Wednesday, February 28, 2007

always look on the bright side of life

i came home from work, feeling tired but fine, and within minutes the toilet was overflowing.
as i stood balancing on my toes and the counter, i wondered a) why did this have to happen now, and b) how did we clean these kinds of messes when i was a lad?

but now the bathroom floor is cleaner than it's been in a while [and dry], and it really needed it.
i've got a cold one in the fridge and a load of damp old towels in the wash.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

my choices

late last night i made my oscar picks for cnn's 'inside the envelope' game, hoping that this year i might win that home theater system. mostly, though, i just like making my choices. i like list--they're something to discuss and debate.
so here's what i think:

best film editing- 'babel'- i loved the movie, and its ability to interweave four stories was just as impressive as the way the four were cut within themselves. if not 'babel', my second choice would be scorsese's perennial editor, thelma schoonmaker. 'the departed' was also expertly done as it carried so many layers and told them clearly.

best cinematography- 'the prestige'- five great dp's were up but wall pfister's work was the only one i'd seen and it looked good. i would have voted for 'babel', had it been nominated.

best adapted screenplay- 'the departed'- great story adapted from hong kong's 'internal affairs'. a plot with sub-plots, fake good guys and fake bad guys [and then some], it's a good movie. also, can 'borat' really be considered a script?

best original screenplay- 'little miss sunshine'- i don't think this will get best picture but people love it enough that they want to honor it somehow, and the 'little sundance that could' [and did] did so because of it's script. this is where it will be recognized.

*this is a year in which all four acting categories seemed to be locked. that being said, i think there is a danger in being a 'sure winner' as soon as the nominations are announced; as many of these actors have been gathering awards all year, i think the tide begins to turn as people start to rethink their choices. i only chose one of the four 'certainties.'

best supporting actress- rinko kikuchi for 'babel'- jennifer hudson is the crowd favorite from 'dreamgirls', and she may very well win. kikuchi seems to be second most talked about, and i chose her because i really liked her, though i will be a little surprised [albeit pleasantly] if the academy aslo picks her.

best supporting actor- alan arkin for 'little miss sunshine'- i initially marked eddie murphy in my entertainment weekly list, as he is the other 'sure on' favorite. but arkin has been gaining steam, and 'norbit' has not helped murphy in the eyes of the actors [or anyone else].

best actress- hellen mirren for 'the queen'- yes, she will win it. she has won everything else and there seems to be no one to stop her. and i think she deserves it. she was excellent in as elizabeth II.

best actor- peter o'toole for 'venus'- scorsese has lost five times; o'toole has lost seven. even when his quintessential movie, 'lawrence of arabia' swept the oscars in 1961, the eponymous star lost to gregory peck in 'to kill a mockingbird' [not that anyone could have beaten that]. forrest whitaker is the odds on favorite for 'the last king of scotland', but he has won every other acting award on the planet for that, and there seems to be just enough sentiment around that people would like to see o'toole win that it might actually happen. might.

best director- martin scorsese for 'the departed'- i want him to get his oscar as much as anyone does, but i want him to deserve it; he did not deserve it for 'the aviator' [i'll let you know what i think of 'gangs of new york' later this week]; he did deserve it 17 years ago for 'goodfellas' but lost it. now is his time again, and i think everyone is aware of it. the sixth time is the charm, and the gold will taste sweet.

best picture- 'babel'- i've said so much about it, you know how i feel. there are no headrunners here, though 'the departed' and 'babel' seem to be just a little more talked about. if any of the other three that i have seen win instead, i will be happy for them; they are all very different movies with different stories behind them, and it will be a noteworthy accomplishment for whichever wins. but 'babel' is the best movie of the year. it deserves to be 'best picture', too.

--i do like that itunes has the nominated shorts up for sale; i've never seen more than one or two, but they are interesting, especially considering the directors tell a story in a short amount of time.

--what is the difference between 'sound mixing' and 'sound editing' and what should i look for indetermining my choice for best work?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

how to have a fun saturday night

1. get a good group of friends.
2. go sledding. getting there when the sun is up is preferable, but certainly not requisite. similarly, one need not dress warmly, though it will increase the amount of snow infiltrating warm areas and numbs the fingertips quickly.
3. enjoy hot chocolate in a warm home. photo albums, correct-tasting cocoa mixes, and wendy's dollar menues are optional.
4. watch 'the office'.
5. laugh.
6. play mah-jong.
7. repeat steps 4-6 as desired.

