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C. T. Murphy

Part-time writer, sometimes blogger.

WB Top 100: A Star is Born (1954 & 2018)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


I never seek out tearjerkers, but after seeing two versions of “A Star is Born” over the last week, I am starting to appreciate the catharsis of films-as-emotional release. I am not opposed to crying – it is not an affront to my masculinity or any such garbage – but I typically prefer more positive or upbeat films. Rather than two separate reviews, this week we are going to review 1954’s “A Star is Born” for our list and 2018’s “A Star is Born” just for the pleasure of it, simultaneously.

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There was a ton of footage originally cut from the 1954 version. Much was restored, but in our version, there was also several scenes that were just set photos with audio tracks. It took us a second to realize what was happening.

If you are unfamiliar, the original “A Star is Born” was released in 1937, but the film was officially remade in 1954, 1976, and 2018. The announcement of any remake these days tends to be received with the same cries of how Hollywood is “no longer” original. Well, remakes and being unoriginal are as old as Hollywood itself if you look at examples like “A Star is Born”.

All the films follow a similar theme: a woman at the beginning of her career falls in love with a man at the end of his. Try as she might and despite their love, the man repeatedly fails to overcome the weight of his own life. To protect his beloved and her career, the man realizes his presence will only hold her back from her dreams and he chooses to take his own life to, in his view, save hers. There are obviously variations to all these elements, but that’s the generally structure of the narrative in each.

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The colors for the 1954 film are really something given its age.

In comparing the 1954 and 2018 remakes, I feel far less jaded about than idea than I once did. Like so many, I usually shrugged anytime I saw a new version of an old favorite being announced. It seems like we are stuck in an endless cycle of repeating ourselves.

That is both true and untrue. If I had considered for a moment my love of the ancient epics from Homer or, more generally, my love of myths and the storytelling of those myths, originality only happens once and everything original happened long, long ago.

 

This sentiment is echoed in the 2018 version of “A Star is Born”. The film follows an established musician named Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) who falls in love with a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) as he helps launch her music career overnight with an unrehearsed duet of one of her original songs at one of his concerns. In falling in love with Ally, Jackson remarks that music is “twelve notes and the octave repeats … it’s the same story over and over” but it’s the way Ally uses those twelve notes and the things she has to say with her lyrics that he falls in love with.

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I really fell in love with these two falling in love.

These two versions of the same story follow many of the same beats. While 2018’s version cast its leads as musicians, the 1954 version casts them as actors. Judy Garland returns on our list to play Esther Blodgett, an aspiring singer who is discovered by the actor Norman Maine (James Mason) in the early stages of his career decline. Lady Gaga gave a great performance in her version, but Judy Garland’s singing was phenomenal and well-utilized in the frequent musical numbers she performs as her character’s acting career has a rocket-strapped to it by her sheer talent.

In both films, the initial courtship and romance comes off creepy and stalkeresque. Both Cooper and Mason’s Maines are sympathetic characters from the outset, as both deal with blatant, toxic alcoholism. At the same time, the way they pursue Ally or Esther would have invoked serious concern if I were the target. I am grateful that neither story dwells overlong on these courtships as I think doing so would detract from the overall flow of either story, but an additional scene for each may have helped smooth out what otherwise feels like a hunter and prey scenario which, if I had different expectations for where the story was headed, might’ve led me to believe these were a different, more horrifying movies.

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I knew Judy Garland could do it all, but she does it all to an otherworldly degree of talent in this film.

Of course, once the romance blooms, both films hit their stride. In either case, I was drawn in by the chemistry of the couples. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga each give fantastic performances. Lady Gaga was especially appealing to me and did nothing to detract or take me out of the film as you might expect with a less experienced actress. I believed in their love and wanted them to survive the weathered, worn down ills afflicting Cooper’s Jackson Maine.

Similarly, though with less chemistry, I was near equally invested in Judy Garland and James Mason and their love. My favorite scene in the 1954 version follows James Mason’s Norman Maine, his contract with the studio terminated because of his declining talent and the liabilities of his alcoholism, as he spends the day in their Malibu home. He is clearly bored as he putts golf balls in the living room and finds ways to occupy his time.

