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Sticking It To You: Exit Through the Gift Shop.

January 14th, 2011 1 comment

If you haven’t seen the film, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a must-see for every Creative Beast. Seriously–it’s your homework. What a mind-blowing story, and how well told it is. It’s got me spinning on several notions: 1) Anything is possible (especially with a bit of work and muscle behind it) and 2) to complain about the things that stand in one’s way as a creative person is an absolute and utter waste of time; especially when there’s so much work to be done and 3) might of most kinds–is mightier than money.

Mr. Brainwash

What makes great art great? Is it partly great marketing? Is great marketing simply great art? This is a film about a shopkeeper cum filmmaker cum artist. From this portrayal of the life of Thierry Guetta, a.k.a. “Mr. Brainwash,” I would surmise that it’s all of the above. Based on his works as a painter/street artist, the idea that he has come up with something earthshaking is questionable. On the other hand, it can be argued that the act of successful reinvention is alchemy at its finest, and indeed, a fine work of art. When MBW is viewed from this perspective, he tends to turn the art world on its ear. The film tells a few different stories; one being the life of Thierry Guetta, two being the emergence of the street art movement, and three being the life that art has all on its own, and how human beings respond to it. Perhaps what is most fascinating is the movement–or rather the motion of the artist, himself. What is it about art–and particularly, what is referred to as “High Art”–that makes it valuable and so deeply coveted? Is it the idea that it generally deals with things that are intangible or unattainable? Is it that it holds something that is thought to be magical and otherworldly? If so, then of course, it makes complete sense that by virtue of owning a piece of such magic, one is thereby and in effect, made magical as well.

Banksy

Creative Beasts are, without question, splendid and magical creatures. Or are they? Through Guetta’s lens, the film takes us on the journeys of several great street artists from different parts of the globe. We are shown that part of what makes their work revered by so many, is the sheer fact that they are a bunch of wild outlaws using public and private property for their canvases and materials, which automatically makes for instant intrigue, along with imagery that often challenges the status quo at its core. Guetta, for the greater part of the film, is shown as an observer–recording the images and scenes of his world, and those of the street artists he follows, especially that of the great Banksy of London (director of Exit Through the Gift Shop). In the end, the story almost plays like a sting, orchestrated by MBW, himself. We are then left with the question, “Was it intentional on his part? Or is he truly a fool among fools who somehow manages to get the last laugh as he innocently steals the bag of tricks from the artists/magicians he is surrounded by, and then uses them to take the art world and greedy collectors by storm, thereby making a farce of the entire scene. In the end, he ingeniously confounds one and all. That, my dear Creative Beasts, is beauty to behold. Smile and get on with it. The rest is simple: SEIZE THE PREY.

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So You Wanna Be Fascinating?

March 20th, 2010 4 comments

A guide to help us discover how and why we fascinate, and how we may increase our own levels of fascination.

Fascinate by Sally Hogshead.

This book is quite a read, and, indeed; a fascinating one. You’ll want to chew and digest these words slowly, Creative Beasts, and perhaps finish with a taste of fine Cognac (which, by the way, would be appealing to the lust trigger–and trust, because we know it will provide comfort). In her book, Sally Hogshead takes us on the fascinating journey of fascination using a style that succinctly and playfully pulls every trigger as we go along. It boils down to this: The seven triggers of fascination are simply the tools we use to communicate and respond to one another, but by learning about how they work–and becoming aware of their nuances–we may adjust our methods and levels of use accordingly in order to better persuade and captivate our audience. You can almost think of it as learning the ways of the force.

Okay, well. Not exactly, perhaps. But perhaps not so disimilar either. “The Force” didn’t suddenly appear out of nowhere when Obi Wan introduced Luke to its ways. It was always there. Likewise; lust, mystique, power, alarm, prestige, trust and vice are all there being used by each of us in the ebb and flow of the tides in which we tweet, grin, wink, flash, flirt, yell, coo and/or whisper–with, to or at one another.

As it turns out, most of us want to be fascinating in some shape or form, according to the research–about sixty to seventy percent, depending on which group you’re looking at. Furthermore, each of us in our own unique way has something about us that is fascinating. Still, most of us would prefer our lives to be more fascinating than at present. Surprise, surprise. Ms. Hogshead describes the reasoning behind this current wave of mentality as one that streams from the A.D.D. world in which we live. We are constantly inundated with messages coming at us from multiple angles… messages that we find boring, either because there are too many, or perhaps simply because the messages, themselves, are lackluster and trite. We crave experiences that are genuine, alluring and comforting, but also thrilling, intoxicating and at times, even frightening. (Bungee jumping, anyone? That would be the alarm trigger.)

Who or what fascinates you and why?

In what ways would you like to be more fascinating?

In general, I, myself, am fascinated by creative people of all kinds–artists, writers, scientists, musicians, politicians, filmmakers, designers, architects, chefs and the list goes on.

One of my key groups of particular intrigue happens to be great journalists. They are often in the spotlight, yet their jobs entail and require aiming the focus at someone else… people like Charlie Rose, Terry Gross, Mike Wallace, Gwen Eiffel, Ira Glass and the late Peter Jennings, to name a few. The core values of journalism are based on trust.

Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia on:

Journalism Ethics and Standards

While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability — as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.[3][4][5][6]

(And here’s the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards)

Codes aside; to be a righteous player in this field requires high emotional intelligence, a deft approach to interaction on multiple levels, and one must walk some very fine lines. It seems that good journalists may just be some of the most adept at using more of the seven triggers than the rest. They need to be charming, but not overly so. They need to keep their subjects at a proper distance yet seduce them at the same time to gain the necessary level of intimacy, so we have all kinds of things going on here. There’s a certain amount of lust at stake. Notice how in many interviews a very carefully balanced level of flirting takes place. This brings the subject closer and helps in developing a rapport. Here’s 60 Minutes’ well-seasoned Bob Simon interviewing Bollywood’s lovely princess, Aishwarya Rai back in 2004. She at once gains the upper hand when she catches him blushing:

That brings us to another point, which is the power balance. The best in journalism get to interview the most fascinating people because they, themselves are forces to be reckoned with, and people of power are typically fascinated by other people of power (and they often seem to enjoy the opportunity to disseminate their messages to the masses). Here is another game that takes place, which is a challenge of wits, intelligence and at times; superiority. You’ll find interesting battles of wills when you listen to Terry Gross‘ recent interview with Karl Rove on NPR’s Fresh Air, regarding his latest memoir, Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124597241

And finally, we have the queen bee of fascinating people, Ms. Barbara Walters. She uses her lust and mystique triggers very well. She displays her sweetness as she walks arm in arm with her subjects, but make no mistake; she is also a major lady of power who is well known for making even some of the toughest nuts to crack–cry. Could it be that some of us actually want to cry with Barbara Walters? Could this be a vice trigger? Hmm. Here she is interviewing Lady Gaga. She did not cry.

At times, the role of the journalist is similar to that of the psychologist. Boundaries and levels of comfort get tested and gently nudged to achieve desired objectives. Remember The Sixth Sense? In one of my favorite scenes, we see Dr. Crowe (Bruce Willis) and Cole (Haley Joel Osment) getting acquainted. “Wanna play a game?” Dr. Crowe asks Cole. “It’s a mind-reading game. Here’s how it works. I read your mind. If what I say is right, you take one step towards the chair. If what I say is wrong, you take one step back… towards the doorway. If you reach the chair, you sit down. If you reach the door, you can go. Wanna play?”

Dr. Crowe talks to Cole in the film, The Sixth Sense.

Perhaps if we’re each able to view our lives as more of a game with one of the goals being that we create rules as we go, we may find that our day to day exchanges will become more fascinating. By being aware of cues and making notes as well as recognizing our own signals, we may find that there is a fascinating Jedi as well as a “force” in us all.

By the way, have you taken the F-Score test yet? It’s quick, fun and enlightening. I dare you to do it!

Until next time, Creative Beasts… SEIZE THE PREY.

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In Bruges and Elf. Why did I wait so long to see them?

January 1st, 2010 No comments

This post goes out to my good friend Kristen, because I heard that she’s been missing the movie chats. Going back and reading some of the old reviews from 2008 on Metacritic, I had to check out one of my old faves… Anthony Lane, film critic for The New Yorker. I was distraught to find that his rating was a low 40. Honestly, I believe that at times, some critics are so involved in their own rhetoric and vast literary lexicon that it ends up bogging down the ability to enjoy something on a simpler level–as perhaps it was intended. And anyway, plenty of other folks liked it as well.

At any rate. The photography is appropriately cold, shocking and beautiful, yet warm and tender at the right moments. The dialog is punchy, hilariously off-beat and abrasive, yet also succinctly gentle when called for. It reveals a dirty mobster love-of-nothing repartee mingled with a human love-of-all-things realness that results in something mysteriously forbidden, surprising and delicious–like chocolate combined with something brilliant and unexpected (like bacon or basil)… or… really good sex.

In Bruges, the debut feature film written and directed by acclaimed playwright Martin McDonagh, is about personal journeys as well as relationships. Our two main characters, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are hit men who have been sent to Bruges for a wee vacation by their boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes); having seriously just botched a job in Dublin. What follows are honest images of a picturesque tourist town as seen through both sets of eyes: the older, wiser yet more childlike Ken, who is eager to snatch up the opportunity to learn of the town’s culture, history and architecture, versus the younger, unhinged, yet seemingly more calloused Ray, who characteristically describes the town as a “shit-hole.” All the while, they are ultimately awaiting a call from Harry, which is the crux that twists and seals the fates of all. (What else from a sociopathic numb-skull mob-boss/entrepreneur? Delightfully portrayed by Mr. Fiennes, might I add.)

The film takes us through varying moments of discovery, adventure, misadventure, disgust, delight, reflection and lucidity. Ray stumbles upon a movie set which is the first thing to spark his interest in Bruges. And then, there is a girl (Clemence Poesy plays Chloe, who supplies drugs to the cast and crew) followed by a dwarf actor (Jordan Prentice). This sets the stage for more comedy, mishaps, a bit of romance that may or may not turn sour, along with woeful drama that ties the fates. Nothing is quite simple enough, as it turns out, and things are seldom as they seem. When once again, things don’t go as planned, the boss eventually lands on the scene, and that is when the blood really gets pumping. We are all then forced to question, it would seem; exactly what value each of us places on human life, why, and in what way, and to what extent. I typically try to refrain from using this term, but I loved this film. It may very well have bumped its way into my top twenty. A definite must-see. It will without hesitation, become part of my go-to film collection (old friends that I enjoy seeing again and again). It should be noted that In Bruges is R-rated, and contains dark graphic violence, illicit drug use, adult language and some nudity.

Elf
Pure, unadulterated Will Ferrell, here, and I have to say one of my favorite performances of his. He is, of course, Buddy the elf, a human raised at the North Pole by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), which with the 6’3″ boisterous Will Ferrell, makes for a very entertaining juxtaposition. Director Jon Favreau chose to use the forced perspective technique to exaggerate the significant size difference between elves and humans. And how did Buddy get to the North Pole? As the back-story reveals, Santa was making his customary stop at the orphanage where Buddy then resided, and when Santa was busy eating cookies, Buddy crawled into the unattended sack of toys, and away they went.

