Sunday, November 26, 2006

Download it here, for free!

By the way, if you have seen Stranger Than Fiction and want a copy of that fantastic song that Will Ferrell sings during the film, I found a copy of it online. Go ahead and download it:

"Whole Wide World" by Wreckless Eric.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

This past holiday weekend, I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving with another family. It's always fun to see how other people do the day: what they eat and what they don't eat, how much football is a part of the equation, how the tables are divided up, etc. While Thanksgiving is pretty much the same no matter where in the nation you are, it's fun to see the little idiosyncrasies each family possesses.

This group, for instance, had the excellent tradition of the younger generation going out and seeing a movie all together. If feeling particularly unconversational, they might see two movies. In desperate times, where they just don't want to talk to anyone, they've gone to see three. I call this "putting your money where your mouth isn't."

This Thanksgiving was a two-movie-holiday. So I saw Casino Royale (again) and Stranger Than Fiction (again). I would like to relay the conversation I had with one of the more combative members of the family after the movie, as he explained his feelings about the movie and movies in general.

In order to understand the feel of this exchange, go ahead and imagine the scene like this: there are six of us in a minivan, and I'm the one in the way back where the last row is supposed to be, but is not. The character I'm speaking to is driving the vehicle, and is speaking loudly and with large gestures, often taking both hands off the wheel. Picture all of my lines in a quiet monotone from the back.

For purposes of anonymity, the driver will be referred to as "Neil," even though that's actually his name. I've occasionally added links for reference in case you doubt the veracity of any of either of our statements.

Neil: "See, you were right, the movie wasn't that bad. But it would've been so much better if they'd just cut out all the narration."
Me: [long, long pause as I contemplated the seriousness of the past comment] "Wouldn't that completely destroy the entire point of the movie, since it's a film about a guy who hears a voice narrating his life?"
Neil: "No, because without the narration it would feel so much more like Almost Famous, which is obviously what they were going for. It's pretty much the same movie."
Me: "Well, I guess the tone is sort of simil... wait, how is it the same?"
Neil: "One's about a guy writing about being a rock star, and this movie has writing too. Plus, this movie has Dustin Hoffman as the god-like guy, and Almost Famous had pretty much the same actor, because they had Jack Black."
Me: "Phillip Seymour Hoffman."
Neil: "Right. Hey, what happened to him? His career's totally fallen apart."
Me: "Well, he just won last year's Best Actor Oscar."
Neil: "Yeah, but everybody knows he sucks now. Like Clint Eastwood used to be good, and now everybody knows he sucks."
Me: "He just won Best Picture."
Neil: "Yeah, but nobody saw it because everybody knows that he sucks."
Neil's Girlfriend: "Sweetheart, you're getting too worked up again."

Let's leave this little tableau for an instant and jump right to the end:

Neil: "See? Everything you guys are saying totally agrees with everything I've said! You're wrong, I'm right, I win!"
Neil's Girlfriend: "Sweetheart, it's two in the morning, let's go home."

Ah, Thanksgiving. These are the moments we treasure forever.

It really is a little inspiring.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Borat: #168

For those interested in these things, Borat is currently ranked #168 on IMDB's Top 250 Films Of All Time.

That's one notch above Gone With The Wind.

Borat Review: Cultural Learnings Make Benefit For All Readers

I'm going to skip the original paragraph that introduces Borat: Cultural Learnings etc etc. and its main character, played by Sacha Baron Cohen. You know all this. I'm jumping straight to conspiracy theory.

My response to the film was basic skepticism. I really didn't believe that those interviews were real - and I know that a lot of people are mystified at how he got such results as well - but I mean this as a filmmaker. I simply have trouble believing that it was possible that it's possible to end up with footage that perfect, to have all those pieces cut together so well, to have all of it all come together as breathtakingly easy as it seems to. If you watch any reality TV show - even the extremely controlled and well-funded ones - the footage that they get doesn't compare to the footage in Borat. In this film, they get shots of apparently unrehearsed events from multiple angles, they get that oh-so-necessary close-up on every bit of action that they need to. Their shots always looks clean and crisp no matter what environment they're shooting in, even when they're shooting quick encounters with interviewees who are sure to catch on to the joke sooner rather than later. It's the most unlikely of films of all time.

