Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hollywood's Greatest Year

Every silver lining has a cloud. I love working with BADD and the opportunity to participate in a continuous flow of videos and live pieces.

But BADD takes up my Monday nights, so I can’t partake in things like this:

The Academy of Motion Pictures is screening all ten of the best picture nominees of 1939, dubbed “Hollywood’s Greatest Year.”

A different movie each Monday night for ten weeks.

GONE WITH THE WIND. You know, I’ve never seen the whole thing in one sitting. Maybe, my dear, I should give a darn.

STAGECOACH. John Wayne and John Ford tie their names irrevocably to what is perhaps the most American of an American industry: the Western.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Heathcliff without lasagna, as Heathcliff was meant to be.

DARK VICTORY. Two things Oscar loves – a big star, and a character dying from a horrible disease. Yet she still didn’t win…

LOVE AFFAIR. The female version of The Dirty Dozen. (What, no Sleepless fans out there?)

GOODBYE MR. CHIPS. And a whole new generation enters the teaching field.

NINOTCHKA. Garbo speaks – and makes us laugh.

MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. Jimmy shows us the world, not as it is, but as it ought to be.

OF MICE AND MEN. Burgess looks so young!

And THE WIZARD OF OZ. Those freaky, freaky monkeys!

PLUS, and here’s part of the beauty: each screening will include an animated short from that year, and an episode from the BUCK ROGERS serial.

All for $25 – or $2.50 per night of movie magic.

Sigh. Mondays. Why did it have to be Mondays?

Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 27, 2009


What I’m thankful for this week: unsung heroes.

We live in a world where the traders responsible for crashing our economy for short term profit state proudly that if they were given a do over, they wouldn’t change a thing.

(“Of course not, it made money for us. Who in their right mind would change?”)

A world where the most fervent religious voices define their faith by what gives them the most personal power.

And where our politicians take polls to determine what their moral convictions will be for this day.

In such a world, it is good to be reminded that we are surrounded by heroes.

Not just those who are heroic by profession – police, firefighters, soldiers.

Not just those who are heroic by their every day existence – teachers, parents, role models.

But those who make a choice to risk all, sacrifice all, devote all to make a stand for what is right.

Even though it won’t bring them wealth, or power, or popularity.

Folks like Irena Sendler.

Never heard of her? Me neither.

And that’s the point.

Just my thoughts,


72 Boxes of Dreams (And One OED)

Janet has lots of books – more than I ever had.

I’m envious of Janet.

Just had the image of Janet packing up and moving 3,000 Kindles.

Not quite the same thing.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Battlestar: A Lack of Stuff

Spoilers ahead.


Certainly one of the best things to hit television in decades.

Artistic excellence, exciting storytelling, depth of character.

Socially relevant in a way that only the best of art can be.

Which is why it is a bummer that the finale was so lame.

Television without Pity posits the questions and gaping holes left by the episode. I’ll leave most of it to them. (Besides, they do their analysis with pretty pictures.)

My biggest disappoints were setups without payoffs.

The existence of Daniel. The boxing of Xena Warrior Princess (we were told repeatedly that she was only boxed, and could come back – and of course she doesn’t come back). The identity question of Starbuck.

And the biggest waste of space: the Opera House. After leading us on with visions for years, the importance of the Opera House turns out to be:

Nada. Zilch. Zingo a bingo. If Gaius and Six were not there, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Athena and Madame President lost a lot of sleep over nothing.

Okay, now let me defend the finale, followed by the reason that my defense of the finale doesn’t hold water.

Sure, the last hour was a snooze fest, but the battle sequence was pretty exciting, right?

Yes. And no.

Yes, in real time. The battle sequence while watching the battle sequence was very exciting.

But like the Opera House teaser, the battle sequence becomes less and less exciting the more one thinks about it. And here’s why:

Lack of stakes.

Only one significant character died (or was even injured) in a significant way.

In retrospect, it is clear that no one was in any real danger. The writers weren’t willing to risk anything in the finale.

And if they aren’t willing to take risks, well, it just isn’t that exciting.

(I think of Wash in SERENITY: “I’m a leaf on the wind…”)

Let’s add it up:

Cost of Galactica’s final mission: nada. (Even the death of the ship doesn’t count, as she only had one more jump or so left in her.)

Gained from her final mission: nada. Unless you believe that 30,000 humans and cylons would forget to breed, leaving only a rescued hybrid to create the new human race.

