Archives for category: Media

Solitary road trips have way of inspiring me to think about things in a way I don’t otherwise. Maybe it’s the monotony of them, the hypnotic hum of the wheels on the roadway or the persistent white noise of the engine. I like to think it’s the isolation of it. If you allow yourself the opportunity, traveling has the way of culling out interruptions. It provides a sort of freedom in the emptiness. Sure, there’s lots of things I can do. I can stare out the windows and watch the world slowly glide by. I can read a book. I can watch a movie. I can play a game. I can work. — And while I enjoy all of these things at various points on a road trip the thing I do most often is to put on headphones and simply listen to music. Sometimes I’ll read or work, too, but more often than not I just listen and allow myself the chance to let my mind wander where it wants.

This past weekend I took the four-hour bus ride from Chicago to visit my grandfather in Peoria. Four hours there, and four hours back. It was a good chunk of time to just be alone with myself and think about nothing in particular. But after a while that unstructured thinking began to take form. A combination of hearing a particular song connected with recalling something my friend, Smokes, had recently said propelled me to start thinking about musical influences. Why do I listen to the music I listen to? Why do I like it? But more curiously, how did I come to find it? The questions crystallized in my mind around a central theme: which albums were most influential upon me?

I always do this, I always spend too much time on the prelude. I think some lengthy explanation is necessary to lead up to a rather basic question. I should work on that. So, please pardon my rambling. I’ll get to the list. Here are the criteria I used for inclusion:

  • Album as a complete work, not just a particular song
  • Direct inspiration for listening to other music
  • Marks a significant milestone in my life
  • Released while I have been alive
  • Purchased with my own money within a year of public release
  • Not necessarily my favorite, the most popular or the most successful album from a particular artist

Here they are in chronological order:

In Through The Out Door, Led Zeppelin (August, 1979). By the time I discovered Led Zeppelin in the fall of 1981, John Bonham had died and the band had broken up. At the time, this was their last album. (Coda wouldn’t be released until 18 months later.) Joan turned me on to them. Early in the school year we became friends. At recess, we would walk around the soccer field and talk. Often about Zork and Led Zeppelin. She made a cassette tape of In Through The Out Door for me to listen to. It opened my eyes to what was possible with rock music– a radical departure from the Eagles and the Beatles and the Beach Boys my dad often played in the house. Later, I bought my own copy of this record because of her and over time I collected much of Zep’s published discography. That, in turn, allowed Queen, Lenny Kravitz, and the Ramones to all enter my collection.

Twelve years later, when I met Whirl for the first time, one of our first conversations was about music. Led Zeppelin was (and still is) one of her favorite bands. If I were ever to write a screenplay of that first meeting in Portland, I’d set it to “Fool In the Rain”.

Violent Femmes, Violent Femmes (March, 1983). Another early record purchased while I was in middle school. While I can’t be sure, I like to think I bought it in the spring the year after the Scorpions came to Pueblo to play the Colorado State Fair. On one of our various trips to Denver, I happened upon KBCO and discovered my new favorite radio station. The first time I heard “Blister in the Sun” was on KBCO. I was hooked. A three-piece band that embodied folk and punk and bitterness and frustration. I think of this album as a rite of passage. I got into it and a whole world of music opened up. For me, it added the Talking Heads, They Might Be Giants, the Psychedelic Furs, the Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven, the Velvet Underground and many many more. Bands I never heard on the local radio but are now intimately connected to growing up.

Hounds of Love, Kate Bush (September, 1985). “It’s in the trees! It’s coming!” There’s something magical and intoxicating to me in Kate Bush‘s eclectic blend of styles. At this point I had some steady income from the paper route. I could afford to buy more music. I helped Kate topple Madonna‘s stranglehold at the top of the charts with my purchase of Hounds of Love. It includes classical themes, progressive measure and that startlingly beautiful voice. This album inspired me to chase down nearly every female singer I could find, the more exotic and theatrical the better. And I still do. Artists in my catalog that I directly attribute to discovering Kate Bush: Suzanne Vega, the Eurythmics, 10000 Maniacs, Stevie Nicks, the Indigo Girls, Sarah McLachlan, Liz Phair, La Roux, Adele, Paramore, Sia, Poe, and Sleigh Bells.