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I loved that Esther noticed her husband had spent the entire day wasting his time but never said anything. That’s the value of someone who knows how to tell a story visually.

When Esther arrives home, still in costume from practice for her next big production, they embrace, and he tells her that he has been teaching himself to cook. As Norman wanders off to fetch dinner since the servants have been sent home, you see Esther’s shocked and surprised face as she looks around the room and realizes how her husband has obviously spent the day doing nothing. When he returns, she tells him about her production and, to boost his spirits, performs the whole song and dance number in their living room. As he laughs with her and cheers her on, you see how much in love he is with her and how happy he is for her. The scene ends when a mailman interrupts to deliver a package for Esther but uses her stage name for Norman’s surname rather than recognizing Norman Maine, a man who was once famous.

While you might expect either film to be about the jealousy of a veteran husband of his upstart wife, neither film explores that idea. In a more positive, progressive way, both films are about loyal, loving husbands who only want the best for their wives and their careers. As damaged as they each are, jealousy never really enters the picture.

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Heart breaking in both films.

Despite dealing with the lives of very famous people, the downfall for both Maines is unfortunately a very common disease: alcoholism. Even though they both interrupt award shows with their inebriation (in 1954, it is the Academy Awards; in 2018, the Grammys), their wives stick with them through the scandal and embarrassment and are willing to give up their careers to take care of them. But, in both versions, each Maine chooses suicide when they realize they will not get better and that their demons will only drag down the dreams of the women they love.

Though not the kind of movies I typically watch, I found both films to be compelling and worth seeing. Diane ended up favoring the 2018 version while I preferred the 1954 film. We were in overall agreement with our likes and dislikes of each, so the difference is more of preference rather than of quality. I found Norman Maine and his fall to be a more compelling arc than Jackson Maine’s, while she strongly preferred the chemistry of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga to James Mason and Judy Garland. In either case, these are two excellent films and a great example of how remaking something can take the exact same notes and make them compelling with a new voice. Like great music covers, both films are worthy of being on any playlist.

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“This is Mrs. Norman Maine.” – Even just revisiting the movie to take screenshots, hearing this line again teared me up.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


At last, we arrive at our final film on this list to star Gene Kelly. In the triumvirate of Gene Kelly films we’ve watched, this is the Caesar and, as the good book says, we must lend unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: “Singin’ in the Rain” is Gene Kelly at his very, very best.

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I am unsure why the film started with this, but it was cute!

“Singin’ in the Rain” follows the same formula as “Anchors Aweigh” and “An American in Paris”. It features a variety of singing and dancing acts, mostly notably those of Gene Kelly, the film’s star. There’s also a romantic subplot that is resolved moments before the films conclusion. Finally, there is a large-scale number, similar to the An American in Paris ballet in the film of the same name or the cartoon dance sequence in “Anchors Aweigh”, that likely took up the majority of the film’s budget.

This was our first time actually seeing “Singin’ in the Rain”. The song and dance sequence have filtered their way through pop culture to us, but I would have never guessed the plot. The film follows Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), two silent picture actors at the height of their fame. The two form a pair and, if you believe the tabloids, they are in love. This couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. Accompanying them are Cosmo Brown (played by Donald O’Connor), Don’s lifelong friend and partner in vaudeville, and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), the film’s love interest.

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Debbie Reynolds could only be more charming if she were a grandmother and a witch.

Gene Kelly was perfect, as always, but Debbie Reynolds was the real standout for me. Outside of Disney’s made-for-television movie series “Halloweentown”, I don’t recall ever seeing Debbie Reynolds in a movie. In “Singin’ in the Rain”, she is adorable and easily our favorite romantic interest in all of these three films. She doesn’t get as much focus as she deserved, but she caught my eye every time she was on screen. Her singing voice was fantastic. Donald O’Connor’s performance of the song, “Make ‘Em Laugh” was also great, and his character never overstayed his welcome.

