Brian Boeckman is a Washington, D.C. based commercial photographer and filmmaker.


Brian Boeckman's blog about portrait photography and video production.

What did I just watch?

Part of the magic of Siskel and Ebert, was that Ebert judged movies for their intended audience. Siskel would quip “Parents will be bored to death by this movie” before Ebert would point out that the movie is made to entertain toddlers. Thus Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is held to a different standard than The King’s Speech, despite employing the same thumbs up / thumbs down rating system. There are plenty of movies that are admittedly not made for me. The Fast and The Furious? No thanks. Brooklyn? Turned it off after fifteen minutes. I don’t bother critiquing them beyond admitting I didn’t watch. I generally try to keep my expectations for movies non-existent, so I’m either pleasantly surprised or totally apathetic.

My main gripe about movies in their current form, beyond the fact that most of them are unwatchable marketing vehicles, is that they aren’t about story at all, and are entirely judged on messaging and virtue signaling. I don’t care what John McClane’s character represents about masculinity in an intersectionalist context. It only matters to me that his actions serve the plot and his character develops somewhat over 100 minutes. There is a legitimate argument about representation to be made, but it is a larger symptom of casting and the financial risk of sinking millions of dollars behind a name no one recognizes. The worst way to combat this problem in my opinion, is to double down on the franchise model and make racial or gender specific versions of movies that already exist. Do we need an all women version of Ocean’s 11? Why does it need to exist in the same universe, no one doubts that women can be sophisticated criminals. If one changed three names in Ocean’s 8 it could exist instead on its own merit. Ghostbusters might be a little tougher, but it could still be it’s own movie if it wanted to be.

I had no desire to see Booksmart. The previews boasted a half-assed Apatow modern comedy, with lots of gratuitous, slow-motion party shots. When I read a glowing review, four stars on Ebert’s own website, I thought maybe it would be worth checking out. I could barely find a seat in DC, every theater was almost completely sold out this weekend. It felt like a sign. As it turns out the movie is Superbad!, recast with female characters, but instead of aspiring towards modern classic, it hits somewhere near Neighbors 2: Sorority Uprising. Another unnecessary, female-skewed remake.

Booksmart has no heart. It’s two Gilmore Girls spin off characters spitting witty dialogue at lightning speed trying to get to a party. I hesitate to call them characters, because all we really know about them is that they are nerds. They have no redeeming qualities beyond their grades. The other kids at school are mean to them because they don’t party. One of them is a lesbian, though its the sidekick because making the main character gay would be perhaps too intersectional? Her strict, religious parents are totally cool with it for some reason, leading to no conflict whatsoever. The other kids at the school don’t seem to give her any trouble either, so it has no real impact on the story other than being a mundane detail. The main character is overweight and conventionally unattractive, though no one in the movie criticizes her appearance in the slightest. Despite these traits which could lead to some interesting character development, it is not mentioned to signal that people should more accepting of others. What a wonderful lesson.

The characters are let off easy. This has the effect of making them less likable because we don’t see them overcome their situation and be real people. Instead we are supposed to like these girls because the sidekick is spending her gap year before college “making tampons in Botswana”. While that’s a funny scenario in premise, it doesn’t serve the story other than to completely rehash the conflict from Superbad! where Seth finds out Evan will not be rooming with him next year. At one point, the girls are dosed with “Asian iowaska” (whatever that is) and the trip lasts about 40 seconds. God forbid something actually happen to these two precious angels.

It’s really impossible to not compare this movie to Superbad! But where Superbad! is a spiral notebook overflowing with imaginative, phallic art, Booksmart is but a crude, stickman’s dick. It doesn’t share the heart of Lady Bird, and it offers the audience nothing new. The adult presence in the movie is largely pointless, and I stand by my opinion that Jason Sudeikis is the least talented comedic actor of our time. The most infuriating review I found for this movie states that director Olivia Wilde “is not the next Judd Apatow or John Hughes, but the first Olivia Wilde”. Which if it were true, the reviewer wouldn’t have had to mention two men in the same sentence.

Brian Boeckman
Take Some Responsibility For Yourself

I got off Facebook about 8 years ago. I’d hoped it would be completely irrelevant by now, and market forces would simply MySpace it to death. The only conscionable reason to be on Facebook is to maintain sexual activity in college. College students aren’t even on Facebook anymore. Demographics aside, the UX is a nightmare. A sea of whitespace and blue text, but without the purposeful Craigslist-esque minimalism. Now the government wants to break it up because it is a “monopoly”. Great idea! We know our government has performed miracles in regulating telecoms, which has allowed us to sail past our competitors in the telecom space all the way to #1(0)!!!!

There are countless non-arguments to be made against Facebook. “They take our data!” would be good, except that you give it to them carte-blanche. “Fake news!!!” would be another, except that you readily spread that news without taking a second to fact check. “Terrorism!!!” wow, what are you doing on Facebook? The reason Facebook still exists, is because you want it to. You want someone to digest all the news in the world and feed it to you while you sit on the toilet every morning. Except that, it’s not news, and the algorithms feeding your insatiable appetite know how to keep you mindlessly scrolling and arguing with strangers. The cybernetic, tiny-handed mannequin controlling the whole thing really wants you to believe they are trying.

People are still on Facebook because it has replaced the AOL welcome screen. We don’t need old-school ISP’s to aggregate news and chat and email for us, but it turns out some people really want a stupid dashboard to guide them through the internet, even if it guides them directly into hell. It’s just an easy place to share baby pictures. Have you tried sending them to your family directly? MMS is practically free.

