31 December 2007

Post 65

C'est tres fade....

I just saw the second National Treasure movie, and I was very--unimpressed. The villain had no clear motive and suffered a very unconvincing change of heart; the protagonists' recklessness brought no consequences; the humor was low-brow; the overall effect overstepped the line between Unrealistic and Unbelievable.

And now for the rebuttal:

The special effects were pretty good, and the one shot when you see Ben in the reflection of the SUV's glass was pretty good, too.

Hm. Fantastic....

The movie was, I suppose, "fun"--just what every stupid American movie-goer wants.

29 December 2007

Post 64

Well, if I've been on a serial killer kick the past couple days, I'm now on a Teddy Roosevelt Wannabes kick because I just watched Night at the Museum.

It's an okay movie; all-star casts are always fun, and I especially like seeing the likes of Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney. The acting's decent (I don't, as a general rule, like Ben Stiller, but he's actually pretty watchable in this flick); the story's intriguing enough; some of the camera work was admirable, and the special effects were dead-on, but I wasn't satisfied with the ending--what happens to the three old guards? I mean, seriously, do they go to prison, or did he let them go, or did they somehow turn to dust? Where'd they go?

All in all, an alright feel-good sort of movie, but not much for literary quality.

28 December 2007

Post 63

I just finished watching Arsenic and Old Lace. It appears, then, that I am on a serial killer kick--well, perhaps two serial killer movies in two days doesn't really constitute a kick, but it still seems rather morbid.

I really like Cary Grant, and I really like Frank Capra. I just like old movies in general, really; black and white is where it's at. This isn't my favorite old movie, but I do like it a lot--certainly more than the one I watched yesterday.

As far as witty dialog goes, this movie doesn't nearly match Casablanca or even Charade, but it's still far superior to most modern movies. I really appreciated the "There's No Place Like Home" theme sneaking in a creepy sort of minor key into the musical score when Jonathon and Dr. Einstein showed up and were telling the old ladies they were going to stay. I also liked how Dr. Einstein was talking to Johnny's shadow in the basement as they talked about killing Mortimer.

On the whole, a fine flick; I'd especially recommend it for Halloween parties (the whole story occurs on "a Hallowe'en night" anyway).

27 December 2007

Post 62

Mea culpa....

So, I just got back from seeing Sweeney Todd. This raises a very important moral question--one that has nothing to do with murder or revenge or lying or anger or--or anything remotely related to the movie itself, actually. Sweeney Todd is rated R; I am a Mormon. Good Mormons don't watch R-rated movies; Sweeney Todd is my first.

It was an innocent mistake, really; my ignorance is to blame. It's a stupid story, really, so I shan't relate any details, but basically I thought the title was Swinging Todd and had no idea that it had nothing to do with WWII-era music and dance until I saw the movie poster at the theater.

Yes, I'm a moron. And you read my blog, so maybe you are, too.

Anyway, this post really isn't a movie review, but it also isn't the sort of writing in which the author babbles about his guilt and pleads for the readers' forgiveness; my intent here is to explore the rigidity of morality and the implications thereof.

While I was on my mission, I came up with a catchphrase that became a sort of--eh--the appellation of "battle cry" is entirely too enthusiastic; perhaps "mission statement" would be better--either way, I decided that I wanted to become the sort of person that could honestly be described this way, and I still do; I want people to say of me, "He's straight-laced but not high-strung."

A noble balance to seek, don't you think--being straight-laced without being high-strung--or maybe upright without being uptight? I mean, when I think of my theological role models--heck, when I think of pure Christianity--I just can't get into the Puritanical point of view that advocates such over-the-top piety that rules out all fun.

That said, a quick punch for my relative conservatism: I am appalled by those my age who think that life is all about fun and that fun=happiness, so don't think that that's the direction I'm headed in.

Strictness of morals has been a recurring theme in my ponderings throughout the year 2007, but I've yet to reach a solid conclusion about anything. Lately, I've simply done my best to keep all the commandments that I know and then followed every whim that pops into my head, hoping that my righteous living keeps me close enough to God and far enough from Satan that the former will prevail over the latter in domineering said whims. But that isn't a very stable philosophy to live on; I mean, don't you have to nail down and quantify and qualify morality at some point if you hope to be even remotely consistent? The poet in me says that morals cannot be pigeonholed so neatly, yet my internal philosopher (unschooled, though he may be) cries out that they must be and that the life I'm living dangerously resembles the ever-popular "Do what feels right" sentiment--the Lord of Misrule that has led many like me into riotous living.

Okay. I'm rambling. Let's refocus a bit; come on, little Schmetterling; stay the course, young man!

Music is the main reason that I have scrutinized my morals this year. Since I've returned from my mission (January '07), my musical preferences have gotten progressively harder; whereas in high school, Billy Joel's "Pressure" was too intense for my palette, I now regularly listen to Ozzy and Aerosmith--I even enjoy things like "Flagpole Sitta" by Harvey Danger and occasional Metallica songs. Granted, I'm no hard rocker, and the moral dilemma presented by my choice of music really has nothing to do with how hard a song is; the real question here has to do with profanity and vulgarity (I'll draw a distinction shortly) because a lot of these artists employ them.

Here I wish to make a couple of nearly-arbitrary definitions for two closely related words: profanity and vulgarity. For the sake of this discussion, profanity is cussing, and vulgarity is shady content. So Bon Jovi's "Keep the Faith" is profane without being vulgar; Aerosmith's "Rag Doll" is vulgar without being profane. Good enough? Hope so....

So let me say here that I really have no problem with profanity. Maybe that makes me a bad Mormon, but that's how it stands. I myself am not one to cuss, but I think that even a "bad word" can sometimes be the right word. Jon Bon Jovi taught me this; "Keep the Faith" and "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night" are two very powerful, beautiful songs, I think, and I feel that the profanity in them are more than just fitting but actually beautiful in their own right.

Now, granted, profanity is rarely beautiful; it is, in fact, repulsive most times, and I choose not to cuss because I feel my vocabulary is strong enough to allow me to express myself in other ways. Just watch, oh, say, The Freedom Writer--a movie I like a lot and actually own--and you'll see that someone can cuss a lot without being very good at it. Profanity, to me, is like a bitter herb or a nasty pigment: it ought to be used but sparingly and only when nothing else will do. This is not to say that Freedom Writers would be better without the cussing--it would probably come out sounding sanitized and unconvincing--I'm just saying that in music especially (and perhaps poetry also, though I have no convincing examples there), sometimes bad words are good words.

Vulgarity is much different, and this is where things get rather problematic for me and my morals. On the whole, I am opposed to vulgarity. I don't like things that are dirty, crass, suggestive, raucous--I don't like vulgar things! This is not to say I've never laughed at a dirty joke, but I kinda wish that I could say I haven't. I really--I just--I don't like it, and maybe I'm only mollycoddling myself, but I kinda wish it'd go away!

That said, it isn't as true as I wish it were (honestly, I was only looking to use the word "mollycoddle" or one of its derivatives), but it's pretty close to the truth; I really don't like vulgarity, but I do see its place in art as well as reality. Opposition in all things, right? And in the sanitized life I live, I sometimes thirst for color, for worldly things--not to be worldly, but to--to--to be in the world--yaknow--without being of the world.

Since I'm probably not done referencing it, I'm just gonna put the lyrics to Bon Jovi's "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night" here in their entirety, and then I'll kinda pick 'em apart so you can see what I mean (I'll number the verses for referencing):

Hey, man I'm alive; I'm takin' each day and night at a time.
I'm feelin' like a Monday, but someday Ill be Saturday night.

(1)Hey, my name is Jim; where did I go wrong?
My life's a bargain basement; all the good shit's gone.
I just can't hold a job; where do I belong?
I'm sleeping in my car; my dreams move on.

(2)My name is Billy-Jean; my love is bought and sold.
I'm only sixteen; I feel a hundred years old.
My foster daddy went, took my innocence away;
The street life ain't much better, but at least I'm gettin' paid!

And Tuesday just might go my way;
It cant get worse than yesterday.
Thursdays, Fridays ain't been kind,
But somehow I'll survive.

Hey man I'm alive; I'm takin' each day and night at a time.
Yeah, I'm down, but I know Ill get by.
Hey hey hey hey, man gotta live my life
Like I ain't got nothin' but this roll of the dice;
I'm feelin' like a Monday, but someday I'll be Saturday night.

(3)Now I can't say my name or tell you where I am;
I want to blow myself away--don't know if I can.
I wish that I could be in some other time and place
With someone else's soul, someone else's face!

Oh, Tuesday just might go my way;
It cant get worse than yesterday.
Thursdays, Fridays ain't been kind,
But somehow Ill survive.

Hey, man I'm alive; I'm takin' each day and night at a time.
Yeah, I'm down, but I know I'll get by.
Hey hey hey hey, man gotta live my life!
I'm gonna pick up all the pieces and what's left of my pride.
I'm feelin' like a Monday, but someday I'll be Saturday night.