Louder Than Bombs, Smiths (March, 1987). “And if you have five seconds to spare // Then I’ll tell you the story of my life: // Sixteen, clumsy and shy. // That’s the story of my life.” During high school I tried on personalities with about the same frequency of trying on new shirts. It seems like every day was a new attempt to reinvent myself. To be a new person. To try and determine who I was, what I wanted. Morrissey‘s lyric and Johnny Marr‘s guitar combined on this compilation at exactly that moment in my life. And they nailed it for me. I identified with the confusion and the mundanity and the caustic sense of humor. From my interest in the Smiths— and becoming a regular customer at Wax Trax in Denver– I discovered Echo & the Bunnymen, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Church, the Sundays, the Stone Roses, The The and eventually (by way of my time working at WNDY) Elvis Costello, the BoDeans and Billy Bragg. Today it’s the Killers, Phoenix and Foster the People.

Substance 1987, New Order (August, 1987). My high school musical collection was filled with new wave artists. I attribute Substance with being the strongest single influence on that transformation. Radio was dominated by Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie, Robert Palmer and Madonna. I had Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Alphaville, the Pet Shop Boys and Ultravox. And the album that coalesced all of that together, that best represented that influence upon my musical taste was Substance. The echoes of this influence are still there, as I find myself listening to the Strokes, Fischerspooner, Interpol, Neon Indian and Washed Out. I also think a line can be drawn through from New Order through to electronica and house to Fatboy Slim, Daft Punk, the Chemical Brothers and the Crystal Method all of which enjoy frequent rotation today.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Pink Floyd (September, 1987). My first Pink Floyd memory is not of this album. Bear with me; it’s a good story. Fourth grade. Shortly before Christmas Break. Music class out in a temporary classroom trailer on the playground. Teacher had asked us to bring in music for the rest of the class to experience. Someone brought in their older brother’s brand new copy of The Wall and put on “The Happiest Days of Our Lives”. It starts innocently enough with some drums and a little guitar riff. Add the a bass and some quick lyrics. And then it all goes horribly wrong, straight through a short description of dire domestic abuse into the anthem, “We don’t need no education! // We don’t need no thought control!” We never had music appreciation day again.

It would be several years before I truly fell in love with progressive rock. It happened with A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Fast forward several years from The Wall. Roger Waters has left the band. David Gilmour has taken over and produced this album. My best friend Beau and I are sitting around the kitchen room table after school arguing whether or not it was a true Floyd album without Waters’ involvement. We decide to go buy it and find out. Beau’s tastes in music were often a step ahead of mine. He owned several Floyd albums and was trying to get me interested in the band. This is the album that did it. Three tracks in, and I was hooked. I’ve been grateful ever since. I filled out my Pink Floyd collection, added Yes and Boston and Genesis. Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Bowie. Later there would be Coheed and Cambria, the Verve and XTC. Pink Floyd remains one of my favorite bands to this day.

The Lion and the Cobra, Sinéad O’Connor (November, 1987). From the moment I first watched the video for “Troy” on MTV’s 120 Minutes late at night, I knew I had to have the album. At first opportunity, I drove over to Independent Records on 4th Street and picked it up on cassette. For the next 18 months it rarely left the glove box of the car. This is one of my all-time favorite albums. I’ve seen O’Connor twice in concert, both times at Red Rocks. I’ve heard her (and everyone else) talk about this album, about O’Connor’s life– I’ve watched her blow up on television and in print. I don’t care. I love this album. It’s beautiful and fascinating and powerful. I replaced it on cassette at least twice from stretching it out, and once more when the CD became too scratched to play without skipping all the time. She’s a ghost that continues to haunt me– and I’m thankful for it. Through her I discovered Tracy Chapman, Alanis Morissette, Melissa Etheridge and the Sundays. Liz Phair and Bob Marley. She provided a radically different look at Irish music for me– ushering in album after album from the Pogues, the Cranberries, Van Morrison and the Chieftains.

