Random thoughts on most things from A. M. Craig.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Am Bowling

It is a fun game.

Old Movies

I shouldn't blog from class. I shouldn't, but I am. I suppose I can be
forgiven this time, because we're watching a movie. I watch movies, have
I told you?

We're watching Henry V, the 1990 Kenneth Branagh version. It is great,
but I watched it just a year ago. I fell asleep in the middle of it
then, and would do the same now if I weren't writing. It persuades me
to hate war in any age. War is hell, and it saddens me to think that it
will only be more and more senseless through the remainder of my
lifetime. I badly hate the sight of blood. To see it means something,
someone, is dead or dying.

Though there is hardly less sadness, I'd rather watch Hamlet right now.
But even Hamlet...I don't think myself stupid, but I really have to
listen to follow this Shakespeare guy. And as you've no doubt gathered,
I am not now paying great attention, though I wish I were as suave as
ol' King Harry. There are some very recognizable faces in Henry V. A
young Christian Bale, Robbie Coltrane (i.e. Rubeus Hagrid of Harry
fame), Judi Dench (M from the most recent James Bond films), Ian
, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed (look them up, you'll recognize them),
and obviously Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Fine performances,

I watched a couple movies last night in a film class I'm not really in.
It is a Horror film class, that I assure you, I would have taken this
very semester if I had only known of it's existence. I found out about
it only a couple weeks ago, too late to sign up. Instead, I am here in
one of the only other film elective classes open to non-majors that I
could find, Film as a Medium of History. It's actually a History course,
and too bad it unfailingly puts me to sleep. The Horror film class was
great. Dean Duncan was teaching, and discussed the nature of various roles
within the genre. He lectured on the origins of the "Wolfish" monster
through history and film. Prof. Duncan's personal theory is that our
modern wolf myths are an outgrowth of the nightmares in Sheepherding
culture. The wolf actually was the monster in the woods, it's easy to
imagine stories of them being exaggerated and expanded. He also
discussed the differences between the Werewolf, Wolfman, and
Lycanthrope. If you'd like to know:

  • Werewolf = a fully transforming Man/Wolf, man by day, full wolf by moonlit night.
  • Wolfman = A bastardized hybrid, half man, half wolf, all the time.
  • Lycanthrope = A lunatic, fully convinced he is a dog. A feral man.

But that wasn't all we talked about. We went over the origins and
history of the studio's "B-Movie" system, horror's rise, fall, rise
again, and our subsequent post-modern age when the cycle and swirl of
genre rise, reform, and parody have all wrapped upon each other
simultaneously. Hence you have something like "Scary Movie 4" when the
movies it parodies are barely out of the theater.

Then we watched a couple old flicks. I Walked With A Zombie (possibly
the worst movie title ever) followed by The Body Snatchers with Bela
and Boris Carloff, two of horror's finest. Though these weren't
their finest roles. Honestly, I think these movies would hardly be
considered horror today, maybe a bit dark, but they simply weren't very
Horrible. Given the names of each, I would expect more fantastic
elements, but there wasn't anything more than mild tribal voodoo. But
good movies, both, and entertaining, even today.

I plan on attending that class even though I'm not enrolled. Prof. Duncan
said that would be fine, so long as I didn't prove to be a disturber. I
have friends there. Steve Shimek and his wife, a few classmates from
current and past film classes, old ward friends, a mission friend whom I
hadn't seen in three years, and a neighbor. And it was just so COOL.
That frivolous pulp stuff grabs me. It was produced as pure
entertainment, and effectively does that, but there is substance there
that even the film makers themselves may not have intended. It's modern
folklore, not meant to be high art, but popularly appreciated and
valuable in it's own right. For all my talk of hating the sight of blood
(true though it is), I'm anxious to explore the Garden of Eden allegory
of Vampire stories, the social commentary of Zombie movies, the
technophobia of Frankenstein tales, and all the other answers to our
childish nightmares. Heaven knows I've had my share.

Tonight I'm watching another old classic, Fritz Lang's M. It is, from
what I've read and heard, a timeless classic, a masterpiece even. Peter
gives one of his earliest screen performances, well before he
became known for the previously mentioned Horrors. I'll give you a full
review after viewing.

The last couple nights I've watched most of Paul Thomas Anderson's
Magnolia. Despite it's verbal assault (I've rarely if ever heard more
cursing) it is a beautiful and equally beautifully told story. Anderson
is a gifted film craftsman, though perhaps preoccupied with the vulgar.
It is my understanding that he wrote the intricate, involved, stunning
screenplay for Magnolia in two days. How does that happen? People can
spend their whole lives laboring over a work meant to be their
masterpiece, and others will sit and design Falling Water in a single
sitting (thank you very much, Frank Lloyd Wright). I don't know if I
could be one of those people, but I'd like to try. I'd like to create a
masterpiece. My hope is that through practice, I will become a better
writer and reader and teller of...well...everything. Thus the length of
this entry, the constant additions to this blog, and the perpetual movie

I watch movies, have I told you?

P.S. You can congratulate me. I managed to stay awake through all of
Henry V with the help of this blog entry.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Poor Form

I'm watching the Republican debate right now, and I feel like they are
all making some bad moves. They are talking like kids in the Principal's
office. "Mitt said he wants to pull the troops outta' I-raq", "Nuh-uh,
John made that up!", "Okay, okay boys, I need you both to stop bickering
and just tell me what happened." I think if one of the candidates
debated like a proper gentleman, for lack of a better word, they would
come off sooo much better than their peers. That's what I'll do when I
run for office, mark my words. I'll try, at least.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Review: Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda? I know, you're thinking, "That movie came out years ago." True, true, but I have special occasion to revisit the not-too old movie. Today I had the chance to hear the film's inspiration, Paul Rusesabagina, speak at a BYU Forum.

First, the film. I watched it last night in preparation for today's speaker.