I've done some research, and it looks like a lot of the people who were interviewed for the movie do exist and are quite angry and insulted about their roles in the movie. They all seem to be real, living, breathing, furious people. This leaves us with three options:

1. The whole thing is real. Every interview and event, including some of the more stunning ones - like the Pamela Anderson spot - were all filmed just as you see them. They were all quietly filmed while people made complete asses of themselves in what is fast becoming one of the most successful comedies of all time. If this is the case, not only is Cohen a genius for his ability to roll with the punches, but his staff of producers are simply the best in the game right now. Head and shoulders above everyone else. Though I suppose, since they came from HBO, that's to be expected. They're also, though, some of the meanest people on the planet.

2. Parts of the film are real - most of the interviews are real, a lot of the reactions are legit - and they faked some of the more tricky situations: the streaking through the hotel ballroom event, possibly the Pentecostal meeting, the bit where the horse keels over just over Borat's shoulder (how did that happen? how is that possible?) and - hopefully - the Pamela Anderson scene. I think this is fair. There are some scenes that are just brilliant if they really are people's real reactions, and there are some scenes that are funny either way. And honestly, I'd just feel bad for Pamela. And that poor, patriotic rider.

3. The whole thing - all of it - is faked. Pretty much everyone is in on the joke. Everyone is acting, this film is a giant hoax. Even the post-film explanations from those tricked in the film, like this somewhat suspicious one (read all the way down to the bottom. As she gets going, she gets funnier and funnier. The bit about the chairs is fantastic) - they're all invented by those in the know.

Y'know what? I think that I truly don't care. If this is all a giant moneymaking game invented by Cohen and those minds at HBO, it doesn't actually matter to me. I got my money's worth out of that movie no matter how it came into existence. Borat is the most categorically offensive, insulting, degrading, and hysterical movie to be released to theatres in years. It goes against everything America believes in.

And if the joke turns out to be on us, well, wasn't that the case anyway?

By the way, if that Pamela Anderson scene is real, the whole rest of the movie can be faked. I don't care. It's worth it just for that one scene.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Only Thing Playing That's Worse Than "The Grudge 2"

As I write this, I am just finishing up (as in exporting out and re-converting, the boring parts of filmmaking. Well, the most boring parts) to a short film for tomorrow morning's church service as. This month, our church has rented a real classy projector that can play movies and put pictures on a gigantic screen behind the band and the speaker during worship, without having the video play on their faces, too. It looks awesome. Last week I got a bunch of stock footage online and made a video to play while the band did Delirious?'s "Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble?" I synched it up to a click track, rehearsed it with the band, fixed it up to look perfect - it was pretty rockin', I must admit.

So this week, the decide they want another video, but no one can tell me what songs they're playing until I finally tracked down the lead singer during last night's Bebo Norman concert. And last night, you'll note, was Friday. Which left me: today.

So I shot and edited this little film together all by myself today, and let me tell you, friends, it is awful. I mean, truly awful. I can't express how bad it is in mere blogwords. The only thing saving it is the fact that it's basically a b-roll movie (in case you don't know what b-roll is, I'll explain it at the bottom*) to play behind the band, and some of my b-roll is pretty good - because it's shot on HD and looks a lot like it was shot on real film (this is the unexplainable obsession of all filmmakers - they love having their movies look worse than they did when they shot them, as long as they look more like film). Some of it, in fact most of it, is pretty freaking lousy, though.

And this is the worst moment: there's this one part where I needed a shot of a hand holding the steering wheel while the car is stopped. And the girl who I'd shot with before had already left for the day, so I went out, set up the camera, and shot it myself using own hand (sadly, I've got feminine enough hands to pull it off). But by the time I got out to the parking lot, it was 6 o'clock and the sun was down. So I shot it by the glow of the lot's halogen lights, with my own hand and then tried to color-correct the shot later to look like daylight. And also like a girl's hand.

Yeah. It's bad.

Tomorrow, it's going to get played on the 50' x 30' screen behind our band during worship, and no one besides me will have seen any of the film before that moment. And it really sucks.

