30 November 2019

The High Stakes Dinner Dare


A few weeks ago, my roommate decided to try a vegan diet for health reasons. I went along with the idea for moral support. The results of this diet were very, very mixed. In fact, more often than not, they were total busts. Let the record show I gave it a fair shake, and at least one of the dishes was rather pleasurable. As for the rest, I simply don't feel it's going to work out for me. The persistent problem with the majority of recipes we came across was one of blandness. To overcome this, the recipes insisted on a hefty spice regimen that did little more than give an all-heat-no-flavor aftertaste that often accompanies many sophomoric attempts at Mexican or Indian dishes. The other problem was these recipes' insistence on substitution. That is, instead of a fully vegan dish, we got "veganized" versions of otherwise omnivore-friendly offerings. The most egregious example of this was the mac & cheese. It called for a type of yeast that's meant to imitate cheese. 

It was bad. 

There's no kind way of putting it. It was awful. To be completely fair to it, I suppose I was a bit biased in favor of something that would fool me into thinking I was eating true and proper cheese. This set my bar likely higher than it should have been and netted the kind of result that Wolfgang Pauli would describe as "not even wrong." I'd rather go without cheese than settle for a pale imitation. That said, some imitations work better than others. 

I've already talked at length about the Impossible Whopper and touched on my newfound quest to try every "veggie" burger on offer by major restaurants and fast food chains (Red Robin is next on the agenda). In addition, we've been subscribing to HelloFresh for several weeks and have selected their vegetarian options almost exclusively. The sole exception was when we decided to go with a meat dish that would arrive in time for Thanksgiving

It was a sirloin steak dish with a heaping helping of roasted carrots and potatoes. My plan was simple. It had been well over a month since I last had any kind of meat dish. In fact, I think it was a pretzel burger that Burger King was offering at the time. I got one when my roommate's first ordered the Impossible Whopper so if it went bust I had a backup. The whole vegetarian thing was working out way better than I thought, and ordering sirloin steak was kind of a final test of sorts. My thinking was that once I got things going, once I ripped into the package, rubbed in the spices, laid the steaks on the skillet, cut into them, and got a few good whiffs in, I'd be wolfing down the whole thing with gusto and vigor. Ever have one of those cravings for something you haven't had in a very long time coming to you completely out of the blue and occupying your thoughts until you basically have no choice to go out and grab it? That's what I was expecting to preempt. 

No such thing happened. 

The more I cooked it, basted it, cut into it, and nibbled on it, the more unpleasant the whole experience was. I didn't feel ill or anything like I've heard some vegetarians get when they even think of eating meat. It was something more abstract. It was almost like I felt disappointed, as if the whole process from preparation to palate wasn't just anticlimactic, but detrimental and wasteful. It was all a great big "So what?" moment. I was unimpressed and unmoved, and the fact I could have been making something else I'd have enjoyed far more got me a little down to boot. 

So there you have it. Barring any spontaneous lusts for McNuggets at 1 in the morning, I'm  fully vegetarian now, though not especially strict. Dairy is still part of the equation, as are eggs (though I typically only use those when baking cookies or beer bread), and I'm sure there are certain dishes that employ broths or other similar byproducts that will catch me unawares. Plus, there's the whole "made in the vicinity of X" paradigm (i.e. the Impossible Whopper being made on the same grill as the "possible" patties), but these are generally unavoidable, and hardly objectionable. Should we move away from animal products? Maybe, but we're talking about literal centuries of undoing. Domestication of animals is as old as human civilization itself, if not a little older considering hunting dogs back when we sat huddled in caves wondering where the sun went at night. Speaking of animals and fear... 