Pretty Hate Machine, Nine Inch Nails (October, 1989). Vern claimed that every boy goes through a metal phase. Sometimes it lasts a week, sometimes a couple years, and sometimes we never leave it. Mine came late– despite Beau’s attempts to get me to like Iron Maiden. Pretty Hate Machine is an industrial album that appealed to my appreciation of electronica. And with it I began to explore the larger world of industrial music. I’d go on to collect 12″ singles from Front-242 and attend Nitzer Ebb and Skinny Puppy concerts. Later I’d follow this thread to discover Einstürzende Neubauten and Rammstein. But its most influential effects of Pretty Hate Machine came from bonding over it with college friends who had grown up on steady diets of Anthrax, Motörhead and Metallica. It is through this album– and those subsequent conversations– that I experienced what they heard and vice versa. We are (still) the road crew.

Achtung Baby, U2 (November, 1991). U2 has been a part of my musical landscape for nearly thirty years. Sometimes subversive, sometimes bombastic, sometimes compliant. But this is the album that placed an exclamation mark on 1991 for me. From the German in the title to the Trabbi on the cover art, to the edge in the music– this is U2’s last great album and it arrived at a moment or startling transformation for me. The two moments are forever linked. While the album did little to expand my musical interests, it is a constant reminder of my experiences abroad and my own personal growth, isolation and reinvention.

Superunknown, Soundgarden (March, 1994). I grew up in Colorado, far from Seattle. I went to school in rural Indiana, even further away– geographically and culturally. When “Smells Like Teen Spirit” arrived in 1991, propelling grunge into the limelight, I was in Germany listening to weeks-long radio tributes to Freddie Mercury. The result: I missed grunge. It’s taken me years to acknowledge Nirvana as anything more than a one-hit wonder band or the darling of the latest VH1 countdown show. But I made it back. I see it. I love it. But I came at it through Soundgarden. Generation X had its brief moment on the cultural stage before being swept away. Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Singles and Reality Bites saw mainstream success. Superunknown was the closing act. I caught that and allowed it to take me back through the musical catalog: Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, the Stone Temple Pilots. And for those bands that have moved on, I’ve gleefully followed with: Foo Fighters, Audioslave, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age.

Blackout, Dropkick Murphys (June, 2003). You don’t have to go far to find the marks left by the Dropkick Murphys. Many of the earliest entries on this blog are decorated with DKM lyrics as I struggled back from brain injury. I listened to these guys a lot through that ordeal. Hell, even the album title Blackout is an appropriate description of that time in my life.

Farmboy introduced me to this band from our time working together at Midway. He’d been playing some Mighty Mighty Bosstones and this was the album that followed up. I bought it and was hooked. I love this version of “The Fields of Athenry”. Warrior’s Code followed, and the rest of their catalog. And more than a few concerts. Perhaps due to the circumstances surrounding my introduction, Blackout remains my favorite of their albums.