Friday, February 23, 2007

good pictures #3

the departed- i have seen 10 of martin scorsese's 22 directed features listed in the moviehound guide, and this is his best work since 'goodfellas' [my vote for his masterpiece]. 'the departed' is not only a very good gangster movie, it is one of the most talked about of the five nominees for this year's very wild card best picture.
scorsese does gangsters better than any other director in cinema history, and after the disappointing 'aviator', it's nice to see he's still as good as ever. dicaprio, one of the best in the new generation of actors, is up for an oscar from 'blood diamond', but his work here as the very undercover cop is strong. balance him with the evil jack nicholson [improving and having a good time of it], the corrupt matt damon, fast-talking and cynical mark wahlberg, and martin sheen as the closest thing to a moral center and you've got a heck of a cast. and a fair amount of blood.
after 'babel's global story, i felt that the best 'the departed' could be is a really good gangster movie. actually, it's a really, really good gangster movie. 'goodfellas' was fun to watch. it has a strong moral at it's core, but he told it in a very enjoyable way. 'the aviator' lacked any sort of fun. it's time to enjoy the movies again. new york italians have been replaced by boston irish, but after the 17-minute set up for the movie, the opening titles rolled as the camera floated through the running stories to and the rolling stones blared--i couldn't help but think, 'it's fun when a scorsese movie gets going.'
'goodfellas' was an insider's story of the mob, the ups and the downs. i get the feeling that some of the guys in costello's group could tell the same story. this time, though, we're not on the inside, but caught in the middle, with just enough knowledge about each side to be excited and still nervous. there's a mole in the gang, but also a mole in the police. that alone is an interesting formula, and when it's thrown around and mixed in different scenarios, you get a good story. at times it can be just confusing, remembering who's lying to who about what and who does know something, but just enough that you can still keep it straight and enjoy the challenge of a layered plot.
along with the moving camera, scorsese's auteur trademark's are integrated music and violence, and both come through here. music is constantly starting and stopping with the action and drama, ranging from classical opera to the irish punk of the dropkick murphys' 'i'm shipping up to boston', the signature song of the movie. holding more testosterone than the great lounge songs of 'goodfellas', the music can be as tough as the gangsters.
no one really does violence like martin scorsese. his shots, the staging and style, all carry the indelible mark of the artist--nothing carries scorsese's signature more clearly that the way he shows the sudden burst of rage between thugs. perhaps it's because he does not glorify it. it is intriguing to the story, but it's never a brawl or shoot out you want to be involved in. when leo attacks a pair of goons in a diner, we cringe. gun fights feel dangerous, because here the bullets actually seem to pierce and kill people, not just knock them down [and extra nod goes to the sound designers for the subtle effects, too].

it's a good story, told by one of the masters at full force. scorsese described it as his 'b-movie', and perhap it is, in genre. in skill, it is an a-movie all the way. editing and cinematography do what they should do, remain invisible in telling the director's story, yet there are moment where both elements step forward like a jazz soloist, to have some fun and show us what they can do. everything works here. if you like scorsese, like gangster movies, this is about as good as it gets.
---even better than i expected---

the best picture battle here is between 'babel' and 'the departed'--they are the two strongest movies out. but a 'little miss sunshine' has a good chance, too. or maybe 'the queen'. and i haven't even seen 'letters from iwo jima'. it's going to be fun to watch the awards.
who do i want to win? and who do i think should win? 'babel', no questions.
who do i think will win? no idea.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

good pictures #2

babel- of the three nominated movies that i have seen, and knowing what i do know about the two that i haven't seen ['the departed' and 'letters from iwo jima'], 'babel' is going to be the movie to beat this year. it has every attribute of not only a great movie, but a 'best picture' as well. every technical aspect is so finely tuned it is invisible, making us forget almost immediately that we are watching any sort of pre-fabricated creation. everything looks completely authentic, from the deserted wastelands of morocco to the high-rise apartment of downtown tokyo, and the floating handheld camera captures the moments so immediately that even when we break from the screen and remember that this is a movie, it's almost impossible to imagine that there could be a crew of any size standing outside the field of view; there is no one but us, peering to look because everything is so intriguing.

the movie looks as if there were no lights used anywhere. the huts seem to be lit only with the gray light coming though the windows; at night, the dessert has absolutely no light bet the bright headlights of the car--there are no 12K lights giving even a slight 'ambient moonlight'; helicopters flying over cities, the japanese metropolis, everything looks completely natural. but not in the way a 'dogma 95' movie looks, where no lights were ever used, but the way the world looks to our natural eyes. we almost never notice the lighting around us, as our eyes naturally adjust and recalculate the way we balance light and dark. the movie was shot by rodrigo prieto, one of the prominent dp's of the new generation, and his work here is some of the best i have seen in any movie. no, it is not the beautiful masterwork of a conrad hall movie, nor the impressionistic style of 'punch drunk love'; it is the most realistic and natural lighting i know of, in that he makes the camera see the world the way a human eye does.

