Monday, October 05, 2009

The End Of The Blog. I mean it.

Don't panic, though (alright, you weren't panicking, but don't be mildly alarmed). I'm gonna keep blogging, the blog has just moved.

I've been working on building a site, and now it's up:

It has all of my video work, plus the entire blog archive has been transported over. There's even a search feature, so if you're looking for a post from somewhere in the blog's history, you can find it instantaneously. If you follow this site via its RSS or ATOM feed, make sure to click over to the site and update your reading program to the new settings.

In honor of the launching of the site, I'm going to blog every day for a month - or, at the very least, I'm going to write 31 posts for the 31 days in October. There's a number of new posts up already.

You might have noticed I haven't been posting for almost a month now, but that's been because I've been putting together this site. There's loads of new content on it - every video that's posted there has the story of that project next to it. Even if you've seen all the work before, feel free to click around and let me know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading this blog, and I hope you enjoy the new site.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

What meaning what you say looks like.

I follow sports very closely, but in gigantic sports stories like Brett Favre unretiring or the murder-suicide of Steve McNair, I normally stay pretty far on the sidelines. I assume all the details will eventually get to me, and I've no desire to hear every detail of how agonizing a decision it is for Favre to decide whether to play football again. It gets old quick.

But the past couple weeks, I've been following the story of Michael Vick's return to the NFL closely, reading opinion articles and listening to the endless "where will he sign?" rumors with interest. I don't what dragged me into this, but... well, actually I do.

My sympathies are often easy to alter, as my heart always jumps to the opposite side of whatever group I feel is being particularly insulting or boneheaded. Regardless of the situation, when one group cannot separate themselves enough to make logical statements, or finish a sentence without some sort of invective, then they've lost my ear completely. And when one side keeps piling on and piling on, without any sort of response from the other camp - then I'm obliged to join the other side just to balance things out.

If you read that previous paragraph closely enough, you already know what I'm about to say: I've become oddly sympathetic to Michael Vick.

Not really because of anything he's really done. Since coming back into the spotlight and signing with the Eagles, Vick has mostly said things like "I'm really happy to be here" and "I just appreciate the organization giving me a second chance." All the stuff you'd expect someone in his position to say. Has he reformed? Would he do it again if no one was watching? You got me. No one could tell you that from a press conference, where the only important instruction you could give the man would be "look penitent." But Tony Dungy, who is both a faithful Christian and as good a man as exists in professional sports, has thrown his support behind him and guaranteed his redemption. That's good enough for me.

But maybe that's not good enough for you, maybe you feel that someone like Vick is unsalvageable, that he should never be allowed to play professional football again. Maybe there are certain crimes you believe offer no second chances. I understand that. After all, no matter how hard the press hammers Vick, he is not the victim here. The decisions he made brought him to this point - if his young career was cut down, he was the one who did it. He was the one who lost his money - nearly 130 million dollars - so quickly that a vast majority of both this contract and the next one will go to paying off bankruptcy courts. No one did this to Vick. He did this to himself.

But I believe that, if they truly want it, everyone deserves a second chance, and then a third chance, and fourth chance, and infinite chances out after that. And if you think that such things are just empty rhetoric by people who want to watch Vick play football again, then you need to read this story:

Naturally, with every article being written about the Vick signing, reporters have needed a reaction from animal advocates, and assumably the phones at the National Humane Society and PETA have been ringing off the hook. The organizations are asked for their response to the signing, to Vick's press conference, to him returning to practice, to him returning to the playing field. Their responses have been a study in the way that two similar organizations do business with two dramatically different philosophies about life.

The LA Times recently did a piece on Vick's attempt at redemption. Several months ago, while still in prison, Michael Vick reached out to the president of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle. After a long period of inner turmoil, Pacelle finally flew out to Kansas to talk to Vick. There was no forgiveness in his heart - the Humane Society had engineered most of the laws that Vick was prosecuted under, and they were the ones who tipped the cops off about Vick's dogfighting ring in the first place. The person Vick had asked to speak to was the man who had in a sense orchestrated his downfall. But Pacelle realized that causing Michael Vick's demise was not really his final goal: "We're devoted to ending dogfighting, not endlessly flogging Michael Vick. We are about not just ending cruelty, but also making people better... This can be about turning adversaries into allies."

When Pacelle and Vick met, they talked about how Vick got there in the first place. Vick talked about growing up in a rough Virginian community which, as the Times put it, "ironically and sadly, tolerated treating dogs the way slaves had been treated." He talked about how he started dogfighting when he was 8 and didn't stop until his arrest. And he said, for the first of many times, that he wanted to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

Pacelle made sure Vick was really on board, that he wasn't just in it for a little bit of good press before disappearing. Then he welcomed him into the organization. Upon Vick's release, he and Vick started touring the country, giving speeches to kids in areas like Atlanta and Chicago where underground dogfighting is sadly a dominant part of the culture. And Vick spoke honestly about the mistakes he made and how nobody should look up to him and follow his example. Sometimes he'd start crying when he talked about it.