My stance on not eating meat has nothing to do with ethics, much as I respect those who cite the treatment of farm animals as an impetus for their conviction. I can even say I had my own "meet the meat" situation. My roommate's brother had a pig on his farm he intended to slaughter. While visiting, I was asked to go and feed the pig. I had been hoping this wouldn't be asked of me, but I didn't refuse out of respect. With slop bucket in hand, I made my way to the pen, filled the trough, and promptly decided I lacked the resolve to eat anything that may possibly be made by the butchering of this beast. It wasn't even cute, like a lamb or a cow, or even little suckling pigs. It was a big, gross slab of bacon-to-be that could barely move. There was no lack of sympathy, mind. I'm not going to dismiss eating an animal I've literally met in person because I don't like its face. It was more of a big picture situation. Here was this animal, one specifically raised not only from its own birth to be slaughtered for its meat, but engineered through generations of selective breeding to be as good at possibly being a meal as it could be. We can talk about the role eating meat played in our evolution, making our brains bigger and allowing us to survive various environmental conditions because we didn't have to rely solely on the plant life for sustenance. This isn't saying it was all a mistake, only it makes the decision of abstaining from its consumption feel like moving on rather than taking a step back. 

It rather puts that scene from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in perspective (specifically, the second book, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe), wherein a large, pig-like creature is fully aware of its role in the food chain, and can not only vocalize its opinion about it, but is utterly welcoming of the prospect of becoming some diner's dish du jour. The punchline of the joke is that this degree of genetic engineering was necessitated by objections from plant-based creatures openly and vehemently vocalizing their disdain for being the stuff of salads and shakes. 

I don't begrudge anyone who still has both feet planted firmly in camp omnivore. You've got canines for a reason besides stubborn packaging when scissors aren't around. I do wish we'd all take a step back and look at how meat intensive our diets are, how much farmland we're devoting to cattle, pigs, and poultry when it could well be used for fruits and vegetables, grains and nuts, and how this wouldn't affect the farms' bottom lines one bit. Again, this isn't me preaching or shaming anyone. I'm a devout hedonist. I get it. If you've got it, flaunt it. You see food, you eat it. Obviously, going vegetarian isn't as easy for some people as others depending on where you live and what kind of lifestyle you've made for yourself. This is simply another perspective to consider. You never know what you may discover.

For instance, one of my favorite discoveries is truffle zest. Mix a dash of it with sour cream and either olive oil or water to get the right drizzling consistency, and it's a dandy dipping sauce. Best way to find truffles? Rent a hog.

No one eats the pig. We get truffles. Everybody wins. 

19 October 2019

Impossible Meat

Gave the Impossible Whopper a go. 
... I am impressed. It won't fool anybody, though not in the way you may think. If I hadn't been told it was a plant-based burger patty, I would have simply thought it was a well-done, if slightly dry burger patty. Visually, the only thing that gave it away was the color; as I said, it looked well-done, not pink in the slightest. The texture was spot on and it smelled of the same char-broil as anything else on the menu. It didn't taste like meat, mostly because it wasn't juicy, but it didn't taste like a substitute, if that makes sense. 

The last time I had a "veggie" burger years ago, the thing was essentially a giant tater tot, as if someone tried to cook a hash brown like a burger patty. That's not a bad thing, mind, but when I eat a burger, never once do I think, "You know what this needs? Crispy potatoes." and not just because I've already got a plate of crispy, salty fries performing exactly that purpose with flying colors. I am curious about the Hula Burger. It's not technically available anywhere, but there are similar recipes out there. The Hula Burger was originally created by McDonald's as part of a competition to determine its new Lent-Friendly options. The other sandwich in this competition is the (in)famous Filet-O-Fish. The Hula Burger uses a slice of pineapple in place of the burger patty, the preparation typically involving gentle marination as well as light grilling. The Filet-O-Fish not only won the competition, but became a year-round staple of the Golden Arches' menu instead of some holdover for 40 days out of the year for a specific demographic. 



