Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gas prices? Bah!

This is what travelling on Memorial Day should be about!

Lake Shore Drive never looked so good! Story here.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Idol chit-chat

A bit more on the "who gets more votes: the President or American Idol" thread:

"But Ryan Seacrest, the show's host, went a bit overboard when he boasted that the 63.4 million votes cast were 'more than any president in the history of our country has received.' It's true that Bush received fewer, about 62 million, in the 2004 election, but that was out of about 122 million votes cast in his race against John Kerry.

And, presumably, that was a one-person, one-vote election. 'Idol' producers encourage viewers to vote Chicago-style -- early and often -- by dialing toll-free phone numbers, over and over, as frequently as they like."

Full article here.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

As usual, the good doctor is correct

As mentioned a few posts ago, Dr. Lizardo (link to the right) stated that more people voted for "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks than voted for President. I questioned that statement but, as it turns out, she is correct.

While I stand by my original statement that more people would vote if it were as easy to vote for President as it is to vote for the "American Idol," the fact is still pretty goddamn sad. I mean, there's a little more at stake in the Presidential election, isn't there, unless Taylor Hicks suddenly gets the power to order troops into battle. I'm sure FOX is working on it. But look on the bright side: could Taylor Hicks make more bad decisions than W?

The Two Towers

Here's what passes for excitement around here these days. Yesterday I constructed (a term that gives the operation way too much credit) two columns of boxes so that the kitties could look out the windows in the garage door. I needed two because they fought over the one. Even with two, it's an uneasy truce:

And so we have our two sentinels on two towers, watching not for orcs but for dogs. But not to worry, the dogs are fighting amongst themselves. Stupid dogs!

In other movie-related news, I went to the Guild Theatre ("that's pronounced 'thee-ah-trah' darling") for the screening of all the work done by students of the Northwest Film Center in the winter quarter. There were three one hour segments, mostly student short films from the basic class I took, but also a handful of more advanced digital video movies and several short documentaries, including a quite good (and infuriating) one on our sorry-ass health care system. Of course, "Dissolving" was the penultimate piece on the last reel, so probably half the crowd had left by that time and I didn't get home until midnight. Plus I didn't win any of the nifty raffle prizes! Drat! But I saw some pretty cool stuff (and some really studenty stuff) and got a program with the names of the film-makers for each piece, so I know who did the good pieces and who did the not-so-good pieces. Which could come in handy if I do some bigger productions and I need to draft some dependable and talented folks. After all, everyone, from John Ford to Steven Spielberg to Jim Jarmusch needs their film posse!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Work ethic my ass!

I have always been mystified by the popularity of "American Idol." How does a glorified karaoke contest become one of America's top rated shows? What's next? Dial-in bingo? (Wait. That could work. If anyone gets rich off of that idea, I want a cut!) And of course, I have no idea who this Taylor Hicks or Nanny McPhee or whoever are. Hell, I only know one of the judges, Paula Abdul, because back in the day a friend of mine used to wear a Paula Abdul t-shirt.

He once wore this shirt to a signing by Glenn Danzig, late of the mighty Misfits. Glenn, not being a particularly tactful fellow, asked my friend "Are you wearing that shirt because you like Paula Abdul's music, or because you want to (bleep) her?" My friend indicated the latter. "Cool," replied Glenn approvingly.


Argotnaut's sister has pointed out in her blog ("Dr. Lizardo" link to the right) that, supposedly, more people vote on American Idol than voted in the last Presidential election. I'm not sure if that's true, but I wouldn't be surprised. Why? Because you actually have to GET OFF YOUR FAT ASS to go vote in an election.

Thus, as was pointed out in a recent episode of "The Daily Show," Bush's 33% approval rating actually constitutes a majority, because only 64% of Americans voted. Ouch.