For the century before our story "starts", Rwanda had been the product of European Imperialism. Since the end of World War I, Belgian colonists had made a great impact on existing tribal dynamics. One of the changes was to "simplify" the existing power structure, by giving rule to the minority Tutsi tribe, who vaguely had more caucasian features. It only makes sense, the whiter the better, right? Ridiculous, I know. But it's easy for me to criticize 100 years later.

By the mid-sixties, the nation had gained an unstable independence. Elections were held, but violence and revolt were common. Really, the conflict of '94 was another in a long line of wars driven by lust for power.

In the spring of 1994, Rwanda was a powder-keg. I won't pretend to understand the seemingly endless war, but here is what I think I understand. The majority Hutu tribe held the government, and extremist Hutu Power groups were gaining popular support. The feuding tribes had recently agreed on a peace treaty organized by the Rwandan president. Despite the boiling hatred between some groups, it seemed like some progress may be made for stability and peace. All that came apart when his jet was shot down on April 6. After that, it was all hell.

Paul Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in the capital city of Kigali. He was successful, had a family, and a good life. He was Hutu (then the ruling party) but his wife was Tutsi. Shortly after the presidential assassination, Hutu militias gave the signal to began killing any and all Tutsis. "Cut the Tall Trees" was the code to echo over the airwaves that unleashed the slaughter that killed one in seven Rwandans. When Europeans were evacuated and only a token U.N. force left for "peacekeeping", Tutsis had nobody to turn to, except maybe the few Hutus they could trust. Paul was one of those.

For almost two months, Paul housed refugees in his hotel, and held off Hutu militias through cunning, favors, and an incredible amount of luck.

Hotel Rwanda is readily comparable to Schindler's List, though far less stylized. It is a sad and inspiring story. If you haven't seen it, you should.

Now, the man. Paul was really just as the story portrays him. He was just a guy who did the right thing. He wasn't an amazing orator, but he was loud. What a set of lungs on that guy. He recounted the events from that singular period of his life. He explained the accuracies and compromises of the film (for example, the belligerent Hutu hotel worker Gregoire was a composite character). From what he said, I was impressed at the film's integrity to the real events. He urged us to keep hope, have faith in God, and more than anything, do whatever we can to stand for good in a world of so much evil. If we don't, who will? If anybody knows that lesson, Paul does. I'm glad I was there today.

There was a Q/A session afterwards that I hoped to attend, but was misdirected by BYU Info. They are usually very helpful, but I was quite upset when I was told the Cougar Room was in the WILK, only to find it was in the Marriott Center I had just left. Grrrrrrr.

Dear ol' Dave also attended the Forum. When you see his post, pay close attention to his last comment.

NOTE: I learned about the Rwandan genocide of 1994 from what is, I believe, probably the finest program on broadcast television today; Frontline. It was programs like this, and even this particular episode, that helped persuade me to a broadcast journalism career. I highly recommend watching the available clips online, or if you can, access a full length copy of the program.

African civil war seems to be the standard rather than the rule. Paul was one remarkable person to do the right thing. There were many more.

Eye Ball Groceries

Dreamt that me and my roommates went grocery shopping, and we were
acting silly. David's family had been evacuated from Mexico, and he said
something about being proud to be an American, and the rest of us burst
into song, with accompanying dance as though this were a stage
production. Then we ran into my mom and dad at the store, but she was
acting really strange, like she was nervouse and pretending not to be.
And I think my dad was disapproving of our joking and wanted us to calm
down. I wanted to do a back flip just to get his goat.

The grocery store was also selling eye balls, and my mom almost bought
some to put in soup, but I convinced her not to, because not only were
they eye balls we were talking about here, but the ones they had on
display didn't even look very good.

I've had other dreams lately that are similarly strange, meandering, and
potentially embarrassing. I haven't written them down. In one of them,
Katie, Ben, David, and me were going some place. Katie was driving and
going too fast. We were on an overpass and she didn't slow for a turn
and our van tipped and we all fell off the overpass, but by the time we
reached the ground, the van was more of a couch, and we all jumped off
and were fine. There was more, but I don't remember.
Why am I having such a hard time waking up and having such wierd dreams?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

We'll Miss You

New Blog

I'm contributing to a new blog my roommates and I started. You should take a look. And if you have any material you would like to share on the subject of people watching, send'em our way.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Review: The Great Buck Howard

Well, I can check one item off my "To-Do-Before-You-Die" list. I went to a screening at Sundance.

Okay, so that makes it sound pretty cosmopolitan, which it wasn't. To be honest, a friend of mine got tickets to see the community screening the Sundance Institute hosts to let locals know how much they appreciate them letting the whole showbiz industry descend like locusts for a week at the beginning of each year. Real kind of them. They don't roll out the red carpet or anything, it was at a quaint one-screen theater in Kamas, half an hour from Park City. But it was great old fashioned fun, and a great flick too, The Great Buck Howard.

What, you've never heard of Buck Howard?

Well, most people haven't. Largly because he is fictitious, but I'm sure you're familiar with his breed. "The Great" Buck Howard (played by John Malkovich) is a washed up magician who still touts having rubbed shoulders with Johnny Carson and George Tikai (Sulu from Star Trek). He is the subject of many a "I wonder what ever happened to that guy." Don't mention his "has-been-magician" status, though. For one thing, he prefers "mentalist" to magician, and he is in complete denial that an old fashioned, aging stage magician...err...mentalist, isn't likely to be the next big thing.

His new stage manager, Troy Gable (played by Colin Hanks) is thrown into his new position before he can even recover from Buck's overzealous handshake. The charming Emily Blunt plays Buck's stand-in publicist, and Troy's on-the-road romance. Admirable supporting performances from Ricky Jay, Steve Zahn, and producer/leading Dad Tom Hanks round off the cast. The film focuses on Buck's failures and successes, the quaint towns he performs in (not unlike Kamas, a subtle joke from the Sundance Institute?) and the old vs. new brands of showbiz.