Okay, so that isn't their entirety (there's some repetition-to-fade-out kind of stuff at the end that I chopped off), but that's the bulk of it--unedited.

Kay. So. Let's look at this a bit, yeah? Check out that first verse. OHMYPOORVIRGINEARS, he said the S word! Yes. He did. It's vernacular; you got a better suggestion? You really think a kid my age in that circumstance is gonna say something more sanitary than that? Get real! So there is a meager defense of profanity, but that's not really why I included these lyrics.

Check out verses 2 and 3; 2 talks about prostitution and abuse, and the speaker in 3 is suicidal. But here is the important part: it doesn't advocate these things. Orson Scott Card wrote an essay (maybe several, I dunno) about the place of evil in fiction; he said the important part is to portray evil without justifying it, and I feel that this song is a moving example of that. It'd probably be better if you heard it rather than read it, but I hope you can get the idea. Verse 2 tears me apart whenever I hear it; it's so incredibly sad and says so much about the pain of abuse and the sorrow of regret. 3 to me is the most powerful of all, though; I imagine many parents (mine included, perhaps) would be offended by a song that says "I want to blow myself away," but people like that are taking things out of context because here we have some poor youth saying he's tired of life and just wants to kill himself but then give that stirring refrain of hope: maybe tomorrow will be better, so I gotta hold on the best I can. To me, the contrast of feeble hope in the midst of such terrible times is powerful enough to justify the use of profanity and even vulgarity.

That said, I'm still steadfastly against things that advocate vulgarity. For example, Aerosmith's "Rag Doll" is just about the catchiest song I've ever heard, but it's--uh--not really the sort of song that I could recommend to you.

So those are my morals; I think they're pretty good, but I still struggle with them. See, I'm aware of my failings; I know I'm not invulnerable. Earlier this year--back in the spring sometime--I went on a road trip to visit a sister in Flagstaff. Before going, I checked out a bunch of CDs from the library to keep me company while I drove. One was "Devil's Got a New Disguise: The Very Best of Aerosmith." It is because of that CD that I know that I like a lot of Aerosmith's songs; they are a very talented group, and I enjoy their music. I was listening to that CD as I pulled into Flagstaff and had some of those songs ("Rag Doll" included) stuck in my head that whole weekend.

One night while I was there, I had a dream. I don't remember anything about the dream except that it disturbed me when I awoke because someone had cussed in it. I'm okay with cussing being around me, but I don't cherish the thought of it getting inside. As long as I can remember, I've been fed cute little metaphors like "You can't roll in the mud and not get dirty," but I never really thought that such things applied to me because I'm not one to dabble in dirtiness; I just tolerate it.

Now, this isn't to say that I'm afraid that one day I'll wake up and *POOF* I'll be a pottymouth, but I can't help but wonder what the implications are of having dreams I don't approve of.

Anyway, that's the pondering I've been doing this year, and it's raised questions like the following:

  • How much badness ought I tolerate?
  • Does supporting culturally unsanitized art make me an unsanitary person?
  • Even though portraying and advocating evil are two very different things, they are sometimes hard to differentiate between; is the line, then, too dangerous to safely play around?
Hmmm.... Perhaps those questions make me sound a tad more namby-pamby than I'm feeling, but hopefully they make sense in the context of this blog....

So. Sweeney Todd. What is my opinion of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street? Honestly, it's a quality flick. Cinematography, writing, acting, singing--all very fine. The music was amazing. But I would never ever ever ever EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER recommend it to anyone because it is an incredibly demented story.

That said, I've kinda been hungry for catharsis lately; I've been looking for a good tragedy for a few days now. Just last night, I got to thinking about what I said about Cast Away, and I wondered whether I could find an irony more painful than that. And I did. Sweeney Todd has the most painful irony imaginable: a man seeking to avenge his dead wife ends up killing her (I figure that, since I'm not recommending this movie, I may as well ruin the ending for my readers). That's right--turns out she isn't dead at all, and he kills her (not knowing it's her, of course; he finds that out afterward, and then he himself gets killed).


Or something like that....

25 December 2007

Post 61

Hey, merry Christmas everyone! Quick yuletide thought for you presented in less eloquent terms than it probably deserves:

Despite its pagan roots, to me Christmas is about the most beautifully Christian thing I can think of; really, it's an amazing metaphor. Think about it: Christmas started out as this celebration of the winter solstice but has been transformed into a celebration of the birth of our Savior--the holiday is a convert of sorts. Its trees (which originally had something to do with cultist fertility rites, I'd imagine) and candles and gifts and strange traditions glorifying unsavory things have been totally converted to the ways of Christianity, and each element has had Christian symbolism thrust upon it insomuch that its past of wickedness has been totally forgotten--just like when we repent.

Sure, our Witness friends shout out against holidays started by "ancient, false religions"--a very valid concern, in my mind--but I think that we've all come from "ancient, false" traditions in our own way and are all working toward the truth, and if Christmas can so thoroughly make such a dramatic change, why not us?

24 December 2007

Post 60

Okay. Not bad.

I watched The Italian Job a couple days ago. I think that since people stopped bugging me to see National Treasure, The Italian Job has been topping the "Dang Kyle, You Need To See That Movie" movie list.

I was pretty impressed with it. I actually have to wonder whether the people who wrote the newest Die Hard flick were inspired by The Italian Job in certain aspect--ya know, the whole taking over the traffic lights and posting messages in control centers bit. The Italian Job was far less--uh--over-the-top, though; I liked it a lot more than I liked Live Free or Die Hard.

I really enjoyed this movie. It may have actually overtaken The Bourne Identity as Most Tolerable Action Flick for me--'course, The Bourne Identity's tolerability has been greatly tarnished by two pretty terrible sequels (kinda the same way that I don't really like Pirates of the Caribbean anymore). The Italian Job is fun, clever, engaging, exciting--really, it's everything an action flick oughta be. I'll recommend it to ya.

19 December 2007

Post 59

Good news: a movie review that breaks from that 4-point-check rut I've been stuck in!

I just watched Cast Away. I've seen it a couple of times before, but it's been a while. It was on TV, so it was interrupted by an excessive number of commercial breaks, but I still enjoyed it.

So. Let's write a review!

I really like this movie--mostly because it does so many things that go against mainstream Hollywood. That said, I don't think rebellion alone merits appellations of greatness, and Cast Away is far from great, but I still like it okay.

In my mind, Cast Away is not a movie about a man stranded on an island for four years; yes, that's part of the movie, but I don't think it would be fair to say that that's the main conflict. To me, the thing that makes this movie beautiful--and I do think it's a beautiful movie--all of the beauty in the movie happens after Chuck returns from his island.

But let's back up a bit and take the movie chronologically, shall we? We'll divide it into chapters: Pre-island, Island, and Post-island.

The set-up is great, but there were times I felt like I was watching the bad execution of a fine screenplay--most noticeably on the plane flight from Russia when the one lady asks that guy about his terminally ill wife; the acting was just--not good. I thought the Chuck-Kelly thing worked well, though, and that was the most important part. Just as an unimportant sidenote, I really appreciated that when they kissed in the copy room, they simply kissed for a long time as opposed to attempting to devour one another. Also, I can appreciate the outside-of-the-box thinking that produced such things as package-POV camera angles, but I don't think the idea was really all that great.

Several things make this movie very unique, and most of them are seen on the island. First, after the plane wreck, as he's drifting on his raft, there are long periods of time with naught but sound. That's a stylistic risk that I'm pretty sure turned off a lot of mainstream Americans. Then, on the island, there are many scenes with very little sound. I was struck by how little background music there was during the island scenes--there may not have been any at all, though I'm not sure. Looking back, it seems to me that there wasn't any music on the island at all, though there was some immediately afterward as he was sailing away. Fascinating idea; I'll have to pay better attention next time.
Overall, I think that this portion of the movie was well done. I think it develops well, that the four-year gap is well placed, and that the whole thing just works really well.

This is, as I said, the chapter that makes the movie. To me, the island and everything else is just back story to the drama that surrounds his homecoming. I. Love. The way the Chuck-Kelly thing plays out; I can imagine nothing more poignant and beautiful. It really doesn't matter where he was--he could've been a MIA POW or sold into slavery or abducted by aliens, it doesn't matter; it's the painful inability of two lovers to come together that get the catharsis train tearing up the track, and I love that train! I really can't say enough for the final chapter of this movie; I love everything about it. I think that it's brilliant, and I'm very sad that so many people probably can't get passed the just-another-shipwrecked-movie line of thinking. Taking that line of thought, I have a fairly low opinion of this movie, but by transcending that point of view and looking at the heart of this film to see it for what it is--a film exploring the pains of disappointed love--I find a movie that truly is beautiful.

18 December 2007

Post 58

Just so you know....

cash advance

That is all.