Me? I’m thinking that sitting on a primitive planet without any technology to provide entertainment, someone somewhere at some point is going to think, “Hey, I’m bored. Wanna contribute to the creation of the new human race?”

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

They Get Younger Every Year

As the stars of Hollywood seem younger and younger, I'm feeling older and older.

But now I think they've gone too far -- or too young.

If one were to go to imdb, there is a box at the right labelled:

Born today: Tuesday, 24 March, 2009: Alyson Hannigan.

Born today.

Yep, you read that right. She was born today.

That makes her, what? 16 hours old at most.

Stars in two long running televisions series, made a couple of movies, and not even a day old.

Man, I'm a slacker.

Just my thoughts,


It's All Releve

Relevé (ruhl-uh-vay)
Definition: • Meaning raised, lifted up or relifted • A ballet term which is a rise from a bent kneee to the balls of the feet

Releve Studios, where my wife works is pretty cool. (That's her at her desk.)

How cool? Wow, I wish there was a video where the founder explains it herself.

Oh, wait, here's one.

The founders (and our good friends) talk about the struggles in building the dream. This is a short shot by BADD to augment a sermon at Bel Air.


Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 20, 2009

Peanuts Pack Power

I just learned through Cynopsis that “Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.”

Cynopsis being an entertainment information site, I first thought, “Wow, what would Charlie Brown be doing in dynamite?”

But that sort of made sense, when I thought of the explosive power of Lucy’s five-fingered reasoning combined with the snap of Linus’ bull-whip blanket.

But then I realized they probably mean the Jimmy-Carter-Planters-Airline-Staple-Joke variety of peanuts.

Which brings up the whole dilemma of peanut allergies, as well as other things that inquiring minds want to know.

Question: Are terrorists now restricted from bringing bombs onto flights that are allergy safe zones?

Question: If enemy combatants have air-born peanut allergies, does a stick of dynamite constitute a WMD?

Question: Do we need to stockpile an equivalent number of jelly grenades?

Question: Does the pentagon have an Operation Fluffernutter?

Question: Does the FDA require all bomb manufacturers to list the fat and cholesterol content of their products?

All I can say is, GW Carver would be so proud.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, March 19, 2009

UP With Morality

Looking Closer touches on one of my favorite topics, namely the Christian artist as it relates to the "Christian" product (quotes don't do enough to distance those two words), including an excerpt from a Radix interview with Pete Docter, the director of Pixar's UP and MONSTER'S INC.

Favorite quote:

"To me art is about expressing something that can’t be said in literal terms. You can say it in words, but it’s always just beyond the reach of actual words, and you’re doing whatever you can to communicate a sense of something that is beyond you."

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

TV Viewers, Musical Performers, and a Gaffney Vid

Couple of interesting links for today (unlike those boring links of yesteryear):

Over at the IMAGE Blog, Santiago Ramos talks about the rise of the intelligent television viewer.

Favorite line is the closing one: "Not all art, and discourse about art, takes place on the campus quad; actually, a lot of it is born in the public square."

Over at Christ and Pop Culture, Richard Clark cribs from the Boston Conservatory to remind musicians that "You are not entertainers."

And finally, I toot my own horn ('cuz it is rude to toot in other people's horns), a BADD video I wrote called "The Janitor" is available for public viewing. I also co-write on "Irreplaceable," which still gives me giggles.

Cath appears in both vids, so if you wouldn't watch for the writing, you might watch for her performances.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, March 16, 2009

Hey Bub, I'm a Marvel...

A while back, someone thought to spoof the "I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" ads by having the characters from Marvel comics and DC comparing themselves.

The first one was funny, the second one was funnier, then the market was flooded with them and some were okay and most were not that interesting.

But now we have a growl fest between Wolverine and Rorschach -- and I'm laughing again.

Thanks to Tamara for the heads up.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 13, 2009

Get Me Some Getty

What I am thankful for this week: Museums.

My small group sponsors art immersion workshops for Cloud & Fire, an outreach to at-risk inner city youth. Our last session was a trip to the Getty Center.

Among the activities (one suggested by the Getty) was a poem formula: study a painting, then create a poem by using a one word title, an action, a comparison, then a longer title.

Two of the kids, after noticing a halo effect on a painting of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, wrote this:


Dying for us
Like a man.

God in the sunset.”