To put my thoughts on vegetarianism and veganism in perspective, there's a classic episode of Doctor Who I love called The Green Death. It focuses on this progressive hippie colony and their run-ins with an evil mega corporation run by a narcissistic supercomputer. One of the supporting characters, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, is enjoying a nice meal with the hippies and compliments them on the fine roast beef they've been eating. The head of the group chuckles and explains that they have not been eating beef. They've been developing a high-protein fungus. Essentially, they've been eating a giant mushroom. The Brigadier, a very rational man and no stranger to the regular combination of steak and red wine, is almost angry about it. He simply cannot accept that what they've been eating is anything but beef. Everyone has a good laugh at his being do dumbfounded and the scene moves on to the main plot. That's basically my stance on the whole "meat alternatives" business. Give me something that looks and tastes near as makes no difference to the real thing, add in making it more sustainable and easier to source, and I'm totally on board with literally thinning the herds for the sake of freeing up more farmland. 

I don't think I could ever go vegan; I love cheese too much, and I don't know of a way to make pretzel bread without egg wash, to say nothing of my legendary peanut butter cookies requiring an egg. I have occasionally thought about going vegetarian, mostly for health purposes as I rocket towards 40 at the speed of life. It's less of a logistical nightmare compared to going vegan, though I realized my transition to herbivore would involve a lot of tree nuts and a lot of potatoes... and cheese. 

21 July 2019

A Random Thought To Keep The Light On

I've been abhorrent in terms of keeping this blog updated, barely sticking to my monthly pledge. In my defense, it's not for lack of trying, only a lack of motivation. It's been a rough few months on a personal level, a lot of travel, a few happenings, some emergencies here and there, and the stress gets to me. I've got at least three drafts for the past several months, but they haven't gone beyond that, mostly because the "moment" of investment passed. Nobody cares about Brightburn and I've said plenty about Far From Home elsewhere. Movie reviews simply aren't that interesting to me most of the time. What I do want to talk about in relation to movies is a movie I've been searching for for years and haven't gotten a single clue about. 

I only saw the trailer. It had to be at least 20 years ago. Part of the reason it sticks in my mind is that although I saw it on television, it was completely in a foreign language, even the narration. I want to say it was in French, but I can't be sure. It was so out of the blue for this totally foreign advertisement to insert itself into the airwaves. I remember I even saw it more than once, so clearly this was a thing that someone somewhere wanted to hype to high heaven. There was no release date beyond what I can only surmise was a "coming soon" or some other vague time frame. 

As for what it was about, I have only images and flashes, so it's entirely possible my memory has substituted certain details for others. Anyway, the central "event" the trailer harps on is two people bumping heads in a pool. That's the most concrete thing I can recall, a man and a woman, underwater, swimming straight into each other. There's a scene of one of them in a hospital bed (the woman, I think) talking to a nurse or orderly, with the camera very, very far back. The title was something rather long, practically a sentence, and it was overlaid on the same shot as the head-bump, looking up from the bottom of a swimming pool. For all I know, it's either a barebones romantic comedy with an exotic location or it's some magic realism farce about people swapping bodies Freaky Friday-style. 

I wrote a description slightly less detailed than what I've got above over on Yahoo! Answers but didn't get a single bite. I even remember asking a South Korean friend I've since lost touch with if she recognized anything because she's a colossal French film buff. Nobody seems to know a damn thing about this movie and I'm almost wondering if I could have made it up. Funnily enough, Quora isn't exactly set up for long, detailed questions, but jumping off my point about a possible false memory, someone on Quora shared with me that they were convince for years the movie Space Jam was just some dream he had. It's one of those quirky little things about our memories, how they can be so vivid and at other times so fuzzy we literally can't tell them from dreams or even our own imagination. This is where I'd also bring up the Mandela Effect, but I'd rather focus on this mysterious foreign film trailer from the forever ago. 

Maybe someday I'll tell you all the tale of how for years I never knew there was a second half to Logan's Run beyond Logan and Jessica ascending the steps of the Lincoln Memorial

28 April 2019

When To Hold 'Em, When to Fold 'Em

So, we've had two major developments in consumer technology, both having to do with flexible displays. The first of these is the delay of the Samsung Galaxy Fold phones, following a number of review units breaking. Some of these incidents were due to user error, namely the removal of what appeared to be a screen protector from the display. Others seemed to be simple wear-and-tear in a relatively short amount of time. First iteration gremlins aside, the device does not seem to be offering what users expected in terms of form and function. Marques Brownlee in particular noted the clumsiness of the hinge and how more often than not it simply felt like he had two small phones in his pocket rather than one large one. He did give the device a little credit when he addressed viewer concerns of the "crease" in the middle of the display only being noticeable in certain lighting conditions and/or whenever users are actively looking for it. 