17 December 2007

Post 57

So, I saw Casablanca this past weekend and--gads!--I hate to keep using the same grading system for movies because I'm not sure these are the most important elements of cinema, but it just seems to be working so well for me that I--well, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, dontchya know.

Anyway, this was my first time seeing Casablanca, which, given my stance on old movies, makes me a terrible hypocrite. A couple of my good friends upon hearing that I'd never seen it said, "You? You've never seen that movie? Weird...." But I have repented, and I'm glad I did. It wasn't quite as powerful as I thought it'd be--really, the whole love triangle wasn't as painful to watch as I was hoping--but it is a quality movie. The DVD case says it's the best Hollywood film ever made, which I'm afraid I just can't agree with, but I do concur with my one roommate who at the end of the movie said, "Best ending to a movie EH-VER!" I really can't think of a movie with a better ending, and I can't imagine I'll find an denouement that I'll like more.

But on with the review:

1) Camera work. Frankly, I was totally unimpressed. It was good, but it just failed to wow me, which is okay, I guess--I mean, if you don't notice the camera work, it must be seamless, no? Good camera work is fairly invisible, just makes you feel like you're there watching what's happening. One thing I did notice, though, is that camera angles changed with less frequency than what we see in modern film. Watch anything that's made these days--commercials, TV shows, movies--anything, and count the seconds between shifts in camera angles. I am quite confident in guaranteeing that you'll never make it to 15, and if you make it to 10 more than once a scene, I'd be pretty impressed. In Casablanca, no such cinematographic ADHD exists; it was made for a generation with a longer attention span. I wasn't anal enough to count seconds, but the first time Sam plays "As Time Goes by," we get a shot of Ilsa's face that is ridiculously long by today's standards but that is perfectly reasonable for the moment being captured. On the whole, good enough, but the closest thing to artsy that I saw was when they got the name of someplace in shadows on the floor; that was pretty cool, I guess.

2) Dialog. FANTASTIC. This movie is a real winner for dialog. Especially from the police guy--every single thing that comes out of his mouth is beautiful; I was amazed. I've heard lots of witty dialog in my short life, but I think this movie may take the cake. Unfortunately, I think the writers were unsatisfied with witty dialog and also tried for catchy dialog; "Here's looking at you, kid" is by far the movie's most famous line, I'd say, but it's never said in such a way as to be--I dunno. It always just kinda feels thrown in, like the writers were saying "We'll put it here and here and here and here, and then people will quote it forever." They were right, of course, but I don't think Bogart ever delivered it very well. But that's beside the point, I suppose, because the point is that This Movie Has Excellent Dialog.

3) Unfolding. I still don't like the term "unfolding"; there's gotta be one better. In this review, as opposed to everything coming together and the mystery being revealed, by "unfolding" I mean character development, plot, timing--the works. I think Casablanca gets fairly high marks here. I can tell it was made in a different era, though, because our leading lady is vacillating and weak; I'm sure the entire western world (or at least the Feminists therein) cry out against that one line--"You'll have to think for the both of us," or whatever it is she says. On the whole, though, I think it's all pretty good, and, as I said, the ending is a-frickin'-mazing, so I can't really complain. I suppose the ending really decides how well the unfolding went, and Casablanca has the best ending EH-VER, so I can't complain about the development too much.

4) Music. I was happy that "As Time Goes by" worked its way into the underscore so much. Very effective, methinks.

So, there you have it. I really enjoyed this movie, but I'm not sure how much of a hurry I'm in to see it again because it's the ending that makes it so good--well, that and the dialog. I suppose I could survive the bulk of the movie because of the dialog, and then seeing the ending would make me happy that I did, so--yeah, I'll recommend it to you. Go out and rent it. Why not; it is a classic, after all.

15 December 2007

Post 56

Yea-yeah! Go me!

And all you other bloggers....

Check it ow-out: Apostle of the LORD saying blogs are good.


My admonition: get a blog if you don't have one.

That is all.

Post 55

Well, well, well; what have we here?

I like old movies--a lot. If it's directed by Capra or staring Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant or either Hepburn, chances are that I will love it and desire to own it. I have often been heard to say, "They just don't make movies like that anymore," and I honestly believed that.

But last night I saw Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and I was quite impressed. I wouldn't go so far as saying that it matches Charade in quality, but it's definitely up there; down-to-earth good, clean funny like this is hard to find these days ('course, it came out in '88, but whatever).

Using the rubric I employed in reviewing Charade:

1) Camera work. Nothing terribly fancy, but when Lawrence is sending Janet off on the plane, I really appreciated the use of the reflection in the window. Brilliant; brilliant, I say!

2) Dialog. This movie is just plain funny. Like, holy cow, I laughed a great deal. And there are funny conversations not just one-liners. Good stuff.

3) Unfolding. Yes. Very good. That's all I'll say because--well, you'll just have to see it for yourself.

4) Music. Eh, I don't really know. It was good. I wasn't really paying attention. As I said, the only reason I picked up on Mancini's genius in Charade was that I'm familiar with the theme.

Anyway, I highly and unilaterally recommend this movie. I am proud to have it on my shelf.

Funny story: last night, I came home with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and one of my roommates came home with an acquisition of his own: Robots. I was intrigued because this particular roommate's movie collection is full of intellectually stimulating, thought-provoking kinds of films, and Robots just didn't really strike me as the type of movie that would foot that bill.

And I was right. We had a double feature--Dirty Rotten Scoundrels followed by Robots--and I was kinda--I dunno. Robots was fun, I guess, but it was just another one of those fluffy sort of feel-good cartoon flicks with some kind of contrived moral lesson. There were some pretty good gags in it, but that just gave me the impression that it was a very concept-driven movie (ie "Let's make a movie about robots so we can use this joke and this gag and this one-liner and this bit and this scene and this character and--yeah. Where's my storyboard?")

Final analysis: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels highly recommended, Robots not so much (though if you find yourself at a party where Robots is on the agenda, I don't mean to imply that you ought to leave early to avoid it; I'm just saying that it isn't the sort of movie that you'll want to go out of your way either to see or to avoid seeing).

13 December 2007

Post 54





Humph! NO!


Okay. So. I just watched Rocky, yeah? And I liked it. Right. Good, great, big deal, fine.


So I wikipedia'd Stallone just to see how he got his big break--writing and staring in your first big break is quite the break, sez me--and this is my blog, so DON'T ARGUE!

Anyway, I scrolled down and saw that he is currently directing (but not staring in) a production called Poe, which is about Edgar Allan. Well, I naturally was intrigued because I LOVE POE.

Well, I imdb'd it and learned that they cast frickin' VIGGO MORTENSEN as Poe! VIGGO MORTENSEN‽ As E A POE


Okay, so let's look at the pros--'tis only fair, I suppose. I suppose we can see some physical resemblence....

Okay, so it's workable; I'll give him that. But seriously--the man is holding a sword! I mean, Poe was crazy, but he certainly didn't go cavorting about with elves and hobbits! I mean--seriously, people!

Quick tangent: have you ever seen the movie The Majestic? There is a great irony in that movie in that The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of the movies played at the majestic, yet Jim Carrey starred in the flick.

What? Don't you see the irony? Don't you know the story of The Day the Earth Stood Still?

Well, let me enlighten you! Harry Bates came up with this great story that he pitched to a movie company, and they bought into it. Somebody--producer? director? not all that important, really--just some bigwig moron got this bright idea to cast some well-known actor as the alien, and he got said actor to agree to it, so he called up Mr. Bates and said, "Hey, good news: I got [so-and-so] to be your alien. Whaddaya thinka dat?"

You know what Mr. Bates said? He said NO WAY! NO FRICKIN' WAY, MR. BOSSMAN! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING

You know why? I'll tell you why: Mr. Bates knew what he wanted from his movie. He wanted an alien to step off of that spaceship not some celebrity. He wanted the audience to say, "Hey look! It's an alien!" not "Hey look it's Whatshisface! I love that guy!" or "Ooo So-and-so! He's the bee's knees!" So they cast some unknown, and it was a smashing success; everyone loved it, and now the movie's a classic (in the sense that it's a great movie that no one--including me--has ever seen).

Lesson learned? Good.


That is all.

Post 53

Wow. I just--wow. I am--frankly, I'm completely flabbergasted.

Gee whiz. Whod thunk?

So. I just watched Rocky. Never seen it before tonight. As I was watching it, I was thinking, "Meh. It's nice and all--good ole underdog motif, and it's done well enough. I can tell why it's a classic--ril nice feel-good movie, ya know? Nothing special, though. Don't get me wrong; I like it okay, but it's nothing special--that's all I'm saying." And the night before the big fight, when he's talking to Adrienne, saying, "I just can't do it. I'm not gonna win. I just want to go the distance. No one's ever gone the distance before," I, of course, am thinking, "Yeah, right. You're gonna go in the ring, get the living crap beat outta yeh, and then you'll throw a few of your beef-rib-breaking punches and the champ'll go to his knees and give up his title."