Despite the quality of the performers and their performances, for me, they alone did not make “Singin’ in the Rain” better than the others starring Gene Kelly. This film surpasses them by virtue of having a decent story. While there is a romantic subplot, it is hardly the focus of the entire film. In the second half, the focus shifts to Lina Lamont, a lead actress who cannot make the transition from silent pictures to talkies. Her voice, to say the least, is horrible and her singing is terrible too. The benefit of a plot that made me care about what happened to all of the characters managed to make “Singin’ in the Rain” a film I genuinely enjoyed.

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Iconic scene and it still stands up.

Of course, it isn’t without fault. As much as I loved the performances, the film’s big number – surprisingly not “Singin’ in the Rain”, though it is easily the most iconic – ran incredibly long. It was fantastic mind you, but, as the great line from my all-time favorite movie will eventually say on this list: “Too many notes.”

Most interesting for us both were the references to prior films we have already seen. Most notably, “The Jazz Singer” comes up as bringing on the talkie. With it, the film’s entire plot seems to change. There is also mention of “The Broadway Melody” including to an entire number and borrowing some of the film’s visuals in a callback. In a vacuum, if we had seen “Singin’ in the Rain” independent of this project to watch all of these films, these references would have made no sense. Its amazing seeing these movies begin to reference one another

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I wish Gene Kelly would have made a three hour long version of the big number he ends all his films with. It’d be a fever dream but one you could tap your feet to.

All in all, there is little more that can be said about this film. Unless there is an even better Gene Kelly film not included in this collection, this seems to me to be the finest iteration of a formula that made him an all-time memorable star. The music and scenes stand the test of time. It was a fantastic musical with a solid story and characters we very much enjoyed.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: An American in Paris (1951)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


After “Anchors Aweigh”, we were marveled by Gene Kelly’s talent, but not necessarily excited to see more of his films. This week, we are reviewing “An American in Paris” from 1951, an altogether superior film and another vehicle to showcase Gene Kelly singing and dancing.

I am unsure what makes “An American in Paris” feel like a lesser musical when compared to musical films I love (“Little Shop of Horrors”, “The Producers”, most of Disney’s animated films, etc.). My biggest issue is that the plot and characters feel secondary to their in-character performances. Rather than review the movie from the standpoint of it being a bad movie and an okay musical, I am going to attempt to leave my bias behind and focus on “An American in Paris” as an elaborate variety show instead.

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I know this is supposed to be Gene Kelly, but all I see is “I play polo for the university”.

The film follows Jerry Mulligan (played by Gene Kelly), an American soldier living in Paris after World War II. When the war ended, he remained in Paris to follow his passion of painting. Joining him are Adam Cook (Oscar Levant), a struggling pianist, and Lise Bouvier (Leslie Caron in her American debut) as the romantic interest.

The plot revolves around a love triangle between Jerry, Lise, and the French singer Henri (played by George Guétary). Henri is a friend of Adam, who is also a friend of Jerry’s. Henri tells Adam about a woman he is engaged to marry (Lise). Soon after, Jerry happens to meet Lise and falls in love with her instantly. Until the film’s climax, neither man is aware of the other. I am sure this film has some fans for its story, but it really just serves to move the players from one performance to the next.

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My feet hurt just looking at this.

The performances are where “An American in Paris” shines best. Unlike “Anchors Aweigh”, which felt bogged down by having to fit in the shell of what a movie is expected to be, “An American in Paris” breezily moves from a dance, to a song, to a concert at a fantastic pace. Better yet, the film is fun and colorful. Early in the film, when Henri tells Adam about Lise, she dances on the screen to his descriptions of her personality. It is fantastic and a great introduction both to the character and the actress, who was a trained ballerina.

Gene Kelly also shines. While the other acts in the film help give you a break from him as the film’s star, he never has to share the limelight the same way he had to do with Frank Sinatra in “Anchors Aweigh”. He is fantastic. Sure, his “romantic pursuit” of Lise was slimy by modern standards, but I’d let any man that light on his feet try to court me too. He was charming and likable every second he was on the screen.

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Oscar Levant’s Jerry deserved more time on screen.

The other performances are great too. George Guétary gets several songs, but his performance of the song “I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise” had an amazing set and stage production within the film. Similarly, Oscar Levant’s performance of Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra during one of his daydreams was equally stunning.