There’s enough all-out, mad-cap silly comedy to keep the masses and little children smiling–which is only right as it is a Christmas film, but there are subtler details that make it a gem. Bob Newhart is perfectly cast as Buddy’s adoptive father; also serving as the film’s narrator in classic, gentle, matter-of-fact Bob Newhart style, and what makes it even better is that he is shot telling the story as though he is being interviewed in a typical pseudo documentary fashion.

Buddy, being human, is awkward and slow compared to the nimble elves that surround him, and as fate would have it, not a very good toy-maker. His frustration with himself and the situation reaches a high point when he exclaims, “Let’s face it. I’m just a cotton-headed ninny-muggins!” The elves try to assure him that this simply isn’t the case, but then shortly thereafter, he overhears some of them talking to reveal the awful truth about why he doesn’t fit in: He is human.

He and Papa Elf then have “the talk (about the fact that he was adopted, and not actually an elf),” and after a discussion with Santa (played by the great Ed Asner), it is decided that Buddy will go to New York to meet his real father (James Caan), who is an executive working at the Empire State building, unaware of Buddy’s existence–and on Santa’s naughty list. He has a family that he rarely sees because he is too busy working on fast deals on children’s books. At the time of Buddy’s arrival, he is desperately in need of a hot new Christmas story. Needless to say, Buddy has his work cut out for him. But if there is one way that Buddy is an elf, it is without a doubt, his untiring and infectious Christmas spirit which Ferrell crafts flawlessly. Buddy is a champion of Christmas in a sweet and innocent way, yet he is utterly unfettered by negativity; providing plenty of opportunities for spreading joy and creating small, but innocent disasters.

Clad from head to toe in his elven ensemble, Buddy stands out in NYC, but not horribly so. If one is to roam the streets in elven gear at Christmas time, New York is the place to be. He naturally finds his way to Gimbel’s, where he is quickly put to work as one of Santa’s helpers on the department store’s crew. There, he meets Jovie, another “human elf” who has been hired by the department store (played by the lovely Zooey Deschanel), and she can sing. But she doesn’t like to sing in front of other people–the truth is, she has lost some of her holiday spirit, and is in need of someone like Buddy. He explains to her that “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” She’s doubtful at first, but she catches on.

On the home front, Buddy has managed to work his way into the life of his father, Walter Hobbs; his kind stepmother, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and brother (Daniel Tay). This house needs a lot of Christmas cheer, as Walter’s absenteeism as a father and a husband has created a bit of a void. Buddy’s odd and what his father perceives to be deranged idiosyncrasies and cheery habits are in fact, just the ticket for the family to get back on the Christmas track. When Christmas Eve rolls around, Santa flies into New York City once again, but this time, he is in trouble. Is Buddy’s spirit strong enough to save Christmas? It’s worth finding out. The whole family will thoroughly enjoy this new Christmas classic–unless they are just a bunch of, well… cotton-headed ninny-muggins.

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Surviving the Holidays: Creative Tips For the Service Industry.

November 17th, 2009 2 comments


It may be just over a month away, but if you work in the service industry, Christmas is here, and Thanksgiving is just a little stop along the way. Perhaps you’re a server, or you work in retail… or both. You have been on your feet for hours, and they are killing you. You do your best to smile when two independent people interrupt your conversation with a customer you are currently helping–to help them–each… You think to yourself, “Something funny is happening… All of the adults in the world have suddenly turned into little children… Weird!” It will appear as though many folks have lost their minds… or their manners… or both. The snooty get snootier, the greedy get greedier, and the needy… needier. And then you think, “Hey! This is exactly the opposite of how it’s SUPPOSED to be. Even weirder.”

I was never really a Dead-head, but the phrase, “Nothing to do but smile, smile, smile,” couldn’t ring truer than at this time. CreativeBeasts Rule no. 1) Kill ’em with kindness. It’s what the Whos of Whoville did to the Grinch. It’s what Rudolph, Hermey and Yukon Cornelius did to the Abominable Snowman. And yes; ’tis true, these are merely cartoons, but the lessons, here, people, are priceless and timeless! And if all else fails, just start singing Fah Who For-aze to the offender. I promise you, he or she will simply stare at you blankly… and powerless, not knowing what to do (at least until it snaps to, and calls your manager to the scene, but at that point you just pretend like nothing happened. “I started singing? Ma’am, perhaps you’re just tired from all the shopping. Would you like to sit down? I’ll get you a glass of water.”). See, that’s the thing about “Fah Who For-aze…” nobody knows what it means. Powerful stuff!

Rule no. 2) When smiling becomes difficult, imagine that the guy who just insulted you is Burgermeister Meisterberger, and you are Kris Kringle.

Burgermeister Meisterburger

Burgermeister Meisterburger

Santa+book+1-1

Kris Kringle

You won’t believe how your heart will fill with laughter. You will, in fact, laugh out loud as though being insulted is the funniest thing in the entire world! And as Kris Kringle, you gotta fight the power. Fight the powers that be.

Rule no. 3) Empathize with your needy, ornery, spoiled customer (because hey–we’ve all been there at some point in our lives–like about thirty or so years ago). When they ask you to throw away their garbage for them, smile sweetly, and say “Certainly!” And then become Olivia Newton John from Xanadu. Straight guys, you too.

Rule no. 4) Gently try to remind the customer of the holiday spirit. You could say something like, “We’re simply having a wonderful Christmas time.”

Last but not least, Rule no. 5) Don’t Stop Believing. Dreams do come true, and if you had a rough day–or week–this, too, shall pass. Dare to dream… even if it’s just to soak your feet in baking soda at the end of the day!