To get a feel for the style of The Great Buck Howard, imagine Orange County mixed with a bit of That Thing You Do, with a light spritz of the Office, Michael Scott type idiocy. Top with a drizzle of The Devil Wears Prada, and voila.

It's a fun, happy movie that will have you smiling the whole way through at Troy Gable's patience and Buck Howard's tunnel vision. If you get a chance, check this one out with some family and friends. You'll be glad you did.

P.S. During the writing of this review, I made my first ever addition/edition to Wikipedia. I am now officially part of the revolution.

UPDATE January 26 2008: A couple reviews to compare.
MTV Sundance Review 1 (short)
MTV Sundance Review 2 (still short)
Cinematical Review

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Neither Can They be Uttered by Man

Today in my Doctrines of the Gospel class, Professor Top was expounding to us the nature of the Godhead. As most readers of this blog will know, the Latter-day Saint notion of God's corporeal nature differs from that of most other modern Christian denomination. We believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as three distinct beings, but fully united in purpose. As a married couple is, or as disciples of Christ should be, so the three members of the Godhead are one.

In the conversation, the subject of pre-mortal Christ came up, with the question, "Was he fully God?" The question seemed a strange one to me. Fully God? What does that even mean?

I think too often we get bogged down, and even contentious concerning points of doctrine, when what is really at fault is our language. It's a matter I've given some thought to, both as a full time proselytizing missionary from the summer of 2002 to 2004, and as a student of communications, or the practice of conveying meaning from one or more parties to other(s). Mortal language, while incalculably useful for virtually everything men endeaver, turns out not to be so adept at describing the celestial. It is an entirely different realm, a whole other world. It's like attempting advanced quantitative calculations without the use of numbers, like trying to model the mysteries of quantum mechanics with billiard balls, like expressing the sensation of taste to somebody born without a tongue. It's mostly fruitless. We are simply at a loss to describe with our language those things that we've never experienced.

The feat is so difficult that it takes the greatest of word smiths to have any success. One approach is to be extremely specific in what you refer to. This has several dangers. First, you will most assuredly offend somebody as soon as you take a firm stance anywhere beyond the defined boundaries. Too bad for them, you might think. But then again, they may have a point in questioning you when you are so far out of the given way. What are you doing all the way out on the theological frills, anyhow? Who cares what the the average body temperature of a resurrected being is? Therein lies the danger of specificity.

The other approach, and the only feasible attempt and even minimally potent approach that I can think of, is through analogy and metaphor. Somebody like C.S. Lewis may be a good example.

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else..." -Is Theology Poetry? (1945)
Another adroit descriptor of heavenly things was Neal A. Maxwell.

"Those who believe for a while make only a brief tour in the kingdom, though thereafter they often feel qualified to inform those who know even less about the Church; but the fact is they were really only tourists - not natives who really knew the kingdom's countryside." True Believers in Christ” p. 135
Language is such a determining factor on how we think and perceive that it is probably the source of many false notions and doctrines. Too bad.

The scriptures themselves state that there are some things that can't be spoken. The Spirit seems to have some vastly superior method of communication. How that works is beyond my understanding. But I won't worry too much about that.

"We should not assume...that just because something is unexplainable by us, it is unexplainable." -Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, page 124

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why I Try Not to Worry About Being Cool

Because if I did, I might be more like this. Only not a joke.

This is apparently from an Australian sketch comedy show. I'd discourage searching for more of their material, it's pretty crass. They have a few other sketches of the same "Underground" duo, equally as funny, much more vulgar.
You are hereby warned.

Is This Even Allowed?

If you can't tell, these three are playing a first-person shooter,
presumably against each other, in the LRC. Thats Learning Resource
Center, for those of you not hip with BYU (sorry, Brigham Young
University) lingo. It's in the library. And the one on the far right,
the girl, just had a conversation with what could only have been her
husband or very close boyfriend.

Let's recap. Three students, one of them a girl (already spoken for)
playing a run-around-and-blow-each-other-to-smithereens game, in the
Learning Resource Center of the Harold B. Lee Library. And I felt
frivolous for blogging from here.

Don't get me wrong. I think those games are great fun. But isn't there a
time and place for everything, and maybe this isn't the best setting?
Just a thought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

To Anybody that Thinks Miracles Don't Happen Anymore:

They do. I had one happen today.

I got my old job back. Only it's better than before. And I didn't even apply for my old job back.

I interviewed at BYU Broadcasting for a different position than I used to have. What am I supposed to do?

"Hi, I know I quit working here many months ago, and I'm sure you've replaced me with somebody more capable and harder working than I was, but the other job I quit you for just fired me, so can I please have my job back?"

Right. I just didn't think that was going to fly.

But the person I interviewed with asked what my career goals were. I told him. He said that would more closely fit working with BYU Weekly. Well, ya, I thought, but that's essentially the job I quit. They aren't going to want to take me back. He said he'd see if they had any openings. I wasn't going to hold my breath.

There was an opening. My old boss called and asked if I wanted it.

YES! This is an honest to goodness miracle. There is no reason I should get my job back, with a promotion, after having left the organization almost eight months ago.

Heaven be thanked for my forgiving boss, second chances, and answered prayers.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Innovation: or, Why I Love Michel Gondry

A good film maker is a story-teller primarily, but also a magician, technician, philosopher, poet, and artist. But there is one thing I think I may enjoy more in film making than anything else. I love innovation. When a scene is over, or better yet, the whole movie is over, and I feel compelled to rewind it and watch it again, that is almost always a good sign. When somebody can take old tools and use them a new way, I'm impressed.

WIRED magazine did an interview with the king of film innovation, Michel Gondry. He invented bullet time (made popular by The Matrix) and countless other techniques that had never been done before.
A sampling of his work:

The video for Daft Punk's Around the World.

Okay, maybe a little explanation is deserved. I remember the first time I saw this video, it was at my cousin's school dance in Raymond, Alberta Canada. Everybody was talking and dancing, but I just wanted to watch this video, it sucked me in. I didn't (then) know why, but that's what happened.