I see a number of my earlier musical influences coalescing in this album: the Pogues most notably, but also some Billy Bragg with anthems of social consciousness. When I went to see them at the Vic in 2005, they arrived on the stage under the cover of the Chieftains rendition of “The Foggy Dew” that featured Sinéad O’Connor on vocals. Incendiary. DKM directly added a tremendous amount of music to my catalog: from Flogging Molly, the Tossers, the Mahones, the Fratellis and Cage the Elephant to the Black Keys, Jet and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Broken Boy SoldiersRaconteurs (May, 2006). With the notable exception of “Seven Nation Army” I never really got into the White Stripes. And I don’t remember how I first came across the Raconteurs. Jack White’s musical career was not something I was following. Then again, I don’t remember lots of things from 2005-2006. But I did hear them somewhere, found the album and listened to it start-to-finish at least three times in a row. Whirl, in her infinite patience, didn’t throw the stereo out the window. The inclusion of the Raconteurs into my library led directly to the additions of the Kings of Leon, the Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, the Cold War Kids, Wolfmother, Kasabian, and Radio Moscow. It also caused me to look back at some of the White Stripes stuff I’d collected over the years and check out Dead Weather. I’ve really grown to appreciate Jack White as a result. White’s inclusion in the two music documentaries, Scorsese’s Shine A Light and Davis Gugenheim’s It Might Get Loud made them all that much better.

Finally a few honorable mentions, albums that influenced me, but for particular reasons don’t directly meet the criteria I see out on the list.

“Symphony No. 9 in D minor”, Beethoven (May, 1824). Over the years, Whirl and others have commented on my apparent resistance to classical music. And while it’s true that it is rarely the first choice I make when choosing something to listen to, there are moments when classical is ideal. This is one of the pieces I often go to. I first paid this piece serious attention while working on a senior thesis about Theodor Adorno. Adorno has, in various works, compared the Ninth to a cathedral. That’s a comparison that has stuck with me.


The Beatles, Beatles (November, 1968). My mom and dad are big Beatles fans. Which sort of makes me a big Beatles fan, too. If you’re curious, Dad’s favorite album is Rubber Soul. But for me, it’s the eponymous white album. And while I’ve never purchased this album, it’s been in my collection for as long as I can remember having a collection. I originally taped dad’s copy and then continued to convert it as changes in music technology came about: tape to CD to MP3. This album opened my eyes to the idea of music as experimentation and exploration.

Zen Arcade, Hüsker Dü (July, 1984). My belated gateway punk album. But it wasn’t until I got to college that I heard it. And by that time the band didn’t exist anymore. But the American musical landscape was forever altered by Bob Mould and Grant Hart. When I moved to Chicago I learned that WXRT, Chicago’s Finest Rock, was still in love with them. For good reason. Hüsker Dü brought me Paul Westerberg, Sugar, Sonic Youth, Green Day, the Breeders, the Lemonheads and the Replacements.

Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers (October, 1991). Like what happened with grunge, I missed the Peppers when they first broke. We played this album often at WNDY, but it would be ten years before I would sit down and really listen to it. When I did, RHCP became a regular addition to my sound-scape. Listening to them always makes me happy, and that sort of magic can’t be underestimated. The fact that they continue to produce funky albums is gravy.

Advertisements

The Deal From Hell, James O'Shea Two months after I stopped working for Tribune Company, David Carr published his takedown in the New York Times, “At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture”. Ten days later, Chief Innovation Officer Lee Abrams, resigned after continued boorish behavior. Three days after that, CEO Randy Michaels resigned at the request of the board of directors. Busy few weeks there at the Tower. But it really wasn’t that simple. And it’s only with a bit of distance away from it that I’m starting to piece together the various elements.

Enter James O’Shea.

To be more accurate, O’Shea had been there all along. He’s an accomplished journalist, serving as the editors of both the Tribune Company flagship newspapers: the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. The Deal From Hell is O’Shea’s riveting frontline report about how news industry executives and editors made a series of decisions that systematically endangered journalistic credibility and drove the papers to bankruptcy and quite possibly the brink of extinction. I’m not reading this out of spite or to dance on any graves. My three years working at Tribune were some of the most influential and beneficial years of my career. The people I worked with day to day, the opportunities I was afforded, the self-confidence the experiences engendered– for these things I am forever grateful.

It is because of that gratitude that I am so curious to learn just what the hell happened. I’ve continued to inform myself over the years: “News War”, Page One, Jim Romenesko, LA Observed and a number of other sources have all fed into my amateur attempts to make sense of it all. I am thankful to add James O’Shea and his highly informative book to that list.