Go ahead. Sing it at the top of your lungs. Play a little air guitar, even. Enjoy. And from all of us here at CreativeBeasts.com, Happy Holidays!

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Vampires. We Love the Way They Suck.

October 14th, 2009 1 comment
The king of bad boys, Count Dracula.

The king of bad boys, Count Dracula.

Ah, yes. ‘Tis a love that never dies. What is it about these mesmerizing, terrifying, brilliant, horrible, irresistible, loathsome, disgusting, delicious, god-forsaken, sexy creatures of the night that holds our attention? I’ll be damned if I know, but I DARE you to Google them (vampires)… You will get about 60,400,000 results! Can you believe that “hairstyles” only has 7,140,000? I am in the wrong business. Time to start sucking some blood–whoa–! I just realized the horrifying truth about the forces of Wall Street… and goodness only knows who else…

So really. What is it about vampires? Is it the notion that they play to our darkest fantasies, and maybe–just maybe… the idea that MAYBE… if they were real… that if one of us were to be bitten… that we wouldn’t die; but rather, would be chosen to join this stunning clan of ferocious fiends–and we, too, could live forever, have super-human strength, fly around–and taste the forbidden liquid of life? GRR-ross! …Or is it, “Mmm-magnificent!” …?

Whatever it is, it is without a doubt; a multi-billion dollar business when one includes movies, TV shows, books, and costumes. November 24, 2008, The L.A. Times reported that Twilight took in $70.6 million, and a later report by the Wall Street Journal stated the film grossed $382 million, worldwide. The same report claims that the Twilight books have thus far sold over 53 million copies, which still doesn’t beat Harry Potter, but maybe they just need a bit of time–and Harry does have more time in, incidentally. The next movie, Twilight – New Moon premieres in L.A. on November 16th, and nationwide on November 20th.

Of course, the world’s obsession with vampires hardly begins and ends with the Twilight series. On the contrary; these tales and legends go back thousands of years and are prevalent in nearly every culture in our world. Here’s an interesting little blog that seems to attempt to turn every vampire stone that ever was: http://vampiresaz.webs.com/. Another contemporary and popular story worth noting is HBO’s True Blood, based on the series, The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris, first published in 2001. Interestingly enough, both story lines (True Blood and Twilight) offer chronicles of good and evil vampires. It’s interesting because that seems to be something of a recent trend–good (or at least good enough to allow a nibble) vampires, that is. From NBC’s short-lived Dark Shadows (12 episodes in ’91, which was a rehashing of the 1966 show) to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Moonlight, to the current cinematic blood buffet, there seems to be a sort of poetic need to reach out to these otherwise, murderous and soulless beings. THAT–is a girl thing. I guarantee it. “Oh, but I can save him…” Nope. You can’t. “Oh, but together, we can take on the bad ones, and save the world!” Hmm. Nope. Wrong, again. But… that is why there is fiction, in which one can make up whatever one wants. And as for female vampires looking to seduce an unwitting male victim… well, let’s just say these gals really don’t need much in terms of salvation. As long as she has the right parts, she can get the job done, and it doesn’t even matter if she smiles and shows off her fangs. The guy will probably think, “Gee, she’s got some long sharp teeth, all right,” and then she’ll “kiss” him… on the neck… and that will be that. He will die because he is too dumb to be turned into a vampire. Who wants to haul that dude around ’til the end of time? Only seriously cool and sharp people get to be vampires.

Here are a few scenes from some of my favorite fang-filled flicks…

From The Hunger:

From Fright Night:

Dracula, featuring the one and only Bela Lugosi:

Nosferatu:

…And here are some other entertaining posts about vampires:

http://scifiwire.com/2009/10/16-sexy-movie-and-tv-vamp.php

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20071014/ai_n21049073/

http://www.angelfire.com/biz4/vampyreresearch/faq.html#answer%20fourteen

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Music As Creative Juice: What’s Your Pleasure?

September 9th, 2009 2 comments
Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (number 30), 1950

When I was a teenager, my father once punished me by taking my stereo away because I wasn’t meeting certain academic expectations. I think it was by far, the worst punishment I received. I could be grounded or anything else, but to be without music was like being without light… or water. Thank God for music. I don’t mean to sound trite or to make an inane remark, but I think it’s worth noting what an effect and impact music has on the creativity of others. Now that we have passed another Labor Day, so marks the unofficial end of summer, and with fall comes different flavors and smells, somber colors, different pastimes, and a different spin on creativity. And while even the music we listen to might change somewhat with the seasons, our need for the inspiration and comfort it lends, does not. From Jackson Pollock to Paul Thomas Anderson, Creative Beasts of all kinds have been and will continue to be driven and influenced by the power of music.

I would also like to once again note the cyclical nature of creativity, and in turn; pause for a moment to consider how Creative Beasts need and affect one another. Art in any form and at any level is something that stimulates us and inspires us–an idea–a spark–a birth… created by an individual. It seems that many artists and/or scientists are multi-talented and explore their creativity in multiple facets; for example, a singer-songwriter who also paints, such as John Mellencamp, or a scientist who draws and paints, like Leonardo Da Vinci–or is it the other way around? You get my point. Creative minds are excited by ideas, by freshness, by wonderment and discovery, and by the ability to bring something that encompasses these things to fruition–and to experience the creations of others. That said, it makes sense that many creative types have multiple areas of focus, and multiple passions in their lives. Music makes order out of chaos–even chaotic music. It combines sound and rhythm with thought and puts it in a frame to create a structure. I know that music has a tremendous impact on me and my creativity. I can’t imagine my life without it.

