Where in the world is Westworld?

Obviously, major Westworld spoilers are discussed below…

I don’t believe any detail or plot point shown on Westworld is thoughtless or throw-away. Everything means something. It’s all designed to give you a clue as to place and time and what’s really happening, not just what appears to be happening.

Where in the world is Westworld?

The Good Dinosaur

It would be unfair to simply write off Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” as “The Lion King” with sauropods but, by the third or fourth scene that are direct recalls from Simba’s adventures, you realize that once you’ve seen one story about an anthropomorphized young male quadruped on a journey of discovery and growth, you’ve kinda seen them all. Where “The Good Dinosaur” fails to live up to “The Lion King” is the generally smaller scale of the story, perhaps made to appear even smaller from being told against such huge, sweeping, and grand backdrops.

Simba’s tale was epic and nearly Shakespearean in scale while Arlo’s is much more personal. Rather than return from the apparent grave to fight his deceitful uncle in a battle to reclaim his rightful place on Pride Rock, Arlo just needs to return. To his corn farm. So he can make a muddy footprint on a wall. It’s not without wit, to be sure, and the vistas are some of the most beautiful CG landscapes ever seen on screen (the water effects, in particular, are remarkable — especially when compared to the pathetic splashes seen in “The Incredibles”). There was a moist eye here and there in the theater by the end, but “The Good Dinosaur” fails to spark any real threat for these seemingly indestructible dinos. Even when they fight the way dinosaurs really did (with their gnashing teeth and ripping claws), there’s a notable lack of wounding or blood (but not scars go figure). So much for the Circle of Life, I guess.

This is the first Pixar movie in which the main protagonists are children and the adult characters play minor or supporting roles. They exist only to threaten or teach or protect or look worried when it comes to Arlo and his pet human, Spot. They don’t have real stories of their own. The villains, in particular, while starting out as creepy psychopaths end up being flat and rather easily dealt with.

“The Good Dinosaur” is not a bad movie (not like “Cars 2”—ugh). It’s biggest issue is it’s a Pixar movie so the stakes are that much higher. My family watched “Inside Out” the day after seeing “The Good Dinosaur” and that only made it look more tepid in comparison. In all the ways “Inside Out” was original and clever and funny, “The Good Dinosaur” was ultimately flat and derivative and predictable. But with stunningly beautiful scenery.

Originally published on Medium.

The Martian

“The Martian” is unlike any movie I can recall seeing in recent memory. There are no bad guys. Everybody (in the world) is trying to do the same thing together. It’s a celebration of only the best things about us: scientific achievement, human ingenuity, dogged determination, and teamwork on a massive scale all in the service of a single, noble goal. While there is zero pessimism in this film, it never gets maudlin or sentimental. Nor does it seem to follow any of the rules found in The Big Book of How Hollywood Movies Are Made™. It also has to be the most magnificent piece of propaganda ever produced in the service of NASA and science in general.

If it’s ever said when this story takes place, I didn’t hear it. The iPhones all look like ours and the clothing styles are about the same, but as the movie begins we find ourselves at the beginning of the third of five manned missions to Mars using spacecraft and other tech that feels like it’s about 20 years in the future and had to have cost trillions to build and launch and assemble on another world. The implication of this is “The Martian’s” most unbelievable premise. That the divided and gloomy United States in which we live would find a way to get behind such an endeavor and allow it to happen. Even though it feels ever so slightly futuristic, it doesn’t feel like any magical technological leaps have been assumed by the storytellers. There’s no warp drive or phasers or sentient computers. Just an extrapolation of things already possible and even familiar applied on a massive scale. 

What I loved most about this movie is that it’s basically a two-and-a-half hour showcase for cleverness. It’s like a glass of icy cold water in the desert of denial and outright hostility to science we’ve been crawling through in recent years. It’s a celebration of figuring shit out and not letting hard problems win and having faith in the things we know and can do. It’s about a world reaching for great discoveries for the sake of the discovery. And it’s about the simultaneous fragility and power of a little flicker of life where it doesn’t belong.

I left “The Martian” feeling something recent news and those who make it and even those who tell it have taken from me: optimism. Even inspiration. It’s a reminder of all the great things we’ve accomplished and how close we are to doing even greater things. I hope everyone sees it, especially young people. This is the future I want to live in.

Cont blocked

iOS 9 introduced the option of blocking web ads and tracking scripts in Safari and a lot of the internet lost its shit. Moral introspection ensued as blocking plug-ins shot to the top of the App Store charts.

I work in digital marketing so I do get that Apple’s move here threatens to severely knock my universe out of balance, but I also acknowledge that the world of online advertising has become actively hostile to those for whom the ads are intended. Bloated pages suck down mobile user’s metered bandwidth and waste their time loading, not to mention the “ads” that automatically redirect site visitors to app stores or other destinations and those that block page content or so crowd it out that it’s hard to find, let alone read. Publishers have allowed advertisers to absolutely ruin the web experience in too many cases in exchange for the few shekels they get in return. The question isn’t why has Apple allowed this to happen, the question is what took so long?

Apple, of course, makes next to nothing from advertising (iAds aside which are of negligible import to anyone). Their business model is based on hardware revenue and those sales are founded on exceptional consumer experience and today’s online advertising model does nothing but erode that. It’s in Apple’s interest to allow its consumers this kind of control. Simple as that.

Of course, publishers need money to publish. The rush towards ad blocking doesn’t spell the end to an ad-based model, it spells the end of the crazy bullshit model that’s evolved organically and unchecked. We as consumers either have to pay sites to read them or we have to let them show us ads (or maybe a little of both). Expecting the web to be delivered free of any charge is totally unrealistic and ultimately unethical. 

The top-selling iOS blocker, Crystal, is now allowing what they call “acceptable ads” from marketers who pay for the privilege safe passage through their filter. They’re teaming with Eyeo, the company behind the browser plug-in AdBlock Plus, and using their database of more than 700 advertisers who meet Eyeo’s criteria. I put it on my phone the day iOS 9 dropped and my recollection is it was free at that time, but it’s currently 99¢. So Crystal is trying to profit from both ends of the pipeline while Eyeo only does so from the advertisers. Since Crystal didn’t say anything about this possibility when it launched, a lot of people are pissed. 

In theory, I think this is the right path for those of us who know that there must be some exchange of value in order to maintain a thriving content model on the web. If the ad industry won’t or can’t abide by acceptable, self-imposed guidelines, then I suppose it’s not unexpected that others like Eyeo would do it for them and that consumers would pick which model they like best. As I said, I don’t think this spells the end of the “free web.” I think it spells the end of the version we have now. Or, at least, the beginning of the end. It’ll be rough sailing for some smaller sites and I expect a lot of them will fade away. But the status quo is not acceptable (and it’s only getting worse). 

A not insignificant shelter in the storm of consumer’s ad-blocking fury on iOS is the niggling detail that content blockers only work in Safari. They don’t apply to web views within apps. That means if you click a link in Facebook or any other app that opens that URL without switching over to Safari (using something called WebKit, the default behavior of most apps on iOS), then the content blocker isn’t engaged. In keeping an eye on my own behavior, I see that the vast majority of my web visits happen outside Safari. Probably north of 80%. Until such time that Apple extends ad blocking functionality to these WebKit sessions, the real impact won’t be felt. But if/when that does happen, shit’s gonna get real.