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.