*B-roll is the parts of a movie where it doesn't matter that much what's being shot, it's just something to save your mistakes and go between the actual necessary things. For example, when you see a documentary, there might be an interview with someone, let's say a zombie. And while the zombie is talking, it'll cut away to whatever the zombie is talking about: rising from the grave with a roar, absorbing shotgun blasts to the chest from cowering citizens, limping along with that inescapable one-leg-dragging zombie limp that George Romero probably really wishes he'd copyrighted. Those shots are called b-roll.

When I say that I have a "b-roll movie," it means that my whole movie is just a bunch of random footage I stitched together to tell a story. Sometimes this works very well - Mark Romanek's video for Johnny Cash's "Hurt" for example.

Sometimes it doesn't. This is one of those times.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Southern Hospitality

There's a great rumor that Southern people are generally more outgoing, friendly, caring, and likeable, and that all Northern people are cold, introverted, mean-spirited, and closed-off. I submit that this is not true. Or, only a little true.

I have now lived, for varying lengths of time, in New Hampshire, Los Angeles, rural Kentucky, and greater Houston. I've also lived in suburban Romania and rural Italy, but that's besides the point (actually, so is LA, but I'm already off track and we've barely started, so let's get back to the main argument).

The point is that while I certainly don't have a particularly large breadth of experience in regards to differences between South and North, but I feel that I might have a great deal more exposure than most of the people who actually advance these claims.

Therefore, based off of my limited knowledge of this subject, here are my...

Five Points To Keep In Mind Whenever Reinforcing South/North Stereotypes

Every area has their own particular war, conclusive battle, or divisive point in American history that the residents of the area look back on proudly. If you live North of the Mason-Dixon line, this is most likely the Revolutionary War, or some event surrounding the birth of our nation, such as the signing of the Declaration or the Constitution.

In the South, this is the Civil War. Northern people laugh at Southern people's fondness for the Civil War, which is a dangerous thing to do. Remember, everyone - we had them outnumbered, outfunded, and outclassed, and they kicked our asses for years before we finally pulled it together. They don't laugh at our love for the Pilgrims. And the Pilgrims weren't all that great.

In Texas, this is the Alamo. Don't mess with it. This is a big deal.

Southern people are no more likely than Northern people to come up and greet you on the street if they don't know you. In most cities, South or North, no one does that. People still do that in small towns, it's true, but there's no strong Southern habit that Northern people haven't picked up.

However, people greeting people they don't know, smiling at strangers, or sitting out on the porch and chatting with people as they go by does happen more often in the South. I know that obviously seems a major contradiction in relation to point #2, but I merely said that Southern people are no more likely to. They simply have a major advantage - weather. Since Southerners are outside more, they spend more time out on the porch and out and about on the streets, greeting neighbors and chatting with people. It's really a cumulative effect. I mean, think about it:

In more southern states, spring begins really early - let's say February. People come out of their houses in the evenings, eat outside, spend their lunch breaks outside at nearby restaurants. This goes on until about May or June, at which point the sun comes out in force and everyone disappears inside until about September. At this point, people come back outside, enjoy the weather again until it gets chilly again in November.

In the northern states, spring begins really late - it, in fact, never actually comes. At about May, though, summer appears from out of the mud and northerners rush outside. They spend every possibly second outdoors until summer abruptly disappears at about August 23rd. But they don't go back inside yet - they hang on as long as they can, until finally after about six or seven consecutive frosts, they have to admit it's time and go dig out their winter clothes. This happens about mid-September.

So Southerners are outside about 8 months a year, versus a Northern 4. That's a distinct porch-sitting advantage.

(And yes, Northern people have two entirely different sets of clothes, winter and summer. And not just stylish Northerners. Everyone does.)

Southern hospitality in the more traditional sense - visiting someone's house and relaxing on lawn chairs or in their living room with a pitcher of iced tea, while the hosts refuse all help in the kitchen - is absolutely true. This is somewhat true in the North, with a key difference: it's for a much shorter span. You could stay at a Southern family's house for a week, and the whole time, you would be a guest. Someone would always be looking after you, and trying to pour you a refill.

After maybe one or two meals at the household, the Northern family would have decided you'd been around the house long enough to find your own way around, and just accepted you as part of the general household. You would be responsible for finding your own drinks and you'd be making breakfast for yourself, but you'd also never feel awkward at the house - you could show up and end up spending six hours on their computer without ever making any sort of conversational effort, and you probably wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. This hosting style is both comfortingly familiar and a little strange.

