Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A new drifter just blew into town.

I added Caitlin's blog, Huruma, to the sidebar, I've been poking through it the past week or so and found of the sort of quality to merit a sidebar link. Her tagline goes like this:

22. Vociferous. Opinionated. Political. Female. Bubbly. Obsessive. Dreamy. The realistic optimist. Traveled. Hopeful.

It sounds sort of like an extremely specific personal ad to me ("okay, let's type in the word 'vociferous' and see who comes up. Okay, 'vociferous' and 'obsessive.' Ah, bingo!"), but if you've endlessly scoured True and eHarmony in such a fashion and found nothing quite like this, well, then you are welcome.

I'm actually not sure of her relationship status one way or another, so I may have given her unwont publicity. But fortunately, the readership numbers are low enough we can be sure I didn't send unwelcome hordes of greasy men in her direction. Well, I don't actually have a site counter, so I guess we can only be pretty sure.

Review: Whale Rider (2002)

A Three-Dollar Review.

I finally snagged a copy of Whale Rider from our local library, which, like most libraries, has chosen to confront a DVD culture by purchasing a bunch of semi-artistic/literary films and hoping people will be won back from Movie Gallery. It doesn't seem to work on anyone but me. I'm in the process of checking out every single film in the library, even the overly ponderous or barely literary ones (I watched Equilibrium the other day - clearly, some librarian somewhere okayed the purchase with a "well, it's sort of like 1984, except with Taye Diggs instead of Richard Burton. Plus, it's a knock-off of The Matrix, so that should bring in the kids."). And that's how I found Whale Rider.

I thought there was a reasonable chance that I might like it - a friend of mine mentioned that he'd seen it and thought it a "f***ing awesome movie" when we saw Keisha Castle-Hughes promoting it on Conan one night. And that was the last I ever heard of it, or Castle-Hughes - she's since only appeared in one movie, Revenge Of The Sith, and that was a covered-in-white-make-up-and-headress, non-speaking role. And I guess that she's the closest thing this film has to a star. So, no, this isn't a star-studded film by any means.

It's also not an expensive one. Whenever the film cuts out to the whales during the first 90% of the film, it's always the same whale in the same place, with just different shots of it. I have a suspicion that all of these whale shots were quietly shot in a holding tank of a Sea World in Texas on the manager's day off.. It's the sort of thing that the Mystery Science guys could lampoon without too much difficulty, except that
a) that show doesn't run anymore, and
b) Whale Rider is, in all other ways, an absolutely excellent movie.

Really. I'm usually not a family-flick guy, I'm certainly not a girl-power guy, and I'm rarely a little-kid-triumphs-despite-doubting-parent-figures guy. But this one's just so carefully woven, so cleanly assembled, so good, that I have to recommend it. And here are my main two reasons why:

1. Keisha Castle-Hughes is the real deal. I mean it. You'll see her around Christmas in The Nativity Story playing, no kidding, the Virgin Mary. They don't just pass the role out to any passing floozy dame (picture with me, just for a second, Jessica Alba playing Mary. Okay, now picture Jessica Simpson. Hang in there. Okay, now Paris Hilton. See? We got throught that. Easy now, you flinched pretty hard there. Tilt your head back a little, I think your nose is bleeding. Ooh, that looks nasty. Breathe slowly. The queasiness should pass in a second or two.)

Back to Whale Rider. Castle-Hughes was only 11 or 12 when she shot the film, and she's got that sweet, unpretentious innocence that good child actors always have. But she's also got that riveting, can't-look-away-from-me type of momentum that ties you to your seat throughout a whole movie, and then leaves you with a "geez, who was that kid?" moment when the flick finishes. Haley Joel Osment had it in The Sixth Sense. Natalie Portman had it in The Professional. Jodie Foster had it in Taxi Driver. We still remember these people. Mark this name down: Keisha Castle-Hughes. You're gonna want to know it later.