Speaking of Gershwin, it would be difficult to review “An American in Paris” without commenting on the film’s music. While modern musicals rely on lyrics to be memorable, Gershwin’s score alone is worth watching the film. I primarily know Gershwin from his composition “Rhapsody in Blue”, but it was awesome hearing more of his original music. It is fantastic.

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Some of the sets and costumes were truly amazing.

The film’s closing was our absolute favorite part. While Lise runs off with Henri after the love triangle and tryst have all been laid bare, Jerry dreams of her returning to him. His dream takes the form of a 17 minute ballet within the movie. Amazing in scope, even by today’s standards, the sequence was a marvel to behold. In my research, I read that it cost nearly half a million dollars to shoot and I believe it. It easily rivals the ending performance we saw in “42nd Street” and I think it is worth the watch alone.

“An American in Paris” was not a new favorite film on this list or new favorite musical. There is too much holding it back from either of those titles. At the same time, it was an incredibly fun film to watch and it never overstayed its welcome. We both preferred it to “Anchors Aweigh” and I am curious to see how it stands up to our next film on the list: “Singin’ in the Rain”.

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Also, there was this.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

D&D 5e: Running My First Original Content

It finally happened. With all my character ideas, I finally managed to find the time and energy to turn those creative forces toward original content I could run myself. In doing so I recently ran my second ever one-shot as a Dungeon Master only this time it was wholly original content.

I had the idea to do a murder mystery/game of Clue when I was discussing potential werewolf lore. The idea was that in a world where hospitality (socially/culturally/legally) matters, there’s also a prevailing believe that you become a werewolf by harboring their kind and giving them aid, whether you know the person to be a werewolf or not.

In this scenario, my three players arrived individually at an inn outside a backwater in an area once rumored to have werewolves. The nearby villagers are your typical superstitious type, but they support the presence of the inn because it keeps strangers from knocking on their doors seeking shelter which they would be obligated to give.

I have always been fascinated with secrets in games. For example, there’s a variant of the board game Risk called Secret Mission where players have secret missions that they must fulfill to win. Having these built-in secrets makes it harder to forge lasting alliances with other players since, unlike with a regular game where everyone is striving openly to dominate the entire board, there’s always the unease of accidentally helping another player win at your expense.

Secrets are difficult to do in a game of D&D since everything happens out in the open for all the players to hear even if their characters aren’t in earshot. Since I wanted that Clue feel, and I didn’t want my players to accidentally metagame, I needed a way to make all my NPCs and my players wary of one another. To this end, I requested my players each have a secret that they wouldn’t want shared with anyone else. My NPCs also had secrets of their own. My intent was to use all these hidden motives and concerns as a wedge to keep everyone pitted against one another and to keep my players from teaming up so quickly that my murder mystery was trivialized.

I think it worked great. Some of their secrets were more trivial than others, but since they were roleplaying them honestly, it really helped to give me another tool to sow chaos and maintain disorder. The entire session was a rapid series of scene changes from one area of the inn to the next as the three players and eight NPCs fell upon one another.

I also feel like the chaos I was able to employ helped make the mystery more interesting. I wasn’t planning to surprise anyone with a particularly well-written or surprising plot. To be honest, I didn’t think I needed anything more than a bare-bones Scooby Doo plot. My goal was always to keep everyone pointing fingers at one another or doubting one another that any inadequacies in the story were made up by the journey to its conclusion. And they did just that.

Coming into this one-shot, I was nervous. I am not a master of D&D 5e rules and I am brand new to running a game. Adding in the anxiety of running something I created, I was worried that I would waste everyone’s evening. But it went well, and I am all the better for it. My sister-in-law’s character was an agent of chaos in her own right, but I managed to stay on my toes and use her character’s blunt actions to further the plot and keep to my overall structure. It is hard to get that kind of experience anywhere other than playing the game with other people. I am even more exciting to work on more original work and hopefully DM again in the future.