The Humane Society estimates that they've lost more than 1,000 members since Vick joined the organization, but Pacelle is unwavering in his support. He points out that the Humane Society is by and large a white, middle-class organization (which is not suprising, certainly), and they've never had someone like Michael Vick to be a spokesperson for them. They've never had someone who could speak to minority communities, speak to the poor. They've never had someone who could reach into some of the darker places where people needed to hear their message the most.

"The worst you can do is write somebody off completely for not exhibiting model behavior," says Pacelle. "If we just stick with people who are already sympathetic, what good are we doing?"

If you can't hear the Gospel in that story, then I don't know what I can do for you.

The Humane Society has announced their pleasure at Vick's signing in Philadelphia. There's apparently a lot of dogfighting in Philadelphia, and it's long been a city the organization hasn't been able to reach into with any success. They've got more plans for Vick than the Eagles do, they're already working out the details on how to utilize Vick within the city, to travel to the city's darker underbelly to root out these places. Because they finally have someone for whom this isn't just a hobby or an issue to get hopped up about, this is someone for whom this work is a quest for his own redemption.

"I'm going let my actions continue to speak louder than my words," Vick said recently. "I'm gonna still be involved in the community, because I still - regardless of football - would have a voice that can have an impact on kids, because I've been a living example of what not to do."

PETA, by the way, has not followed the philosophy the Humane Society has. They've spent most of their time the past few months attacking Vick personally, which I suppose is not that surprising. Now that he's signed with the Eagles, they've turned their attention on them. They've spoken out against the team. They're considering protests at the games. They're encouraging fans to turn on their home team, telling them they are now terrible people for being Eagles fans. They've even asked Eagles players to ostracize Vick. Still, they're better than the organization that is renting billboards on the highways surrounding the Eagles' stadium to tell fans they are terrible people for going to Eagles games.

Still, its PETA who earns my ire because when, during Vick's trial, they were approached with the opportunity to rehabilitate the dogs left over from the dogfighting ring, they refused, saying it would be more money than it was worth. Apparently, they're all for the ethical treatment of animals, as long as they don't have to do any of the work. After all, isn't there another ad campaign featuring a moderately famous actress taking all her clothes off to shoot? Keep in mind, this wasn't going to cost them any money. Under court orders, Vick was the one who actually paid the $1 million to rehab the animals, who were eventually taken in by the ASPCA. But then, logic isn't necessarily PETA's strongest characteristic. This is the organization that once used pictures of the Holocaust to equate their animal rights message with the murder of 6 million Jews. The actual survivors of the Holocaust were understandably not pleased.

Ultimately, that's the sort of organization that PETA is. They aren't about change, or stepping out to make a difference, they're about calling out attention to themselves. They don't want results, they want people to feel bad. They want people to notice them.

It's certainly feasible that the decision to work with Michael Vick will completely blow up in the Humane Society's face. In his "60 Minutes" interview tonight, Vick seemed penitent and filled with loathing at his actions; he seemed transformed. If he's not, the Humane Society, the Eagles, Tony Dungy, and, I suppose, myself, will all be left with egg on our faces. But given the choice, I'd much rather be in the Humane Society's shoes right now. I'd rather believe that what's important is not your own self-righteousness but the work you put in to make something happen. I'd rather believe in grace. I'd rather believe in change. And I'd much rather believe in second chances.

So I hope this one works out.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

The Ten-Four, Good Buddy Fantasy League!

Hey everyone.

I'm starting a Fantasy Football league this year, and some of the frequent commenters on this site - Jonathan and Assistant Village Idiot - will be joining.

It's a pretty laid-back league in which the majority of people will have never played fantasy sports before, and it should be a fun experiment in how competitive we get in trying to beat each other, either through the league or through outrageously overaggressive emails issued during these battles.

Anyway, there's still a few spots open in the league, so if you've never know the joy of watching your running back break free for a forty-yard score, or your opponent's QB going down with a bruised shoulder in the first quarter, or just unnecessarily trash-talking over the awesome skills your wide receiver has, a receiver you have never seen play, probably never will, and could not pick out of a crowd (Seriously. The best player on my fantasy baseball team is Ben Zobrist, who I just discovered this week is a white guy. Who knew?), then you're free to join in.

No experience necessary (and possibly, quite inadvisable), and don't feel like you've got to be a frequent commenter in order to ask to join. Send me an email at if you'd like to be a part of it.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

If you've never checked out the web comic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, you should do so. Monday's comic immediately became my new all-time favorite:


Movie Fun

A couple different fun links for you today. First, I don't know if I posted this before, but someone linked me to IFC's 50 Greatest Trailers Of All Time a couple weeks after the first time it got sent my way, and I was surprised to discover that I just couldn't help but poke back through it again. If I keep getting linked back, I'm sure eventually I'll watch all fifty. My personal favorites were the ones that didn't show any of the actual films, just short scenes of people talking about the movies, like #6, Orson Welles' booming voiceover introducing Citizen Kane ("These are the chorus girls. Of course, we're just showing you the chorus girls for purposes of... ballyhoo. Still, it's pretty nice ballyhoo."), or #2, Alfred Hitchcock giving you a tour of the set of Psycho, trying unsuccessfully to appear perturbed by the concept of mayhem and vicious murders. While at the site, I also enjoyed their History of Unreliable Narrators.