2. Writer-director Niki Caro is clearly a details guy*, which is what makes this film, and all good films, go. He's made a film about an ancient tribe of people struggling in a modern world. But no one ever mentions that they're an ancient tribe of people struggling in a modern world. This is a new concept in modern filmmaking.

Instead, everything is conveyed in details. The way the fathers never seem to stick around for any of their sons' training. The slightly untrusting looks in the eyes of all the boys. Everyone's slightly too-dated clothes. The way Castle-Hughes' unwavering faith stands out so sharply amidst a sea of people who seem to be barely avoiding rolling their eyes at every major event the movie throws at us.

Caro never says anything too strongly. He just focuses in on Castle-Hughes, and lets all the other details swirl around her as she struggles to quietly grow up while being forcefully pushed down.

Look, Whale Rider is nothing new. It's nothing you haven't seen, really. It's a little on the cheap side - until the big finale, during which the crew either made some extremely life-like baby whale mock-ups, or killed a whole pack of baby whales. This is one of those productions that you can't really tell. I've digressed. Let me start over.

Look, Whale Rider is nothing new. It's nothing you haven't seen, really. But it's sweet and unpretentious and you feel better after having watched it. It's everything these sorts of films should be and never are.

Total Value: $2.45

* After I finished this, someone pointed out on the Xanga version that Niki Caro is actually a woman. Whoops. Probably shoulda seen that. Mentally change all the "he's" to "she's" as you read. And keep in mind, this slip in no way determines my opinion of women as directors. There are some excellent female directors out there right now. Some of them are among my favorites, in fact:

Lessee here, Sophia Coppolla (Lost In Translation, Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette). Nora Ephron (Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail). Penny Marshall (A League Of Their Own, Big). Uh... Jane Campion (The Piano). Mary Harron (American Psycho). Lemme think. Okay, Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice), and that grad student who made Girlfight and then Aeon Flux... Karyn Kusama. Monsoon Wedding, too, uh - Mira Nair. Valerie Faris, who just co-directed Little Miss Sunshine. Hang on, let me get at least one more, I can get to ten... Nancy Myers, who made Something's Gotta Give. There, so, really, there's lots of great female directors, even though I know that women can have a lot of trouble getting films made in Hollywood. Nobody send nasty comments.

By the by, while women directors have some troubles, there's a fairly high percentage of women producers in Hollywood these days, and the number rises each year. 4 out of the 5 films nominated for Best Picture in 2006 were at least partially helmed by women. Six of the major studios in Hollywood are headed by women. When I worked at Scott Free, all of our producers were women, and Scott Free's not a small company - that fall we were premiering Cameron Diaz's In Her Shoes, Keira Knightley's Domino, and James Franco's Tristan & Isolde. Plus we were working on Ridley and Tony's new films - A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe, and Deja Vu, starring Denzel Washington, both of which'll be out this year. So even if there aren't that many opportunities, at least things are looking at a little bit brighter.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

How Ben Wyman Got Honest, Lost His Taste, and Got Some Chick Lit

I think that I'm okay with people making fun of me, today. I've decided that it's time for me to admit that I really don't necessarily have the best taste.

I enjoy lots of different things for "artistic reasons," and love to openly ridicule anything in bad taste. I get in knock-down, drag-out fights with my boss over my film-style photography at work. I own a lot of black. I flaunt my indie cred.

But I also took The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants out of the library. No, not the movie. I already rented that, remember? I've watched the movie and now I'm reading the book. Yikes.

While I'm cleaning out the closet, I also took out How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. You know, the book by the Harvard freshman that was about to be turned into a movie by Dreamworks, but then suddenly got pulled off the shelves because of its similarities to Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts, another chick-lit coming-of-age tale. I found a copy of the former library, and, curious, took it out, thinking that I'd found the new, cleaned-up version that author Kaavya Viswanathan had put together for the publisher once the mistake had been discovered. But actually I got one of the few copies still floating around out there, since it turns out that Random House refused to accept a new, plagiary-free version, ostensibly out of literary morality, but more likely just because if you removed all those elements from the book, you'd have nothing left. Seriously, it's stunning when you read it, then look at the original writing. Here are some comparitive selections between the two:

The other thing about Marcus is that crackheaded girls who don't know any better think he's sexy. I don't see it. He's got dusty reddish dreads that a girl could never run her hands through. His eyes are always half-shut. His lips are usually curled into a semi-smile, like he's in on a big joke that's being played on you but you don't know it yet.