But I was wrong. And that's why this is an excellent movie: the underdog went the distance against impossible odds, but he didn't win--split decision, yes; win, no. And split decision went to reigning champ, so underdog didn't win; he just held his own.

That's a story worth telling. Mad props to Stallone--he did write the movie, after all.

Note of lesser importance: I also really appreciated that Adrienne wasn't some sad neglected hottie just waiting to be discovered. Man I get so sick of this she's-worth-10-cows-if-she's-worth-a-hoof sort of heroines. I like that Rocky was just a good, down-to-earth fellow who got his good, down-to-earth girl.

I gotta get me one of those....

11 December 2007

Post 52

I threw a movie party this last Saturday night. We watched Charade. Quality, quality flick; they do not make movies like this anymore, and that makes me inexpressibly sad. Let me give you a few reasons why everyone should see this movie:

1) Camera work. Charade was made back in the days when cinematography was still an art. The angles and shots are all masterful. For one brilliant example, when Audry Hepburn is looking through the magnifying glass at the photograph, we get a glimpse from her perspective four different times. On the first and fourth time, there's a cool zoom effect that really takes full advantage of the way light bends through curved glass--but only the first and fourth time; the second and third glimpses are just straight--no zoom effect. Shake things up a bit, ya know--just because something's cool doesn't mean it has to be done every time.
That's the only specific example I can think of now, but when next you watch it, pay attention to how the camera moves and the angles it shoots--they're all very good. Granted, the stamp thing may have been a little melodramatic, but it did its job very well, and you can't ask for much more than that.

2) Dialog. Somewhere in the last couple decades, witty dialog has died out from movie culture. Now, rather than having highly entertaining conversations between characters, all we ever get are snappy one-liners. Charade has amazing dialog sprinkled throughout--especially between Audry Hepburn and Cary Grant. There is no way to give a very thorough sampling here, but if you just watch the movie, you will most certainly understand what I mean.
Humor was of a different caliber back in those days, too--more refined, really. There's a movie called Holiday (Cary Grant acting with Kathrine Hepburn) that I've only seen once but desperately want to own. There was some dialog in there that made me think, "Holy cow, that's really clever!" but that didn't make me laugh out loud. I really respect that kind of humor. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy laughing--and I laughed a lot while watching Charade--but just that something can be humorous without being raucous is--a foreign idea in my generation.

3) Unfolding (?). I think there's a highfalutin literary term for this--probably some French word--but it escapes me now. Just the whens and hows of the telling of the story are brilliant. For example, when Cary Grant (I believe he's still Peter Joshua at that point) follows Scobie by hopping from balcony to balcony and then follows him into the room and strikes up a conversation--I, the viewer, think, "Woah. That's one heckuva way to pick a fight! Ballsy, Mr. Grant--very ballsy," and then I realize, "What he's--he's one of them? How can that be?" Little by little, the screenwriters reveal what's really going on--another good example is when the real Mr. Bartholomew gets a phone call--all of the timing is just perfect, and we don't know until the very last scene what was really going on. It's amazing.

4) Music. Henry Mancini was a genius; I've always known that, but I never realized until this past Saturday as I was watching this movie just how much of an opportunist he is (that's probably a bad term for it, but I don't have better). It's impossible to pick up on unless you're familiar with the movie's theme--and the only reason I happen to be familiar with it is because it's on the Henry Mancini CD I own. But if you can familiarize yourself with that theme, you'll realize that anytime there is ambient music in that movie--not the underscore, but actual ambient music being played in the numerous restaurants and even the carousel in the park--all of that ambient music is based around that theme. It's--very creative and very impressive, and I really appreciated the overall effect.

So there are just four reasons why you should see that movie. Other less critical reasons include things like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn and Walter Matthau (and Jame Coburn, if you know him; I know him from Maverick, though I didn't realize that as I watched the movie), a funny French investigator, a villain with a claw for a hand, and "It's a rip roaring good time!"

05 December 2007

Post 51

And now this exciting bit of news:

When Chuck Norris goes cow-tipping, he lifts a cow up and drop kicks it into the neighboring farm. All the other cows simply tip themselves over to keep from having to walk back in the dark.

That is all.

Okay, not really. My absolute favorite Chuck Norris joke--er--fact is:

Chuck Norris owns the greatest Poker Face of all-time. It helped him win the 1983 World Series of Poker despite him holding just a Joker, a Get out of Jail Free Monopoly card, a 2 of clubs, 7 of spades and a green #4 card from the game Uno.

That's an impressive poker face! He probably uses that often now:

Chuck Norris sold his soul to the devil for his rugged good looks and unparalleled martial arts ability. Shortly after the transaction was finalized, Chuck roundhouse kicked the devil in the face and took his soul back. The devil, who appreciates irony, couldn't stay mad and admitted he should have seen it coming. They now play poker every second Wednesday of the month.

THAT'S all.

01 December 2007

Post 50!

so i just cut the pinkie of my left hand quite badly and have it wrapped in gauze and athletic tape and a bag of ice and a washcloth, and i'm holding it above my heart, so you'll have to deal with a lacj of capitalization today because i only have one hand for typing and i don't want to spend the whole day on a movie review.

last night i watched jakob the liar. i own it--have owned it for a couple weeks now--but i just barely got around to taking it out of its shrinkwrap and watching it.

i've only seen it once before, and that was at a party (of all places!), so i got a lot more out of it this time around.

frankly, it's a very depressing movie, but i really like the way the story is told. i read a book on writing once that said that if you choose to write in first person, you are not allowed to kill the protagonist. i hold up jakob the liar as a powerful example that even that "rule" of fiction is negotiable. and the fact that he lies to give us false hope at the end of the movie--painfully beautiful.

i love this movie, but it isn't one to watch when you need a pick-me-up.

30 November 2007

Post 49

It has been raining off an on all day.

Were I to take my pet thimble out for a walk, I could most definitely fill it with fresh water.

England7 being filled with rainwater--such a small amount of fluid, yet if I attempted to drink it, I would most certainly drown.

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,
I touch no one, and no one touches me.
I am a rock;
I am an island.

29 November 2007

Post 48

So. I'm cleaning my room (meaning that I'm desperately searching for something I've lost and finding all kinds of stuff that I never thought to look for), and I found a little note I jotted down while subbing in a high school one day.

On that particular day, I was subbing an English class. I had them read an ironic twist on a classic fairy tale, and then we all went to the computer lab for them to create their own ironic twists on classic fairy tales. They typed and printed and turned them in, and I, having nothing else to do, read them while I sat there. Some were good; some were not so good. One in particular, though, stands out in my memory, and this note is an excerpt I jotted down with the express purpose of blogging about it. The story was entitled "Pinocchio." It's been several months since I read it, but I will do my best to tell you how it went:

There was an old puppet maker who made wonderful puppets. And then he died. His widow--um--I forget--got lonely or something. Anyway, she decided to make a puppet to keep her company, so she went to a forest where gnomes were cutting down trees. She asked them if they would cut her some wood, and she did her best to keep her eyes averted as she spoke to them because everyone knows that looking a gnome in the eyes will make you die. The gnomes told her that she didn't want any of that wood because it was cursed, and then they left, refusing to give her any wood at all. But it just so happened that the gnomes accidentally left behind a piece of wood that was the perfect size for making a puppet [deus ex machina]. She took this piece of wood home, carved it into a puppet, and went to bed. When she awoke in the morning, the puppet was staring over the edge of her bed at her. She was surprised to see that the puppet had come to life, but the puppet lamented that he was not a real boy. She asked what it would take to make him a real boy, and he told her that just a little bit of pixie dust would do the trick. It just so happened that the woman's deceased husband kept a little pixie dust on hand [deus ex machina], so the widow took it out of the cupboard, sprinkled some on the puppet, and watched as it turned into "a little boy pale in skin and rosy in cheeks."

As I was reading, I was mildly amused by all the deus ex machina being flung around (the italics and the bracketed notations are my thoughts not what was actually written). What I have paraphrased above took me right to the bottom of the page, but there was a second page. I flipped to it and saw a small paragraph. I fully expected it to say something about how the woman and the puppet lived happily thereafter, but instead, this is what I read:

"So two things happened that day. The puppet became a real being and the old widow learned to never give a puppet made of cursed wood pixie dust to come to life, otherwise you have a vampire on your hands."

Haha. Not very eloquently expressed, but that totally makes all that deus ex machina worth it!

26 November 2007

Post 47

On Thanksgiving, I watched Live Free or Die Hard. I never had any intentions to ever watch that movie, but my cosmetologist sister not only likes and highly recommends it but actually owns it. The fact that this particular sister of mine owned this movie was so intriguing to me that I was filled with an overwhelming desire to watch it--I mean, I usually disapprove of this sister's movie selections on the basis that they are too laden with estrogen, and here she owns this movie that I figured would emit enough testosterone to knock Hossein Reza Zadeh for a loop. This state of affairs still bamboozles me and sets my poor brain to digging for a fancypants vocabulary word strong enough to convey my utter shock--juxtaposition, idiosyncrasy, dichotomy--really, without you knowing my sister, there is no satisfactory term.