Turns out the video is a visual rendering of the song, with each (absurdly) costumed dancer represents a different element. The big guys (football players?) are the deep bass, the swimmers the hollow electronic echo, the skeletons as the twangy tones. And, of course, the robots are the synthesized voice. The circular setting signifies a spinning record. Wrap your head around that! After you are told or figure out the form of the video, viewing is never the same. I imagine the actors must have questioned the director's sanity when he asked them to put on these costumes, dance in circles to a song that had been slowed down ( you'll notice the video is slightly sped up), to choreography the director had made up, with no previous training on the topic. "Whatever, man, as long as Frenchie is giving a paycheck." But the Around the World video is often referenced as a favorite by many more than just myself.

For Star Guitar, by the Chemical Brothers, he uses the same technique in a different setting.

How about Come Into My World by Kylie Minogue? Great video. I just watched it on loop when I first came across it.

We really could keep on going. Let's try Cibo Matto's Sugar Water. This must have taken forever. You'll understand after the video gets past the halfway point.

Fell in Love with a Girl by the White Stripes.

He must really like the White Stripes, or they like him. Probably both.
The Denial Twist by the White Stripes.

These are just a sampling. You should see his movies. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is brilliant. The combo of Michel Gondry with Charlie Kauffman can't be beat. The same goes for The Science of Sleep.

And none of it with necessarily new technology. Gondry is notoriously analog, or at least low tech. It's a main theme of his upcoming Be Kind, Rewind.

It's true in any aspect of film making; editing, camera work, special effects. Anybody can take new tools and do new things. It takes a real innovator to do original work with the same old stuff.

That's part of why the Bravia ads have been so impressive.

In the preview for Take, about 4/5 of the way in, there is a shot where the viewer is looking down the barrel of a whirling handgun. That was easily the best shot in the movie, and lasted about three seconds total. They should have capitalized on that, just a little longer.

Christopher Nolan did it in how he told Memento. I'm a sucker for narrative manipulation. He did it again in The Prestige.

And anybody can flex their creativity and do it. This guy did. Watch what Ross Ching did with a plain ol' DSLR camera and a programmable tripod. I anxiously await Eclectic 2.0. Good thinkin', Ross.

I'd like to be more like that.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Reviews: Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Pépé le Moko, and Happy Valley

Thursday night was movie night for me. I watched three, two for class, one for pleasure. Only one was really worth my time.

First in the line-up, was Brother Sun, Sister Moon, for my History as a Medium of Film class. It's directed by Franco Zeffirelli, whose body of work consists mostly of Shakespearean adaptation and religious epic. This was one of the later, following the early life and ministry of St. Francis of Asissi. Zeffirelli also did Jesus of Nazareth. If, in either of those movies, he was trying to help us identify with the respective religious leader, he missed his mark. In both films, the enlightened protagonist plays more the role of the lunatic. I personally feel it would be better if we were put in their place, privy to their thoughts, doubts, dreams and visions. Zeffirelli rather shows them to us as a third person. We are in the seat of the casual observer, and only see enough to convince us that this person is not normal. They look like lunatics, and were they're taken out of the familiar context, were they anybody but Jesus or a venerated Saint, we would write them off as such.

The had other flaws. It was made in 1972, and all of the music (there was plenty) is by Donovan. If you're not acquainted with Donovan, he is a super mellow folksy psychedelic hippie. The score for Brother Sun was calm, cheesy, and boring. It fit the movie. St. Francis is hailed as the patron saint of nature, and there is plenty of that here, lots of shots of him looking at butterflies and running through blooming fields, with Donovan serenading you all the while.

Zeffirelli beautifully offers the audience a visual feast. The sets, costumes, and colors were still stunning, decades later.

The only noted actor in it is Alec Guiness, known popularly for his role as Ben 'Obi-Wan' Kenobi in Star Wars. He played the Pope, and when St. Francis was pleading before him at the end of the movie, I kept wanting him to say, "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."

Like pretty scenery, history, Catholicism and/or hippies? Check out Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Otherwise, you could use it as a sedative.

Next in the linup was Pépé le Moko, a French film from 1937. I was watching for my Aesthetics of Crime in Frech and German Film class. Fascinating class, great professors. It's mental gymnastics to even keep up with the material, much less excel and blaze new territory. But worth it for how much it impacts my movie viewing.

As for le Moko, Pépé is a gangster and a womanizer hiding out from the French police in the casbah of the city of Algiers. The casbah is so labyrinthine, winding, and overpopulated, that the police are helpless in it's midst. The only way to get Pépé is to lure him out. And his undoing is, predictably, a woman.

The predicament Pépé faces is whether to accept "freedom" within the confines of the casbah, or to leave for his home in Paris with the woman he desires, facing imminent capture by the authorities. Great flick. I would go on at length, but I'll spare you the philosophical discourse. Good old movie, check it out.

Third and finale for Thursday night was Happy Valley, premiering at the LDS Film Festival. My friend Evan was the assistant editor, and had an extra ticket. He did a great job, but I don't have nice things to say about the writer/director. It is a documentary (I use the term liberally here) about illicit drug use in Utah Valley. A guy named Ron Williams did it. He was there and spoke after the screening, but I didn't need to meet him personally to know how self-absorbed he is. It came through loud and clear in his "documentary". It was really more of a glorified home video of his messed up family. He started the project when his ex-wife went into rehab for heroine use. There was minimal research, shoddy camera work (literally with a home video camera) cheesy music, a small sampling of case studies, and little direction.

I suppose the message was simply of awareness on the problem, but it felt very heavy handed. One of the closing montages was SO over the top. "I am a heroine user and a killer, but I AM A PERSON TOO, and DESERVE TO BE LOVED! LOVE ME!" That is only slightly exaggerated. They also suggested a connection between the Church and rampant painkiller use, but they never draw a strong link. It's pretty superficial, "Mormons use painkillers 'cause the Church makes them feel lots of pressure." Okay. I guess. People everywhere feel pressure every day from their jobs, family life, relationships, etc., so why does the culture here have such a drastic impact? I'm not denying the hypothesis, I'm just saying it was insufficiently explained, and minimally supported.

