Monday, November 10, 2014

Birdman: A Review

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) is a black comedy in limited release that tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed up actor who achieved fame by portraying an iconic superhero as he struggles to mount a Broadway play in a last ditch attempt for artistic relevance. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego as well as a upstaging costar (Edward Norton) while attempting to recover his family, his career, and himself. If you've seen the previews or the Television spots, you may be tempted to see the movie so that you can check out some of the cool special effects related to the Birdman character. Birdman is not germane to the plot, however, and serves only as the voice of Riggan's ego. So, don't expect much in the way of superhero action. What's important is that Keaton's character was a huge movie star at one point in his career and has fallen into near-obscurity. This movie is a backstage drama, not a comic book comeback.

The casting of Keaton can easily be seen as meta since he starred in the Batman franchise before walking away and fading into near-obscurity. Whether or not that was the intention, Keaton brings his full talent to the role and delivers a rich, layered, poignant and sometimes comedic performance. Riggan, determined to prove himself on Broadway by directing and starring in a self-financed adaptation of Raymond Carter’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” faces mounting adversity during previews of the show. Riggan must not only cope with his just-out-of-drug rehab daughter (Emma Stone) and embittered ex-wife (Amy Ryan) but also his harried lawyer/manager (Zach Galifianakis), actress girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), insecure leading lady (Naomi Watts), and her narcissistic actor/boyfriend (Edward Norton) who is bound and determined to steal Riggan's thunder for himself. Compounding Riggan's problems is the voice of Birdman, as his alter-ego, firmly lodged in his brain, seemingly enabling his mystical telekinetic powers. In the end, we end up asking ourselves what makes someone relevant, what the difference is between love and admiration and we are reminded that we may be too quick to dismiss art as crap if it does not suit our tastes.

The performances are excellent and there's some great back-and-forths between Keaton and Norton. Yet, a discussion about Birdman cannot truly be had until one mentions the fluid cinematography, edited in such a way as to appear like one continuous take, and the percussion-based score which adds to Riggan's angst. This type of cinematic jazz will challenge your notions about narrative and will leave you richer for having experienced it. Still, at the end of the day, Birdman is a movie that you're either going to "get" or completely dismiss as a flaming pile of turd. Personally, I think this is the best movie of 2014.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Kodos!

It was a pretty close race, but, in the end, Republican Bruce Rauner won the Governor's seat in Illinois. For me, the choice between Rauner and the incumbent Pat Quinn came down to a toss-up between a Giant Douche and a Turd Sandwich and the close margin of the election seems to indicate that the rest of the state felt the same way. If we look at some of the other results, though, something very interesting is happening.

On the ballot in Illinois, all voters were asked to vote on various initiatives. These were non-binding votes intended to communicate the electorate's thoughts on what policies the Illinois legislature should vote in favor of during the next session. By a two-to-one margin the people of Illinois voted in favor of raising the minimum wage and voted in favor raising taxes on higher incomes. So, the people Illinois clearly want a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on rich incomes, and yet they elect a Governor who specifically said that he intends to do the opposite of those things?

In the end, I'd say that it didn't really matter who got voted into office. The end result here is that Illinois ousted a guy who got nothing done and replaced him with a guy who won't get anything done

Monday, November 3, 2014

Google Inbox

I'm one of the lucky bastards that got an invite to Google Inbox late last week. Google Inbox is the new email app that scans your email account for important and similar information. It then presents what it considers the most important parts of the email first and groups similar emails as "Bundles" that are named by type (e.g., "Travel" or "Updates" or any custom bundle you might decide to make). It also converts physical addresses into Google Maps links and airline confirmation numbers into a flight status update. Imagine if the cards Google Now had a baby with Gmail. That would pretty well sum up Google Inbox.

Currently, Google Inbox is invite-only. If you want to try it, you’ll either need to get an invite from a current user or you'll need to send an email to from your Gmail account and they’ll send you an invite when it’s ready. Once you get invited, you’ll have to install the Google Inbox app on either Android or iOS (links are provided in the invite). You should also go all-in and try Inbox on the Web, currently only available using Chrome, for a fully integrated experience.

The Google Inbox Android app has a look that's in-line with Google’s design concepts for the upcoming Android Lollipop. E-mail groups are presented in a card-based format in the center, and you can slide out the left panel to access your labels and other particulars. All of your existing mail, labels, and organizational filters are still in place, so, if you use Google Inbox, you won’t have to start from scratch. Tapping on an email brings it up, just like in Gmail’s current e-mail app.

What makes Google Inbox so useful isn’t its updated UI, though. Google Inbox has so many innovative features that it'll make your digital life easier. For example, Google Inbox now gives you the ability to mark an email as “Done” instead of just “Read.” All messages have a check-mark symbol, and tapping that will send it to the “Done” label, completely removing it from your to-do list. It’s similar to archiving mail, but more intuitive. If there’s a set of e-mails you don’t really need to read, like Social, you can click the check-slide icon to mark them all as "Done" and you won't ever have to see those annoying Facebook social update emails again. Google Inbox also gives you the ability to snooze messages for a later time. Have you ever gotten an e-mail but were too busy doing something else to think up a reply? When that happens, tapping the clock icon at the top of an open email will let you choose a time, place, or combination of both when Inbox will remind you of the mail. Until then, it goes away to keep your inbox uncluttered.

After using Google Inbox for a few days, I personally think that it's a great tool for managing my mail and if you're even remotely interested, you should try it yourself. And there's no obligation to keep Google Inbox is you don't like it. You can just remove the app from your phone and keep using the regular Gmail app.You definitely have to put in a little effort in order to effectively manage your inbox, but, once you've set up your labels, etc, Google Inbox is well worth it.