Anyway, I was pretty disappointed. I'm still completely thunderstruck that my sister likes this movie enough to own it because it really is just another over-the-top action flick. I mean, it had its moments, and I rather enjoyed it at times, but I don't see how it really stands out much.

Maybe my ignorance is to blame for my lack of wowification, though. Yasee, to my knowledge, most of the things that happened in that movie were simply impossible. But that may just be because of a lack of knowledge. For example, I bet most people like me who were somehow convinced to watch this movie were turned off by the crazy Russians jumping from wall to wall in the alley way and by the especially crazy Russian who did all kinds of impossible things before McClain kicked him into the spinning paddlewheel of death. But as it turns out, while these sorts of things are impossible for most people, Russians and Latvians and maybe the whole Slavic world have a genetic immunity to gravity. It sounds ridiculous, I know! You don't have to tell me it sound ridiculous; I know myself that, above and beyond sounding ridiculous, it is, in fact, completely ridiculous. Unfortunately, unlike many ridiculous claims, this one just happens to be true. Don't believe me? Well you explain this YouTube video then!

Crazy Slavic ninjas? Why can't I evade gravity like that?

Anyway, the disturbing fact of the matter is that, if Slavic ninjas are real (and who can deny video proof?), then perhaps much of the movie is much more plausible than we sheltered middle-class Americans dare suppose.

Overall, though, I (being a sheltered middle-class American) still consider Live Free or Die Hard a run-of-the-mill, over-the-top action flick. If you're into that sort of thing--well, if you're really into that sort of thing, I imagine you've already seen it, and I fully support you in your decision, since we can hardly expect anything better from people of your literary caste--but if you aren't into action flicks--well, good for you; just don't PO any Slavs.

24 November 2007

Post 46

I'd rather be hated for being myself than loved for being something I'm not.

20 November 2007

Post 45

"If my mind could gain a firm footing I would not make essays. I would make decisions. But it is always in apprenticeship and on trial." --Montaigne

16 November 2007

Post 44

Life is a funny thing, but it's also very, very beautiful, and, really, I'm just happy to be alive right now. In fact, I don't think I've ever been so happy to be alive as I am today. I suppose I could try to explain my joy, but it really is a long and complicated story--more complicated than long--and I'm not convinced I could tell it very clearly without the proper visual aids, so I shan't go into any great detail; suffice it to say that I had a near-death experience on my way to a dear friend's wedding, and now I can't stop loving life and all it entails.

14 November 2007

Post 43


I've figured out a few simple changes we could implement to make English grammar so much easier! Really, I can't make myself believe that no one has thought of this before; it's so obvious!

Step One: invent some new punctuation marks. A lot of the trouble we have with punctuation is a direct result of overworked punctuation marks; the more jobs we require a punctuation mark to accomplish, the more confusion we have regarding that punctuation mark. This is why so many Americans are terrified of commas. Think of it: if we added a few punctuation marks, we could greatly reduce confusion.
But here's the really good news: we don't have to invent more than one or two marks; mostly, we just need a better division of labor. For example, check out this sentence:

My sister, Sally, and I went to the store.

That's my favorite example of common comma confusion; because commas are used both to separate clauses and to divide between items in a list, we can't be sure whether Sally is my sister or accompanying me and my sister. In this example, the answer to our confusion is not in inventing new punctuation but rather in using an underused bit of punctuation (parentheses):

My sister (Sally) and I went to the store.

There. Confusion all gone!
Many common comma conundrums can be eliminated if you understand other punctuation marks. I had no idea what a semicolon was for until about six months ago when that was explained to me in an English class; now I use them all the time. No one who understands semicolons will ever make a comma splice, it just isn't something we do (teehee!).
I do propose we employ a couple of new punctuation marks, though. Like, let's make a new punctuation mark to show possession so the apostrophe can be used solely for contractions. We do that, we can say bye-bye to the its/it's quandary. Of course, easier still would be to totally eliminate the contraction "it's" in favor of "'tis." If we did that, then "it's" could be possessive and we would eliminate the only exception to the rule.
One thing apostrophes should not be required to do (the previous sentence just reminded me) is mark quoted quotations:

Nephi said, "Behold, Isaiah said, 'Thus said the LORD to me: "Isaiah, say unto this people, 'Thus said the LORD: "If you don't repent...."'"'"

See, at the end there, you get lost in the mix. Why don't we do like some places and forget our standard quotation mark (which is really no more than a double apostrophe) and use those curvy bracket things?

Nephi said, {Behold, Isaiah said, {Thus said the LORD to me: {Isaiah, say unto this people, {Thus said the LORD: {If you don't repent....}}}}}

[NOTE: my original idea was to use carrots instead of curvy brackets. Some languages do that already, and carrots would be a lot simpler than curvy brackets when it came down to writing by hand, but carrots are used in html, so blogger gets all confused when I use that many of them in close proximity like that. Sorry.]

See? Because they are so directional, no confusion is possible. The reason we have felt obligated to have two different kinds of quotation marks (the double and single apostrophe) is that we know that, if we only had one, no one would be able to determine in a glance whether a quotation was ending or beginning to quote something else:

Nephi said, "Behold, Isaiah said, "Thus said the LORD to me: "Isaiah, say unto this people, "Thus said the LORD: "If you don't repent...."""""

I mean, contextually that makes sense, I suppose, but carrots are easier to track.
So, yeah. There you go. Other than to say that I am, as ever, in favor of the interrobang, I think that pretty well covers my thoughts on punctuation reform.

Step Two: eliminate letter cases. Really, why do we need upper and lower case letters? Is not an a as good as an A? And a t as good as a T? I really see no reason to have two cases. it would be a lot simpler to go e e cummings style and leave everything in the lowercase, methinks. I've always thought it was odd that we have two distinct alphabets without having one do anything that the other can't, but the more I think about our rules regarding capitalization, the fewer reasons I can think of to support it. For example, why do we capitalize I but not me? Or other subject pronouns like he and she? Capitalization in titles makes even less sense. Newspapers generally capitalize only the first letter in a headline, but everyone else is expected to capitalize all nouns and verbs. This creates a real problem because many simpletons (meaning most English speaking Americans) understand the rule to be "Capitalize the 'big' words," so they capitalize Because but not is. Let's just save ourselves some pain and wipe out all capital letters. THEY SERVE NO PURPOSE! (I could have, for example, simply italicized that declaration).

Step Three: eliminate gender-specific pronouns. Seriously, nothing else in our language is gender specific, why do we need he/she and him/her and his/her (and why is "her" double worked?). Let's just make everything "it." Now, I'm sure some people would be seriously offended to be referred to that way, but I doubt any of those people are hoping for gender specific "you"s and "I"s. It will suffice. This will greatly reduce pronoun disagreement; because no one likes saying or writing awkward things like, "Each speaker at the convention was in the top of his or her field," many people revert to using plural pronouns when single pronouns are required ("Each speaker at the convention was in the top of their field").

i think i've covered it. some of you may be thinking, {just three steps‽ surely your list of grievances against english must be longer than that!} i myself am somewhat surprised to be placated by so short a list, but i am pleased with the simplicity of my plan; 'tis so efficient!

Post 42

Today, a salute to Pringles. I just sent them an email using the "contact us" link on their website; this is what it said:
I don't have a question, per se. I just wanted to email you a thank you. I was grocery shopping recently and notice Pringles with 50% less fat and 30% fewer calories. I'm not especially interested in health food, but I was happy to see a corporation that understands the difference between "less" and "fewer." I was very sad as I left that grocery store to learn that their express checkout lane was for customers with "20 items or less."

Thank you for using good English; it means a lot to me.
Go Pringles! You're an inspiration to us all!

Post 41

Things I do not recommend:

-Lighting a beanie on fire when it's drenched in 90% ethyl alcohol and sitting on your head
-Taking a nap on a metal park bench at one in the morning when it's 40F outside
-Telling a class of 6th-graders on November 1st that eating candy in class is okay
-Having ambiguous pronouns when making jokes about a girl's saxophone
-Reading 1984 quickly

Things I do recommend:

-Argyle socks

I may not be a student, but living in a college town has taught me a lot, it seems....

10 November 2007

Post 40

Yeah. Pretty much. Except for the part about having money.

07 November 2007

Post 39

Have I mentioned that I like cows?

Just checkin....

06 November 2007

Post 38

So. I started The Catcher in the Rye today; I went to the library, checked it out, and started reading it as I walked home. I had every intention of swallowing it whole as I have done with so many other books, but now I'm right about halfway through it and may be done with it. It's just too long. When I picked it up, I was happy to see that it was barely over 200 pages--a nice, short volume, I thought--and when I started reading, I immediately liked the narrative style; I expected those 214 pages to fly by.