This hour-long music video serves as a nostalgic look back at a half-remembered, plastic childhood. Edited over the span of six months from conception, to mix, to cut, to final reassembly– the creator intercuts images he felt might be visually interesting, whether he enjoyed the source material or not, and sets it to propulsive modern music. All together Skinemax provides a fascinating look at the culture from the 80s and early 90s and all the imagery that defined a generation.

There was no real definite plan aside from certain segments where you see a theme for more than a few shots, such as electricity, fire, explosions, babes, guitars, flying, et cetera.

I am a strong proponent of minimalism. Particularly when it comes to web design. If you asked me, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with compelling aesthetic arguments as to why I prefer minimalist design. I just do. I like the absence of clutter. Minimalism done right gives me just the information that I want and nothing more. And that’s very different from giving me just the information I asked for and nothing more. Computer systems are quite adept at that second request. But as with many things, when making requests of computer systems often I ask the wrong questions. The computer is glad to give me what I asked for but not necessarily what I wanted. I believe good design should employ the art of intuitive anticipation along with the removal of distractions: potential, actual or hypothetical.

So it was with these ideas in my head that I set about looking for a new theme for our blog. Yes, this very blog you are currently reading. (Thank you for that, by the way.) When I decided upon the Wu Wei theme by Jeff Ngan and began showing it to my friends, I got several comments about how I was in love with minimalism. And while I don’t believe I am a particularly vocal evangelist of minimalism, I do recognize my own predisposition toward its use. And in those moments that I work on my own ideas of design, it comes out. I like the Helvetica font. My computers all have plain black backgrounds, without images or ornamentation. I try to think about minimizing clutter, and a consistency of look and feel. As I said, I hadn’t vocalized this in any particularly concrete way. It was just a set of preferences I had arrived at over time. So when the responses came to me, reminding me externally of a conversation I had only sporadically had with myself internally, I rejoined.

Yes! More minimalism!

And then I was immediately struck by the humor of such a statement. Minimalism, this movement in visual design where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features. And I wanted more of it. Smokes suggested that it would make a great slogan for a t-shirt: make the word “more” really small, and the word “minimalism” really big. You can never get too much irony, right?

I sat on the idea for a few days, and then decided to give it a try. This morning I got out a piece of paper and a pencil, sketched a few ideas and then fired up Photoshop. Pretty soon, Smokes and I were exchanging ideas and I kept making new iterations on the design. Again, this was more of a learning exercise in trying to get my mind around Photoshop CS5 than an attempt at a career change. So without further ado, I present my iterations of “More Minimalism”.

Opinions welcome in the comments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hello, Adoring Fans! It’s Steph here once again for another evening of live blogging. It’s Oscar night, and a tradition at the Warehouse to watch the pageant of contemporary popular culture and eat round candy. Last year we added a blogging element to the festivities. A few weeks ago I was joined by several friends in live blogging the Golden Globe awards. Our cast of commentators has returned this evening and expanded to include one more. Joining me tonight we have Bingo, Smokes, niqui, Bitsy, and Princess.

The six of us will be adding our thoughts, comments, retractions and unfounded speculations to the spectacle that is the 82nd annual Academy Awards ceremony presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Kodak Theater. Red carpet coverage begins at 6:00 pm CST. Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin open the show at 7:30. Join us.

The Barbara Walters Special preceding the Oscars includes interviews with Sandra Bullock and Mo’Nique. Walters has announced that this year’s special will be the last one. She’s done the interview for 29 years.

Read the rest of this entry »

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

A week ago today a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti ten miles south of the nation’s capitol, Port-au-Prince. The earthquake brought devastation to the entire country. Today the European Union, quoting Haitian officials, estimated the death toll at 200,000. 1.5 million more people have been left homeless. Tragedy of this magnitude cannot be adequately expressed in words. It is the power of images — of seeing — that begins to finally convey what has transpired.