The hype over the folding phones, the various proof-of-concepts teased last year and a few prototypes for hands-on demos from the likes of Huawei, is completely underwhelming to me. I have absolutely zero use for a folding display. I'm hard-pressed to think of an instance in which the thought occurred, "If only I could fold up this display and tuck it away." That's not entirely fair, though. If one of my Moleskines could bend and give like a softcover when I don't need it and lay flat as a hardcover when I do, that would be pretty cool. Trouble is, that's not what the Fold, nor any other folding display phone, is offering. What it's offering is to open and close like a book, but display as a single page. Contrast this with two devices, the Nintendo DS and the Sony Tablet P, and suddenly the Galaxy Fold becomes a solution looking for a problem, a step down from a novelty. The DS had more than a few titles that had the user hold the DS on its side, with the left and right screens displaying pages like a book. The Tablet P never quite made the most of its dual displays, but that was more of a software issue (Android) than a hardware problem. 

Still, I'm not being fair. As I said, I have no use for a folding display. I'm clearly not the target audience for a device like this. It all speaks to a fundamental disconnect between how I see tablets, and how the general public sees them. I think my brother put it best when we were talking about the original iPad back in the day. I was expecting a productivity machine, a touchscreen Macbook, not an oversized iPhone. From this perspective, the iPad is terrible, a step back, borderline insulting to the creative spirit of Apple users. However, as a consumption device, a means for appreciating various media, it's a Victorinox-style music player, television, and e-book reader. Time has blurred this line, with no shortage of productivity apps along with all the fun stuff. The iPad is still far from being the laptop replacement Apple wants us to believe it is, but it can certainly hold its own against a Chromebook. It's still my choice platform for making digital art. From that perspective, the Galaxy Fold is terrible. I can just see it folding up in my hand as I push down with my stylus just a little too hard, or my lines across the middle not being nearly as straight as they could be, little hiccups interrupting smooth pen strokes. 

I haven't yet found a single Fold review in which anyone attempts to use Autodesk Sketchbook or Medibang. Between that and Samsung not enabling the S-Pen for it, I'm thinking it's either so extraordinarily unremarkable it's irrelevant, or my visions are prophetic. The simple fact is that carrying around an iPad Pro just about everywhere is something I resigned myself to. It's no more of a hassle or headache or added bit of bulk than when I carried around an 8 x 5 sketchbook everywhere. 

Speaking of carrying something around everywhere with little to no hassle, the second recent development may have its own share of issues, but I'm far more optimistic about it than the Fold. The Nubia Alpha is easily the smartest use of a flexible display I've seen thus far, its focus being less on folding and more on wrapping. It's not trying to put a bigger thing in a smaller package. It's doing something entirely different. It's invented a new form of screen real estate, expanding the clock face onto the rest of the band. It rather reminds me of Sony's little-known "smart wristband" the Wena, which lets you keep your existing watch while delegating the smart features to a tiny display in the band. 



Remember what I said about wanting to be able to roll and bend a Moleskine softcover yet have it lay flat when I needed to draw or write in it? Well, the Alpha isn't trying to be that for me. It doesn't have to, and I would never ask that of it. It's not exactly on any wishlists of mine right now (I'm no early adopter and my FitBit works just fine), but I'm watching this far more closely than any other flexible display out there. 