One of my very most favorite books is Goodbye, Mr. Chips. As far as plot goes, it really doesn't have much going for it, and if you're looking for an engaging read, forget it. If I was only allowed one word to describe Goodbye, Mr. Chips, I'm afraid the only honest description I could give would be "Boring," but were I allowed two words, I would describe it as "Frickin' AMAZING." The two descriptions may strike you as irreconcilable, but they aren't really. The reason I love Goodbye, Mr. Chips is because it's a good, down-to-earth, human story. You want a look at the human condition, if you want to know what it means to be human, Goodbye, Mr. Chips is about as good as it gets--in my limited experience, at least; I've never read, say, Stranger in a Strange Land. But because Mr. Chips is a fairly normal man who lives a fairly normal life, it's not very exciting; honestly, had I not been in an RV on a long road trip, I probably wouldn't've ever read the book because it is, as I said, boring. But I was fascinated that, even though the whole time I read it I was thinking, "This really isn't very exciting," when I was done with it, I thought, "Hm. That was--really quite good."

After getting a few chapters into The Catcher in the Rye, I kinda got the impression that it was going to be a similar kind of read--not a whole lot of story, just a whole lot of--erm--human interaction stuff. I could be wrong; the first 100 pages have felt like--I dunno-- something's gonna happen--eventually, but--freak! I'm a hundred pages into this book! If there's gonna be a plot, it should've started developing a long time ago; if there isn't going to be a plot, the book should've ended by now (Mr. Chips was 115 pages long, but it had several illustrations; I don't imagine it has more than, like, 90 pages of actual text).

Then again, I had a bit of a revelation as I was reading today: books like The Catcher in the Rye weren't written to be studied or even swallowed whole; they were meant to be enjoyed. Author's don't write classics; readers make them classics. I had this idea that by binging on important works of fiction, I'd somehow strengthen my intellect and make myself a better, wiser, higher quality sort of human being, but the truth is that a lot of these books--especially Catcher in the Rye--weren't created to that end; what I thought was actually meat and potatoes is really just highly acclaimed junk food. Sure, a milk shake has calcium in it, but focusing your entire diet around them is no guarantee of good health, probably isn't even a respectable means of fighting off osteoporosis.

Well, I've been reduced to silly, off-the-cuff metaphors, so it's time to end this post. Bye.

Post 37

I changed my mind.

In Post 35, I said that Stardust "was like nothing I've ever seen in a way that nothing I've ever seen was like nothing I've ever seen." While that was true at the time, I've recently decided to recant that statement because it was unlike anything else in the way most things are not like anything else: in that it used unique combinations of archetypes in unique ways.

No. If you want a movie that is like nothing you've ever seen in a way that nothing you've ever seen is like nothing you've ever seen, allow me to recommend to you The Fountain.

I had never heard of it until I noticed it on a shelf in my living room; I figured it was an obscure movie, but perhaps I just missed it because it came out while I was on my mission. Anyway, I watched it yesterday, and it's a trip, man. I really don't know what to say about it other than that. If you're looking to have a "What just happened?" kind of moment, this is the movie for you. I have a sneaking suspicion that the writers knew what was going on (sometimes I think people write stuff that appears to have some rich undertone without having any inkling as to what it might be, which I think is--stupid, frankly), but I'm not sure it was quite as artistic as it tried to be. I dunno. I like it in that, if you watch it with the right group, I bet you could sit around for quite a while after the movie ended and speculate about what you think this or that meant or whether certain things were metaphorical or literal, and most especially argue over whether it's deep or just nonsensically artsy-fartsy.

05 November 2007

Post 36

Time for another movie review. Today's subject: Finding Forrester.

This is a high quality flick; I was quite impressed. I didn't see it straight through--I got through the first hour, 33 minutes, and nine seconds in the first sitting and then watched the remainder a couple days later (not by my choice but because of circumstantial necessities)--so I'm unable to really give a good, thorough opinion as to how consistent the whole thing was, but overall I thought the movie fulfilled its purpose very well.
The way the basketball championship scene played out made me very happy--no taking the easy way out on this one; no sir! Also, the scene where William is reading that thing toward the end, I felt a mixture of amusement and awe as I realized that movies, too, can artistically break good ole "show don't tell," though I think the music could have been more poignant in that scene; I was very impressed with the music throughout the movie, but there it didn't quite do its job, I didn't think.

All in all, though, I really did enjoy the movie and would highly recommend it to anyone.

03 November 2007

Post 35

Last night, I saw Stardust. I really enjoyed it not just because it was a fun movie but because it was like nothing I've ever seen before. In fact, it was like nothing I've ever seen in a way that nothing I've ever seen was like nothing I've ever seen--if that makes any sense at all....

Did I mention I stayed up till 2:30 last night?

Anyway, Stardust was a good movie for a first date--nice, low key movie--so I was happy with it. It's interesting, though, in that I can't remember the last movie I saw in which more people died--maybe one of the Jurassic Park sequels--and yet I also can't seem to come up with a movie that I enjoyed death scenes in more. And I don't mean in the, "Yes! That guy so deserved to die! Ah! Catharsis! Yes!" It was more like, "Oh man! That guy died, too! That's so funny!" And then the whole thing with the ghosts--ah, it's just--death was never so entertaining.
But, I am Schmetterling, so I have to bring up a couple of qualms with consistency: 1) the witch should have gotten way old and gross after making that inn, and 2) Yvaine was not very consistent in when and how much she glowed; had I directed the movie, I would have had a lot more fun with, "Okay, now have her glowing a lot, now a little, now not at all, now just ever so slightly, now a lot again, now none, now a heckuva a lot, now only a little."
I thought the same thing when I first saw the first Pirates movie. That scene where they're all fighting in the cave, sometimes Barbosa's hat casts a shadow over his face, but it remains a skull. How cool would it have been if the patches of his face that were in shadow were fleshy while the rest of him was bony? C'mon, SFX crew! Get on that thang!
As far as writing goes, Stardust made a very believable story overall. I think the unicorn's name was Deus ex Machina, but she hurt as much as she helped, so that was okay with me. Really the only thing I couldn't swallow was Triston learning all that swordplay in a day or two on a pirate ship when, earlier in the movie, we learned from Humphrey that they had been in fencing classes together and Triston just couldn't get it. Of course, maybe his expedited learning had to do with the flower--didn't think of that. That's actually very plausible. I doubt that that's what the writers had in mind, but I'll pretend they did.
Were I really anal, I'd probably point out that there is no way Humphrey and Victoria would have come to the crowning ceremony, but I'm kind of a fan of curtain-call style endings--probably my drama background playing with my biases--so I can forgive and even enjoy that.

Overall, a really high quality feel-good movie, which I hope means a lot coming from the guy who repeated purports to hate feel-good things.
That is all.

02 November 2007

Post 34

So. Today I was subbing at an elementary school, and several 6th-grade students were recognized for their excellence in their keyboarding class. More than a score of students were recognized for typing 30wpm; a goodly number reached 40wpm; several reached 50wpm; a handful achieved 60wpm (the speed I got when I took a test a couple months ago, though I think I type at least a little faster when I'm typing off the top of my head--like right now); one student was saluted for hitting the 80wpm mark.
Once, while subbing at a high school in the same city, a few students showed me their ability to hit triple-digit wpm. I was blown away.

I consider myself a mite bit young to begin memories with the phrase "Back in my day," but, seriously, when I was in sixth grade, I remember my teacher taking me to a computer lab to introduce us to this new fangled internet thing. About that same time, my family upgraded from our computer that was running Windows 3.1 and an impact printer to a Gateway that had Windows 95, a HP that could print color or black and white (though not both simultaneously), and a CD-ROM instead of a 5-1/4" floppy. I remember the first time my brother and I took that thing online; we looked at each other in fear when we heard the dial-up noises (noises now nearly lost to society--thankfully), thinking that something was wrong with our brand new computer.
Nowadays, toddlers surf the web, and elementary school kids type not only with proper form but astounding speed and precision.
Not bad, I don't suppose. Just--kinda surprising somehow.

31 October 2007

Post 33

Hello, Halloween; it's been so long--like, a whole year, it seems....

Today I watched The Nightmare before Christmas. That, to me, is a fascinating work of fiction; everything about it--the premise, the story, the characters, the music--everything is so unique, and I love it.
I'm a big fan of Danny Elfman anyway, though; especially since I've seen some of his non-Burton flicks--Meet the Robinsons and the live-action Charlotte's Web--he's very eclectic, very talented, and, in Nightmare, he's at the peak of his form. Nevertheless, the music is only a sidenote in this review, albeit a very important sidenote.

There is a rumor being circulated by some of my friends that I hate Santa Claus. Because this rumor is only a slight exaggeration, I've done everything I can to bolster its credulity, but in reality, I don't really hate Santa Claus; what I hate is the way Christmas has become a celebration of Capitalism (Capitalistmas, I call it) because I feel that that is very wrong.

