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7.10.15
It's my son Will's fifth birthday today, and I can't believe it's already been five years. He's been the most incredible thing in my life since the first second I saw him in the birthing room, and he gets a little more amazing every day. Like any kid, he has his bad moments—tantrums, disobedience, acting out, etc.—but he's kind, generous, and very empathetic to others, traits that will make this a harder life for him in some ways, but ones that also give him the possibility of becoming a truly extraordinary individual.

I'm so happy and proud to be part of his life. He makes being a good dad look easy, because he (generally) makes it very easy. I can't imagine experiencing this world without him, and I'm so glad that I get to spend all these years with him while he's becoming whoever it is that he's going to be as an adult.


7.9.15
I'm taking the day off tomorrow, and it's like the calendar gods know and have decided to punish me with a full day of meetings before my long weekend. My first one is at 9, and I have one every hour after that (including a working lunch) through 3. And at 3 I have a two hour conference call.

But once I get through it, I have a few fun days off with family. I'm going to start to lose steam around 1, but maybe the conference call (which shouldn't require a ton of my active participation this week) will end a little early.


7.8.15
It's going to be a complicated week guest-wise. My dad and stepmother arrive today for Will's birthday weekend (he turns 5 on Friday) and will stay with us until Friday, and then my mom, who also arrives today but who will stay with my sister initially, will switch with my dad and stepmother and she will stay with us and they will stay with my sister. We're supposed to do a full family dinner on Friday night, and then we're also planning to go out to my sister's (she lives about an hour away) on Saturday for a pool party and cookout.

My dad and stepmother will depart on Sunday, followed by my mom on Monday. I'm very happy that there are so many people in Will's life who want to come spend time with him on his birthday, especially because he also loves all of them so much, but with all the travel, etc., we've already had this summer, I'm also looking forward to a weekend or two of relative calm after this weekend.

And then it will almost be time for him to start kindergarten...


7.7.15
I've been trying to make plans to go see a movie with the father of one of Will's classmates (his name is Steve, and although we've had some good conversations at various kid-oriented gatherings, we've never hung out without our families in tow before) for a few weeks now, and our schedules finally synced up this week. Our plan was to see the new Avengers film, which neither of us had been able to catch yet, but unfortunately there were only afternoon showings in Atlanta, so that was a no-go.

We were debating between the new Terminator, Jurassic World, or Ex Machina, which I didn't know much about other than that it featured intelligent robots who started to strain under the yokes of their human masters. I knew Steve was into sci fi (one of our first conversations was about Neal Stephenson after I saw several of that author's volumes on his bookshelf when they hosted a party at their house), so I wasn't surprised when he voted for Ex Machina.

I came into this film with very little knowledge of the plot—I only knew that it had gotten great reviews and that it was already developing a cult following, but the intelligent robot premise was enough for me to be interested without knowing further details (I wonder how much better I would think many films are if I didn't feel like I already knew the whole premise and sometimes even the whole story before I watched a single frame because of trailers that give away far too much—that sense of mystery about the cinematic universe that you're being immersed in really adds to the experience of seeing a movie for the first time, and it's far too rare these days).

There may be more spoilers than you'd like if you are planning to see this but also don't know anything about it, so I'll give my quick review here: this film is incredibly written, shot, and acted, and if you like the idea of a psychologically intense, intellectual, sci fi thriller, you'll probably like this movie.

For the rest of you, I'll try to keep the specifics of the plot to a minimum, but I will go into more detail about the movie. It's an updated take on the Turing Test, the basics of which state that A.I. has been acheived when a human tester can't tell the difference between a computer program's responses and those from a genuine human respondant when having a conversation. This is explored in this film with a trio of characters: the super weird super genius who is the founder of a Google-like company (Nathan), a programmer from his company who he has selected to conduct the Turing Test on one of his creations (Caleb), and the intelligent robot who is being tested (Ava).

In addition to some simply beautiful set design and cinematography and some incredible acting by each of the main characters, this film succeeds because it really keeps you guessing. You are nominally supposed to sympathize with Caleb and see him as the protagonist, but there are moments of insanity from each of the three characters, and you really don't know who to believe or who to root for (I would argue that this is actually one of the most brilliant things about the movie: even after all is revealed, you still don't know who is good, who is evil, and who you're supposed to identify and empathize with, because all three of them deserve a little of each label).

All three performances are noteworthy, but Oscar Isaacson, who portrays Nathan, is a real standout—it's his portrayal of the mad genius that gives the film its edge and its intensity. You really have no idea what's going to come out of his mouth next, what his intentions are, and how his unpredictability and seeming madness are going to affect the other two characters. Before I looked at his IMDB page, I would have stated confidently that he's going to parlay this performance into a major Hollywood career, but then I checked and saw that he's already been cast as one of the leads in the three Star Wars sequels that are being overseen by J.J. Abrams and that he also has a big role in the next X-Men film, so I was right, but my prediction had already happened when I made it. But here's your chance to see just why he's going to be such a big star before The Force Awakens arrives this December.

Ex Machina's writer and director is Alex Garland, and while this is his directorial debut, he was responsible for writing two of my favorite sci fi films of the past decade, 28 Days Later and Sunshine (both of which were directed by Danny Boyle and starred Cillian Murphy). This might be better than either of those films, and it makes me eager to see what he'll do next now that he's proven he can not only write great movies but also helm the process of bringing them to the screen.

