accident, and I discovered-- while recovering from an infection that nearly killed me-- that I have something of a knack for them. I discovered that I was Tom Russell, Board Game Designer, and threw myself into it with abandon.

At first, it seemed like it would be more of the same: publisher-after-publisher, game-after-game, it was "No." And I got some of the same naysaying that had dogged me whenever I announced a new creative endeavor, amplified by a general ignorance of how board games have changed in the years since, say, Monopoly. I must admit, I was starting to get discouraged.

But the funny thing is, no matter how many "No's" you stack up over a life time, all it really takes is one "Yes" to wipe 'em out. Mr. Stevens, the publisher of Numbskull, said "Yes."

Like I said up top, it's a weird feeling. I still don't quite know how to process it, other to occasionally jump up and down in giddy laughter. I'm sure that sensation will quiet down eventually, and that I'll stop annoying my friends by marveling at my reversal of fortune. What won't go away, though, is the feeling that at long last, after decades of searching, I know who I am.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


A solitaire card game utilizing a standard 52-card deck.

Some of you probably are aware by now that, while we're still working on films (and long-overdue DVDs of films), Tom has embraced a new vocation: board game design. This morning, I had a dream about a solitaire card game and when I woke, I recreated it. Like many ideas one gets in a dream, it wasn't very good or compelling. But it made me think of another idea, and that idea, in turn, became Tzirallum. Let me know how/if you enjoy it.

Be sure to heed the last bit of advice at the bottom of the instructions, especially with the low-numbered cards. It really does make a lot of difference. Also, don't be too hasty about eliminating the "pivot" spots in the tableau that, by a few tricky switches and builds, might move an otherwise stranded card from one row to another by way of the column.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Policy Change.

This site no longer accepts anonymous comments. Comments may still be left with google accounts, Open ID, etc.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Open Letter to That Guy In the WHALE Comments, Because the Meshugana Blogger Won't Post it as a Comment.

Okay, I'll bite.

First-- apropos the "only conclusion" you can reach, that there's some kind of quid-pro-quo at work here. Well: habeas corpus. I wrote this review, what, two years ago, a year-and-a-half? If I was supposed to have gotten something in return, I'd have received it by now, yes?

Second-- and this is assuming the same person has been responsible for all these recent comments, and if I'm incorrect in that assumption, mea culpa-- it's claimed that there's no "story, plot, conflict, or purpose". I'd say that it's true that the version I saw-- and I must stress that I saw a cut the filmmaker made two years ago, and that the new cut, according to that filmmaker, is different in many ways-- was not overly concerned with "plot", telling a story, or resolving conflicts.

But, you know, I *like* a lot of movies that could be termed "plotless". One of my favourite movies, INTO GREAT SILENCE, is literally 2 and a half hours of monks praying, feeding cats, making wine, and sewing. It's about as far from plot and structure as one can get, and I love it; the film absorbs me into the world of the monastery in which it takes place. And I'd wager that you'd find that film "boring", or that you'd say it was just a worthless bunch of assembled (film) clips.

Motlagh's film *does* have conflict: conflict between the son and his father, the constant sense of the protagonist being outside-looking-in and isolated from the other characters. Isolation that is emphasized not only by the way the film is structured, but by scenes in which he's absent from his own diary-style film. And this is something I really dug about the film, is that he made choices-- experimenting with form and structure to produce different, desired, and on-purpose effects. Like I said in my review-- and, again, I don't know how much this has been altered by the film's newest cut-- I don't think all these choices necessarily work or do all the things Motlagh wants them to do.

But he *doesn't* just shoot a bunch of footage of his friends shooting the shit and slap it on the screen; he *doesn't* just fall into the easy, lazy trap of naturalism; he *doesn't* fetishize verite as the film he made is inherently-- sometimes off-puttingly-- stylized. So, to my mind, just labeling the film a "worthless bunch of assembled video clips", implying that they're haphazardly slapped together with no rhyme, reason, or thought is beyond disingenuous.

Speaking of disingenuous-- I'm sorry, but I have to ask: do you really want to have a conversation/debate/what-have-you about this? Because it's one thing to say, "I didn't like this film," or "I disagree with the reviewer", or "I didn't like the choices the director made," or, "This is why I feel the film was not very good." That's the kind of discussion I'd be very much interested in having.

But when you come around to these parts with a chip on your shoulder-- just decrying how BAD and WORTHLESS it is, and putting the word movie into quotation marks (which, F.Y.I., is a surefire way to make your host lose his temper, and I think I've done an admirable job of not losing that temper during this thread)-- well, it makes me think that you're not really interested in talking about the film, or about the pitfalls of independent films that are too personal to connect with audiences, or whatever. It makes me think you just want to be a Negative Nancy and make jokes about the title of the film and sling the same-old same-old "indie film is an incestuous circle-jerk" bullpuckey.

And, as to that, again: habeas corpus, because our own films, for the most part, still languish in obscurity and have never so much as played a festival.

Now, I could be wrong about this; maybe you do honestly want to have a honest-to-goodness conversation, and if I've misread you, then I apologize.

