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Star Trek vs. Harry Potter: Let Your Geek Flag Fly.

July 29th, 2009 1 comment

harry_potter_half_blood_princestar_trek_spock_poster2Summer movies. What joy, and of course, the unfailing defeater of heat and humidity. As for 2009, we welcomed the return of two old favorites; Star Trek–and thankfully; featuring fresh, young faces with the exception of the ever-celebrated Leonard Nimoy as “old Spock,” and a not-quite-so-old, yet unequivocally loved by millions–Harry Potter.

I was fortunate to see Star Trek on the Imax screen, and I say “fortunate,” because it was an absolute thrill of a film. Now, personally, I’m a moderate Trekkie. I don’t buy the uniform shirts and wear them like my older brother (at least he doesn’t listen to “Learn to speak Klingon” tapes)… although this flick just might get me to reconsider that possibility… Nevertheless, I can truly say that whether you’re a fan of the old show, or a virgin cadet experiencing the final frontier for the first time, I think you just might be a little weird if you don’t like this movie. It’s action packed in a smart way that is extremely well-paced, and offers everything a good summer movie should: suspense, romance, rebel-heroes, a super-bad villain that we love to hate, nail-biting cliff-hangers and comic relief. And of course, the special effects are completely awesome. Additionally, the characters are keenly crafted, and again; in a way that is fun and fresh, yet without neglecting to tip the hat to all the traits we love about the original crew. And might I add that this was also done quite cleverly by illustrating, for example, such points as what a rogue Kirk was when it came to the ladies, and how Bones was just as ridden with anxiety as a young man as he was as a seasoned doctor. These are the kind of details that make scripts fun for the actors, and provide the necessary chuckles for the audience; making veteran Trekkies feel either really cool, or really geeky for getting all the inside jokes… or a bit of both. I almost feel guilty for doing so, but I give this film my highest rating of four stars (Great film. Would for sure, go see it again in the theater. Will buy the DVD so that I can watch it again, whenever I want to). For its genre, it pulls all the stops and offers everything it should; from good acting to high-speed space-chase drama, Star Trek (2009) is spot-on. It’s exactly what a summer action movie is supposed to be: loads of fun.

Now, for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Ohhh, dear Harry. What have we done? I really wish I could be even somewhat as enthusiastic about this one as I am about Star Trek… Sorry. I can’t. And truth be told, I’m more of a Harry Potter dork than I am a Trekkie, but I say this with caveats. For instance, you will not catch me dead in a Hogwarts getup, so help me God (though I do have a friend who I must say, looks pretty cute when he sports his Gryffindor sweater and tie). I have read all the books, however; so my Harry Potter lexicon is pretty decent. That said, I have a firm grasp on the differences between movies and books, and what one is able to accomplish as well as sacrifice when adapting a book to the screen, and with that said–I unfortunately found more failures than successes in this particular adaptation. Actually, I think the film failed on so many levels, that it was embarrassing to watch. It is as though many key folks have become altogether lazy. The telling of the story, itself, is disjointed and frankly hobbles along like a dying donkey. Where the plot is concerned, things are out of focus. Points that are less important are highlighted, and key elements are not. We have Ron and Hermione’s ridiculous non-relationship (which we see too much of) versus the gist–which is that the evil Voldemort is using every extension possible to carry out his plan–which is to ethnically cleanse the world of all but “pure-blood wizards (which we see but a smidge of).” I question who is to blame, here. Is it the writer? The director? Or maybe studio executives? Because J.K. Rowling apparently felt her readers were capable of digesting such a concept, but it seems someone at Warner Brothers must disagree, or thinks that the heavier side of Rowling’s tale doesn’t sell well on screen. We get in the film that there is a big, bad Dark Lord with lots of scary and creepy minions, but in the end, this film never really explains why. Why is Voldemort gaining power? Why aren’t more of the wizards on the good side? And what about The Order of the Phoenix? Wasn’t that the previous chapter in the series? There is little recap, and even less in terms of introduction of characters. Unless you know the books inside and out (and pardon me, but I, for one, don’t have time to go back and read them. Harry Potter homework? Give me a break), you may find yourself at a loss as to what the heck is really going on, and even if you are an HP expert, you may still find it challenging. And if you haven’t seen the other films or read the books, forget it. It will make no sense. Part of a series or no, a film should be able to stand on its own, and this one doesn’t, plain and simple.