13 April 2019

Self-Branding

I've been with Blogger since May of 2008, making it the oldest website I've used that's still standing today besides DeviantART (which was December of 2007). Yahoo 360 and Multiply are long gone, as are the message boards from IMDB. I've never bothered with MySpace, and I recently culled much of my Facebook page to keep it to a "friends and family" platform. If there's anyone on Facebook I haven't met in person that I'm not related to, it's because I know them from Yahoo 360
I also have a Wordpress page I've used since 2014. Originally it was meant to replace this site as there had been some concerns that Blogger would either be discontinued or otherwise abandoned. On the whole, my only real issue with Wordpress is all the damn paywalls. I get that certain features come with a premium for the site to create revenue, but it's all over the map as to what features come with what plan. To compare, Blogger lets me put my Ko-Fi button in the sidebar of my page without any fuss. Wordpress won't even let me do that with the personal plan I recently splurged on. I have to get their business plan if I want to add any kind of plug-in to the page. I can have a full domain name, but I can't embed a button. I may try and transfer the domain once the 60-day window is up. 
In any case, I don't plan on leaving Blogger any time soon. 

02 April 2019

Jumbo Shrimp


It's not bad, but it's borderline forgettable and hollow. I'm hard-pressed to recall an instance of seeing a weaker story told with less conviction. All the ingredients are there. We're introduced to this big cast of colorful characters, and the half that aren't lost on how to play their parts only get maybe 5 full minutes of characterization out of the entire runtime. So, when our merry band of misfits all rally together to save the day, all I can think is, "and you guys are...?" 
The art direction is rock solid and the score is beautiful, but the story bites off more than it can chew in an attempt to pad out the plot of the original, which has now been reduced to a 20-minute abridgment serving as the opening act. The rest is equally hurried and scattered, as though bored with its own concept which at times feels borrowed from other movies. The pink elephants do make an appearance, but I doubt it will be long before we seen side-by-side screencaps of it and the opera scene from Revenge of the Sith
Of all the forthcoming live-action/realistic CG versions of Disney classics coming out this year, this was the one I was most looking forward to because it seemed like it was going to offer more than a scene-by-scene reenactment of the source material. Technically, I got what I wanted, using the original premise as a jumping-off point to tell a bigger story. Unfortunately, that bigger story is so thinly-spread and half-hearted in execution even the finale feels like padding, all half-finished ideas and tired platitudes. 

Full disclosure: "Baby Mine" still makes me cry. 

30 March 2019

Playstation Plus

The newest round of free games was announced for Playstation Plus a few days ago and it made me a little sad. It's the second month since Sony announced that PS3 and Vita games would no longer be featured in the monthly lineup of free games for members. This was inevitable; the PS3 had long since proven it could have a 10-year life cycle and even beyond, once and for all debunking that arbitrary 5-year cycle that somehow came to be accepted as fact somewhere between the 16-bit generation and the first Playstation. Still, it leaves me a little melancholy as the last 2 months of offerings have only yielded 4 games in total. It's clear Sony is trying to make up for the lack of platforms by offering fewer, but higher-end games. Before that, a player would get maybe a half-dozen total titles, most of them smaller, indie games or older titles that already had their time in the spotlight. 
Without getting into some long-winded explanation for what Plus is, the best way to describe it is a Jelly-of-the-month club. If you're old enough to remember Time Life books or if you're a fan of monthly subscription boxes like Loot Crate or Blue Apron, you've got a pretty good idea of how the system works. The important added caveat is that if you ever cancel your Plus membership, you will not be able to play any of the free games you've gotten up to that point. That's probably the dealbreaker for a number of people, that they're not so much "free" as much as they're "included," which is perfectly understandable. 
The first two games I ever got while having a Plus membership were Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light and Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine, which meant that first year pretty much paid for itself. This trend continued with some dry months and a few awesome months, at no point ever feeling like I was paying too much. It was set-and-forget as far as I cared. I've built up a massive, massive library of games. I don't think it comes anywhere near the library of my PS2 back in the day, but it's sizable nonetheless. It's big enough that I feel a little guilty when I buy a game. I'll often go through the list beforehand to see that I'm not buying one type of game when I've already got a perfectly good example of the genre on hand. Unfortunately for anyone jumping on board Plus right now, they don't get that back catalog as I've taken advantage of. 
PSPlus is not for everyone, and that's especially the case now. while I don't plan on getting rid of my Plus membership anytime soon, let it be known the selection is going to have to work that much harder to impress me every month. I'm more likely to recommend PSNow than Plus to anyone getting a PS4