Jackson Pollock was heralded as the leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement in art and pioneered what became known as “action painting.” It’s a well known fact that his art was largely influence by the modern jazz music of his day, which seems to make perfect sense when you view his work; especially in person. He was particularly a big fan of Charlie Parker’s and Dizzie Gillespie’s, but in general, loved rocking–and painting to bebop. Listen to this gorgeous piece titled Autumn in New York by The Bird, himself; Mr. Charlie Parker. Perhaps it had a hand in the outcome of Pollock’s piece shown above.

Additionally, and throughout the history of cinema, great directors are naturally influenced by music, and are keenly aware of just how intrinsically it becomes part of the art which is film. A few of my favorites include Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and last but definitely not least, Paul Thomas Anderson, who states that he indeed, “writes to music.” He freely admits that the screenplay for Magnolia could be called “an adaptation of Aimee Mann songs.” The film is among my favorites, dark as it may be; and is absolutely brilliantly crafted–and so, might I add–is the music. The following quote from Anderson is taken from the introduction of the shooting script for Magnolia.

The connection of writing “from the gut” and “writing to music” cannot be found any clearer than in the “Wise Up” section of the screenplay. I had reached the end of Earl’s monologue and was searching for a little vibe–I wrote as I listened–and the most natural course of action was that everyone should sing– sing how they feel. In the most good old-fashioned Hollywood Musical Way, each character, and the writer, began singing how they felt. This is one of those things that just happens, and I was either too stupid or not scared enough to hit “delete” once done. Next thing you know, you’re filming it. And I’m Really Happy That It Happened.

Here’s that amazing scene [WARNING: This scene contains adult situations]:

Here, Scorsese takes a very different approach by using the cheery 60s sound of The Crystals, followed by Scottish artist, Donovan’s trippy Atlantis, and juxtaposes the music with a disturbingly violent portrayal of Tommy, played by Joe Pesci [WARNING: This scene contains adult language and graphic violence]:

David Lynch writes in his book, Catching the Big Fish,

The music has to marry with the picture and enhance it. You can’t just lob something in and think it’s going to work, even if it’s one of your all-time favorite songs. That piece of music may have nothing to do with the scene. When it marries, you can feel it. The thing jumps; a “whole is greater than the sum of the parts” kind of thing can happen.

Here is a shining example of how David Lynch “marries” music with cinema:

So. How does music affect you? And your creativity? What are your influences? Where do you get turned on to new music? Do you have a theme song (And yes, I stole that notion from a scene from the cheesy old show, Ally McBeal, in which Dr. Tracy Clark demands that Ally choose a theme song for herself. What can I say? It stuck with me, and I must give credit where it is due)? My theme song changes, but I think for now, it is Passion Pit‘s Moth’s Wings (is it just me, or does Michael Angelakos remind you of Peter Gabriel?), which I first heard on 88.9 Radio Milwaukee. I can’t think of a better song to lead us into fall.

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Sleepwalking In Racine.

August 19th, 2009 No comments
View from the driver's seat... looking forward.

View from the driver's seat... looking forward.

View from the rear.

View from the rear.

The Glamour of Being a P.A. and Salvation Via Hugh MacLeod.

The truth is, I didn’t sleep. Not one wink. I was a very good P.A. My ultra-cool and glamorous job was to section off street parking spaces on Main Street in Racine, Wisconsin at 3rd and Main, and then see to it that no one parked in them. Now. Before we go further, let it be said that Any. Idiot. Can. Do. This. Job. But it takes a very special kind of idiot to want to do this job. That would be me.

My shift began at midnight last week, Thursday; August 13th. “P.A.,” for those of you who are unfamiliar, stands for “Production Assistant.” In the caste system of the film world, “P.A.” is the equivalent to “Untouchable.” No one who is above you wants to be you. And “Parking P.A.” is below “P.A.” When you work as a regular P.A., you generally and at least get to see a little action. You may even get to bring water to someone “important.” Such is not the case when you are a parking P.A. You get to set up and guard parking spots. That’s it.

When I got the phone call at 11:30 a.m. for P.A. work, I said, “Yes!” Almost instantly. Then Mindy told me what my job for the night would be.

“Are you okay with that? I mean, are you comfortable with telling people they can’t park in our spots?”

“Sure,” I said. “…Wait… am I going to be the only one there?”

“Um, yeah.” She replied.

“Because you know, this is Racine.” I added.

“Yeah, I don’t really know the area.”

“Oh, well. Yeah, sure. I can do it.”

“Great!” She then gave me the information and asked me to meet her and the production crew at 10 p.m. at the Radisson in Racine. I left Milwaukee at 9 p.m., without having slept at all during the day. Having packed a bag that included toiletries, saline solution, a contact lens case, extra clothes, my Coleman lantern/flashlight and some reading material, I felt prepared and up to the task. I stopped at Walgreens for a couple of Starbucks Doubleshots and some beef jerky for my long night ahead.

When I got into Racine just before ten o’clock, I overshot my turn and went over the bridge on Main Street, which evidently serves as a bit of a borderline between “good” Racine, and “not-so-good” Racine. Seems like nearly every town has these unspoken borders, but in the Midwest they are often–and unfortunately–fairly noticeable.

After crossing the bridge, I stopped across the street from a bar where I saw a group of college boys about to enter. As I got out of my car, a blue van buzzed by the group of boys, and suddenly, there was a “POP-POP-POP-POP!” sound, hysterical laughter, and a heart-stopping yell that only comes of injury. The van sped away, leaving the boys with bewildered, scared and angry faces; varying in color from red to ghostly-white. One of the boys had been shot in the thigh with a paint ball gun. After a moment’s pause, I swallowed and followed them into the bar.