On Watch Again in Overwatch

While Blizzcon seemed to be more of a negative than a positive for many this year given the fallout over mobile Diablo, it did inspire a friend and I to get back into Overwatch. I am unsure what the difference is, but I am really enjoying my return. Here’s why:

New or Re-imagined Heroes

I have no clue who is good or bad anymore. When the game launched, I played Roadhog most of the time and he was widely regarded as overpowered. He’s not who he once was after being nerfed, so I have been inspired to look elsewhere for my tanking needs.

Enter Orisa.

Orisa was released around the time I quit playing last. Despite this, I never got around to trying her. In truth, a lot of it comes down to her design, which I hate, and I associated her with more of a Reinhardt “stand still with your shield up front and hope you randomed into a good team” style of play. After giving her a fair chance, I really enjoy playing her.

In most shooters, I gravitate toward heavy/large machine guns. In Modern Warfare 2, I almost exclusively played with those kinds of weapons because I enjoy the concept of suppression fire in FPS games. With Orisa, I get the giant clip and more. Her shield feels a little broken (as do most of them in the game, especially when stacked, if I am honest). I also love her gravitation bomb thing as that’s the only aspect of Zarya – her ult which does the same thing but far better – I really enjoy (other than her awesome design, of course).

Regarding tanks, I have also taken to playing Winston, continue to play Roadhog, and am slowly coming around to D.Va.

Beyond tanks, I also really dig the reworked Torbjorn. I used to hate playing him and playing against him. I still think his turret is bullshit, but at least now he feels more interesting on his own. He’s a close enough approximation of the Dwarf Engineer class from Warhammer Online, at least in regard to his area denial ability. If the Overwatch team (or any other dev team with a compatible game) wants to add a hero that focuses on Point Black Area of Effect Damage Over Time attacks, then please do so. I absolutely loved playing Dwarf Engineer and miss playing it even though Warhammer Online was terrible. Plus, it is cool describing a class as PB AOE DOT specialist to someone unfamiliar with the acronyms.

Finally, I am in love with Brigitte. I know she is getting nerfed soon, but I am still hopeful I will continue to enjoy playing her. I am a sucker for a healing/tank hybrid, and she is that in spades. She reminds me of playing Taric in League of Legends whom I also loved. It doesn’t hurt that she has a fun personality and aesthetic either.

Casual Play is Less Toxic

While I was away, Blizzard implemented a new system to help counteract toxicity in Overwatch chat and I feel like it has worked. Rarely do I get yelled at – most people seem to opt for the “don’t say anything at all” approach. I did run into an incident the other day where someone spectating the game wanted to offer me unsolicited D.Va tips. He friended me after despite me not responding and I immediately said no. I appreciate the offer, assuming it was in good faith, but I tire of others assuming I want advice or am playing the game to “get good”. I know it’s a behavior that I am also guilty of, but there is a time and a place.

Mystery Heroes is Still Around

I never play ranked mode in anything. To me, that’s just asking for frustration and heartache. And, when it comes to playing without one of the two friends that regular play Overwatch, I prefer going solo in Mystery Heroes.

Mystery Heroes the same 6v6 objective gameplay as the regular quick play list, but with the slight wrinkle that your hero is randomly chosen at beginning of the game and changes every time you die. The randomization “seems” to keep up with having at least one tank and healer, but there is no limit on having more than one of the same hero on your team.

It isn’t necessarily more fun, but I love Mystery Heroes for two reasons:

First, when I am on my own, I don’t want to fight over which role I get to play. I do typically gravitate toward tank or sometimes support these days, but it is nice not being forced to play that way. I also like that there isn’t really any reason to complain at my or anyone else’s hero pick.

Second, it forces me out of my comfort zone. Part of the reason I stopped playing Overwatch, other than my friends all quitting and toxic chat, was because I felt stuck playing Roadhog > Pharah > Mercy as my three mains. And, even with a less toxic atmosphere, I still feel extremely self-conscience when trying to play a hero I am less familiar with, especially without the backup of friends who can either carry me or playing something complimentary, so I have more success. I would’ve never given Torbjorn a shot if it weren’t for Mystery Heroes, and the influence of seeing playtime as more characters is helping me a ton.