If you seriously want to talk about Motlagh's film, then I'd ask that-- as civilly and respectfully as possible-- you detail your problems with the film. "Worthless" and "pointless" are not "problems"; they're invective. They themselves are worthless and pointless, because there's nowhere a conversation can go, nothing for an understanding to be built on, no place for anyone to respond.

And if you're not interested in having a conversation, then that's fine; I just won't respond again.

Because I'm a Midwesterner, and as a general rule, I can't see why two human beings can't be polite, respectful, and civil to one another. Whether the discussion is art, politics, or religion-- can't we all just get along?

Personal Reminder

Don't feed the trolls, don't feed the trolls, don't feed the trolls.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Two New Seahorse Reviews

A long time ago, Matt Barry, writing over at Rogue Cinema, had some nice words to say about our film:

I was intrigued by the Russells’ decision to let several scenes play out in one long, uninterrupted take, which is well-suited to dialogue-driven character comedy such as this. ...

Son of a Seahorse works as a quirky, off-beat indie comedy, sometimes raunchy but often good-natured.

And while we're keeping the phrase "quirky, off-beat indie comedy" as far away from the DVD cover as possible, we did appreciate his review.

Simon Abrams-- who, as he discloses at the top of his consideration, is a friend of ours (though we've never met)-- also had some kind words to say about the film, over at Extended Cut, claiming to be

impressed by the way that writing/directing duo Tom and Mary Russell used such a broad style of acting to make a movie filled with jokes consistently uncomfortable. David Schonscheck plays up Nick Kilpatrick's mercurial attitude by constantly over-acting. In any other context, this would be grating but the longer the film goes on, the more apparent it becomes that the Russells are trying to alienate you. If anyone needed proof that a character study doesn't need to follow a sympathetic character in order to be ingratiating or even just satisfying, this is the film. A worthy descendant of King of Comedy.

What I think emerges from these two reviews, and the three (two negative, one positive) that have preceded it, is that the film is one that can be looked at in different ways. A. A. Dowd said that

The Russells are [not] cut from any shape or variety of traditional Hollywood cloth. These two are loud and proud indie guerillas. They favor marathon takes and lengthy digressions, long shots and longer conversations. It's tempting to lump them into the mumblecore camp, except their sense of humor is somehow both drier and broader, with an affinity for garish caricatures and bizarro non-sequitors. ...

Son of a Seahorse is all over the map. It sets up Nick as a kind of perpetual straight man, and then subjects him to the judgments, scolds, rants and taunts of various weirdos and walk-ins. Schonscheck has a certain hangdog charisma, but he's also inconsistent. His performance seems to fluctuate in proportion to his co-stars, who range from accomplished improvisers to transparent amateurs. The first scene, for example, works like gangbusters, mostly because Schonscheck is evenly matched by Swanberg. A later encounter with a raving lunatic (Tom Russell himself, moonlighting as an authentically unhinged cameo player) establishes the lead as a skilled comic foil. He's undone, alas, by some faulty support– from lisping cartoon bit actors to deer-in-headlights non-professionals. (I definitely could have done without the tired There Will Be Blood parody, too.) ...

If Son of a Seahorse often seems like a different movie scene to scene, its saving grace is its uniting principle: that marriage is the most rewarding pain in the ass you'll ever willfully subject yourself to. It's hard not to have a certain affection for any film that deals with married life in a way that's neither cloying nor rigorously cynical. The Russells, husband and wife filmmakers with a word or two to share on the subject, invest their hit-or-miss comic enterprise with an endearing breadth of genuine feeling.

Nick Rombes (author of Cinema in the Digital Age) gave the film its shortest but possibly most complimentary public review, over on twitter, where he called it "a hilarious, terrifying film."

And then there's the Filmrogue (not to be confused with the above-linked Rogue Cinema) podcast review, which basically accuses us not only of incompetence but, I guess somewhat amusingly, fraud. (The link that pops up in a google search is, perhaps thankfully, broken.)

Like I said: diverse opinions. Hopefully this will translate into more interest in the film when the DVD is re-released in the next few months.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tom's Tomato-Feta-Mushroom Thingy.

Mary's the one that cooks; Tom doesn't do much more than burn things and make them unpalatable. Still, the one thing he can prepare adequately is served as a complement to Mary's culinary masterworks two or three nights a week in Russellville.

  • 1 tomato.
  • Several mushrooms, roughly equal to said tomato.
  • 3-4 green onions.
  • Feta to taste.
  • Pepper.


I take all the ingredients out of the fridge about twenty to forty minutes before hand, to give 'em a chance to get up to room temperature. That's not really necessary-- it can be served and enjoyed cold-- but my teeth are painfully sensitive to anything colder than room temperature.

Dice the tomato, sprinkle with pepper. Put the tomato in a mixing bowl.

Dice the mushrooms. Put them in the mixing bowl.

Dice the green onion. Put it in the mixing bowl.

Cover with crumbled feta. I usually use two or three ounces, but YMMV.

Now, mix! Ideally, there should be tomato, mushroom, feta, and a hint of green onion in every bite. Nice little side dish or appetizer, and it takes maybe five minutes to throw it together.

Serves two or three people, depending on how much they eat.