A large facet of Instagram’s early success (before being Zucked up), was that it was a way to keep tabs on your friends without having to ingest their terrible, idealistic, internet politics. The gram since has morphed into the dystopian future of consumer product marketing. This is still better than what Facebook itself has become, though admittedly it makes users miserable. It’s not a new problem, as it is the same complaint people have made previously against using unattainably beautiful models in ad campaigns.

Instead of breaking up Zuckerberg’s personal pages for college nerds, and giving the federal government even more control over our lives, just quit. The massive user base is the only thing that makes this chili-bowl-haircut of a business profitable. If the users leave, Facebook will be done and we can all go back to the satisfying bliss of ignoring one another online. At least on AOL we had enough sense to go by an alias. The worst thing we ever did as a species was be ourselves online.


Brian Boeckman
A Different State of Mind

When I used to visit NYC, I’d always meet lots of people from Texas. Almost without fail, they had a tattooed outline of the state on them somewhere. I joked “if you were really a Texan, you wouldn’t have left”. Yet here I am, living out of state, not even in a state at all. What is a district anyway? I surrendered my TX driver’s license for a DC dl and I feel conflicted about it. While now I am able to drive legally, it still feels like I’ve somehow betrayed my loyalty to the greatest state. The irony is I hardly drive here at all, and I certainly do not miss arriving to work in a blind rage over traffic patterns.

It came as a great shock that moving across the country after 30 years wasn’t really a shock at all. There’s BBQ here, though very little brisket (which sucks), but the pizza and sandwiches are so good that I barely miss Tex-Mex (admittedly blasphemous). The bread in DC is clearly better, though I haven’t seen anything remotely resembling a tortilla since I left. My quality of life is tied heavily to dining options so I am delighted to find out DC is a thriving food town.

I had this assumption that Texans, and Houstonians in particular are friendlier than the rest of the country. Desperately looking to confirm my own bias, I honed in on the worst behaviors of strangers, namely bad holding-the-door etiquette. I was wrong though, and there’s about the same level of general courtesy, if not more. Chalk it up to spending more time outside, but I find myself having way more conversations with people I do not know. It reminds me a lot of being in Austin, a city largely comprised of transients. Very few people are from DC, and if they are, they are the first to tell you that it “didn’t used to be like this, at all”.

Downsizing seemed like it would be painful. A man of many hobbies, I have a lot of crap. I jettisoned a great deal, and instead of missing things, I am much happier with what I kept. It’s easy to be fooled into the consumerist lie, but the adage is true, what you own will eventually own you. I took great pride in owning a home, but it is refreshing to assume 0% responsibility for maintenance expenses. The toilet in my new apartment was running, but someone came to fix it within 30 minutes for free. I would have spent an entire weekend going to the hardware store and cursing my futile existence before eventually shelling out for a professional.

In the process of looking at a house full of stuff and helplessly wondering “how am I going to do this?”, eventually you just do it.

Brian Boeckman
One Armed Grambit

I’ve wasted enough money on slot machines to know that I have no business being near them. The spinning reels and lights lull me into a euphoric sense of false hope right before punching me repeatedly in the stomach. I’ve gambled until the sun comes up, which is fine if you are playing poker and enjoying company, but slots are a solitary, sad scene. I like the term “one arm bandit”, it perfectly describes these infernal machines.

Instagram is a slot machine, the one arm in this case is my own arm, and its being robbed of its duties in dog walking and driving and a million other important things other than gathering completely useless information. Just as you pull a lever, a swipe of the finger stimulates your brain with millions of colors and sounds. This is the payoff. A person will usually get up from a slot machine after they run out of money. The game has ended and its time to lick wounds and hit the buffet. Instagram on the other hand, there are no credits and the game never ends. A slot machine occasionally will pay out, but social media does not. The best you can hope to achieve is to buy shoes from a brand of which you’ve never heard.

We’ve all found ourself at one point or another staring into our phone, wondering why did I pick this thing up in the first place. When there are emails to be read, the process ends when I mark all as read. When I am checking weather, the process ends when I see that it’s rainy today. When I open instagram, I’m bombarded with 100s of disparate images, with very little context. For a moment, I feel like I am catching up with friends, except that most of the people that I follow are casual acquaintances I met 10 years ago and haven’t seen in person since. Twitter, despite its myriad of flaws, provides me with news, humor, and a place to fire off one-liners to one of the 3 people that like my tweets. Instagram is a bottomless pit. There is no end game. I scroll until I feel like I’ve been hypnotized, walking around dazed before mindlessly pulling my phone out to share a photo of latte foam to a bunch of people I no longer know.

The stories feature is interesting, in that it is completely plagiarised from Snapchat, missing IMO the best feature (face swapping). Using Stories is like flipping through the channels on cable, only there are no Simpsons reruns or Twilight Zone marathons to find. The worst casualty of all, is that they’ve convinced us that shooting vertical video is NOW correct, after years of “hey moron, turn your phone sidways (the right way) before you start filming a street fight”. Not being able to use the app or watch video in landscape mode is failure of their own design. Being fully enveloped by a video would only distract us from pulling the lever again. I even second guess myself when shooting stills because I’m worried that a landscape won’t have enough detail on a 2” screen. I didn’t start taking photos to get validation from strangers, and I simply can’t continue to do so.

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Brian Boeckman