And why would you emblazon your own name on your supposedly service focused ventures? Ronwilliams.org is ridiculous. The only people allowed to be this arrogant and narcissistic are actors. Their job is to be seen and recognized. Ol' Ron, however, is supposedly working in the fields of environmentalism, health, self-help, and the recent additions of music, film, and some nebulous non-profit for kids. The aim of each venture is vague, the flash factor high, and I can only imagine the impact minimal. If his movie is any indication, they are all highly polished turds.

That's a bit harsh. I suppose service for the sake of self aggrandizement is still service, but his motives are suspect. If he is really focused on serving others, should there be more pictures of the people he helped, or pictures of himself? You tell me.

P.S. Also showing at the LDS Film Festival is Take staring Minnie Driver and Jeremy Renner, and produced by an old employer of mine. I went to an early screening last June. Take was written and directed by a first time LDS film maker, and while it ultimately delivers a message of redemtion, it was too little too late to bring you back from the cold dark place it sets you in. High production value, though, and some innovative camera work. Watch the trailer, look for the gun. Awesome shot.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review: Cloverfield

Okay...Here goes...

You may disagree, and that's fine. A lot of people do. But I thought Cloverfield was...AWESOME! Oh, WOW, it was SOO FREAKING INTENSE! Really, a great monster movie. I'd recommend it, you might wait till the dollar movies if you're so inclined. But at one point, I was bitting my fist...hard...and didn't realize it till that scene was over and the pain set in.

Okay, I'll settle down and do a real review.

Cloverfield, in case you didn't know, is a bit different. The first trailer was released at the opening of Transformers with no title. Just a release date. Interest was piqued, and people (myself included) went a'lookin'. The studio delivered with a steady stream of viral marketing websites, with further hints trickling in right till release time.

I felt like I had a pretty good idea what to expect going in the theater. I've seen virtually everything that has been officially released on the web, and I've read a lot of the unofficial blogs, forums, discussion boards, and theories. This dumb movie has been in my crazy dreams, for crying out loud. I felt ready.

I was not.

When the previews are over, the lights dim, and the feature starts, we begin with a bit of a preface. Plain text informs us what we are watching United States government property that was found in what was formerly known as Central Park. The tape begins to roll, continuing on from a morning well before the attack, to Rob's surprise birthday party, to the roof, the streets, the subway, and on through to the gritty end.

Not many surprises in story development. Big monster, big city, lots of very panicky people. You're familiar with the drill. The innovation of this film was elsewhere.

Obviously the first-person diegetic perspective of the entire film is a point of great interest. Not a new concept though. I think The Blair Which Project did it first, with great success. There is even some not-so-subtle homage to Blair Witch near the end of Cloverfield. What Cloverfield did was take the technique to the logical extreme, with heavy special effects that maintain the look of home video footage. All the "editing" is done as Hud, our humble documentarian and comedic relief, learns to use the camera, sometimes allowing old footage to roll. I think part of the reason I liked Hud so much was because on some level I really identified with him. Plus he was just a funny dummy.

Another point of interest was the monster. What does it look like? Where did it come from? What does it think of New York? Well, there are no easy answers.

Wondering what it looks like? You get mostly glimpses, but I'll say this; you won't be disappointed. It is NOT Godzilla, not by a long shot. Very original, and you see it enough to satisfy. Good on ya, J.J.

Wondering where the monster came from? So am I. The movie never explains it, as we are only watching a relic, the found tape from one group of victims. The screenwriter Drew Goddard says,"Our movie doesn't have the scientist in the white lab coat who shows up and explains things like that. We don't have that scene." Maybe in the sequel.

The other thing was the viral marketing. I've already bored you enought with that. If you don't know the backstory via the viral material, don't worry, the movie is great, and stands on it's own. If you have seen the viral stuff, you'll just get a lot more out of what would have been meaningless detail.

The genius of Cloverfield was in it's synthesis and scale. Nothing it did was that new. But those tricks had never been pulled together in such a big way. There is something to be said for choreography, the right things at the right time, when too much of ANY would ruin the recipe.

Apparently Steven Spielberg called George Lucas immediately afterwards to tell him how great it was. Neat. But while those are glowing reviews from two of the most successful film makers ever, that hardly makes it canon. Reviews are very divided, amongst critics, the masses, and even our little group that went Friday night. I loved it, but at least one person left in what appeared to be genuine anger and disgust. To each his own.

This video from New York Magazine illustrates the point.

Johnny Lollerskates had an interesting observation. Since I can't put it any better than he does, I quote:

"Someone mentioned somewhere that Godzilla was a product of post-Hiroshima angst, which accounts for Japanese fetish for having their cities demolished. Now that New Yorkers have had their "Hiroshima"with 9/11 (being New Yorkers, they're self-centered and delusional enough to actually draw a comparison), they believe they also deserve their own Godzilla movie, which draws upon similar angst."
Another good observation by a commenter at New York Magazine again:

"The movie is like 'Blair Witch Project' meets 'Godzilla' meets 'Halflife 2'."
That seems like a pretty fitting summation.

Tips for when you go see Cloverfield:

1. I am normally one to sit closer rather than further in a theater. Not this time. If you have any inclination to motion sickness, sit toward the back. The camera work is so shaky, I actually wonder if this one won't play better as a DVD, not even factoring all the supplemental material they've already produced. I personally know at least three people who became physically ill. I'll certainly be taking advantage of the theater room at our house when the DVD is released. You should come over. And maybe you should bring some dramamine.

That being said, leave the kids at home, and go see this in the theater with a really nice sound system and a big screen.