Are Americans unable to shift themselves off their lard butts because they are lazy? Some would say "damn right" but I say "far from it." It's because Americans are beat, cashed, bushed, bleedin' knackered. We're working longer hours than ever, for less real income, fewer benefits, and still with only two weeks of vacation if you're lucky. Plus, we're up to our ears in debt because everyone has been convinced by (admittedly effective) marketing that we need iPods, an SUVs, PCs, TIVOs, HDTVs (upon which to watch "American Idol") and more than one of just about every other unnecessary acronym you can think of.

So the obvious real culprit is our vaunted "work ethic." If we just stopped working so hard, imagine all the benefits! Lower stress, so that we might be able to get as healthy as the British, who smoke and drink more than we do and eat less healthily than we do but are still healthier. Smaller houses, because we couldn't afford them, thus saving resources, wetlands and the environment. Ditto fewer cars. If we were lucky, maybe even fewer leaf blowers! And we would have more time to cook healthy meals instead of chucking some prefab slab of preservatives into the microwave. We'd have time to spend with our families, or on stress-reducing hobbies, or maybe even to read a bit more, learn a bit more, and realize that the guy in the White House oughtta be tossed out on his ass.

Okay. So the economy would go into the crapper and we'd lead the way into a global economic depression. But you have to take the bad with the good here, folks. So to hell with the "American Work Ethic!" Let's just all be the lazy bastards that already seem to be the stereotype anyway!

Monday, May 15, 2006

YAFAH, AY? (Part 2)

I did have a chance to see "Cache" at the Laurelhurst Theater yesterday. It's a very interesting film. Among the most accurate reviews I've read of it is by Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune. Links to many other reviews can be found at the mighty "Rotten Tomatoes" web site.

In a very small nutshell, the film is about an upper middle class French couple with a 12-year-old son who start to receive videotapes on their front door step. The first is simply footage of the front of their residence, lasting the length of the tape:

There is no reason given why anyone is doing this. Read the reviews to find out more, but I can highly recommend the film. It might even be MORE effective watching it at home on a DVD! I'd just suggest watching it with someone else in the room.

There should be a new category for films like this. It's a thriller without thrills, a horror movie without horror in the tradition sense. Perhaps the best way to describe it would be an "unsettler."

From a technical standpoint, I wanted to see it because it's shot on high definition video. Undoubtedly, this was an aesthetic choice by the this way, it's often impossible to determine if the images you're watching are the movie itself, or the footage shot by the "terrorizer" that is merely being watched by the characters. Thus, the line between the characters and audience is blurred.

High definition video interests me because if I make a feature film, it might very well be HI-DV because it's so much cheaper. I'd prefer to shoot on film but MAN the stuff is expensive! Anyway, watching established film-makers use it --another example is "Collateral" by Michael Mann -- is very instructive.

Of course, an awesome story, such as those employed by "Cache" or "Collateral," help a lot. Ah, there's always a sticking point!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

You ain't from around here, are ya?

The last couple of days, I've had a chance to do one of my favorite things: watch foreign films. While there's no substitute for enjoying the unspoken subtexts and multiple meanings of a clever film in one's native language, in the same way a clever foreign film gives you insight into not only the movie-maker's mind, but into the culture of the movie-maker as well.

The first film I saw was (T)raumschiff Surprise,"* a German film that I bought on DVD for Argotnaut as a birthday present. From the trailers that Argotnaut watched on the Internet, I thought "Surprise" was a comedy that was marketed as the gay German "Star Trek." Three actors dressed as Kirk, Spock and Scotty minced about on the transporter and slapped each others' bottoms. Think Gene Roddenberry channeled through Mel Brooks and John Waters.

As such, I wasn't expecting much from the movie other than a few silly fag jokes and production values on a par with "Xena: Warrior Princess." Boy was I wrong. The movie is actually more like a protoplasmic collision of "Star Trek," all the "Star Wars" movies, "Back to the Future" and the "X-Files." Production values were on a par with the "Star Trek" movies rather than the TV series, with full-on space battles and some really nice effects. It was truly a surprise in being well written, well acted and stunningly photographed. And what did I learn about German culture? Well, not a lot, I guess, other than the fact that even when they're kidding around, European film-makers have a lot more respect for character and plot in their comedies than most American film-makers do. I'm sure they have their share of Rob Schneider comedies, but this was light years beyond that.