'babel' has been compared to 'crash', last year's best picture about colliding stories of racism in los angeles. and it is, but as i was admiring the elusive naturalism of 'babel's cinematography, i compared it to 'traffic' [which is either more realistic or more stylized, depending on how you want to look at it]. the structure of the movie is also akin to soderbergh's masterpiece, in that the storylines are connecting, but not intersecting. ideed, the japanese connection is not even discovered until partway through the movie, and it is barely attached. but that is not the point. even brad pitt's story and that of his children are independant enough that the familial ties are necessary only to justify having the stories in one movie.
like 'traffic', the stories play simultaneously in the movie, intercutting from one to the other, often leaving one just as a moment of crisis or tension strikes [particularly in morocco]. while this is a great skill of editing, the cutting within the stories is particularly strong. i loved the painful craziness of the ultra-modern dance club mixed with pills, where shots jumped so erratically that i became disoriented myself. at different points as the stories progress, there are montage moments where the sound fades and music carries the scene, when words are spoken but not heard, because we don't need to hear them; the scene does not become pastoral, but ponderous, giving us a break from the aural to think about what is happening. we do not need to hear to know the universality of human experiences.

just as the technical aspects of 'babel' are flawless, the artistry of the movie is profound, showing so much without telling us anything about what we should think. there are no 'stars' in this movie; it is a true ensamble piece. brad pitt is the most prominent face of them all, but does stands out no further than the dvd title menu. the movie follows the events of three or four groups of people struggling to live their basic lives. communication barriers and misunderstandings arise all around them as the natural result of an increasingly small world wher people are paradoxically pushed closer together and isolated. brad pitt and cate blanchet battle for literal live over death, while rinko kikuchi, as a deaf tokyo teen, pounds against her personal walls, both physio- and pyschological, to live life. her character is unquestionably flawed, by her own choices and compounded with choices of those around her, yet it is impossible not to sympathize with her agony and frustration as she lowers her standards further and further in desperated attempts to have connect with another person. anyone.
what is the plot of the movie? i'm not sure. if i thought on that for a while, i could give you descriptions of what happens with each story, but that would not entice you to see the movie. nor should it. while we were on the edge of our seats for the fates of the characters, the resolutions at the end are only enough to let you leave the movie, but not its questions. it is about communication, what aspects are cultural, geographic, and specific, and how much of what we do, say and think are universal. apart from that, what it's about it what you take from it.
---much, much better than i expected---

i have not yet see 'the departed' or 'letters from iwo jima', and it seems that scorsese may be giving the biggest competition. i am a fan of scorsese, but even if 'the departed' is everything i've heard, at best it will be a really good gangster movie [brad pitt turned down a role in that to do this]. 'babel' is bigger than that; it reaches beyond boston, beyond the mexican-american border, around the world and back again.
this is the best movie of 2006.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

good pictures #1

the queen- 'the queen' will not win best picture. there are several reasons why, but none of them have to do with the quality of the movie. and hellen mirren will most likely win for best actress. being nominated for the crowning award is prize enough for this movie, because this an excellent movie and the oscar attention brought it to the box office top ten for a few weeks, giving it the audience it deserves.
'the queen' gives us a very inside look at the upper eschelons of england during the spring of 1997, from the landslide election of tony blair through the death and funeral of princess di in september. what we take from movies is partly dependant on what we bring; i knew almost nothing about the prime minister, the royal family, and the controversy of diana's funeral. and so that is what i got out of it.
the royal family was not particularly fond of the princess, but they did not know how much she meant to not only the britains but also so much of the world. after the tragic car crash, there is a great cry from the public that the royal family should show respect and care for 'the people's princess', a term coined by blair that created a ripple with the monarchy. and so much of the film is the delicate game of balancing progression with tradition: diana was no longer a part of the family, and so they are under no obligation to do anything, but to the public, she was the last vestige of humanity that they saw in the traditional royalty. caught between this is the new and inexperienced prime minister, confused at how he can mediate the parties. the story seems to elevate blair almost to infallibility, portraying him as the rescuing hero, and perhaps he was. i do not know, but there is nothing to suggest that unreasonable adaptive changes were made.
while this does not sound like the most gripping plot [it shouldn't, because it isn't], the movies interest comes from the intimate and real look at the royal family. helen mirren's queen is a real person, not a stoic relic left over from elizabeth I of centuries before. what is fascinating is what the queen does do. she is not chauffeurred everywhere, kept from the sun by a parade of servant. no, she drives her own hum-v [the original, not the yuppee brand] through the back woods, and when she gets stuck in a river, she hops into the water pulls out her cell phone to call for assistance only after checking things for herself. this is the queen.
the crown does rest heavily, and she weighs what she is obligated to do with what her pseudo-subjects demand, while the prime minister's wife talks of abolishment. and, in a quiet but insightful scene as she and philip pass by the ocean of flowers and tokens left for diana, the queen begins to understand how the people see her and how they see the late princess. with that, a shift of patterns and tradition begin; it will take adaptation, but there is room for the queen of england in the twenty-first century.
---about what i expected---