2. If you have followed any of the viral marketing, you may be acquainted with Jaime and Teddy. Look for Jaime, she is passed out at Rob's party. That's an example of what you'll notice if you've been following all this jazz.

3. Don't leave the theater till ALL the credits are done rolling. Listen. I made the mistake of taking off before the they finished, only to find out there was just a little more story I could have gotten, and trust me, you'll be wanting a little more story. It's an ever more popular technique to continue the story as the credits roll, and even play just a little bit more when the credits are over. Not new, Masters of the Universe did that, Ferris Beuller did it. Now it seems the rule rather than the exception.

A WORD OF CAUTION: This movie is actually very intense. Some people don't like that. It may keep them up at night. Cloverfield would certainly terrify children. Only go see this if you're up for it.

And yes, Jake, the Star Trek trailer looks awesome.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Monster is Here

So I'm going to see Cloverfield in a couple hours. Hope you guys haven't been too bothered by my recent mania on the topic. I was thinking about it the other day, and realized that I've done this for years, only now I have a blog to make my lunacy public. I was reading about the development and production of the LOTR trilogy for years before they came out, and went to see it opening night with my roommates. Justin was costumed as a hobbit, Tyler Mossel as a wizard, and I wore a white T that said "FRODO LIVES". If I ever find that snapshot I'll post it here. I went to all the Star Wars movies opening night too, at least the ones that opened while I was alive. I suppose I have fun letting myself get caught up in something silly. And I just really like movies.

The NY Times did a review. They essentially call it a two hour gimmick. Oh well, I'm still excited.

Regardless, the mania continues, and here area couple clips to prove it.

"Is that Beth's apartment?" on Yahoo

"Excuse me! Heeey, Marlena?" on AOL Moviephone

I promise, after a review tomorrow, I'm done.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cloverfield Clip

MTV has an exclusive clip. Don't be surprised if it takes forever to load, that has been my experience with every piece of content on MTV's site.
But good clip. Man...I'm excited. I've kinda' gotten my hopes up. I hope not too much. I'll try to preserve them from crashing and burning to the ground if it isn't the greatest movie ever.

"I just can't stop thinking about how scary it would be if a flaming homeless guy came running out of the dark right now! I'm just saying..." HA! Very Half-Life-esque.

I've already got tickets to go see it Friday night with a whole bunch of people. Expect a lengthy review Saturday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Mystery Box

In honor of the upcoming premier of Cloverfield, here is a talk given by producer J.J. Abrams at TED.


I am somebody who believes in the rule of law as a means to protect individual rights and promote the greater good. But sometimes, every now and then, I don't think it's used that way. Antiquated copyright laws seem to me an apt example.

I won't pretend to know a whole lot about this subject. My dad and brother who have been through law school could probably explain this all to you better. But I think I know this.

Not all piracy is hurting media companies, and when it does, maybe they should get a hint. When you have a rebellion on your hands, it might be time to re-analyze your management method.

This guy says it better than I would, and with a more convincing accent.

Zombies and Monsters Into the Head, Zombies and Monsters Out

Dreamt Jake was going to show me some exclusive Cloverfield clip, but I had class and had to go, and was really torn. Also, I remember there being a commercial where, "Coming up next, we'll tell you why this statue of (celebrity) has what appears to be a vampire bite on the neck."

1. I'm going to see Cloverfield this weekend and have been anticipating it for months.
2. I just read I Am Legend, the novel, where it isn't zombies like the movie, but vampires.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My Talented Sister

For those of you of the jewelry wearing persuasion, I'd recommend checking out Angela's latest post. It's about the grand opening of her new Etsy shop. For those of you who've enjoyed Angela's blog before, you're probably acquainted with Etsy, the home made handicraft haven. Lots of great (and crazy) stuff.

If you COMMENT NOW, and promise to tell a friend, you
could win a pair of these lovely hand-made earrings!
Seriously. If you comment on her post before Saturday, you could get a pair.
Neat, huh?

NOTE: As a disclaimer, this is a prime case of nepotism. Angela is my sister, and former womb-mate.

And it Started Out so Nice

Dreamt that I was involved with sharing the Gospel with a family. It
seemed they were friends of my family, and had been somehow impressed
with...I don't know...our familiar harmony, I guess. Anyway, in the
midst of that, we were all at a party, a nice happy gathering of family
and friends.

Then it turned into this Japanese horror flick, or Poltergeist. Somebody
got a picture message on their phone that caused panic to ripple through
the crowd, and while I didn't know what was happening, everybody else
knew it was time to run and hide. Some girl and I were running through
the kitchen to hide somewhere, when "it" came. Some unholy force
immobilized me and began to pull me in.

Then I woke.

I had dreams about monsters and ghosts and such as a child. You'd think
that would change by the time I was half way through my twenty fifth
year. You'd be wrong. My dreams frequently center around some
unreasonable, unrealistic disaster. Explain THAT one to me, Dr. Freud.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Movie trailers in my Mind

So far as I'm aware, I dreamt a movie trailer last night for a movie that doesn't exist. It had Christopher Walken as a very convincing villain, and I think Keanu Reeves was in it. It was rotoscoped, and had a lot of slow motion shots. Very A Scanner Darkly. I'm pretty sure Space Lord by Monster Magnet was playing through the trailer.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And I Brushed as Soon as I Woke Up

Dreamt that my teeth were rotting and broken. Mostly broken, though, like somebody had hit me in the face. Everything I'm reading online says that those are common dreams, but then they proceed to give horoscope like interpretations, or tell me I'm worried about my self image. None of that is valid. My theory is I slept with my mouth open, and it felt gross, and dreamt about that.

Friday, January 11, 2008

I Want Some

If you don't have the right plugin, just go on over to the main page.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Good Advice

I'll direct you to Amy, who will then direct you to Michael.

Cloverfield Update

New viral marketing material has been released for Cloverfield before it's opening next weekend. I was skeptical about their validity, whether they were fakes by some crazed fan or released by the studio. But then I saw the new snapshot on 1-18-08.com. These guys...genius.