I’m not a photojournalist. I like to wonder what my life might be like if photography were my career. I have worked alongside photojournalists. I admire what it is they do. And while I gain a deep and satisfying sense of accomplishment from my own photography, I cannot help but have a bit of envy for the talent, skill, fortitude and grace with which these journalists make their trade.

The power of the photograph — the noble lie a photograph tells us the viewer — can come in its depiction of reality. It is a lie because a photograph is anything but reality. Nonetheless it is a noble lie in that the photograph attempts the impossible in spite of it being impossible. And for a moment, for a fraction of a second, we choose to believe it has succeeded.

As much as Aristotle would have us believe we are creatures of language, we are creatures of vision. And in the wake of tragedy such as what has struck Haiti, it is with our sense of vision that we turn to attempt to make some sense of what has happened.

I want to share a few collections of images from Haiti. But more than just refer to these galleries — incredible in their own right — I want to highlight a few comments from some of the professional photojournalists I respect as they have shared some of their own thoughts on Haiti and photojournalism.

Hi-res: Earthquake in Haiti: Images from Los Angeles Times photographers Carolyn Cole, Rick Loomis and Brian Vander Brug.

Haiti From Above: A gallery of aerial photographs of Haiti collected by Tim Reese, Assistant Directory of Multimedia for the Sacramento Bee.

Earthquake in Haiti: A gallery of wire service images of the Haiti earthquake presented by Alan Taylor for the Boston Globe.

Haiti, Alive: A gallery posted to the New York Times photography blog, “Lens”, collecting glimpses of life in Haiti during the 20th century. The images were drawn from the archives of the New York Times and of the National Geographic Society.

Reflections: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune photojournalist, offers some quiet, respectful and considered candor on Haiti and the role of photojournalism on his blog, “Shooting from the Hip.”

Haiti: Chip Litherland, a ten-year photojournalism veteran based in Florida, adds some of his own thoughts about the tragedy and the power of the photograph. This observation particularly resonated with me:

The photos are what people are sharing. Twitter posts about journalists’ posts from the ground. Facebook postings with links to photo galleries. Photos. Not video. Not multimedia. Not a talking head in front of rubble waxing poetic about what a producer saw earlier in the day. Not showing up to the airport, setting up a live shot, saying you’re there covering the story and leaving. Photos. Photos that need no text. Just space to breathe and be seen.

Like Moths to a Flame: Matt Lutton and M. Scott Brauer present some thought-provoking opinions on the media’s role in covering tragedy on their blog “dvafoto”. The article begins by highlighting the psychological impact of the frenetic scrum around a recently rescued woman and continues to talk about the inherent contradictions involved in covering tragedy.

(Mark J.Terrill/AP Photo)

Hi All! It’s Steph here for the evening. After the rousing success of the live-blogging of the 2009 Oscar Awards I’m back to share thoughts about the first Golden Globe awards of the new decade. I’m joined this evening by four other contributors. Bingo is a would-be photojournalist with a particular penchant for inappropriate remarks and unfounded skepticism. If you were to imagine a time and place where everything were pure, and the laughter of children would fill the air like the music of angels, Smokes would be the boy clawing at the walls until his fingers bleed — then he would start biting. Only occasionally susceptible to fixation, niqui is a connoisseuse of the finer things in life, like cult TV, Scotch whiskey, and various things to be done with string. Bitsy is queen of all she surveys.

The five of us will be adding our insights into the thrills of victory and the agony of defeat wrought by those hard-hearted journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Red carpet coverage begins at 6:00 pm CST. Ricky Gervais opens the awards at 7:00. Join us.