Conclusion

Overwatch is still fun, and I am enjoying playing it again. It is one of the few multiplayer-only titles I can play without feeling too frustrated. Better yet, I don’t mind playing with friends of different skill levels because win, lose, or get owned we still have fun. That’s a huge advantage over games like League of Legends where I am likely to break a keyboard over my monitor and be out a few hundred bucks.

Thoughts On My New OnePlus 6T

After much back and forth arguing with myself over whether to get a OnePlus 6T or something else, I finally gave in and purchased the phone direct from OnePlus. Twitter friend Marc asked what I thought so far:

 

After less than a week of using the the OnePlus 6T, here is a rundown of my good and bad so far.

Let’s Begin With the Bad

Fingerprint Reader

Without a doubt, my biggest issue with the OnePlus 6T is the in-screen fingerprint reader. I have tried redoing my fingerprints several times, but I cannot get it to consistently work. Compared to the Pixel XL I upgraded from and the Nexus 6P I had before that, I was happy with having a physical reader on the back of the device. Its a cool idea in theory, but the OnePlus 6T’s approach doesn’t seem ready just yet.

A worse fingerprint reader doesn’t make the device unusable, however, but it does change my workflow. Thanks to more consistent Bluetooth, Android’s Smart Unlock features works every time for me on the OnePlus 6T. I have set my fitness watch, which is always paired with my phone and always on my wrist, to unlock the phone while it is near. In other words, I never lock my phone.

For the situations where I continue to use the fingerprint reader (mostly getting into financial apps), it works well enough for me not to complain too much.

No IP Certification

Most flagship phones are IP certified for water resistance these days. The OnePlus 6T is an exception. While I have read that OnePlus made the phone water resistant, but didn’t want to pass along the increased cost of getting the certification to consumers, I cannot know that for sure and without certification, I have no guarantees. Far from being a deal breaker, I just dislike the unease.

Odd Rounding

The OnePlus 6T likes its curves. While I love the teardrop notch, the top and bottom ends of the screen taper off oddly. On some apps, the edges are cutoff from the tapering, but never to the extent that it makes anything unreadable or unusable. It is just weird and when I notice it I cannot unsee it.

The Speaker

This one is probably a bigger negative for those without dual, front-facing speakers on their current phones, but I really miss the speakers on my HTC One M8 sometimes. It’s not that I like to listen to music without headphones like an asshole or that I always use speakerphone like an asshole or even that the speakers on the OnePlus 6T are bad. I just hate paying for a new phone and getting a downgrade.

Considering I was already used to a poor quality speaker again from the more recent Pixel XL, I knew I could live with whatever OnePlus 6T had. For the record, I do think this monospeaker is genuinely better though downward facing speakers on the bottom of a phone are stupid.

Now the Good

The Screen

I was worried about having another 1080p screen, but I have no complaints. It is a beautiful panel. It is also AMOLED, which I absolutely love since I favor dark/night modes whenever possible anyway and almost always have a predominantly black wallpaper.

I would’ve liked to have gotten an upgrade here (something like the 120hz on a Razer phone or a more pixel-dense, luxurious screen like on Samsung devices). At the same time, I wasn’t unhappy with my Pixel XL’s screen and this one is better, so I can’t complain.

The Camera

I am not a photographer. Outside of pictures of my dog and cat or grabbing a photo of an item I want to sell on Craigslist, I rarely use my phone. I allowed myself to be suckered into the original Pixel for its camera and, as much as I appreciate a great camera, a good one is all I really need. Paying a premium for just the camera made no sense to me.

And the Great

Oxygen OS

The OnePlus 6T arrives with Android Pie, which I was already using it. For my last two phones, I went with as close to a stock experience as possible. I love the Android OS and I hate seeing it re-skinned or overrun with bloatware. The biggest reason I have avoided Samsung products is because of my disdain for their additions.

OxygenOS (the name for OnePlus’s version of Android Pie) is complimentary to stock Android Pie. It doesn’t lock you down to proprietary updates that rarely get updated. It also doesn’t burden your system with a ton of extra, useless features.

Even better, OxygenOS has its own approach to gesture controls which are far superior to classic Android (back, home, recent) and the controls Google is forcing with the Pixel 3. The Oxygen OS controls are closer to what you see on Apple devices, so you get to free up the real estate from where the navigation bar normally sits. Plus, if you don’t like it, you still have the two other options to switch to.