Hmmn. Guess they got inspired.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen Part III

Continued from yesterday’s post, including the spoiler alert. The spoilers are getting more major here, as I will be discussing the end of the film.

The emotional climax of the movie, THE WATCHMEN, takes place on Mars. Laurie discovers who her daddy is, and breaks down into tears.

This prompts the closed-to-humanity Dr. Manhattan to realize that he is vested after all, that he does care.

Big moment.

Okay, show of hands: how many of you found yourselves holding back tears at that point? What, no one?

Okay, let me ask this: how many of you thought before this moment in the film that Laurie even cared about her dad? Ah, same hands.

The biggest glitch with this film, the thing that makes it an okay film while keeping it from being a DARK KNIGHT, is this:

The filmmakers failed to make us connect emotionally to the characters or story.

The problem (in my opinion, as if this whole blog were anything but merely my opinion) isn’t in lack of character depth or complexity; and it isn’t in performance.

Sure, part of it is in Snyder’s wrongly-hyped action against his glossed-over character.

And part of it is in condensing the whole thing down to a single serving. (This should have been an HBO mini-series, twelve episodes long.)

But the big problem is in structure.

Three mistakes are made by Snyder and company dealing with structure, and those errors undercut the heart of the film.

(Hey, I’m going deep into spoiler territory here, so read on at your own risk.)

PAYOFFS WITHOUT SETUPS (Janet - the filmmakers should read your blog!)

Laurie being case-in-point. In order to feel the importance of the revelation that Blake is her father, we must know emotionally what her relationship to him is.

We know it intellectually – Blake is a major [insert foul word here], so we can assume that she wouldn’t want him as a daddy.

But to be grounded, we need a scene, a set-up. We need to see (preferably in the first act) Laurie and Blake together AFTER Laurie finds out what he did to her mom. If we know what their relationship was, then we would know the cost of the revelation.

Another example: I am a New Yorker. The city is destroyed in Watchmen. It didn’t bother me. Why?

Because I wasn’t set up to care. Only one person that I even met (the psychiatrist) died, and I didn’t know him well enough to be vested.

The book took a lot of time building relationships with tertiary characters in NYC, so when the newsstand owner and the kid that never pays for comic books hug right before the big bang – I’m actually getting emotional just thinking about it now.

[Side thought: How do you do that in a movie with so much else going on? Make it Hollis. Give him two more scenes with Dan throughout, and show the boom from his point of view. Just a suggestion – one of a hundred ways to make this work.]


The film is faithful to the book.

The book is twelve stories, with twelve separate sets of balances, unbalances, quests, crisis and new balances.

The film is one story, with a balance, unbalance, quest, unbalance, balance, balance, unbalance, quest, crisis, quest, unbalance, unbalance, balance, quest, crisis, unbalance….

The film doesn’t move to a satisfying finish because it keeps stopping momentum to go back and re-give different act one beats far into act two and even act three.


The strength of lit: words which build details to create ideas.

The strength of film: images which build action to create story.

Moore/Gibbons were all about detail, creating a novel masterpiece of ideas.

Snyder didn’t have time to dwell on details, nor should he.

Yet he didn’t change the structure of his story to play to his media’s strength.

I’ve mentioned the emotional climax of the film; let’s talk about the action (or plot) climax as one example of this problem.

The final showdown is against Ozmandias in his frozen lair – Nite Owl and Rorschach racing to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Oh, I should mention that this takes place (as Ozzy so smugly points out) AFTER the end of the world as we know it.

The physical climax is a pointless exercise, as all the physical world answers are in – the villain has already won.

The climax doesn’t work for this kind of film – it deflates, rather than inflates the impact of the action.

This ending does work for a literature piece, where the ideas are still fighting against one another through to the real climax – Dr. Manhattan versus Rorschach in the frigid void that can not sustain life.

But, alas, film is not literature.

And rather than making a great film, what got made was a visual aid for a book already written in visuals.

Just my thoughts,


PS I was discussing with a friend whether we would have noticed these flaws in the script stage; his thought was that a multitude of such errors would have been covered by the hand of a director whose heart was on the characters, rather than just the action. I agree.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes: Part II

Continued from yesterday; as does the warning that there are spoilers ahead.

I really like the book THE WATCHMEN.

I still get new things from it every time I reread the opus. It makes me think; it quickens the pulse; it gets me to feel.