''Sloppy Firsts," page 23

Just about every girl, from the A list HBz to the stoner hoochies, thought he was sexy. The weird thing was, I didn't see it. He had too-long shaggy brown hair that fell into his eyes, which were always half-shut. His mouth was always curled into a half smile, like he knew about some big joke that was about to be played on you.

''Opal Mehta," page 48

Ooh! Ooh! Here's another:

Finally, four major department stores and 170 specialty shops later, we were done.

''Sloppy Firsts," page 237

Five department stores, and 170 specialty shops later, I was sick of listening to her hum along to Alicia Keyes...

''Opal Mehta," page 51

If you look at the Wikipedia article on the subject, there's at least half a dozen more authors that Viswanathan stole sections from outright - Salman Rushdie, Sophie Kinsella, even Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries (yeah, no one was ever going to notice that). Every single one of these comparisons are more than incidental similarities - they're carbon copies of the works (I noted a few sections of dialogue lifted straight out of Mean Girls, as well). Viswanathan maintains all of the plagiarization was completely accidental, and actually a bit of a compliment to the original authors, since the originals influenced her so much she unconsciously added them to her work. That was always my excuse in case a professor ever questioned me a little too closely, too, Kaavya. Good one.

The best part about this is that the whole story is about a young Indian-American girl who does everything she possibly can to get ahead in order to get into, shockingly, Harvard. Opal is riding high until her mistakes are abruptly made public, and everything crashes down. At that point, Opal realizes that what really matters in life is being true to herself, she leaves all that nonsense behind and decides to just be Opal. And she gets into Harvard anyway.

Early conspiracy prediction: Viswanathan disappears for a good year or two, maybe three, then suddenly reappears, maybe right as she's graduating, with a new book. She's apologetic about the terrible mistakes she made as a result of the intense pressure as an Indian-American student to perform and be the best (she would have admitted to her mistakes and apologized about a year before this). Someone, somewhere, probably USA Today, writes a "How Kaavya Viswanathan Got Published, Got Punished, and Got Her Life Back" article that re-introduces her to the world. Viswanathan publishes her new book through a different company, and it goes on to make the New York Times Bestseller list. And everyone jokes about the similarities between this and her first book, which is of course all purely coincidental.

But I will know.

Well, now that I've stripped bare everyone's lies, I'm going off to finish off Kerouac's On The Road before bed.

No, I'm not. I'm gonna go read the Frank Miller Batman comics that I got from the library.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why I'm not talking about Houston, followed with how to get free music. Feel free to skip the first.

I feel somewhat reluctant to talk about my business trip to Houston. I'm not certain what the reason for this is - maybe because I don't have the job for certain yet, maybe because I don't want to repeat the same fairly dull stories over and over again. What's most likely is that I'm nervous about everything and I'm just tired of talking about it. Plus, I might be directing some of the people who work for this church to this site to look at videos, so I don't want to say anything that I might regret later. Because that is something I would do, and everyone knows it.

In short, the trip was a success, at least in my mind. I really liked the job, I liked the people, especially John, who might be reading this. Though I really did like John, he took care of me all weekend, drove me around, took me out to eat every meal, and introduced me to his truly lovely family. And I truthfully passionately like the opportunity. It's not just a chance to do what I want for work - it's a chance to just let what submerged talent I have just explode, to really, really, make a difference.

It's also an opportunity to discover that I'm really not very good at this and have everything rather publically fall apart in front of maybe 10,ooo people every week. But at least I would know. And I could always look back at those moments.