17 March 2019

Coffee Got Scooped


Full Disclosure: I love Kurzgesagt, and I never heard of the Coffee Break channel before Phil De Franco brought the controversy to my attention. 
Much like James Gunn's tweets from years ago being brought back by alt-right trolls, Coffee Break had to go pretty far back in the Kurzgesagt archives to find a problematic video. Specifically, the video on addiction was published back in 2015, almost 4 years ago. This fact alone doesn't do Coffee Break any favors in his effort to look like some sort of vox populi. To paraphrase Cenk Uygur, if you need to dig that far back into someone's past and that's the worst you can find, any way but straight back up is digging yourself a deeper hole.
Coffee Break is a modestly-sized YouTube channel; its 315K subscriber account is nothing to sneeze at, but it's dwarfed by Kurzgesagt's 8 million and counting. It's easy to play the jealousy card, but it's just as easy to play the David vs. Goliath one as well, and given how Coffee Break paints himself in this story, I'd say this makes us even. The saving grace of the former is that no one suffers the double whammy of a concussion and a sword in the back should the confrontation go south. 

It's absolutely adorable that Coffee Break thinks Kurzgesagt can pump out a fully-scripted and animated video in the course of roughly a month, as if the team was able to drop everything and start work on getting ahead of this controversy. The reason the deck often seems so stacked against animation on YouTube is that whenever it isn't an expensive venture, it's exceedingly time-consuming. Animation software has done wonders for lone wolves, but it's several decades and some serious AI developments away from being set-and-forget. 

Coffee Break still insists the video is a rush job spurred by his digging, and maybe it is, but the quagmire of conspiratorial accusations he attaches to this claim paints a picture of a salty, embittered nonentity's 15 minutes in the spotlight not being on his own terms. At present, the dis/like ratio on his would-be expose is almost 50/50, though slightly more folks in his favor than the factual flock. Maybe that half-and-half would have persisted regardless of Kurzgesagt's transparency, possibly with a dip in the total number of directional thumbs. Maybe Coffee Break's audience would have ruled the roost while the rest of the site continued to trust Kurzgesagt

All I want to know is how his coffee smells without his nose. (18/4/19 UPDATE: He gets it)

This story doesn't simply stick out to me because I'm a fan of the factual flock, but also because Coffee Break's situation hits me a little close to home, and I've been given a glimpse into the other side of a coin toss and all that would have emerged from it. This site has fancied itself on reviews, typically of movies, but also of the occasional bit of kit, and even some software here and there. The pattern is typically that an item is released into the public, the public reacts, voices their opinions, and then that's kind of the end of the story. It's a pattern I've been thinking about a lot lately, and over the past year or so I've come to the revelation that this pattern is not only antiquated for reasons I'll get into, but also needlessly divisive and utterly unhelpful to most involved. 
In this age of social media, production and consumption have gone from being acquaintances to practically full-blown marriage. Feedback is immediate, lines of communication are rarely closed, and the initial purchase of said media-to-be-consumed is not the end of the transaction. Those in the PC gaming master race know full well I'm going to bring up patches, a concept that's only gotten more efficient as internet connections get faster and can handle larger files. Release dates suddenly become sliding scales of quality assurance, and for the most part a lot of people don't really mind. There may be some initial grumblings among the eager few when their brand-new lost-weekend-in-a-box can't even get past its opening title screen before taking a sharp right off the road and into the leafy cudgels of a whomping willow, but few problems are so first world as having to wait a few weeks for a video game to become properly playable. The disappointment rarely lingers, and typically it may only do so as some kind of statement about a larger trend. 

