Monthly Archives: March 2014

2048: My Newest Puzzle Game Obsession

Well, my days of accomplishing anything at all have come to an end, thanks to a game called “2048.”

Actually, the thanks goes to yesterday’s xkcd (or more accurately, the Explain xkcd wiki) for introducing me to the most addictive puzzle since Sudoku.

2048 is a simple online game involving numbered tiles on a 4×4 grid. Use the arrow keys to shift the tiles as far as they can go in any direction. When two tiles with the same number meet, they merge into a new tile with the combined value. With every move a new tile will appear on a random empty cell. The goal is to get a tile with the number 2048, but you lose if you fill up the entire grid and have no more moves.

2048 sample 1

I’ve yet to win, but I’m getting better!

It’s actually far simpler than it sounds. You’ll get the hang of it in just a few moves, but the longer you play the more you’ll start to recognize patterns and strategies.

It’s insanely addictive, and best of all, totally free! But there is a link to donate, and I highly recommend that you do. Developers like this should be encouraged.

Play 2048 here, or visit on your mobile browser.

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The Giver Is Coming At Last (Trailer)

I have been waiting for this movie for far longer than it was even in development – over 2 decades, in fact. Lois Lowry’s The Giver was my absolute favorite book as a child. I probably read it 5-10 times between the ages of 8 and 18. There’s very little I can say without ruining the plot’s big reveals, but suffice to say it opened my eyes to a whole new level of storytelling that I had never encountered before. Getting pre-teens to think philosophically about the world they are growing up into? That’s impressive.

I knew Jeff Bridges had been sitting on the movie rights for a long time. Originally his father, the great Lloyd Bridges was going to play the titular Giver. But as Lloyd passed away, and the project got put on hold for several years, Jeff grew into the role, which calls for a village elder, of sorts.

What I didn’t know, was the Meryl Streep was also cast, nor that they landed fantastic director Phillip Noyce to helm the project. His work on Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American, and Salt are a good clue this is going to be handled expertly.

Still, for all who haven’t yet, I recommend reading the book first. It’s a quick read. There’s plenty of time to get it in – several times over – before the movie opens on August 15.


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Superman with a GoPro

It looks like it’s going to be some pretty lo-fi special effects, but watch out. This little video is better than you expect!

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Old vs. New in Latest Maleficent Trailer

The newest Maleficent trailer (we must be on #4 or 5 at this point) focuses on juxtaposing the original Disney animation from Sleeping Beauty against new footage from the upcoming live action update. Is it just me, or does Angelina Jolie look almost as CGI-enhanced as her character from the motion capture animated Beowulf (2007)?

…aaand I was just about to click “publish” on this post when, what do you know, another new trailer arrives. This one seems to give a better sense of the plot…

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Cosmos’ Critics Can’t Compete With Science

cosmos NDT

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of Cosmos is fantastic. I’m a little late to the party, but I just caught up with the first 2 episodes last night. It’s exciting that at a time when science-denial is in such vogue in America, the willpower exists to produce this for primetime network TV – and on FOX, no less! Of course as crazy as that sounds, it just makes it that much more remarkable that Carl Sagan did the same almost 35 years ago.

Actually when I think about it, I’m not sure that science-denial is really all that “in vogue” anyway. Certainly the deniers are as vocal as ever, but I don’t think their demographic is as large as their volume would suggest. Even most members of the religious majority maintain moderate views on most scientific debates. The radicals scream because they’re being backed further and further in to the corner by new discoveries being made every day. Breakthroughs like yesterday’s announcement about cosmic inflation aren’t doing them any favors.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to read Chris Mooney’s article in Mother Jones about all the complaints against Cosmos. Even only 2 episodes in, I honestly expected their outcry even as I watched.

I continue to hold out hope that such cries of ignorance are merely the death-rattle of the old ways of thinking. Sure, there will always be those few holdouts, but as they continue to marginalize themselves, their influence will continue to diminish, and scientific knowledge will continue to grow.

And that may be what I love most about Cosmos: the prevailing sense of hope that every day we will know more about the universe than we did the day before.

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Juliette Binoche in A Thousand Times Goodnight (Trailer)

Juliette Binoche is a war photographer juggling family with an extremely dangerous profession. This promises to have some stunning camerawork. Also starring Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, in case you were wondering).

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Get On Up – New James Brown Biopic (Trailer)

Get On Up is a new biopic of James Brown, directed by Tate Taylor (The Help), and starring Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in laster year’s 42), Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, and  Craig Robinson.

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Double Double: Two New Films About Doppelgangers (Trailers)

There are two very different movies coming out this year with a very similar premise. That odd coincidence is even more striking when you consider what that premise is: doubles.

In The Double, Jesse Eisenberg’s life is turned upside-down when he discovers another person that looks and sounds exactly like himself. Directed by Richard Ayoade (Submarine), adapted from the Fyodor Dostoevsky novella of the same name.

In Enemy, Jake Gyllenhaal’s life is turned upside-down when he discovers another person that looks and sounds exactly like himself. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners), adapted from the José Saramago novel “The Double.”

Sound similar? Both feature a young male movie star in a dual role. Both are directed by an indie filmmaker known for dark and stylized (though decidedly different) visions. And both are based on source material called “The Double.” I can’t find (with a 3-minute Google search) any evidence that Saramago’s book was based on Dostoevsky, though I find it hard to imagine there wasn’t at least some direct inspiration involved.