Battery Life

So far, I have been unable to get the OnePlus 6T’s battery below 30%. I am sure I could if I deliberately tried, but considering its huge capacity and the efficiency of Android Pie, I would have to go out of my way to drain this thing. Even better, the quick charge system OnePlus uses for their phones has my phone back to full or near full in twenty minutes.

The Cost & Performance

I wanted to upgrade my phone last year, but I held off for the Pixel 3. After seeing the specs for the Pixel 3 and its cost, I had serious doubts. My doubts were briefly assuaged when I first held a Pixel 3 – it felt perfect – but before I could give in, the OnePlus 6T was announced with Verizon support and I never looked back.

If the Pixel 3 and the OnePlus 6T were the same price, I would’ve purchased the Pixel 3 only because I could go touch one in a store and it was a known quantity. The OnePlus 6T was a bigger risk. Every person who has seen my phone asks me who makes it and not a single one of them has heard of OnePlus.

That said, after using a OnePlus 6T, the Pixel 3 could be a hundred dollars less and I would still go with the OnePlus over it. Spending less, I got twice the RAM (8 GB) and twice the storage (128 GB) with the same processor. For my money, I also got a bigger battery and more screen real estate.

I haven’t tested my OnePlus 6T with gaming too much yet, but I have no doubt that it will play everything I throw at it. I was surprised to learn that OxygenOS has something called Gaming mode. You can enable it on a per app basis to answer all calls on speakerphone, block notifications so your game isn’t interrupted, turn off automatic brightness so you can crank it up and kill your battery faster, or limit other apps from taking up your precious network speed if playing online. In theory, it is a great idea and if I were more serious about Android gaming, I think it would be something I would really appreciate.


All in all, I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. The OnePlus 6T continues the trend of being a better phone than the last one I bought. With the extra RAM and current processor, I know I can get several years out of this phone. With the price, I know I will have it paid off in the next six months. I absolutely recommend it for anyone looking to upgrade in late 2018.

Questions or comments? Let me know in the comments below!

More D&D Character Ideas

We still haven’t started a new D&D campaign. I continue to spend the time thinking of new characters to potentially play. Here are a few more:

The Psychopomp

A psychopomp is a type of spiritual guide. I have always liked the idea, so I wanted to try and create a playable character equivalent. Without making things too original, I decided to use established D&D lore for the Shadowfell or the Plane of Shadows. I also wanted to use the Raven Queen, a mysterious deity often associated with memories and death.

Since I am still learning about these elements myself and you, dear reader, may not be anymore knowledgeable than I (or are more so and I risk embarrassing myself), let’s ignore further defining these elements for now.

Here’s my short background to introduce the character:

Not all souls are chosen to walk in the plane most suited to their spiritual alignment. There are a number who go unclaimed. Of them, many fiercely cling to the virtues and vices of their living days, no longer able to satiate their mortal desires or move on to immortal oblivion. Thankfully, there is a place for these souls to find help.

Deep in the Shadowfell, there is a large grove that attracts the unclaimed dead. Called the Shadewalk by the Shadar-Kai who live there, they serve the Raven Queen by helping strip these lost souls of the memories that bind them to a material world they can no longer return to and help them move on to eternal nothingness.

Pomp, youngest of the order and most naive, ventured out of the Shadewalk and the Shadowfell altogether. He journeyed to the material plane, land of mortals, a place he had never been before. He figured why wait for the souls of the living to come to him. He could teach them his order’s ways long before their deaths: the self-destruction of the self, rising beyond pain and pleasure to a state of boundless bliss, unencumbered by want or need. Better educated, the living would have no need of him when they die.

He was ill prepared for the vices and virtues of the world himself. Try as he might to serve the Raven Queen, every attempt to aid those in the mortal realm pulls him one step closer from the grey thoughts formed in his grey head born of his grey world resplendent in all its grey glory.

Will he be the teacher or will he be the student?