It's a great idea. In an age when information is so readily accessible, they've taken the opposite approach. Instead of flooding the Internet with info on the film, they present a plausible challenge. Instead of having everything on www.cloverfieldmovie.com, they scatter it everywhere, and mostly cloaked.

You want to know more info about it? Start digging.

After people have invested their time and energy into the movie, their personal "dedication", for lack of a better term, is only made more concrete.

There are several "newscasts" on the collapse of the Tagruato oil rig. It would have been a blast to play the reporter, seeing as that is my field of study. Check them out on Cloverfield's Daily Motion page. Most of them are in different languages.

Here is what we know already about the monster. It is a large, probably reptilian creature, but not Godzilla (see my previous post). There are probably smaller creatures, or some kind of infection or infestation. We see one of the girls with slashes on her arm, presumably from an animal. We see rats evacuating the subway in this trailer from Movieweb.

: I read a couple articles that confirm some of what we've said here. If you don't want some BIG SPOILERS, let's just suffice it to say that some of what we've been speculating is right. How's that for a vague update? If you really want to know, you can read the articles yourself.

Cloverfield Production Notes
Interview with director Matt Reeves

We hear what sounds like a smaller creature, maybe flapping wings, in the first trailer that was released.

There is speculation about the monster being a mutated person. Check out one of the viral sites, jamieandteddy.com. Password "jllovesth". The site has video letters from Jamie to her boyfriend Teddy, who is an activist fighting Tagruato's polution of the ocean. Through the course of the videos, we see that Teddy stops responding to Jamie's calls, that he sends her a strange substance that says "Don't Eat!", and she assumes he is cheating on her. He also sends a tape saying that he has been found by Tagruato, and that he won't be able to respond, they are holding him prisoner, essentially. She gets mad and eats the stuff he said don't eat. She starts to act weird.

From obnoxious dumb girl to giant terrorizing monster? Maybe. We'll see.

This is Worse than General Conference.

I don't know what they expect us to do. It's a dimly lit auditorium
class with padded chairs. I woke up early this morning, and now it is
the early afternoon. The teacher has a soothing baritone voice, and he
is lecturing on History, an interesting subject, but
notoriously...undynamic. How on earth am I supposed to stay awake?

Ironically enough, he is showing a clip from Ferris Beuller's Day Off,
where Ben Stein is lecturing the comatose class. I think my professor is
on to us.

P.S. I don't mean to indicate the title that I don't like Conference.
I love and look forward to conference.
But it is a similar sedative.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hearing is Believing

For those who didn't know, I could be what you'd call an "Idea Man". I have lots of ideas, and I try to write them all down in my red notebook before I forget them. They keep me up at night and fill my dreams. It's the same compulsion that drives me to record my dreams. The mind is churning constantly, producing images, sounds, concepts, systems, and anything else conceivable. Literally. In all that thought, there has to be some coherent, valuable intelligence. So I write.

I'm going to start a new series on this blog about my ideas. I've done this kind of entry at least once before, but in the past I've been concerned about divulging various ideas in fear that they would be stolen. Truth is, all of us are always using others' ideas. And if I share, it's no longer stealing. Heaven knows I'll never have time to fully realize all of my half formed plans. They're always coming. So by all means, if you find inspiration from anything you see here, take it and run with it.

And without further adieu, here are some of my ideas.

The Ride: An Alternative Sensory Experience

If you have never experienced Binaural Sound, then get out the headphones. Jourdan showed this to me recently, and while I'd read about it, this was my first time hearing it.

After you've put on some good (preferably noise canceling) headphones, go on over to this site, hit play, close your eyes, hold still, and listen. You may be surprised. The recordings are done with a special dummy head, with hi-fidelity headphones where the inner ear would normally be. The end effect is remarkably realistic playback, because you only hear what you would have heard, exactly as you would have heard it, if you had been in that exact spot in the room. Simple old technique, powerful results.

So convincing, that if you combined the auditory queues with other sensory input, the illusion could become complete, even indecipherable to the uninformed participant. Any sensory queue to indicate that this isn't real could be eliminated. It could prove more haunting than any deceiving sight, more convincing than the most believable film.

I want you to imagine the following scenario.

You are led into a room, and asked to take a seat on chair in the middle of the room. It's clearly not a normal chair, more like a throne, or some dentist's chair, or a combination. It's elevated and decorated, unlike any fashion you've seen before. The rest of the room is equally elaborate, with an odd assortment of objects resting on shelves and tables. Porcelain dolls, antiquated laboratory equipment, musical instruments, swords mounted in a family seal. It's more than you can take in all at once as you are directed to sit. The floor creaks. As soon as you are settled, your host leaves the dimly lit room. It all seems like something from an H. P. Lovecraft story.

To your right is a small end table, with a note on it. You read. It directs you to sit still, facing forward, arms on the arm rests, legs resting on their marks. Sure enough, there are outlines of where feet should go. When situated, you are instructed to press the button at the end of the left arm rest. You press.

From behind you hear a previously hidden mechanism activate, as
earmuffs close in on the sides of your head. Just before they stop, restraints spring from the chair, securing your arms and legs before you can do anything. Your heart rate rises as you realize you can't move.

His voice is distant at first, but comes closer. There are footsteps. Are the earmuffs...
muffling his voice? Or...is his voice coming from the muffs? The door behind you opens, and you see his silhouette on the opposite wall as he enters.

The lights go out completely just before he begins addressing you.