Did I say that the kids–that is to say, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) are in general–pretty dull? They are. Their characters–and this is the sixth installment–are thin, at best. This is not the seventies, nor is it Disney’s Escape To Witch Mountain (which come to think of it, is probably the better film). People are getting murdered, and it’s not supposed to be silly or funny. To be fair, the kids probably did not have much to work with where lines are concerned. If I had a nickel for the amount of times Harry said “Sir?” to Dumbledore, as if he has a hearing problem, I would have my money back for the film. This is an area in the adaptation where liberties could and should be taken. Older cast members such as Alan Rickman (Snape), Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) are outstanding, as usual–they know how to turn sows’ ears into silk purses. Tom Felton does decent work as Draco Malfoy, though his ugly sneer seems a tad hammy and overdone at times. Both boys playing Tom Riddle; the young Voldemort–Hero Fiennes-Tiffin plays Riddle at age 11, and Frank Dillane plays him at 16–together, these boys steal the show, and easily are the scariest thing about the film. They are each subtly evil in a way that is bone-chilling, and they do it with looks, gestures and mannerisms. Sorry, but putting Dan Radcliffe’s Harry in the ring with any of these Voldemorts (and that includes Ralph Fiennes) seems laughable. Speaking of which, he (Radcliffe) needs to learn how to cry. It was frustrating to watch him pretend to grieve when (SPOILER ALERT) Dumbledore died. I wanted to believe it. I wanted to cry, but for the wrong reasons. And Rupert Grint pretending to be happy about blocking goals in quidditch was like watching a skit on Saturday Night Live. He should see a football (soccer) game or two, to get an idea of how goalies really react when they make a save… ecstatically. Heck, soccer players are better actors when it comes to faking injury. And perhaps director, David Yates could consult a bit with Peter Jackson.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince gets two and half stars (I would rent it–had I not already paid to see it in the theater, and I would only rent it because it was part of a series of which I have seen the previous films). I believe I’m being generous, but the stars go to the good actors, and I suppose, the sets and special effects.

And so needless to say, Star Trek wins; hands down.

For the latest and greatest opinions on films of all genres (like them or not), visit metacritic.

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“This is MY table!”

July 22nd, 2009 3 comments
Fireworks at Festa Italiana:  worth fighting for... or at least to some people.

Fireworks: worth fighting for... at least to some people.

Last Sunday I went with some pals to Festa Italiana; a Milwaukee tradition I’ve come to love. It’s fun, kinda cheesy, and for the most part, completely American–well–okay… Italian-American. You’re bound to find performances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis impersonators, and other little known Las Vegas types. There’s The Golden Age of Opera Tent that holds a truly beautiful collection of rare recordings, old posters and photos that used to be run by Dominic Frinzi. He passed away in January of 2008, but his tradition and love of opera is carried on in the tent, and now on what is called “The Dominic H. Frinzi Memorial Stage.” Other than that, there are loads of choices where cheesy-cuisie (pizza) is concerned, and if you want other stuff like fried calamari, or fried eggplant, or fried mozzarella sticks, you’ll have luck with those, too. You’ll even find octopus salad… just don’t ask the gal at Pietro’s for pizza, like the guy who stood next to me in line. “We don’t serve that here; that’s American!” She barked. Although when I asked her if she knew where I could get some scungilli, she said she’d never heard of it. I used to always get it at Festa, but I couldn’t find it this time. If anyone knows who still serves it there, let me know. What I do know is that if there’s one thing you can bet on, that is that the firework displays are always, and without a doubt–awesome. With snacks in hand, my friends and I walked back to meet our group where they were reserving a spot for us on the rocks by Lake Michigan. However, since we had yet to eat, Francesca, Demitra and I stopped at a nearby picnic table to make life a little easier while we dined. A couple was already sitting there at the other end, though, and the woman said assertively, “We have people coming.”

Fran said, “Well, we’ll just eat, and then we’ll move when they get here.”

The woman said nothing, and neither did her husband, so we went on with our meals and conversation, when suddenly, there was a loud thud on the table. I looked over and the woman now had a brick in her hand. I thought she must have been mad about something, but I didn’t think it was us. Her people hadn’t come yet. But then she started muttering something about, “I gotta sit at this f***ing table for five hours, and I don’t get to walk around and have any fun!”

“I think she might be upset that we’re sitting here.” I said.

We all sat and looked at one another like, “What do we do?”

“Well, she’s got a brick, you guys,” I added. Then I turned to the gal. “Look, if it’s a problem for ya, we’ll move.”

“Yeah, it’s a problem! And go ahead and talk about me! I’ve only been holding this table for five hours!”

We collected our stuff and moved towards the rocks. “Have fun watching the fireworks,” I said as I got up. “Thanks for sharing the table.”

She glared at me with dagger-eyes, and said something like, “You can go to hell!”

My friends and I sat on the rocks and ate our various fried items and drank our beers. “I don’t know why she thought she had to sit for five hours,” Demitra said. “We got here an hour ago, and look at this great spot we got.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I mean it was pretty much her choice. Oh, well. I guess that’s why she carries that brick.” Soon thereafter, the fireworks started, and as always, they were awesome.