In summary, he is a person from a place of limited emotion and almost no enjoyment whose only purpose in life has been detethering wayward souls from whatever keeps them from moving on from their lives into the planes beyond. I am a sucker for a good fish out of water story and I love the idea of a Buddhist monk in reverse (going from what is essentially a variation of a state or nirvana to absolute hedonism).

He will be a Warlock, of course.

The Atheist

More often than not, Druids are not Humans. Fantasy tends to depict humanity at its worst. Humans are shortsighted, cruel, and selfish. Rarely is Human civilization depicted in fantasy as an ideal. Similarly, Druids are often depicted as purer for their love of nature and frequently get stuck with Elves since Elves tend to be purer as well. Obviously, I wanted to make a Human Druid.

At the same time, I wanted a more militant Druid that wasn’t just a Progressive Liberal driving their electric vehicle to rallies and protests nationwide. When I decided wanted to try an atheist character in a world where gods are known and knowable, the Druid seemed like a perfect fit.

For this character, I don’t have a background written up, but here’s a quick and dirty version of what’s in my head:

Character born in small village. Village is very religious. He is bullied at a young age by the son of the church leader. While being bullied out in the woods one day, the bully is attacked by a wild animal. The character hesitates to stop the animal, not out of fear, but because he is really tired of the bullying. A woodsman spots them and comes to the rescue, but the bully is nearly dead. When both children are brought back to the village, the church leader pleads with the village god to save his child and the god does. Character then begins his journey to forsaking all gods and religion, running away when his parents punish him for his thoughts, and joining a druid clan.

He is an atheist not because he denies the existence of gods, but because he denies their sovereignty over the natural world. He believes in survival of the fittest, but believes gods to be an alien corruption who defy the natural order to inflict their will on the world, which is sacred and pure ot him. Regardless of the gods alignment, he is vehemently opposed to the spread of any ideals foreign to nature. He’s a cosmic libertarian/materialist.

The Chaser

Finally, my last character, like the first, grew up in a different plane. In this case, he grew up in the Feywild. If you are unfamiliar, imagine every story about evil fairies, good elves, will-o-the-wisps, fae, etc., were true and all of these creatures – good or bad – arose from and lived in one place. That place would be the Feywild.

As a huge fan of the game Planescape: Torment, I am also a big fan of the Lady of Pain character. Her creation was inspired by the poem “Dolores” by Algernon Charles Swinburne. Not that I am talented enough to create the Lady of Pain, but as the game made me a fan of the character and the character made me an even bigger fan of the poem, I decided to revisit it for inspiration.

In the poem, one of my favorite parts is:

O garment not golden but gilded,
O garden where all men may dwell,
O tower not of ivory, but builded
By hands that reach heaven from hell;
O mystical rose of the mire,
O house not of gold but of gain,
O house of unquenchable fire,
Our Lady of Pain!

I have long had the idea for a petulant, overly romantic elf character who falls into an unrequited love with a chaotic force that decides to take advantage of the situation. I wanted to play on that idea in fantasy of the perfectly faithful hero figure whose one true love is waiting for him though he has to prove himself for her or her father or to his own self so he knows he is worthy.

Rather than a princess in a castle, my elf character stumbles upon a beautiful woman trapped in an unbreakable magic prison at the heart of a swamp. The two fall instantly in love with one another. He yearns to break her free of her bondage so they can be together. She’s perfect, she’s virginic, the only name she can recall for herself is “The Mire Rose”, and she is horribly, terribly evil.

At first, she sends him on trivial errands. She has been stuck in her prison for many years and no suitor yet has come close to surviving what she believes she needs to break free. She’s grown fond over that time of seeing would-be heroes never return or return altered or scarred by the trials and tribulations she gives them for her own amusement.

In this character’s case, he is more talented and more persistent than the rest. He manages to survive and she decides to give him tasks in earnest in hopes they will free her. All the while, she flirts and promises a happy ending.

He isn’t completely hopeless. He has doubts and suspects their may be foul play, but gets himself in too deep to abandon the quest. That’s the arc of the character though, so seeing him start off as a sappy romantic who asks birds to send his Mire Rose tidings of his love or bring her tokens of his affection and grow bitter/concerned over time will be part of the fun.

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