My birthday is only a couple days before Christmas. On the first day of Christmas break during my senior year of high school, a bunch of my friends kidnapped me and took me to see the third LOTR movie. After that ridiculously long movie ended for the umpteenth time and the credits finally started rolling so I could stand up and regain circulation in my legs, we all went out to Taco Bell.

At the time, one of my closest friends--the person whom I felt understood me best--was a buddy of mine named Dominic, and he was a part of this group. This was back in my days of prolific ranting, and Dom and I did a lot of ranting together, each fueling the other's frenzy. On this particular night, sitting in Taco Bell, we went off like a pair of roman candles, attacking the modern degradation of yuletide holiness. I went home that night and started a short story that ultimately wound up being the most cynical piece I've ever written. I would include it here, but, alas, I have no access to it because the flash drive I put all my works on so I didn't have to move here with a fat stack of CD-Rs died (don't worry; those CD-Rs are safely stashed at my parents' house).
Anyway, from then on I adopted the persona of one with a passionate hatred for the Jolly Old Elf, writing angry songs and stories, slandering every facet of his character I could think of.
I kept this attitude up as a missionary, though usually only in the company of other missionaries, denying any allegations while in polite company. One summer day, after a particularly hot and frustrating round of tracting, I came home for lunch and penned the following:

Christmas Sentiments for the Not-so-Jolly
by Elder Jepson

Christmas comes and Johnny's sure
To remember what it's for
So writes his prayer out on a list,
And just to make sure he's no missed,
He leaves and offering to his god
(A greedy being, so it's not odd):
A plate of cookies and some milk
Then goes to bed wrapped in a quilt.
He stays awake (he cannot sleep)
And so a silent vigil keeps
To see if he can hear a sound
When his god comes roaming 'round.
Then Santa Claus, his Christmas god,
On Johnny's snowy rooftop trods,
Goes down the chimney, to the table,
Eats all the cookies he is able,
Then downs the milk and grabs the list
And holds it tightly in his fist.
Now, if you break the stringent laws
Set up by fat ole Santa Claus
He'll leave you coal instead of goods,
So you must do just what you should
Lest you end up like Johnny, who
Got just old coal and nothing new.

I don't believe in Santa Claus
And, if you must know, it's because
He's a false god, and that's bad;
Don't worship him, it makes me sad.
That's not the point of Christmastime
(Since you forgot, let me remind);
Christmas should be about Christ
Now go your way and get it right!
If you love Santa and his bells
More than Jesus, you'll go to hell!

One of the missionaries I was living with at the time I wrote the above had been the lead singer in a death metal band at one point. After I finished my first recitation of it, he looked at me with wide-eyed wonderment and told me that I was the first person to ever scare him, then he looked away and muttered, "You think you know a guy...."
A while later, that missionary revealed to me that he had a copy of the soundtrack to The Nightmare before Christmas hidden away. He revealed that to me by one p-day blasting "Kidnap the Santy Claus" out of his portable CD player.
I can't really explain what happened to me then because I don't really understand it myself, but I was in a very--uh--odd mood after that--and that's all I really care to say about the incident.

FLASHFORWARD approx. 1 year:
Last Sunday at Church, a friend of mine spoke in in sacrament meeting and at one point used The Nightmare before Christmas as a beautiful analogy that really struck me--not just because it was a solid analogy, but because I was shocked that a movie with a soundtrack that could put a missionary in a reckless mood could be used for such edification.
I've been avoiding that movie for years, even since before my conversation with Dom, worried what it would do to me. I saw it once when it was fairly new, but I don't think I've ever seen it all the way through since then, and I've seen parts of it on only two or three occasions. After that talk, though, I decided perhaps I ought to give it another chance.

Today I had no substitute teaching to do, and so last night I found myself dreading a long and lonely Halloween. The above mentioned friend texted me and asked me whether I had any plans, so I texted her and told her I didn't, that I wasn't even working, that I had no idea what I was gonna do; she said she would be home most of the day (she lives in my apartment complex), that she would be studying most of the day but might be able to pencil me in so we could watch a movie or something.
A copy of The Nightmare before Christmas lives here in my apartment; it belongs to one of my roommates. As I was making myself some french toast for breakfast this morning, that realization dawned on me, so this afternoon my friend and I watched it.
[I don't know how I feel about bloggers making pseudonyms for friends and family members, but the fact that they all seem to makes me wonder whether it's actually taboo to name names; that's why I'm avoiding that. Just thought you should know. Refering to someone over and over as "my friend" seems awkward--wait a minute--I named Dom's name--hmmmmmm...].
Anyway, so Sarah and I watched Nightmare today, and I really enjoyed it. Better yet, it left me feeling really--I dunno--not creepy, which was a relief since there was a girl in the room. I must admit, I did start twitching a bit during "Kidnap the Santy Claus," but I think that was mostly an act of will, to be honest.

One thing that impacted me most in the movie was the whole trying-to-be-someone-else motif thing; ya know, Jack trying to make himself and those around him become something they weren't. I think we all--well, I won't make that generalization, I guess--I know I have that tendency; I see someone who's good at something and start wishing that I was as good at that something as that someone is, even though I have my own talents and ability's. Jack was the Pumpkin King--no small position--and very good at what he did; why should he want to be Santa Claus?
On the flip side of that, though, there's the whole concept of just how hard it is to change, to become better--especially when those around you just don't understand. Furthermore, I found it very insightful that Jack's fatal mistake was when he started catering the truth of Christmas Town to the mindset of Halloween Town citizens. That's something I do occasionally: bend the truth until it conforms to the status quo in some small way. It's a terrible habit, really; luckily (or perhaps unfortunately), I have yet to be "blown to smithereens" because of it.
The most poignant moment for me, though, was when Jack was sitting in his room, pouring over his books and experiments, scientifically trying to figure out the concept of joy, singing mournfully his frustration that, despite memorizing stories and carols, he could not make sense of any of it. I, too, have done that--do that--regularly. I often--

Um. Slight tangent, here:

I'm a man of very few secrets. I'm very open about who I am and where I'm coming from--or try to be, at least. I've never been able to understand how people can be so touchy about things that they don't want to talk about them. I have a few painful memories that I don't enjoy dwelling on, but I really have no problem talking about them one-on-one in a serious moment. I think some of them are very pertinent to who and what I am, so if someone is making an effort to get to know me, and if they're the sort of person I want to get to know, I have no problem sharing this or that tidbit that many other people would keep carefully guarded. It's just all about timing and relevance.
But, because I have no control over who reads this and no way of knowing what sort of mood readers are in, there are certain things that I don't feel comfortable blogging about, so I hereby terminate the foregoing train of thought.

--end of tangent--

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that The Nightmare before Christmas is a top-notch sort of movie that I would highly recommend to most anyone.
And, because The Corpse Bride resides in this apartment as well, I hope to love it soon, too.

28 October 2007

Post 32

Okay. Alright. I'm always happy to endure some correction.

I just watched National Treasure. I'd never seen it before, which is shocking to most people; nobody hates that movie--near as I can tell, at least. Knowing almost nothing about it except its archaeological-adventure genre, I kept a keen eye out for any deus ex machina, inconsistency in plot and/or characters, and over-the-top action, and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The characters were well defined and consistent; the logical flow was smooth and surprisingly layered insomuch that I think it's the sort of movie that I would pick up on details with a second and third watching (which I hope to have--someday). A few little things struck me as a mite unbelievable, but I suppose it wouldn't fit the Indiana Jones action-adventure bill if it lacked things like inextinguishable torches, scary men who have terrible aim with their powerful handguns even when near point-blank range, a heroine who eventually falls for a man she initially distrusted, and stairwells that crumble when walked upon but stalwartly break long falls (I have this theory that ancient architects found a way to build structures out of cornstarch that was painted to look like wood). All of these, I suppose, are forgiven by the willing suspension of disbelief (see Post 31 for more on that--I think--I'm too tired to actually look it up).

At the start, I was skeptical, and things like Ben and Riley finding that smuggling port thing in the hull of an exploding, ancient ship and then somehow finding a quick route to go from being stranded in the midst of some tundra to talking with the FBI in Washington DC--well--I kinda found it hard to swallow. And Riley struck me as a little inconsistent at first--not appearing book smart and then suddenly giving a tour of the library of congress. But as the movie went on, I actually started to appreciate such things--Riley became my favorite character, and the trip from the tundra--well, that's my next point, I suppose:

I also really enjoyed the pace the movie moved at. The fact that the scene wherein they stole the Declaration of Independence was fairly short was very impressive to me; the writers seemed to understand well that the scene, though very important, was mostly incidental, and to make it longer would have probably been very exciting, but any movie that is much longer than two hours can't be too enjoyable [don't look at me in that tone of voice, oh ye hardcore LOTR fans who own all three extended versions; I spit at the very idea of people like you]. Therefore, I can also appreciate that there was no mention of how Ben and Riley escaped the tundra because, really, I don't care. Maybe it was deus ex machina; I'd take that over a three-hour movie any day.