Afterwards, we got some gelato… spumoni for me. Also awesome. As the vendors packed up their supplies and said arrivederci until next year, I thought with a smile, “How in the heck can anybody be pissed off at Festa Italiana? Oh, well.”

A conch shell. Scungilli in Italian.

A conch shell. 'Scungilli' in Italian.

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Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation–Generate: A MIAD Alumni Exhibit.

July 21st, 2009 1 comment
Generate:  An Exhibition of Work by MIAD Alumni--Opening night.

Generate: An Exhibition of Work by MIAD Alumni--Opening night.

Friday; July 10th, I had the pleasure to attend the opening of Generate: An Exhibition of Work by MIAD Alumni. I would say it was a great way to beat the heat, but seeing as how this has been one of the coolest summers Milwaukee has seen in some time, it seems only right to say that the heat was right there at what is formerly known as The Paper Boat Gallery; Bastille Days notwithstanding. The show features the works of twenty two artists; some of whom reside in Milwaukee, and others who are now in other places such as New York, L.A. and Tokyo.

Aside from a well-dressed table of fine munchies, not to mention wine and a decent selection of bottled beer, the crowd was a stylie Chex mix of artists, professors and art lovers. Curated by MIAD alumna, Cassandra Smith (class of ’06); the exhibit demonstrated both the challenges and opportunities one is presented with when attempting to fit so many artists’ works in a space of approximately one thousand square feet. In some ways, it was very successful, and in other ways, it felt a bit too “cozy.” These things aside; the show was anything but boring.

If I had to put a label on this group, it would be “Smartists.” Across the board, the art is beautifully crafted and engaging, and while each artist has a unique style and a distinct voice, it seems that this group of work on the whole, has its own dialog taking place, and the conversation is fresh and refreshing.

Having had the chance to speak at length with a handful of the artists, who in general, range from twenty to thirty-something, I gathered that they are driven and vision-oriented; serious, but with a sense of humor or playfulness, despite the fact that some of the work may be rather dark in terms of subject matter, and speaks in a somber tone.

Hand-embroidered works by Rebecca Tanner offer up a bittersweetness and black-humored irony with phrases not commonly seen in such a light, but chances are, each of us has heard some of them a time or two… and maybe this time, with a new twist. She says that it’s her therapy–a way for her to work out her thoughts.

Jesus Ali filmed and recorded a friend’s five year old daughter singing Turn Into by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Beautifully shot and directed, the child’s performance is hauntingly beyond her years in the sense that she seems to understand the gravity of the words she sings and apparently knows by heart. It’s a remarkable piece juxtaposing innocence and the ways of the world.

Colin Dickson’s piece, Attack, recalls images of pathogenic bacteria on a giant scale. Interestingly, when I mentioned this to him, he brightened at this interpretation, and said that he had transformed the piece entirely when he moved it to its current space, which is how he prefers to work. He allows the space, itself, to help determine the final outcome and lay of the work.

Marla Sanvick’s video piece is intimate and somehow familiar, yet surrealistically alien at the same time. Regardless of the fact that there is no audio component, I wanted to view this one in silence, and will return to the gallery to do so on a less busy occasion.

We are living in difficult times, and that is not something that is missed by these artists. Art provides meaning in what can seem like an otherwise meaningless world, and it also calls attention to things we may not wish to see, but should… things such as absurdity, greed and brutality. It lends the ability to create one’s own world, whether that means entertaining certain fantasies, or simply “whistling in the dark.” Whatever the case may be, it is a powerful coping mechanism, indeed.

Following are a few highlights from the show:

Artist:  Kimberly Weiss

Work of artist, Kimberly Weiss.

Gallery goers viewing and listening to work by Jesus Ali

Gallery goers viewing and listening to work by Jesus Ali.

Works by artist, Rebecca Tanner

Works by artist, Rebecca Tanner.

Work of artist, Jeremy Wolf.

Work of artist, Jeremy Wolf.

Work of artist, Mayuko Kono.

Work of artist, Mayuko Kono.

Detail of work by artist, Mary Dibiasio.

Detail of work by artist, Mary Dibiasio.

Work by artist, Colin Dickson.

Work by artist, Colin Dickson.

Left to right:  Rebecca Tanner and Dawn Frank.

Left to right: Rebecca Tanner talks with Dawn Frank.

Left to right:  Jill Broekhuizen and son, Lodi Broekhuizen.

Left to right: Jill Broekhuizen and son, Lodi Broekhuizen.

So, Creative Beasts, remember that this Friday; July 24th is Milwaukee’s Gallery Night, and definitely put this show on your list of ones to see.