Either way, the films appear to be doubles of each other, in a way. Talk about “meta!” Check out the trailers back to back…

The Double (2014)


(Enemy has actually already screened for some critics. Check out Guy Lodge’s review here.)

These are not to be confused with the 2011 films The Double or The Devil’s Double. Of course, it’s not all that surprising anymore to see two very similar movies released back to back. Here are just a few others that seemed to hit upon some unspoken zeitgeist at the same time:

  • Capote and Infamous (2005) – Biopics of Truman Capote, specifically the period in which he researches and writes the book “In Cold Blood”
  • The Illusionist and The Prestige (2006) – 19th century magicians elude those who would unmask their secrets.
  • Happy Feet (2006) and Surf’s Up (2007) – Unlikely outcasts compete for glory in skills that one wouldn’t normally associate with animated penguins.
  • Another Earth and Melancholia (2011) – A woman’s life is forever altered when a new planet appears in the sky.
  • Noah and Exodus (2014) – Big budget biblical epics with big name stars (Russell Crowe, Christian Bale), directed by big name auteurs (Darren Aronofsky, Ridley Scott). Maybe The Screen Life needs another post about this odd twofer in the future. Hmm…

I’m sure there are more examples. If you can think of them, let me know in the comments!

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Is Spritz Really the Future of Reading?

Spritz faster

There’s a new app in the works that claims to enable you to read entire novels in less than the time it takes to watch a feature-length movie.

Last week, an article from Elite Daily began making the rounds on social media sites. The article introduces the app, called Spritz, and its “Optimal Recognition Point” (ORP) technology, and even lets you try it out. Hundreds of people shared it, including dozens my own Facebook friends, and to a person, each post I read hailed this new app as “amazing” and “miracle” and “game-changer,” etc. etc.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a very slow reader, so I’d be the first in line to latch onto any new technology that can help. But I tried the samples, and to be honest, it’s not working for me. Let me explain…

The technology works by flashing the individual words of any text, one at a time, consecutively on the screen. One letter of each word, just to the left of center, is colored red, and each red letter appears in the same part of the screen. The idea is that red letter is the Optimal Recognition Point where our brains see and decipher words. By flashing all the words in the same point we can read them faster.

But reading words quickly isn’t the problem for me. My problem is a near-obsessive focus on comprehension. Throughout grade school and college, I consistently scored higher than my classes on reading comprehension. But I scored lowest in my classes on overall reading tests, because I could never read fast enough to actually finish the tests. I got all the questions I answered correct, but I only ever answered a third of the questions.

It took me years to figure out but the reason for this odd dichotomy, but over time I realized I was reading the same sentences, or groups of sentences, or even paragraphs, over and over again. My mind won’t allow me to move on until I’ve fully grasped every ounce of meaning out of what I’ve already read. Of course that makes skimming all but impossible for me.

That need doesn’t go away with this new technology. With the samples presented on Elite Daily’s article, I had to watch each one cycle through several times before I really got it. Those samples are in repeating GIF format; I’m sure the app is more interactive. But even still, I doubt I’ll be saving much time if I still have to go back and repeat sequences of words.

I may be unusual, but I doubt I’m the only one. Then again, let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s say I do save time, even if slightly. Is that slight time-saver worth the rest of what’s lost?

One of the nice things about a book is the layout. It’s very easy to go back and forth, re-read things you missed, check out how many pages you have until the next chapter break or other marker. Or maybe you’re at a passage that specifically references something earlier in the book, and you want a quick refresher on that previous section.  And what about images, font changes, paragraph breaks and other variances in layout?

These are the things that make reading comfortable and enjoyable. Ultimately with a book, the reader has a certain amount of control in how the story is accessed. With an app like this, I can’t imagine how you wouldn’t lose a bit that control. Perhaps it might help some people with academic article and the like. But even how would you go back and reference important passages of make notes.

This actually is a good piece of technology. The science behind it is impressive, and I’m sure there are numerous educational and recreational applications for it. But it’s definitely not for everyone. So maybe let’s back off on the “game-changer” hyperbole a little.

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GrabBag – Marvel, DC Nab Same Release Date; also, Potential Star Wars Casting


Another week, another GrabBag full of screen-related flotsam. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

  • Famous People in Fiction is a 2-part series of pictures comparing historical figures to their more well-known movie incarnations. Something about that title doesn’t seem exactly right to me, but no matter. It’s fun to see all various actors that played the same roles lined up side-by-side. Part 1. Part 2.
  • It’s a long way off but apparently DC and Marvel are battling over my 35th birthday (May 6, 2016) for major tent-pole film releases. Marvel has held that date for a while for an as-yet-unnamed film (probably Captain America 3). Meanwhile DC just pushed the new Superman/Batman back to that very same date. There’s still plenty of time for one of the studios to back down, but if neither does it may be an interesting experiment to challenge the old standard “one movie per demographic per weekend” model. That, and I’m likely to have an awesome birthday weekend!
  • Speaking of tent-pole blockbusters, Variety gets a look at some of the actors being considered for the new Star Wars movie.
  • The theater projection instructions for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel are a fun read. (Click the image to see a full-screen version. Sorry about the blurry quality.)

GBH projection inst

  • And finally, T Bone Burnett’s music for True Detective was truly inspired. Listen to the song from the end of the finale …

That’s all for this week. Tune in next Friday for a new GrabBag!

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