So I had high hopes for the film; but not high expectations. I knew this would be hard to film. But not impossible.

The thing is, it should have been better.


The movie misses the mark in three main areas: the intellect, the action, and the heart.

The intellectual side fares the best, surprisingly. A big part of THE WATCHMEN is the ideas, and a lot of those ideas come through in the film.

What makes a hero? What cost is justifiable for a greater good? Where is the moral line that one must not cross? Questions that would have been too obvious under the last president, but still are front and center today (stem cell research, anyone?).

Questions of identity, of loyalty, of integrity.

Much of that came through – although it would have been stronger if the visual take by the director supported the mental take of the script. (See prior post for example of idea being undercut by action.)


This is an action movie, so I suppose action should take precedence. And there are some very well choreographed sequences.

But the action doesn’t carry the thrill it needed to, for a couple of reasons.

First, a lack of heart (see tomorrow’s post) – we as an audience need to care about the outcome of the action.

But also because we saw too much of it.

Zach Snyder stayed pretty loyal to the comic series; but one of his additions was to make the violence more explicit and gruesome (he also amped up the sex).

Every sawed off body part or protruding bone becomes a disruption to the action. Such explicitness may be good for a DAWN OF THE DEAD, but not so much for a straight up action movie.

I guess I’m trying to say that Snyder has a vivid imagination – he can see a lot on a page of a script.

But he doesn’t have a very creative imagination.

Two examples: in the prison riot, he leaves behind the graphic novel to graphically show us the deaths of Big Figure’s first goon. Gross, cringeworthy, and pulls the audience out of the film.

But he sticks to the comic to show – or rather not show – the demise of Big Figure himself.

Just a swinging bathroom door; a flushed toilet; a seepage of blood under the door. By far creepier, and cooler.

And pulls the audience into the film.

Let’s take the sex example as well. Snyder undercuts a perfectly fine visual joke that Gibbons/Moore gave him.

The hapless couple of Laurie and Dan, who couldn’t quite achieve sexual union earlier, are now all a-tremble from their first mission in costume. As the Owl spaceship floats in the sky, they embrace; their clothes fall to the floor.

Cut to an outer shot of the Owl spaceship. A large flame erupts from the ship’s guns.

Really, what more do you need to know?

Well, Snyder felt that we needed, I don’t know – how long did it go on? – a half hour of watching Dan and Laurie shifting positions from one state of ecstasy to the next.

And, after leaving no doubt of the multiple successes of their coupling, he cuts to that now pointless outside shot.

Really, who needed to know that much?

So by overexposure, the action of the flick doesn’t quite thrill as much as it should.

(Side note: okay, every one – coolest move in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies?

Elf Legolas getting on that horse. Sweet.

Coolest move of THE WACTHMEN? Rorshack in Veidt’s artic palace, dropping off that stone block, while turning and catching himself.

Why couldn’t we have spent more time on stuff like that?)

Okay, now the final failure:

Why the movie came across so very, very cold.

To be continued…

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes

Spoilers ahead.

After much anticipation, I saw THE WATCHMEN. So here’s my take:

I guess it’s okay.

What generates such enthusiasm from me? Let’s take a look-see.


Great visuals, and some intense action. The murder of Blake among them – great scene, well choreographed, well shot.

And I really enjoyed the opening credits montage – a marvelous way to introduce us to the world, and get us up to date.

And there were some really nice acting performances – especially Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Marvelous work.

I even enjoyed the understated and underappreciated voice and facial work of Billy Crudup as the CGI’d Dr. Manhattan. Veidt’s line about being able to read ocean’s of emotion in the blue giant resonated with truth – a lot going on with minimal movement.


If you are unfamiliar with the graphic novel, it will help you to know these two things going in:

IT’S NOT ABOUT HEROES. The story is about vigilantes, not heroes.

It asks: what kind of a person would dress up in a costume, and go a-beating on the bad guys? Not in a fictional world, but in the real world?

The answer, of course, is messed up people.

So don’t go in thinking that you will find caped crusaders and big blue boy scouts; instead you will find folks with a screw or two loose playing out fantasies to try and find meaning and fulfillment.

Another helpful tidbit:

THESE PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE SUPER POWERS. Dr. Manhattan is the only powered character in the movie.

You might be confused, because the other heroes punch holes in walls without scraping their knuckles.

And they leap incredible distances in the air without use of wires.