I once stood poised to give a company endless grief over a discount code they gave me not working. The week before I was ready to post the review, the app went free. Suddenly, I didn't have a leg to stand on. Was I mad? No, maybe a little frustrated for all of about 30 seconds because those outlining paragraphs I'd spent time filling out being rendered wholly inaccurate. At the end of the day, I got what I truly wanted. I wanted the damn app to work. It's one matter to expose obvious fraud and deception, it's quite another to strongarm someone into a situation where their only recourse towards making the situation right is to lie. 

05 January 2019

2019

I don't like New Year's Resolutions, not because they're unrealistic and onerous, but because they're laid out on an arbitrary and unnecessary timeline. It's like the so-called Holiday Spirit. It's disappointing that we push all these charity drives and giving sprees to the end of the year, as if to say, "You've all been such good little needy folk this year, here's your reward. We wanted to make sure it's what you truly needed. Now run along, you little scamps." 

Yes, that's very cynical and hyperbolic, and I don't pretend it's the norm or the reality, more a kind of mental distillation of behaviors observed in others through a lens as myopic as it is mortal. It's as much a nagging voice in the back of my head as it is a patronizing condescension to everyone else I'm repeating it to. We're all in this together, and that's precisely my point.

It's never too late to do the right thing, and it's also never too early. If there's something you want to improve about yourself, especially in regards to how you treat others (all the good thoughts in existence will never have one-tenth the impact of a single good deed), then don't wait for some calendar to roll over a digit or two. 

09 December 2018

BrightBurn Trailer Analysis

Brightburn looks like something I may have stumbled across on Netflix or seen as a demo reel on IndyMogul. I'm not saying that to knock it, but I can't help but feel if James Gunn's name wasn't plastered all over this trailer in light of his unfair and widely-publicized dismissal by Disney from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this might be regarded as a novelty, a mostly good idea that may or may not be enough to sustain a 90-minute runtime. 



I've got not problem with superhero movies that aren't directly adapting any existing material, and plenty of superheroes share origins along with powers that anybody yelling "rip-off" is a bit late to the party. Superman is a little bit of an odd duck because the "alien orphan" origin has only even been repeated for the sake of parody (Megamind). On that note, to anyone who thinks, "What if Superman were evil?" is in any way edgy or compelling or unsettling as a concept, I lean in and whisper in response, "That's what General Zod is for." Look, the Man of Steel has been around for over 70 years. The lore around him has become a multiverse unto itself, with every possible scenario regarding his morality played out in some way, shape, or form. He's been cloned/weaponized, brainwashed, hypnotized, driven insane, and that's not even putting the General Zod issue in perspective by bringing up all the other extraordinarily powerful adversaries Supes has had to fight off. The Evil Kryptonian is a weak enough proposition on its own merits that even stripping away the other superhero trappings to use as framework for a monster movie isn't blazing any trails. 

That said, on the subject of superhero horror: I'm there. I am so there. It's the only part of that Fant4stic Four reboot which really worked for the narrative and delivered on some genuine tension, even if it had to come at the expense of some pretty egregious character assassination. Seriously, why do villains in these movies have to become so cookie-cutter compared to their source material? We might as well give them all top hats and handlebar mustaches. 

Speaking of motivation (or lack thereof), the trailer implies a revenge angle (a la Carrie), the downtrodden kid getting back at the bullies who mocked him. However, we don't see anything like that. We see him scrawling an emblem over and over again in a notebook along with some voiceover exposition from Elizabeth Banks' character about general life hardships, but we don't have any obvious setup for a motivation. I could call this a flaw, but I actually think it might be a kind of subtle genius; there is no motivation for our menace. In fact, trying to force us to view a movie monster through the lens of a comic book superhero is humbly disarming, the terror bordering on existential. 

I can't find any exact figures on the budget, but horror doesn't lend itself to outlandish production values as their appeal and lasting qualities often have more to do with what you don't see than what you do. They also work best when they're as down-to-earth as possible, at least as a setup before all the terror sets in and disrupts your idyllic Americana-infused backdrop. Much of the psychology of horror is taking something mundane and ordinary to the point of inconsequential and making it into something that can hurt or kill you... or worse. On that front, this is hitting all the right notes: a quiet kid in an anonymous midwestern town is suddenly an uncontrollable force of nature bent on destruction and no one is equipped to handle the situation. 