Here’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs:

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Keep Going. There is beauty yet to come.

July 8th, 2009 1 comment


This blog goes out to my very dear friend, whom I will simply refer to as “Super-T,” who moves and grooves with the dexterity of a lizard, and who sometimes forgets, but he is also the most tater-bob dude that ever existed.

A few days ago, I had the privilege to spend time with another dear friend of mine, Adam–a brilliant artist and graphic designer, and a true Creative Beast. Talking with him inspired me and gave me encouragement.

I begin this post by saying that some friendships are real gifts. And I suppose it is ironic, but I now know it to be true that sometimes what can seem to be the toughest, most challenging friendships of our lives are also sometimes some of the deepest and richest ones–in addition to being the ones that teach us the most valuable lessons. It hearkens the saying that it isn’t the destinations that make us who we are, but the journeys that we make to reach them. Certain journeys–and life changing events–can sometimes crush us… and sometimes they can save us.

I love my friends. I don’t always get to tell them how much the things they do and say–whether they are big or small–matter to me. Sometimes simply possessing the ability to make someone laugh or smile… the ability to evoke–can have a tremendously earth shaking effect. I have said this before, but I’ll say it again: Creative Beasts are powerful, brilliant souls. They tend to be very intense, even if it’s in a very quiet sort of way, but they can also be extremely fragile. This knowledge can be heavy. In our creative circles, we all likely know someone, or perhaps even several people whose intensity is at times, a great joy to come into contact with, and at other times, it’s saddening or maddening. For me, it seems like it’s just about everyone I know. Why? Just lucky, I guess (and if you are one of these people, do me a favor–relax. I’m kidding… sort of. Try not to take yourself so seriously). It’s the agony and the ecstasy. Three of my creative friends have committed suicide, all within the last ten years. First was Dave; a brilliant filmmaker/director who taught me that animators are among the most patient people on the planet… usually. Then there was Jen; a great, beautiful, quiet and quick-witted writer whose wonderful sense of humor was matched by her generous and gracious spirit. Just one year later in November of 2008, I lost my friend, Brian, who was an amazingly gifted photographer, a fantastic cook, and just wickedly sharp in countless ways. Each and every one them had an energy–an intensity–that could fill any room. That said, you can imagine how the loss of each person reverberated. I wish there was something I could have done or said that would have kept each one from doing what they did. I think maybe this is what I would have said: “You have truly lived. You have done great things, and you have experienced great things. And you have touched a lot of lives. Do you really believe that this is it? That there is no more beauty yet to come? If so, you are wrong. Stick around a while. Keep at it. See what happens.”

Creativity doesn’t always flow the way we want it to. Sometimes we feel stuck, and it’s frustrating. Roadblocks are common. David Lynch addresses this issue in his book, Catching The Big Fish. He writes, “If you want to catch the little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch the big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.” I agree with him. Another factor in the concept of catching these big fish is having creative circles–pools, if you will, in which you may freely express yourself, bounce ideas off of others, and then build on your concepts. No one person is an island, and as it is with anything else, thoughts and expressions that are exchanged freely can exist harmoniously and in a symbiotic manner, like the ebb and flow of the tides. The sharing of ideas allows creativity, itself, to become larger and richer, like a beautiful tapestry. When there is a greater opportunity to draw from a more vibrant lexicon, creative thinkers naturally put that knowledge into everything they do. When we keep things to ourselves out of fear of loss or perhaps rejection, we risk stagnation and even collapse. Even when times are difficult, and perhaps especially when times are difficult, it is better to share and connect with others. We see this example again and again made by successful people throughout history. One example that comes to mind is advertising great, David Ogilvy. He went against the grain and leapt ahead of his competitors by insisting that indeed; you must literally give away your trade secrets to win clients. His peers thought he was crazy, and maybe he was… crazy, like a fox. He was right. His ideas worked, and he made history.

Now David Ogilvy is dead and gone, and some of today’s ad geeks giggle and scoff at his ideas, but I think there isn’t one among them who wouldn’t give their eye teeth to reach the peaks that he did. Genius, as it turns out, is pretty timeless. And it takes bravery–and faith–to be creative. Some people might tell you you’re great, and some might tell you you suck… or that you are crazy. It’s not always easy to push forward, and for whatever reason, it’s sometimes easier to accept defeat or criticism, than it is to accept success and praise. If you have any desire to create, or to see an idea come to fruition, keep going with it. If it’s a passion within you, keep that fire burning. There is a reason for it. You must believe that.

Do you realize that time goes fast?
It’s hard to make the good things last
Do you realize the sun doesn’t go down?
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.

–The Flaming Lips

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