As the conclusion was fast approaching, I was bracing myself for a grave disappointment. Obviously, Ben was not going to be sent to prison, and I felt that that was wrong. I'm sick and tired of protagonists who do bad things and suffer no just consequences; I've seen way too much of it. And I know that a movie can end satisfactorily when the main character gets thrown in jail because I've seen Ocean's Eleven. I was thinking in my head, "Man, Ben's just gonna buy his way out of prison with all this money, which a few billion dollars would certainly do in real life, but I don't really imagine that in real life Ben would have any grounds to claim ownership of this booty. Deusexmachina-ma-rama. So sad to kill what has been a most enjoyable movie this way." But making the head FBI dude a Mason, and having him say, "Ben, someone's gotta go to prison," and then doing what they did--I was okay with all of that. The ending left me--stunned, frankly; I was watching it with a group of friends who love this movie, and the whole time I was trying to come up with this "Well, I can see why literary peons like you would like this movie, but--" kind of speech, but it ended and left me nothing very solid to complain about.

And--I'm okay with that; I got a few snide comments in from time to time, but, in the end, I had to say, "Hm. I guess it is a pretty good movie...."

26 October 2007

Post 31

Man. See, that's what I'm looking for--but in books.
To quote the Raven: "vainly I [have] sought to borrow/From my books surcease of sorrow."

Music. Music is a truly passionate medium. Unfortunately, my opinion of modern music isn't much higher than my opinion of modern literature--mostly, modern art as a whole is one big disappointment to me; humanity has somehow lost its ability to distill emotion--for the most part at least.

But we haven't lost everything; as long as me have melancholy, there will always be some semblance of art, I suppose. (For my part, I spend a lot of time living and breathing melancholy; I just can't focus it into anything but lengthy whines to post on my blog.) I can't think of any more recent examples, but Soul Asylum's "Runaway Train" and Bon Jovi's "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night" are two songs that are too poignant for me to listen to very regularly--if at all. They always get to me.

I'm not one to cry, but I'm a prolific sigher, and those two songs make me sigh from an unplumbed depth.

19 October 2007

Post 30

More quazi-literary rantings now:

Today I read Fahrenheit 451 and got paid for it (I subbed a few hours of study hall and found it in the classroom). A week or so ago, I read Jonathon Livingston Seagull. I have read a couple more of Plato's Socrates dialogs and started chipping away at Walden and some Emerson, but I have encountered a dramatic disconnect, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

Previously, I have mentioned my distaste for Harry Potter without explaining how it came to be--a story that actually predates my account in Post 9 and seems relevant now.

As I read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry and I shared many a magical moment; we connected. I know what it's like to have friends in crappy relationships; I know it's like to have a teacher take oppressively special notice of me; I know what it's like to be worried about the health of a mentor; I know what a crush is like; I even connected with the Felix Felicis scene because I know what it's like a day when everything goes just right--I've never connected so deeply with any other work of fiction as I did with this book. The magic and witchcraft and lurking evil were all circumstantial; the quintessential story was the ups and downs of mid-adolescence, and I can feel that; it's real to me.
But "the higher my high/the lower my low"; this poignant connection is what set the entire Harry Potter series up for a fall from grace. Whereas I can connect with worrying over a gimpy father figure, I have no comprehension what it would be like to force-feed said figure a debilitating hallucinogen just to watch him rush into death--all for naught; whereas I have had unfulfilled crushes, I have never told a girl I was "in love with" to go on without me because she'd be better off with someone else. And, whereas many a Harry Potter fan read these things and thought, "How terrible!"--meaning "I can't imagine what it's like to go through anything so traumatic; poor Harry!"--I read these scenes and thought, "How terrible!"--meaning "Well, there goes my willing suspension of disbelief, blown away like so many ashes of a cremated pet on a windy day. And, seriously Harry, get over yourself; she's almost as stupid as you are and will willingly die with you." I don't know; there seemed to be nothing more to come from the story. Sure, book seven ironed out a lot of wrinkles--brilliantly, I begrudgingly admit--but the magic of the story was gone; I could not find myself able to care. Harry had gotten incredibly unlikable in the fifth book, but by the conclusion of book six, I hated the kid--irrationally, perhaps, but also undeniably. I suppose once a work of fiction looses its relevancy to real life and the human condition, it becomes little more than words--less, in fact: mere ink on paper (or flashes of light with choreographed sounds, as was the case with the fifth Harry Potter movie [see Post 9]).

So that's the lens I see fiction through. I believe I have before expressed that I feel I'm at a crucial time in my life wherein I am very vulnerable and impressionable and required to make decisions that carry lifelong and even eternal consequences, so I'm looking for literature that will change me in righteous ways at this ever so crucial moment, but in order for fiction to change me, it must impact me; to impact me, it must connect with me; to connect with me, it must have some foundation in what is real to me. That, then, is where the disconnect lies: stories that have no bearing on what is real.

Perhaps the scripture that has had the greatest impact on me is Doctrine and Covenants section 50, verse 23. I found it one morning in Eagle, Id, and it has been a standard flapping in my face ever since. It's so short, so direct, so unmisrepresentable. Here it is:

And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

Definitions of "edify" include:

To build up. In the Christian context it means to strengthen someone, or be strengthened, in relationship to God, the Christian walk, and holiness

Improve spiritually or morally by instruction or example.

enlighten: make understand

So, if whatever bit of fiction you're reading or watching or listening to or otherwise experiencing does not build you up and/or strengthen you and/or improve you and/or enlighten you, not only is it a waste of your time, it is darkness.

I must admit this troubles me--a lot. For God to call something darkness--his metaphysical opposite--it's pretty intense.

This is a tangent I did not intend to take, but it gets to the heart of my difficulties in regards to fiction--or any work, regardless of factuality. But how can one know whether a work will edify without trying it? Such is my conundrum.

Anyway, that nonlinear bit of thought is where I stand when it comes to books and movies and music and all suchlike. I think that fiction is generally too far separated from reality--designed to be a fleeting escape rather than any sort of--actual--helpful--sumpineruther. This is very sad.

I have felt the first inkling of regret for reading so much so fast; I think I blew off an absolute jewel in reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull so quickly and not pondering the subtle details of the allegory, but because I've read it so recently and I still have so much to read, it will likely be a very long time before I reread it--even if it is a very short volume. I think it's just the sort of thing I've been looking for, and I missed it. A hypocritically hearty recommendation on this one.

Fahrenheit 451 is--okay. I like it, but having read 1984, it's a comparatively weak take on the government-oppression dystopia thing. Of course, the concepts are quite different, and their denouements are opposed to each other--at least 451 leaves the faint impression of hope. But Bradbury's writing is kinda sloppy and occasionally over the top. I did manage to connect with Montag a few times, though, and once or twice felt a tad emotional. But it wasn't in the struggle that made up the main story; it was in the isolation, the fact that he and his wife were strangers, the fact that he had no idea what it's like to just sit and chat. It was when he could hear the family next door talking and laughing and contemplated knocking on the door and asking to join. I forget his exact thought, but it was something akin to "Can I come in? I won't say anything, I just want to know what it is you talk about." I know what it's like to be the outsider, and I have been lonely when I'm not alone, but this was so personal to me because I am a man of very few phobias, but perhaps my greatest fear is that I will one day find myself a stranger to those I love.
I don't know how enthusiastically I'd recommend this book; as I said, I felt the writing was sloppy. Furthermore, the ending seemed to drag on and on--I would have ended it with Montag hopping in the river, changing his clothes, and floating away, leaving the possibility of traveling literary hasbeens to the imagination of the reader.
One little sidenote: Ray Bradbury wrote a play version of Fahrenheit 451, but he didn't just shorten the story, change its formatting, and divide it into two acts; he actually rewrote the entire story and, in my opinion, did a much better job of it. I think the contrast between the two is the most impressive thing, though, so if you ever have the opportunity to see the play, read the book first to ensure that the original isn't any more disappointing than it has to be and also to ensure you can appreciate the differences.

Well, I grow weary of this drivel, so I'll end it here.

13 October 2007

Post 29

Perhaps I have an overly expressive face....

I've never really thought about how much I use my eyebrows, but I have noticed a few times lately that sometimes while reading or going on a walk alone with my thoughts or having a really good conversation with someone, my forehead muscle(s) are actually sore from the effort. A couple days ago, as I was getting out of the shower, I examined my forehead in the mirror and notice--yup--three little wrinkles upon my youthful brow, fine but definite, premature but probably not unreasonable.
21 years old! Wrinkles!
But I am unrepentant; most of the time, I am totally and blissfully unaware of what's going on with my face. I've been trying to pay attention lately, but it's hard to observe such a system without affecting it, so I can never tell if I'm exaggerating or being merely overly self aware.

Anyway. I guess what I'm getting at is this: that piece your mother always said about not making silly faces because your face might freeze that way may well be true to some extent, so strike a dashing pose and be sure to eat all your vegetables!