That's enough about that for now. Instead, here's a neat little link to check out. Derek Webb - formerly of Caedmon's Call, though I'm sure that he's tired of hearing that qualifier by now - is so impassioned about how he wants his music to impact people, and to start conversations, that he's making the entire album available for download, completely free.

I have mixed feelings about Webb - he's talented, intellectual, a great songwriter and deeply zealous. But he's a little too aware of it, a little more-zealous-than-thou sometimes. I just get that "talking down to the people" tone sometimes. I like him much more in Introspective Mode. Makes it a little easier to get into his shoes and start walking.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

MySpace Films

I just thought I'd post this up on my website, since I'm gonna be pulling this up a bit this weekend.

Just ignore this post. This just makes it easier for me.

MySpace Films.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My birthday present: the thrill of the obvious.

Since I worked a double-shift on my birthday, it ended up being a little blah, but I did have this event to make up for it:

I was watching Poseidon with a couple friends of mine, and my dad wandered into the room towards the end to watch it. Now, if you haven't seen it, Poseidon is a strictly-by-the-book action movie that references - nay, outright steals - every trick used in disaster movies like Titanic, Armaggeddon, Cast Away, Die Hard, Gone with the Wind, The English Patient, Babe, etc. The dialogue is cookie cutter, it's paced exactly as you would expect, and so on. So when they jump out of the boat at the end of the movie, amazingly, there's a life raft waiting right there for them. They pull themselves in, and I said aloud: "Countdown to rescue - 38, 37, 36..." and then I stopped. My dad, who was standing behind me, quietly finished the countdown in his head.

When he got to "one," the night sky lit up with rescue helicopters.

Man. I am good.

In other news, for my birthday I got Arrested Development: Season Three, which I have not seen any of and is turning out to be every bit as good as I hoped, and will soon get The Office: Season Two, which I have seen most of and I know to be every bit as good as I hoped. Better, even.

I also got a first-edition Oz book and A Man, A Can, A Plan, so that I don't eat just baked beans and toast this time when I move out of the house. So it was a good birthday. But there's still time, everyone. You can still click on that Office link up there and buy me that hat.

Friday, September 08, 2006

What's today? Why, it's your birthday, suh!

I'm celebrating my birthday today by working two overtime shifts in two different portrait studios in our region. I'm hoping that today, at least, I don't get vomited on.

Still, it's my birthday, and a reason for celebration!

At least somebody around here knows how to party.

(By the way, this is the point at which you leave me a lovely birthday comment. Yes, right there on the bottom. Excellent. Nice of you to think of me.)

Right over here. Click here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

It's Here!

As long promised, I have finally done a full-scale update of Ten-Four, Good Buddy. 10-4GB has gone through a lot of changes in the past year, and so I felt it was time for it to finally really show it off to its best advantage. I've learned enough HTML to scrape by, and with a little photoshop and a lot of trial-and-error, the new site is finally on the map.

Here's a quick guide to the new look.

If you're clever, or if you spend some time digging through this summer's archives, you might recognize where the picture in the header comes from. As you might have realized by now, I'm not afraid to use anything more than once. I think the fish is going to become a real theme for the site. I might even have a "Name the Fish" contest.

On your right is the updated toolbar. There are a list of all the 10-4GB films - all of them are now hosted (through vMix) on site. Feel free to take a gander at any you haven't seen before.

"Romans and Countrymen" is the new "Friends" section. If you don't find yourself in that section and would like to, leave me a note.

All the other basic sections are back, in one form or the other, but make sure to check out some of the links on "The Best of YouTube." There's all the classics and a couple new ones, like this one here: Tommy Seebach Band's "Apache."

Keep in mind, this is for real.

New Ten-Four, Good Buddy

By this time tomorrow, there will be a brand new Ten-Four, Good Buddy. I've been working on it off and on for the the past week, and it's nearing completion. It'll be here in 24 hours.

I promise.