I asked the boy who had been shot if he was okay, to which he proudly responded, “Yeah, I’m fine! I’m f***ing pissed, but I’m fine.”

“You need to call the police.”

“What are they gonna do?”

“I don’t know, but they need to know that someone is driving around town shooting people with a paint ball gun.”

“That’s true,” he said.

I then turned to one of the uninjured boys, and explained that I had missed my turn, and was looking for the Radisson Hotel. He told me to go back over the bridge and take a left at the stop light. He added that our current location was, “Not a place you want to be.” I smiled and thanked him, and made my way back to my car. Welcome to Racine.

When I got to the hotel, I entered the room to find a pretty typical-looking production camp that included several young guys and two women, and the Production Supervisor. They all had the cool and hip film crew renegade look; the supervisor being the hippest of all; complete with shaved head–save the pointy dart sideburns and soul patch–muscles, grey jeans, t-shirt, olive skin, and khaki converse all-stars with the shoelaces removed for easy access. He reminded me a little of Nero in Star Trek, except not as tall. Everyone was busy at either a laptop or a cell phone or both, except for the three P.A. guys. They were completing odd tasks such as making signs… and awaiting more instructions. I shook hands with everyone, and sat down to await my own instructions. I talked with one of the other P.A.s–a nice guy who was also from Milwaukee, but originally from Racine. He’s also in a band. After sitting around for about twenty minutes, Nero asked me to follow him and Nice Guy out to the van. “So it’s an interesting job, eh?” Nero said to me in the elevator. He spoke with what seemed to be an Eastern European accent… I couldn’t quite place it.

“Yeah? What’s interesting about it?” I asked. I thought he was referring to the project. I should have known it was strictly small talk.

“Well, you’re the parking P.A.”

“Oh.” I chuckled. “You mean my task. Well, it has to get done, right?” That was more or less the end of that conversation.

We rode several blocks to 3rd and Main, where I would be working. Nero pointed out where on Main Street he wanted the crew, as well as a small section of 3rd Street. He assured me that if I ran into any trouble, I could call them and they would come to help. I figured what that really meant was, “If you’re being held at gunpoint, call us after you dial 9-1-1.” He added, “The police station is right around the corner.”

Nice Guy and I dropped Nero back at the hotel, and then to where I was parked to transfer the cones from the van to my little Subaru Impreza Sport, which was soon chock full of cones. We walked back to the hotel together, to find a stack of full pizza boxes in the room when we reentered. I reluctantly had two pieces, only because I felt like it was the polite thing to do. I had already eaten dinner and was not much in the mood for mozz and sausage, and anyway, it was about 11 p.m.

I hung out for about another half hour, and since I wasn’t feeling too useful there, I announced that I was heading out to set up my own camp.

“Okay,” the assistant supervisor (I will call her ‘Joanne’) said. “You sure you don’t want some more pizza? Take it with you for later?”

“No, really. Thanks,” I said with a smile. “I’m all set with my Starbucks Doubleshots.”

“Good call. Okay, well, we’ll call you later to check in and see how you’re doing.”

“Thanks,” I said, and headed off to begin my adventure.

I parked in the middle of Main Street across from a place called Evelyn’s Club Main. The street seemed busy for a Wednesday night, but then I guess I don’t really know what a busy night in Racine looks like. Maybe it just seemed noisier than I thought it would be. A group of drunk kids–guys and girls–walked down the street yelling things to each other. I couldn’t really figure out what, nor did I care. At one point, two of the scantily clad girls plopped themselves down in the middle of the sidewalk and just yelled a blue streak. I think they were upset at the bartender at Evelyn’s. I think he kicked them out. Could you blame him? I was glad they were on the other side of the street. It was early for me to start setting up, but I was antsy, so I figured I would start with spots that were empty and then wait until more people cleared out. Evelyn’s was jumpin’. It sounded like screamo was their music of choice, and I say “sounded” like, because I don’t really know that much about screamo, except that I think it’s the kind of “music” in which people pretty much just scream the entire time. I have to think that somewhere along the line, it stops being cathartic for the screamer… if catharsis was ever even a goal… It’s difficult to say. Personally, I think I’d rather listen to dreamo music. Stuff that will lull me to sleep and provide me with sweet dreams. Stuff like Enya. The weird side of that, though, is that even Enya can drive people to want to hurt themselves after a while. That’s why you can never go wrong with Lynyrd Skynyrd. But I digress.

As I was setting up my cones (notice how they are now my cones), a bartender from Evelyn’s asked me what I was doing, and if it was okay for people to stay in their spots. I explained that everyone was just fine, and the spots were needed for the morning. The goal was to not upset the townies. I went about my business of setting up cones where I could, and then returning to my car to read my book. I was about eighty pages into it. It’s a short, quick read called, Ignore Everybody And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. It may have saved my life that night–or if not mine; somebody else’s. The book was a gift from my friend, Anthony (thanks, Anthony–truly–great book. You rock). Hugh MacLeod is a copywriter, but moreover, he is a CreativeBeast. Let me just say that if you dig my blog at all, and you get what it is that I’m after (the answers to life’s deepest mysteries… such as the alchemy used in the making of the world’s most perfect chocolates), then you will completely and utterly adore Hugh MacLeod. Have you ever met someone (or come across someone) who had such a way of saying things, that it made you say,”I wish I could have said it like that.” That’s how I feel about Hugh MacLeod. I once heard Bruce Springstein speak wistfully about how he wished that he could sing like Roy Orbison. I get that. Hugh, for the most part, says what I feel, and he says it with such style and grace, wit and grit. He’s highly original, and I’d like to think that part of that comes from being Scottish… Anyway, chapter 11 is called, The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props. It’s a couple of pages long, but really, the title says it all. And Chapter 9 is called, Companies that squelch creativity can no longer compete with companies that champion creativity… that’s what I was getting at with my previous post, called, So you don’t fit in. Good (thanks for the affirmation, Hugh!). This guy makes you think. He makes you ask yourself, “What is it that you really want out of your creativity?” His book will crack you up, but it will really get you thinking, too. Read it. I finished it before daylight. And check out his website: http:www.gapingvoid.com.