The second film I saw was "Night Watch" at the beloved Laurelhurst Theater. Holy crap what a nutty film!

Another protoplasmic collision, this time between "The Matrix," "Blade" and "Gorky Park," "Night Watch" is a Russian film that had as its chief unusual feature an unsparingly crappy background of rundown modern day Moscow. As a review in the New York Post so aptly put it, '"Night Watch" may be derivative of American movies, but when our ideas ooze out of the dank Russian filter they're weirder, crazier, grimier. Most crud can only dream of being as cruddy as Russian crud, so even the garbage wafting through the breeze in front of what appears to be Joe Stalin's idea of a luxury apartment building clocks you right in the spine.'

Even though "Night Watch" was subtitled in English and "(T)raumschiff" wasn't, the latter made a lot more sense. But "Night Watch" was a crazy cool flick. And what did I learn about Russian culture? Well, I think it's gonna take them a while to get over the subconscious dread and widespread, ramshackle decay wrought by Communism. It might look romantic on film, but I doubt it's that way when you have to live in it.

Now the only question is, do I go back to Laurelhurst tomorrow and watch the French film "Cache?" All signs point to yes!

*By the way, "Raum schiff" is a "space ship," while "Traum schiff" is a "dream ship." Thus, "(T)raum schiff" is a pun. So now you get the only pun that I was able to catch!

I know how he feels

I feel this way about leaf blowers!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

First public screening

Last Sunday, I unleashed my second two student films upon the public. By "the public," I mean the poor sods who were actually in the films, and by "unleashed," I mean showed to people that I begged to attend.

It was strange that I felt nervous about it, very much the same feeling of anxiety that I had in the old days when I played live in a band -- part anticipation, part dread, mostly hyperactivity. I understood why I felt that way before a gig because there was always a chance that I'd screw up at a critical moment before a live audience. And even though there was never any chance -- well, maybe a slight chance -- that the crowd would jeer a mistake and pelt me with beer cups and cigarette butts, no one wants to look like an idiot and let down their bandmates. At least not intentionally. Usually.

But I was surprised I had that same feeling before the screening even though the films were in the can and all I had to do was sit in the audience and watch them with everyone else. I guess I had the same (probably) unreasonable fear that people would hate the flicks and make fart noises throughout, or worse yet, laugh during the serious bits, or even worse YET, congratulate me afterwards using the same tone as the boss in "Office Space." "Uh, yeeeeeaaaaaah...ah...that was...reeeeeaaally graaaaaaaayt. Aaaaaaaaah...and if you have another screening? Don't bother to invite me baaaaaaaaaaack, okaaaaaaay?"

We had a good crowd at the Grand Lodge, in the regular theater with a big screen and full-on sound system. That was a real thrill. Plus, as it turned out, the films were well received, with a minimum of farting and misplaced cackling. The best compliment I got was after "Dissolving," when one of the people in Rachel's film said, "Andrew! You really freaked me out. You scared me man!"

"Gee, thanks! I guess." ("Awesome!" I thought to myself.)

Lisa took some nice photos, but unfortunately, both of us forgot to take some pictures of the audience during the screening itself. That would have been really cool. Oh well, it's a learning process. Anyway, here are:

Me and Argotnaut

Me and Rachel, my partner on "Valentine's Day" and also the person who set up the screening (thanks, Rachel)

Channing (who played the "Geeky Guy" in "Valentine's Day," accompanied by Katrina, another of Argotnaut's linguist pals

And finally, Jeremy, who is part of "The Unlikely Event" and also played the hand in the tank for "Dissolving," and his girlfriend, Courtney, who pushed the very high-tech camera dolly in the same film. Thanks to both!

I think next on the agenda will be to do music videos for "The Unlikely Event." Then I can have both music anxiety and film screening anxiety. How fun!