I imagine that he, like his actors, will be sucked into the world of big-budget moviemaking based on this film (in addition to Isaacson's Star Wars and X-Men roles, Caleb's Dohmnall Gleeson is also in the new Star Wars movies, and Ava's Alicia Vikander will be in the next Bourne sequel), but I'm hoping he'll find a way to make movies like this in between heading up franchise movies for Disney or Marvel. Movies like Ex Machina make me excited about taking the extra time and effort to actually go out and see movies in the theater, and while I'm fine with him getting a big payday out of this, we also need him to keep making more films that push the medium further.

Also: Steve really liked the movie, we had some good conversations, and we're going to hang out again soon. So the evening was doubly satisfying.


7.6.15
July 4 was pretty low key for us this year—no one had yet arrived for Will's birthday, and my sister who lives nearby was spending the weekend in the mountains with friends, so we didn't have to coordinate with anyone. We did have a couple of friends over—they have a son who is a few years older than Will but who doesn't mind hanging out with Will, and Will LOVES him, so we had a simple dinner of make-it-yourself deli sandwiches with potato salad, cole slaw, chips, pickles, etc., and our friends brought some dessert.

We set off some sparklers and gave the boys some glow necklaces, and then around 7:45 we walked to downtown Decatur, hoping to sit on top of the same parking deck that we found last year to watch the fireworks from (it's right across from the parking deck where they actually set off the fireworks, so it has a great view and for some reason it wasn't that crowded last year). But the police were shooing everyone away and directing us to a closed-off street nearby. It was kind of disappointing not to be able to sit on the deck, but we found a spot on a sidewalk that had just as good a view, so it wasn't that big a deal.

The rest of the weekend was pretty lazy—we went to church for the first time in what feels like a couple of months, and we ran some errands and took a walk around the neighborhood, but otherwise had an unremarkable long weekend.


7.2.15
Heading into the office for the last day before the long weekend. I'm going to guess that I will easily make up more than 10% of the people who show up for work today...


7.1.15
Over the weekend we took Will to see Inside Out, the first non-sequel Pixar film since Up except for Brave (which most Pixar fans would agree was a bit of a miss for the company) since 2009, which just happens to be directed by Up's director. And, not surprisingly, it's easily the company's best film since Up.

The premise seems complicated—part of the movie takes place in the world we know, with a preteen girl and her family's move from a small town in Minnesota to San Francisco, and all of the emotional trauma she encounters when she loses her friends and the way of life she's known since she was born, and the other part takes place inside her head, with five primary emotions taking turns at her brain's control panel depending on her mood and her stress levels. The filmmakers quickly educate you as to the rules of this inner world, and the way they describe it makes it very easy to map to your own experiences (or, if you are a parent, to the experiences of your child).

It's wonderfully emotional and funny for adults, but it's also simple enough for kids to grasp and has enough story that they won't get bored, even if they're not quite capable of grasping all the nuances of what's happening in this girl's life. What really makes it work is the voice acting—with Phyllis Smith (from The Office) as Sadness, Amy Poehler as Joy, and Lewis Black as Anger, the casting is nearly perfect especially because, even once you recognize who the voice belongs to, these actors really inhabit the characters and make you forget that you're listening to them—you just hear the characters.

I'm happy to see this rebound from a company whose works I have loved since the first Toy Story, but I'm still a little concerned about their future plans. Three of their four movies preceding Inside Out were sequels, and only Toy Story 3 could be credibly put in the same category as the film that it was born from—and this isn't even counting the two Planes movies, which are officially labeled as Disney films even though they are also officially described as spin-offs from the Cars universe (which would make five of the previous six films spin-offs or sequels if you included them).

And while the next Pixar movie, The Good Dinosaur, is also an original property that is scheduled for release later this year, the known slate of Pixar films returns mostly to sequels after that—aside from an untitled film about the Mexican Day of the Dead the not much is known about, we have a sequel to Finding Nemo, a sequel to The Incredibles, another Toy Story (!), and yet another Cars film (!!!), despite the fact that Cars 2 is universally considered to be the worst film Pixar has ever made.

Pixar said a few years ago that it's intention was to release one original film a year and rely less on sequels, but looking at their films since that time and at what they have on the drawing board, that statement is ringing increasingly hollow. And I'm sure it's hard to resist making the sequels, because I'm guessing they're a lot less work and they have a guaranteed audience, so it's almost like printing money, and given their ownership by Disney, they're not going to be able to let artistic principles get in the way of profit.

Which is really too bad, because almost every original Pixar film has been an instant classic that pushed the medium forward in ways that even their best competition have never come close to with Pixar's consistency. Adding to the problem is that only a few of their existing properties have any possiblity of a sequel—you're never (I hope) going to make another Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille or (god willing) Inside Out, meaning you have to keep going back to the Cars/Toy Story/Monsters well until they have been sucked dry. And when one of these sequels falls short, it somehow diminishes the entire franchise, and it's a shame to see them risk the legacies of some truly great films just for the near-guarantee of making another huge pile of money.

But I digress. Inside Out is a terrific film, and you should go see it, especially if you tend to like Pixar's movies.


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