Outside of reading my book, I waited for the remaining Ghoulies to drag–I mean drive–themselves off of Main Street, so I could put up the rest of the cones, and hopefully spend what remained of my watch, peacefully. At around 2 a.m., the last Ghoulies stumbled out of Evelyn’s and other places (Ivanhoe’s, maybe?), and back to their cars. One group of drunk’ins made up of a couple of guys and several girls saw that there were cones around their car when they got to it, which upset them, evidently. I don’t know why; it wasn’t as though anyone was blocked in… Anyway, one of the guys picked up a cone and hurled it across the street. I got out of my car, and stomped over to them. “Hey!” I said. “Did you just throw that cone across the street?” They said nothing and the girl behind the wheel simply drove off. “Yeah, you better get out of here!” I yelled after them as I picked up the cone from the other side of the road and carried it back to its proper spot. Then about half an hour later, another guy from across the street decided to just remove four of my cones and take them to the other side of the street. “Hey, what are you doing?” I barked.

“I’m moving cones. What are you doing?” He answered.

“Put those down right now!” I chased after him, and he just casually dropped them on the sidewalk and went up to his apartment. I grabbed the cones and put them back where they belonged, and flipped off the window on the second floor. Fuming, I got back into my car and returned to my book. I made sure all the windows were down slightly, so I could hear if someone was coming. With the recent activity, I was wide awake and feeling rather like a target. I tried to read with one eye, while keeping the other on the street. The clock ticked away, and not much later, I heard footsteps coming from behind on the sidewalk next to my car. It was a woman carrying some bags. She seemed pretty harmless. Then I heard a “crunch” sound, like something had been tossed and hit the ground. She walked on by like nothing happened, so I figured that nothing did. After a while when the street had finally become silent, I got out and walked around to help myself stay awake. Then I noticed it. Next to my car on the driver’s side was a splattered egg. Some of it had reached my tire, but I didn’t spot any on the actual body of my car, which was good. I heard that raw eggs can take the paint right off, so if you do get bombed, you have to get your car washed immediately. I got back in once again, and this time I laughed out loud. “Unreal,” I thought. “This is the lowest I have felt on any job–maybe ever.” I recounted the chain of events in my head. I pictured myself chasing after young men roughly twice my size, and yelling at them about cones, and wondered if they didn’t argue with me simply out of not wanting to have to deal with a crazy lady. I pictured a rotten little prick-college twerp heaving an egg at my car from his apartment window. “There are better ways to get ahead,” I thought. Just then, a strange, bedraggled, very tall man with long hair and a knit cap walked past me on the sidewalk. “Please don’t notice me. Please don’t notice me,” I silently prayed. He noticed me. He stopped in his tracks, and stared at me. I stared back like a deer in the headlights. He just smiled, and gently waved the “wax-on” wave to me. I waved back with a half-smile… “wax-off.” He smiled again, and walked on by, and I sighed in relief. I think he was the most normal person I encountered the entire night… er, morning.

At about 3:30 a.m. I drank my second Doubleshot, and finished my book within the hour. Just before the first signs of daybreak, a huge, noisy truck drove up behind me–and–you guessed it–rolled right over my cones. It was a water truck, coming to give the city’s flowers that hung from the lamp posts their morning drink with a giant sprayer that was rigged to the back to match the height of the posts. I jumped out of my car and waved up at the driver with both arms. “Hi,” I said.

“Hi,” he replied. “I need to water the flowers,” he said with a friendly smile.

“Okay, no problem. Let me just get the cones out of your way.”

“I’ll help you,” he said.

“Thanks!” I raced up the street and made room for him to move through without destroying my setup. Just as quickly as he watered the plants, he set most of the cones back in place before I could even get to them. He was like Santa Claus. And before I could say “Jack Robinson,” he was on down the lane, and I watched him fade into the distance; a happy truck for happy flowers. In a couple of hours, the sun would be up. Joggers were starting to surface. That was weird. Joggers in and of themselves are not so strange. Joggers at 4:30 and 5 a.m. are very strange. “Yeah, there’s nothing I would rather do at 4:30 a.m., than get up and jog!” Nothing except maybe sleep.

Speaking of sleep, it was starting to hit me. I walked up and down Main Street to avoid the sandman. I peeked into the shop windows, and snap a few photos. “What a cute street,” I thought. “What cute shops.” If I didn’t know better, I would think that the cutest, smartest people lived right in Racine, from the look of Main Street during daylight hours. I wondered if I would actually get to see any of them. It occurred to me that downtown Racine might be a good setting for a horror movie: Swellsville by day, Hellsville by night.

Cute-looking Italian restaurant.

Cute-looking Italian restaurant.

Cute hair weave shop.

Cute hair weave shop.

Jo-Jo's Toy Shop: cute, cute, cute.

Jo-Jo's Toy Shop: cute, cute, cute.

As the day became brighter, traffic picked up considerably. Then Mindy called. “How’s everything going?” She asked.

“Oh, fine,” I said, feeling rather drunk from lack of sleep. “I could use a bathroom break, though.”

“Oh. I didn’t even think of that,” She said. “Well, why don’t you just shoot over to the hotel for a few minutes? Do things seem pretty secure?”

“Yep. I’ll do that.”