Speaking of handling the situation, even if this is what could called a "medium budget" horror film with an emphasis on spectacle, it does limit the narrative in terms of resolution. Kevin Smith (in)famously scaled back the original, apocalyptic ending for Red State as it would have quadrupled the budget. Chronicle, another early example of superheroes played up as monsters, had a similarly more grandiose ending scrapped in favor of something more nuanced and ambiguous. Based on that, as well as this trailer, I'm going to throw down a spoiler warning and speculate on how Brightburn may end. Place your bets, cats and kittens; we can't let sports have all the fun. 

Much of the tension in the trailer not concerned with him discovering his powers comes from a scene of him being uncontrollably drawn to the spaceship that brought him to earth (kept a secret from him by Ma and Pa Not The Kents From Smallville). If I were asked to write a superhero horror movie but keep it simple (read: cheap) I could foresee two possible endings, the first of which involves that spaceship. If we're using it as some kind of narrative Macguffin for the plot to hinge upon, the obvious ending would be for his cradle to be his grave, so to speak. There's a writer's device known as Chekov's Gun, named for the playwright. It goes: If there's a gun on the mantle in the first act, someone had better be dead from it by the third. The inherent advice offered in this quip is to remove any unnecessary detail from your script. The other side of the coin spins it into a workaround for Deus Ex Machina, an ending that comes out of left field with no precedent set. As an example, I'm going to bring up Event Horizon, as I'm often wont to do in any discussion of horror movies. In that film, it's mentioned early on that the midsection of the ship is lined with explosive charges, meant as a last resort safety measure to separate the front of the ship from its engine. It is mentioned in the alpha, thus it becomes our omega. That's an oversimplification, but the point remains that it doesn't come out of left field because we pointed in its direction and said, "Hey, left field's that way and it packs a wallop." If Brightburn is Superman, then maybe his ship was powered by Kryptonite, or is lined with the stuff, or has a manual for how to make it, or what have you. If it is what gives him his powers, maybe it holds what may also take them away. It waxes a tad myopic, but for my money I would call them solid enough nuts and bolts to hold a narrative together. I wouldn't love it, but I would appreciate what it had to do given its circumstances. 

The cast list reveals two names for our super, one labeled as "young" and the other as "adult." Barring any accelerated aging (say, as part of his powers developing), this mostly throws a wrench in the works as to the Chekov's Gun idea for a resolution. This leads me to the ending I would personally prefer, one that ends with the start of a reign of terror. Something people often don't realize about the Alien franchise is that across all of them, the alien always wins. No, really, the alien always wins. Even when it's defeated, it's not only temporary, but such a costly defeat that our survivors end up in worse situations than when they started. Some argue what kind of narrative that is, to have their investment in our heroes overcoming impossible odds not pan out. It's a fair point, but I would ask then where it's written that horror movies need happy endings with all the toys put back in the box? I mean, does anyone watch an adaptation of a Shakespearean tragedy thinking maybe this time no one has to die? 

Going back to Chekov's Kryptonite, there is a third possible outcome, one presented by our voiceover from Not Ma Kent, about there being good in our Little Orphan Anarchy. He may well see the light, recognize he can use his powers for good, and shed his villain persona. Maybe they'll even cheekily end it on the arrival of a true and proper adversary, complete with a "THE END?" card before the credits roll. 

I would hate such an ending. That is the bar I would set for betrayal, a desperate attempt to unring the bell and make some point about redemption to go along with our messiah tropes. That kind of character psychology and pondering is wasted on spine-tingling chills and thrills, however effectively those sensations are delivered. 

I want the superhero horror sub-genre to persist, and I certainly don't want The New Mutants to bear that burden all by itself, but I wonder if Brightburn will deliver the super strength needed to make that happen.