*i do not think that 'the queen' will win best picture for three reasons. first, it is a 'small' movie, following the actions of a small and exclusive group, with no epic feeling or grand power [yes, there are exceptions, most notably 'driving miss daisy']. second, it is about the politics of the queen of england the prime minister. it is interesting and enlightening, but does not engage the heart and souls of the predominantly american academy. and third, in the globalizing and socio-cultural-political environment of the current world, pondering the meaning of tradition vs. progression falls to become a minor issue.
now, i am not listing any of these as faults of the movie. rather, this is the playing field and i do not think now is the time for a movie like this.
on the other hand, the academy may say, 'heck, it was a nice movie' and it will win.

little miss sunshine- the big movie at sundance last year is a best picture nominee this year--in america, anyone from anywhere can make it if they get a lucky break. and 'sunshine' deserves it. at the core is a sweet little girl who dreams enough to follow but not enough to obsess over it day and night. and that sweetness and charm become the heart of the movie. surrounding her, of course, is a family. eccentric? or are they rather common now? 'dysfunctional' is an easy classification, but i like steve carell's comment that he 'never thought it was about a dysfunctional family, because to me they seemed functional. ...once they get together and start traveling, they work like a well-oiled machine.' i like that.
olive is too young to have any serious issues yet, but her loving family [no sarcasm there] has plenty of quirks. and a bright yellow vw bus that can only start in third gear, so they have to park it on a hill or push start it, and hills aren't too common. and it loses a door.
it is not a grand movie, but is big enough for a family, with no space for a definite lead role. steve carell is probably the most recognized name at the moment, and shows his acting range in playing a suicidal gay uncle and not michael scott. he is not a charicature, nor would most people ever think him gay were it not mentioned in the storyline. alan arkin's grandpa is another example: he has a foul-mouth and does drugs [with reasons, skewed though they be] but also sincerely loves olive as truly as any grandparent, and certainly seems to spend as much time with her as anyone. even the depressed teenage son who has taken a vow of silence has multiple facets, redeemed best in a deceptively simple and tender scene showing the power of love unfeigned.
'little miss sunshine' is a comedy, but it is not a laugh-a-minute slapstick, nor is it a wes anderson style story where things get funnier with each viewing [although it may be; it's hard to tell sometimes]. it tells a story about a family with several funny incidents. as the eponymous pageant is reached, i realized that not only did i not know what olive's performance routine was, none of the family seemed to. along the journey, i thought about how the movie could end: she wins, or she doesn't. neither seemed to work, and the movie was well aware of this and picked the wise third choice. it was outrageous and fit everything we knew about each and every character. i do not doubt that each person would have done precisely what they did in reality, and the results solidified the movie as being about family. there is no saccarine taste; it is honest, sincere, true.
---better than i expected---

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

maps and legends

one of my friends stopped by today to show a map she had a made. in her free time, she has developed a whole world, full of characters and their histories. she once showed me a drawing, filled with probably thirty distinct people, and was able to tell me about each of them in such a way that hinted at there being so much more she was holding back. today she brought by a large map of their world.

it was her perfect world, she said, as she pointed out the mountains, valleys, grasslands and deserts, forests, rivers, frozens tundras, floating islands and barren ashlands; a place where people had adventures. she asked if i had a 'perfect world', and i said yes, presuming that i had imagined something like that in junior high [jon, can you sustantiate this in any way?], but i couldn't provide any descriptions of my perfect world when inquired. she then said that she wasn't quite sure what 'perfect' meant, citing a moment when she had accidentally knocked over a glass of water and wondering if Jesus ever did something like that.