You can imagine the horror in such a simulated environment, but as convincing as hearing all of this is, that's only the half of it. Suppose we provoking the other senses. You feel a breeze when a window is opened, or the chair jolts when the speaker stubs his toe, or the whiskers of our bearded narrator brush your cheek when he suddenly whispers in your ear. All it would take is a fan, a solenoid, or a feather (respectively) in the right place, at the right time. Remember the objects in the room when you came in? They become a very convincing part of the illusion, when you hear the sound of an unsheathed blade from the family crest, see a faint glow from some scientific tool, hear a violin playing in the corner, or scuttling footsteps from where the porcelain dolls were. Perhaps you hear the floor creak in the same place it did when you walked in. The Narrator takes a picture of you, but all you see is the flash. And unbeknownst to the participant, the chair is mounted on hydraulic pistons, and can twist, jolt, and contort however it's programmed to. The Ride will take you as far as your imagination, because that's where the action is. The only thing that moves at all is the chair, and no more than a few inches.

And this all takes place in pitch black.

Imagine the different scenarios you could play with:

-A Séance.
-Organized Crime; you can't see the Boss' face, or you'll be sleepin' wid' da fishes.
-A Disfigured Narrator; a la The Phantom of the Opera.
-A Dinner Table, with conversation and the passing of plates, bowls, and utensils, the smell of warm food filling your head.
-An Electric Chair, when something goes terribly wrong with your execution.

Production entails nothing more than would a stage play, with the right script, actors, set, and hardware. Only this performance can be recorded, perfected in post-production, and replayed indefinitely.

This isn't really a new idea, so much as a synthesis of a lot of older ideas. Binaural Sound goes back well over a century. The false sensation of movement, produced by pistons under your seat, has been used in many popular rides at amusement parks, such as Universal Studios' Back to the Future: The Ride. Smell-O-Vision is almost exclusively spoken of as a joke, but would be perfectly viable with this setup. It may be too effective. There would need to be an escape button somewhere in reach, in case the user begins to panic. Trust me, you would have people panic. You'd need to have participants sign a waiver before going, in case somebody dies of a heart attack. I would imagine at least as strong of reactions as the first motion pictures had.

The hardware setup and format of the experience is perfectly flexible, so long as you have a scripted scenario to match it. You could use something less restraining, like this prop helmet by A.H. Leman. The helmet was actualy conceived and built for a very similar game as I have described. Like I said, this isn't a new idea. Just on a grander scale, with the twist of visual deprivation. It's perfect, just ask Steven Spielberg about Jaws. The scariest menace is always the one you can't see.

I would really, really like to
personally further develop this. There is probably enough information online to figure out how to do it. But don't imagine I will have the time or resources any time soon, much less a venue.

UPDATE January 9, 2008: I found four things. First, the same effect can be achieved in recording without the $8000.00 Dummy Head. You can use special in-ear microphones that cost 1/100 as much!

Second, try some of these. I like the Huggins Pitch and the Franssen Effect.

Third, a video, and a great little song.

Here is another video, though I can't embed it.
Fourth, by sheer coincidence, the one and only book I picked up in the library today, a book I'd never heard of, deals heavily with binaural recording and fear. It is the companion book to an art exhibition by the authors that uses many of the same techniques that I've outlined here. Ya, that happened. Coincidence? You tell me.

Also serendipitous, I saw this book, entitled "The Killing Machine", immediately after leaving my class on the Aesthetics of Crime in French & German Film, where we had discussed the artistic and expressive angles of murder. Crazy.


I said to my friends months ago that I'd be okay with the outcome of the
Presidential Elections if neither of the frontrunners actually won. At
that time, those were Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. From the looks
of things, I may get my wish.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Dear School

I'm not asking very much. Just give me a degree and I'll leave you
alone. We don't ever have to talk again. We'll each go our separate ways
and forget all this ever happened. I'm sorry it all had to go down this
way, but I'm not leaving till you give me what I came for.
To be honest, I hate you more than you could ever know.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


I've never been less excited for school to start. No, it isn't even a
lack of excitement. It's not the absence of positive, it's the presence
of negative. I'm dreading it. I don't, don't, don't want to go.

I gotta get outta this place. Get a life, get a wife, get out, grow up.
Don't believe people if they tell you I'm twenty-four and a half. I'm
actually thirteen. I don't want to go to school, I don't know what I
want to be when I grow up, I'm afraid of girls, and I don't like to
shave. I'm thirteen years old.

So there you have it. Now you know.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Review: Juno

I'd heard only good things about Juno before I went to see it. And it lived up to everything I'd heard. It was clever, cute, very funny in parts. It was like an episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory gets pregnant, and hangs out with the cast of Freaks and Geeks. If that sounds appealing, then by all means, dive in. But let me offer a warning first.

I don't know how this detail escaped my attention, but this movie is about teen pregnancy, and will thus have lots of sex jokes. Honest, I don't know how I didn't think about that beforehand, but the first 15 minutes are occupied by material you might expect more from Knocked Up or Superbad. A few of the people I was with left the theater, and I can't blame them. I found myself cringing at the complete lack of taste or tact, but again, this is about 16 year olds.

Once that bit is out of the way, an actual story develops. Our heroine, the movie's namesake, played by Ellen Page, finds herself pregnant. Surprise! After some soul searching (to the depths that she is capable of) she decides to offer her offspring to the happiest couple she can find, played by the very talented Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner. Michael Cera does a great job playing Pauly Bleeker, the young and surprised pop-to-be. He is one of the most genuine, sweet kids, a fitting contrast to sharp-tongued, occasionally bitter Juno.

The story is more or less about her growing, both in maturity and waist size. It's about her relationships with her pseudo-boyfriend (he is more a best friend), her parents, the prospective parents of her coming baby, and, of course, the baby itself.

The dialog is witty. I've been bothered before when a program is too witty, too quick. Like all the characters are trying to use humor to cover up emotional scars. I know I've already made the comparison, but Gilmore Girls seems to me like a town full of people who all have serious issues from their childhood that were never dealt with.
"I'll laugh away the pain, just like Robin Williams! Hahaha...Ha HAHAHA!!! I...I'm so lonely."
Juno heads that same direction, but escapes the same fate. The characters seem a little more believable, but still pretty cavalier about the whole situation. I suppose they were vindicated in the end, when everybody lives happily ever after. I can't imagine it's ever that easy in reality.