Second, Total Sci-Fi Online made one of those lists that you know you're going to get pummeled for but at some point a site like that has to make anyway: a list of the 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies. I liked the list and couldn't find much wrong with it, though I've never been able to summon much love for their top movie, Blade Runner, no matter how hard I try. The list takes into account both the best of the the cheap, mass-produced alien/monster movies from the '50s without ignoring the fact that best films of the genre were made in the '70s and '80s. For the record, a more challenging enterprise would be to try to make a list like this without ever using the word "dystopian."

And finally, Screen Junkies wonders what it would be like if movie posters put quotes up from their negative reviews instead of their positive ones.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

From The Onion

Rapper Not Entirely Sure Who Else Is On This Track.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Good Screenwriting Alert:

In the opening 20 minutes of The Hangover, the script quietly establishes that Doug (Justin Bartha) is the only thing that ties together the three other characters together. He's the peacekeeper and the normal friend, and it's clear that without him the other three guys would have nothing in common. The script then removes Doug from the picture entirely, leaving the other three characters to deal with each other. While most movies are forced to continually up the ante in order to get the characters yelling comically at each other, The Hangover could let them start screaming from the moment they wake up with the titular hangover. Then, once Doug rejoins the group, they aren't forced to have a "y'know, I'm just glad we're friends/best friends/husband and wife/partners/brothers/Wayans brothers/literally birds of a feather/almost done with this Michael Bay movie" scene. The movie could just keep right on moving to the resolution.

In the inevitable sequel, I guarantee that this element will no longer be there. Either they will remove Bartha entirely from the movie, or he will remain with the group the entire movie, spoiling the chemistry. A much better solution would be if they somehow managed to once again get separated from Bartha for the majority of the film, however they needed to do that ("alright, guys, I'll see you in New York City in 24 hours for the wedding/funeral/bat mitvah/birth of my child/briss/disarming of the nuclear bomb. Don't be late."). Unfortunately, I'm betting that won't happen.

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Pinstripes ARE slimming.

I went ahead and Mad Menned myself (not nearly as catchy as "Elf Yourself," guys), and here's the result:

Classy. I should always get dressed up and pour myself a scotch whenever I'm doing presentations. For fun, I'm gonna make this my Facebook profile.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Best Movie of the Aughts.

Bill Simmons recently did a gigantic piece on the year in sports, mostly having to do with a defense of Almost Famous as the decade's defining movie. While some people apparently freaked out over the selection, I couldn't really find anything wrong with it. His three criteria were quality, originality, and re-watchability, and Almost Famous has all three in spades. It's one of the few movies from this decade that you can point to and say that.

I decided to dig through the vault and try to find the 10 most likely candidates for "Movie Of The Aughts," a title we won't really be able to figure out until 10 years down the line. Keep in mind, often the decade's defining movies don't come out until the end of the decade, so there's still hope for 2009 that something like The Hangover, (500) Days Of Summer, or The Hurt Locker might grab the title.

10. Donnie Darko (2001) - Sort of an underground choice, but people still endlessly debate this movie and what, exactly, it's about. There's about to be a sequel that doesn't involve any of the major characters or the writer-director, just because the original keeps sticking with people. That's impressive.
9. Juno (2007) - It's really too soon to know, but this seems most likely to be the indie movie that forever could.
8. Milk (2008) - In 10 years, people will completely incorrectly give this movie credit for changing American opinion on gay marriage. Working in it's favor will be the fact that it will still be a really good movie.
7. Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (2004) - Because - ironically - it sticks in your mind, and ultimately we'll consider it Kate Winslet's greatest movie.
6. Memento (2001) - The Aughts will be remembered for this sort of movie, and this and Sunshine are the two best examples of them. I'm betting on one of them sticking around in the national consciousness.
5. High Fidelity (2000) - Really more of a 90's movie than an 00's movie, it's still one of the strongest romantic comedies of all time.
4. Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy (2004) - Every generation has a turning-point comedy, and this was ours.
3. Dark Knight (2008) - The best superhero movie of all time, of the biggest grossing movies of all time, and the special effects are so solid it should age extremely well.
2. Lord Of The Rings (2001-2003) - Decades are remembered for their franchises more than anything.
1. Almost Famous (2000) - Hey, I didn't say I disagreed with him. I just wanted to open up the discussion.

What did I miss? Should movies like Little Miss Sunshine or Brokeback Mountain have made the list? Or has their time already come and gone?

Also, now that enough time has passed, I have to ask: what is the quintessential 90's movie? I vote for either Saving Private Ryan or American Beauty.

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