as i thought about the concept of perfection, i continued to look at her fabricated 'perfect'
world. it was not all monotonous. there was variety, high places and low places, warm and cold. there were even safe places and lands that were forboding. indeed, to have adventure, an environment of struggle, danger, and the unknown must be present. and this was a perfect world.

now, her world was not fully thought out to the point of flawlessness, and there are many philosophical theories on the definition of perfection, but when she sat out to create her perfect world, it was not one of a continental grassland or beach, where everyone walked barefoot or the temperature was always a sunny 78 degrees.
the world i live in, geographically, socially, and personally, has mountains and gullies, hot climates and cold regions, cities of peaceful security and shadowlands of struggle and hardship.
what would you want a perfect world to be like?

Saturday, February 17, 2007


six months ago we were playing four square and a friend asked how old i was turning. i told him i was 27 and he ponderously said, 'wow, halfway to 54'. i liked the way that sounded, and have described my age as such ever since. and so, now that i am 27.5, i decided to throw a 'halfway to 55' birthday party--'transformers: the movie' and apple beer. it's my party and i'll do what i want.
i promoted it, told all of my old skool friends and new church friends, and when the night rolled around, it was me, my roommate, and three girls. mark and erin bought me a balloon and a colander [i can't tell you how happy that made me; any sort of pasta-related cooking has been a nightmare around here], and one of the girls bought me a bag of presents, including a toy gun that comes with aviator glasses.

'transformers: the movie' isn't a very good movie. actually, considering it's a big screen jump of an 80's cartoon that was created solely to sell toys, it's pretty good.
but most girls don't appreciate the boyish joy of watching optimus prime battle megatron, of seeing unicron bring life to galvatron, or experiencing the autobot matrix lighting 'our darkest hour, 'til all are one'.
but i tried, and i did cheer by myself.
captain amazing, i wish you could have been there.

and yet, things picked up. ssa called to say that she had made me lime bars [which carries a story itself], another group of friends came, and even adding numbers alone helped the festivities. but having just one more person who truly, madly, deeply appreciated this movie for the nostaligic camp greatness that it and its soundtrack held made everything so much more fun.
jess even showed up, and despite there being no people from her circle of friends there, it was great to see her and we had a nice but short conversation together.

i am halfway to the big five-five, hot rod did rise up and become rodimus prime, and i've still got two bottles of apple beer in the fridge.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sunday, February 11, 2007

that's me in the corner...

mark and i got spotlighted at ward prayer tonight. [we were interviewed at seperate locations orginally] it went down something like this:

Q: if you were an ice cream flavor, what would you be and why?
M: stawberry, because i like it.
J: elder's quorum president's bash. i'm sure it would be chocolate.

Q: do you speak english?
M: [not asked the question]
J: minnesotan.

Q: favorite cartoon character?
M: jeff gustafson, because he makes me laugh.
J: milhouse, from the simpsons--he reminds me of me.

Q: favorite movie?
M: ocean's 11--it's good
J: the lion king--it's perfect, funny, i can sing along [and dance along] and it has good truths of being a better person.

Q: brothers and sisters?
M: youngest of 7, five girls and two boys.
J: one brother and one sister; i'm the oldest.

Q: if you had to be locked in one place forever, where would it be and why?
M: in my lover's arms.
J: in a spaceship with a nice girl, because i like nice girls and we could explore the stars.

Q: where are you from and what are you doing?
M: from cedar city, vernal, orem, and provo, studying construction management.
J: from minnesota, learning to play the accordion.

Q: favorite cereal?
M: peanut butter cap'n crunch.
J: depends on the day-- indulgent: marshmallow matey's, sober: cinnemon toast crunch, ambitious: honey bunches of oats.

Q: favorite holiday?
M: my birthday.
J: Christmas--it's the most wondeful time of the year and minnesota has wonderful blizzards.

Q: if you could meet anyone, who would you meet and why?
M: adam--he's the father of all living.
J: adam--he could answer any of my questions.

Q: should guys open doors for girls?
M: it should always happen.
J: very pro- opening doors. getting into the car can sometimes be tricky, but after 27 years, i've figured out how to do it.

Q: who is your hero and why?
M: bishop johnson.
J: bruce r. mcconkie, because he preached with power and authority
conan o'brien, because he makes me laugh and is respectful to all of his guests
my sister, because she's one of the most amazing people i've met and knows all about me and likes me anyway

Q: something people may be surprised to know about you?
M: i used to be a cheerleader in high school.
J: i sleep with a stuffed animal.