And they do marvelous, super feats that common folk can only dream of doing.

For example, Dan goes for fifteen years without working out. His first fight since retirement, and he is outnumbered by ten to one, surrounded by a gang (that probably has been working out).

Yet they can’t lay a hand on the guy, as he takes them down without working up a sweat.

But he doesn’t have super powers.

What he does have is a director who is looking for hyped up action – ala 300. Or that Crouching / Hiding movie.

Standard, really, for action movies of this type.

But you still might be confused, because the director forgot what the theme of his movie was.

You see, THE WATCHMEN is supposed to ask the question: what if real people dressed up in costumes?

So the psychological drama deals with real people, with grounded egos and jealousies, personal level angst and relational problems, and messy attempts to find meaning and connection.

And the action part of the movie deals with fantasy characters able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Two completely different and clashing movies compete for space on the same film reel -- each one undercutting the other.

The result: the audience can’t rest in either genre, making it harder to enjoy the action or the drama.

Which brings me to WHAT DOESN’T WORK:

To be continued.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, March 06, 2009

Watching Time

So I’ll be watching THE WATCHMEN tomorrow.

Until that time, I’m getting my fix through these variations.

WALL-E trailer – makes me appreciate a whole new dramatic side of Wall-E.

The Watchmen Saturday morning cartoon. Who knew?

My favorite piece of Watchmen artwork, done by Evan Shaner. Answering the question, what if Schulz had drawn the Watchmen.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, March 05, 2009

Jean Louise, Stand Up

Older Scout: [narrating] There just didn't seem to be anyone or anything Atticus couldn't explain. Though it wasn't a talent that would arouse the admiration of any of our friends, Jem and I had to admit he was very good at that - but that was *all* he was good at... we thought.

Thing I am thankful for this week: I met and had the privilege of watching Horton Foote work.

Horton was a master playwright and screenwriter, with such titles as TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, TENDER MERCIES, and, of course, the screenplay adaptation of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

MOCKINGBIRD is one of my favorite films of all time; and the scene where Scout innocently steps between the mob and a lynching remains a kick in the gut to me.

Scout: Don't you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I'm Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one early morning, remember? We had a talk. I went and got my daddy to come out and thank you. I go to school with your boy. I go to school with Walter; he's a nice boy. Tell him 'hey' for me, won't you?

I met him when he was directing his own ROADS TO HOME at the Lamb’s in New York. It was shortly after his wife had passed, and the production was a bit of work therapy, surrounded by a hand-picked cast of friends, including his daughter, Hallie.

Horton’s true gift was in creating character. His stories aren’t much on plot; not a whole lot happens. A woman gets on a bus. A boy asks a girl to a dance. A woman listens to a drunk yelling on her lawn.

But what a rich character that bus rider is! What deep torments of teen angst does that boy carry! What ripples through life does that women bear with the echoes of the drunk yeller!

The only other Horton I ever heard tell of was the one that could perceive the cry that no one else could. This was true of Mr. Foote – he could feel the pulsing need inside the quietest of persons.

The scope of the worlds he created were small, no bigger than a two room apartment with blankets on the couch to make it a bed.

But those cramped quarters held a cosmos of drama – enough in one character to fill up the whole of Texas.

Horton Foote made his way home yesterday, reuniting at long last with his wife. His gentle voice will be missed.

Reverend Sykes: Jean Louise. Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passing.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Hmmm, Cookies...

I'm quite pleased with my "What Girl Scout Cookie Are You" result (see below). Thanks to Janet for the link.

You Are Thin Mints

You are bold and brave. You dare to be different, and you are confident about who you are.

Your fearlessness has paid off. You are extremely well liked and popular.

You are charismatic and charming without even trying to be. People appreciate your unique take on life.

You are willing to take risks, speak your mind, and live life to the fullest.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Few Thousand Words

My niece, baby Abby, fixing a truck. Good to learn a trade at a young age.

I’ve been telling people that I met part of this American Idol rising star. I met his kidney, or at least the person who had his kidney before he did. Read about it here. Cath and I worked with Walter Cosand and family at the Masterworks Festival.

Friend Cory gave a lecture to some kids at our church on Ash Wednesday. As a teaching prop, he had a bowl of ashes, which he apparently forgot he was holding.

This was the result.

All kinds of metaphors of sins being covered, etc. jump to mind.

But really, its just funny.

Just my thoughts,