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Written by Rob Schultz (human).

Media Monday: Boooooooooks!

This isn't necessarily meant to be a frightening post, but instead of the next Movie Monday, let's talk about a few books I read recently:

Cinema Alchemist, by Roger Christian
I do think it's interesting to learn how so many of the props and set pieces of Alien and Star Wars came to be, and I like the notion of this guy getting regular work because he was great at his job, but holy cats does this book need an editor. I assume books like this usually come together through a series of taped interviews more or less transcribed by a ghost writer, and so you might get a couple of things mentioned more than once as they come up in different conversations. Christian constantly repeats himself, in the space of a couple of pages, describing the same things in the same way. It's an irritating read.

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh
At first, I kind of hated this. I found myself powering through in the quest for a meaningless 'I finished a book!' point, and gradually came to see how it could probably really help someone to make a book like this. I'm sure there must have been one story in there I liked. I don't know, I probably shouldn't even include a capsule review here.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, by Alyssa Mastromonaco
This is the memoir of a deputy Chief of Staff in Obama's White House. The fun part of this book is reading about how a woman who absolutely knows not only where her towel is, but where to find the towels of every member of a presidential campaign, or indeed, the White House, gets her job done. While it might be a matter of personal taste, I think that true tales of logistical efficiency can sound exciting. 

While the book was written before our last election, there are some passages that are just teetering on heart wrenching in light of our current situation. To wit, 

Obama does not hold a grudge... As a boss, he isn't someone who makes you feel like you have to prove yourself; there's no external pressure to make you procrastinate or take shortcuts. He never yelled or demeaned people–even if you let him down, he would move on if you admitted it up front.

and

The quickest way for people to lose confidence in your ability to ever make a decision is for you to pass the buck, shrug your shoulders, or otherwise wuss out. Learning how to become a decision maker, and how you ultimately justify your choices, can define who you are.

Oof.

The Freelance Manifesto, by Joey Korenman
When I was in college, I used to read all of these expensive British art magazines. I'd sit in my local Borders for hours not buying anything (it's so weird those stores are gone now) and read Computer Arts and probably, like, the official Photoshop Magazine, and a bunch of others, and figure if I picked up a couple of shortcuts I didn't know or a good technique I use on something, then it was pretty much worth it.  

Each year they'd run down the same general topics - here's the summer typography issue! And eventually, I saw this article about how to do a guy-getting-hit-by-lightning visual effect. It talked about the After Effects 'lightning' effect and how you can show the flash of a skeleton by matching your actor's movement with a skeleton in Poser, and how you can composite those elements together, and the most important thing about it to me was that it was pretty much exactly how I'd already done the effect on my own a year earlier for an episode of my hockey-themed talk show, Around the Boards. 

It felt great to confirm that I was on the right track, but a big part of what I got from that issue was that maybe I don't need to spend all my time absorbing 101-level advice. If you read enough self-help books, hopefully you stop needing so much self-help. Or at least, you're already familiar with what you're going to find inside. 

So a decade later and I'm reading this book about how to find, develop, and maintain freelance clients, and of course I'm not doing every last thing the book happens to recommend, but I felt like, hey, I'm on the right track over here. I'm not sure if it would have been better or worse if everything the book had to say was a huge surprise to me. It'd be exciting, but... no. It's easy to say that I wish I'd gotten ahold of this book years ago, I think it's even better to see that things are going okay. 

Escape Room Reviews: The Budapest Express

Company: Escapology (Las Vegas)
Room: The Budapest Express
Date Played: 7/12/17
Player Count: 2, but 3 or 4 might be best
Success:  Failure!  We successfully cracked the case, but failed to pull the emergency brake before the train reached its destination.

Premise:
1) You’re on a train. 
2) There’s been a murder. 
3) There’s a famous detective on board.
4) But she’s asleep.
Therefore? 
:. It’s all up to you to catch the killer before the train reaches the station!

Immersion: Pretty great! The train cars look terrific. There's a gimmick of using a monitor as a window, which is fun. The puzzles, and the murder investigation, hold true to the actual state of the train cars as you find them, which is excellent.

Highlights: At the risk of repeating myself, what was really great about this room was the production design, and the fact that the facts of the case were actually represented in the room. When it comes time to collect the facts (as any detective story must), you can either work out the truth from the detective's notebook, or have simply observed the train around you, and both are equally valid.

Lowlights: I would like to file an OSHA complaint against the train company. Not only is there a huge lock on the EMERGENCY BRAKE, but it just so happens to have been set in a way that involves the intimate details of a murder of one of their passengers! This is either the world's biggest coincidence, or the train company's got some serious explaining to do!  Also, we had trouble with one puzzle because of our accent differs from the puzzle designer, and our GM / clue master had no idea what was going on in our room, which wasted a little time. 

And Finally:  I think a piece of the puzzle of what I would consider the ideal room escape puzzle flow is to build towards a climactic final puzzle, which should probably be followed up by a gimme on your way out. This room follows up their Big Puzzle with... a bigger puzzle! I'm not going to make a value judgement on that, but it was too much for our duo, which was consisted of me and my dad, who'd gamely let himself be dragged along to see what this room escape business was all about. We could've used another one or two experienced puzzlers, but on the other hand, with only two of us he had to get in there and open some locks. Out of 28 games, I'm ranking this one #14. 

How to book this room yourself: Visit https://www.escapology.com/en/las-vegas-nv/escape-games/

#2,378: Fate of the Furious

Prometheus - ★★★★☆
I think I liked this more than the average bear the first time around, and I'm sticking to that. Even though the plot of every Alien is more or less the same, it's the best looking of the bunch and broadening the scope makes for some fun and interesting ideas that it's a shame nobody is going to explore.

Tickling Giants - ★★☆☆☆
Bassam Youssef's story is fascinating, but this doc doesn't do it justice. I understand the story just kept on going, probably past the point the filmmakers thought they'd be done, and probably continues today, but as a movie it could have used more structure.

Spider-Man: Homecoming - ★★★★★
What a relief. I couldn't believe it when we reached a point in history where Hollywood was actually making new Spider-Man and Star Wars movies, and I didn't want them to. Now, it seems almost as unbelievable that we've come all the way around and they're good.

I can quibble with things– less Stark tech in the suit please– but this movie gets so much right. I thought it was great that it uses fans' extra knowledge against them, and I wonder if the moment that was a big surprise to me would have seemed more obvious to a movie fan who isn't also a spider-fan.

The Fate of the Furious - ★½☆☆☆
I thought this would be fun to watch, but I was wrong about that. About the fun, I mean. I found myself alternating between being impressed at how efficient the story telling was and dismayed at how laborious the storytelling was. I'm not even sure how this movie rates on the Dom-has-super-powers scale of the previous films. It just seems unmoored from reality.