“Okay. Joanne said she thinks I can relieve you at about 8:30. Is that cool?”

“Sounds good.”

After my potty break, I decided I could probably use another caffeinated beverage. There was a fake Starbucks in the hotel lobby, and I ordered a grande mocha from the boy barista. He didn’t know what it was, and explained that he had only started three days ago. “Do I use the white chocolate or the dark chocolate?”

“How cruel,” I thought to myself. I explained to the kid what a mocha was, and that I was once in his shoes (except I left out the part that I had been consuming espresso since he was a spark in his dad’s eye, and that he at least ought to try it to get an idea of how it should taste). I gave him a couple of quick tips on the fine art of barista-ing, since it was evident he had only been given the two minute crash course, and crash, he would. Oh, well. Not everything is meant to be.

After about seven minutes he handed me a cup. “Well, here you go. I hope it tastes like it should.”

“I’m sure it’ll be great,” I said, smiling. It tasted like Swiss Miss instant cocoa. I hustled back to my car, and back to my post. Everything was fine. No ghoulies.

EXT. 3rd AND MAIN - DAY

EXT. 3rd AND MAIN - EARLY MORNING

Suddenly, Nero called, and he was yelling–telling me do something. “I’m thinking we’ll need more parking spaces… like another block’s worth,” Was what I could make out. The traffic was terrible and very loud, so that combined with his accent… and then there was the fact that I hadn’t slept in twenty four hours… “I want you to block off more spaces on the north side of Main Street.”

“The north side of Main Street…” I looked around. There was an east and west side of Main, but there was definitely not a north side.

“Hon-ey, Hon-ey,” that was what he called me. “Do you know where Milwaukee is?”

“Yes. Look, it’s very difficult to hear. Traffic is bad.” I was getting a little irked. First he calls me ‘Honey,’ and then he insults me. And we’re not even sleeping together.

“Okay, so NORTH of where we set up on Main–north of 3rd Street, on the west side of Main.” Now he was making sense.

“Okay.”

“Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Thank you, Honey.” He hung up.

“Oh no, thank YOU, Honey,” I thought, as I hung up.

I set up my new row of cones, sans problems.

The Main Street General Store. So cute I almost puked.

The Main Street General Store. So cute I almost puked.

Then Mindy called. “Hey, I’m running about twenty minutes late. I have to run an errand, so I’ll see you around 9:30, okay? If you see a cafe or something, feel free to grab yourself something to eat.”

“Okay.” What else could I say? But I was hitting my wall. Sleep was coming whether or not I wanted it to. I sat on a bench and pretended to read my copy of The New Yorker. Who was I kidding?

I felt like crap. I needed a shower. I spotted a Dunn’s Coffee across from my new row of cones. I went in and got a Pom Wonderful and a pre-made breakfast sandwich from their cooler. I took my warmed up sandwich and juice, and went back to my car to eat. I don’t even remember what kind of sandwich it was. A bacon-egg-with-cheese paste ball, I think. I could barely swallow it. Yuck. I got out and sat on the bench again. I did my best to keep my head up. Then I spotted Mindy walking towards me from across the street. She looked like a tall angel wearing jeans, a t-shirt and sunglasses–the sun shrouding her like a halo. “Hey!” She said, smiling. “How’d it go?”

“Great!” I said. I gave her the 30 second version of my graveyard shift, and the receipt from my meal at Dunn’s, which she traded me cash for.

She said, “Well, I know you probably want to get some sleep.”

“Yes,” was all I could say with a weak smile.

“Drive safely.”

“Thanks. Let’s keep in touch.”

It was hot and perfectly sunny as I drove back to Milwaukee, and I made it all the way home without crashing into anyone. Or anything.

I’ll sign off with a quote from Hugh MacLeod… Chapter 38: Meaning scales, people don’t.

“Anything worth doing takes a lot practice. Adventures included.” — H.M.

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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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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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Sorting the sordid details.

June 26th, 2009 No comments
Michael Jackson fans mourning his death in Los Angeles.

Michael Jackson fans mourn his death.

It was asked of me if I would blog about details emerging in regards to Michael Jackson’s death. This will be my final post on the subject, and this is all I have left to say: It is not my place, nor is it my desire to comment on or pursue such matters. The man has died, and he deserves to rest in peace. Highly creative and talented people like Michael Jackson–whom I call “A True CreativeBeast”–develop an unearthly and brilliant energy that can’t help but attract others. Admirers crave this energy in a way that can be downright frightening, and such attention can be a tremendous weight to bear; so much so, that some creative souls simply collapse beneath it. I believe that CreativeBeasts are creatures that have great strength, but at the same time, are highly fragile…

One of my favorite films is Blade Runner. I can’t help but think of the quote by the character Eldon Tyrell, “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” He was speaking to Roy, one of his prized creations.

Consider that fire needs oxygen. Without it; it dies, and the more intense the fire; the greater its need for air. Great artists are intense fires. They burn so very brightly, but to maintain such an intensity for any length of time is an incredible feat. The truth is that in the end, we are all only human, yet when some humans attempt to make deities of other humans, things become skewed on both sides.

It seems that society rarely tires of creating stars, only to take equal pleasure in watching them fall, or in some cases; tearing them down. I don’t care to know the details of how or why Michael Jackson died. I understand that others feel differently, but I just don’t have any more questions. At this point, to dig for answers seems a bit like rifling through someone’s dresser drawers… inappropriate and disrespectful. It’s a worn-out cliche, but songs like Elton John’s Candle in the Wind and The Kinks’ Celluloid Heroes also enter my mind. I think tonight, I’ll sign off with a favorite scene from Blade Runner; here is Rutger Hauer as Roy:

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