The final major differentiation that I've consistently heard reinforced again and again by people from both areas is the spiritual divide. I've heard it said that Southern people are much more spiritual: many more people go to church, are more open about their faith, and are much more accepting of Christian culture, music, and lingo and less cynical about its many trappings. In my experience, this is true.

On the other hand, I've heard that Northerners are more dedicated to their faith, more likely to research, debate, and wrestle with the major issues of Christianity and its church, and, while less likely to toe the party line, more likely to be passionate about the issues that they do face off about. In my experience, this is true as well.

It's a conundrum to me. I find that faith in the North is generally stronger, deeper, and more personal - but at the same time it stays so deeply wrapped that no one knows about it. The world has to seek it rather than it seeking the world.

In contrast, the Southern faith is constantly seeking, trying to gather in as many as it can, trying to bring people into the fold. But the faith product that's being sold is so weak and pablum that its unpalatable to anyone seeking something deeper. It's a faith that costs you almost nothing - a little cash and your Sunday mornings.

I guess the whole gist of this final point is that maybe there's more to this North/South divide than meets the eye.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Lazy Sunday

Sundays are becoming my laziest days. Sure, I'm busy in the morning with all the services, but after lunch is over, my video projects for the next week haven't started - and won't start 'til I'm back in on Wednesday - so I'm usually just relaxing. I'm sure these days it'll pick up, but today I just scrolled around online for music videos. Which I guess is technically research, since I might get to direct a music video sometime. Maybe.

Anyway, I fixed all the video clips on the sidebar, they all look much better now. And now I'm off - my weekend begins right now.

By the way, if you haven't seen the Ask A Ninja video series, check it out.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Average News

I haven't the energy for a full, informative post of any kind on any subject, so here's a mish-mash:

- An unusual side benefit to single bachelor living: I've developed better dental hygiene. I'm finally using the electric toothbrush my mom bought me a months and months ago and brushing for the full two minutes, I'm gargling with mouthwash twice a day, I'm paying attention to my gums.

I'm hoping that this one effect will slowly move to cover every aspect of my life, and I will become a regular exerciser, eat carefully balanced meals, and be in bed by 11 every night. This might take time.

- I've decided to write a screenplay in my free time. I've got what I think is an excellent idea, but I'm not going to tell anyone because I don't want feedback. I'm afraid someone will tell me it's not a very good idea, which will paralyze me and make me not want to do it.

- I've also decided to paint my walls, if I'm allowed to. I think it'll really transform my apartment into someplace pretty classy. Or I'll get paint all over my carpet and lose my deposit. Now taking bets on what everyone thinks is most likely.

- I got paid! I'm no longer completely broke, and can now afford to buy the following useful items: food, gas, a waste basket, clothes hangers, a skillet, a pan, and a pitcher. The skillet and the pan are so that I can finally cook the food I have ready to be made (eggs, burgers, cake mix, etc.) but have no way to make them. The pitcher is so that I can finally use the dozen cans of frozen juice concentrate I bought and then left in the freezer once I realized I didn't have anything to make them in.

I was telling this to someone (translation: whining) and they pointed out that earlier in my story I had mentioned that the milk had gone bad. "Why didn't you just wash out the milk jug really well and use that?"

I can't believe I didn't think of that.

- The race for governor of Texas is heated and muddy, and in only ten days, I am as equally informed as any standard Texas voter. The commercials run so often that I've memorized each one and can name all the candidates and a brief history of their campaign. Which has only embittered me.

Now, most campaign commercials are annoying and self-absorbed. But each of these commercials is so frustratingly back-patting and non-specific and mean-spirited that the first time I saw any of them, I said to myself, "I would never vote for you. Ever." And then the commercials kept playing and playing, until it's all I could do to avoid screaming.

I really can't wait for this election to be over.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Gilmore Effect

I suddenly realized - out of nowhere, in fact - the easiest way to television superstardom is to play a boyfriend on "Gilmore Girls." Every boyfriend on that show is now carrying another major TV series all by themselves - Adam Brody, Chad Michael Murray, Jared Padalecki, and now Milo Ventimiglia.

Don't ask me how I figured all this out, out of nowhere. I don't even get the CW on my TV. Still, all hail the future career of Matt Czuchry!