Read the rest of this entry »

My friend L Cubed challenged me to put together a list of films for 2009. I took him up on the challenge. I don’t mean this to be my list of the best films of 2009. Rather it is a list of the films I quite enjoyed. I find myself talking about them and referring to them in subsequent conversation. They’re not necessarily even films that premiered in 2009. A number of these films were released last year, and one was released in 2004. These are films I saw this year. That’s my criteria for consideration: I saw the film in 2009, I enjoyed the film, I’ve talked about it with someone since viewing it.

The list is heavily skewed toward the fantastical: science fiction, fantasy, horror. While I enjoy those genres a great deal, I was somewhat surprised at the dominance in the list. Self-reflection may be good for something after all, I suppose. Perhaps this is telling me I enjoy the feeling of escape those genres can produce. But enough pop-psychoanalysis. Here is my list, presented in the order of viewing.

30 Days of Night : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
The first of several vampire stories I enjoyed this year: a comic-book adaptation set in Barrow, Alaska. Thirty days without sunlight is an awfully long time for the undead to cause havoc.

Shine A Light : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Film icon shoots rock legends: Martin Scorsese captures the Rolling Stones at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Everything about this works: the music, the historical footage, the documentary work, the lights, the cameras, the egos.

Primer : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Completed on a $7000 budget over three years. Primer is a triumph. It combines a simplicity in effects, an acknowledgment of the audience as rational beings, and a fundamental device of science fiction: time travel. The result is brilliant.

Cloverfield : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
J.J. Abrams’ skillful update of the classic Godzilla story is at once straightforward and shot at an angle. This is a study in taking a classic story and adapting it to be your own.

Teeth : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Smart, original and frighteningly funny. This is great black-comedy horror. Again, very low on special effects. The story drives the story.

Watchmen : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Zack Snyder completes what Terry Gilliam said was “unfilmable”. With last year’s The Dark Knight, Watchmen decisively settled the question as to whether comic-book movies can successfully transcended a cult sub-genre. Watchmen proves that films adapted from comic-books can be serious, successful, powerful works in their own right. Despite anything Alan Moore has to say about it.

Let the Right One In : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted his novel by the same name to the screenplay for this breathtaking and intelligent interpretation of the vampire myth.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
The beautiful film adaptation of the deeply personal book by the same name written by French journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby. Since my brain injury I have looked for voices and means of expression of what I went through and continue to carry with me. This is one such voice.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
With the death of Dumbledore, this chapter is the tipping point of the Harry Potter story.

District 9 : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Science-fiction has long been used as a vehicle to talk about real issues. District 9 effectively combines story, character, setting, effects and narrative into something quite compelling.

In Bruges : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
Carefully crafted and well executed, this black comedy follows two hitmen in hiding in the extremely photogenic town of Bruges, Belgium. This is another film where story and characters trump action and special effects. And I’ve always been a fan of Brendan Gleeson.

Avatar : Netflix | IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
I know, I know. The plot is pedestrian. The villains are one-dimensional. — The film is brilliant. With Avatar, James Cameron marks a watershed moment in film production.

Read the rest of this entry »

I knew Kevin Smith was coming to Chicago to give a Q&A at the Chicago Theatre when he announced it several months ago. At the time I was hip-deep in a rather monstrous pair of projects at work and the waters were still rising. I declined to get tickets. This afternoon, with the most onerous sections of one of the two projects completed, and the second project’s appetite for my time at least partially satisfied, Smokes‘ invitation to go see Smith seemed positively filled with possibility.

Tickets were still available this afternoon. I consulted with Whirl. She agreed that it sounded like fun. So I bought two tickets and after work we met up with Smokes and Liz and went to see “An Evening with Kevin Smith”.

I am a fan of Kevin Smith. I’ve enjoyed his movies for many years. We’re almost exactly the same age and as such our cultural landmarks are similar. We share a passion for Star Wars. I get his jokes about Jaws. I’ve seen his college campus talks on DVD and I am an irregular listener to SModcast, his mostly regular podcast he does with his friend and producer, Scott Mosier. And for a guy who exposes most of the details of his life to the public, the largest detractor to the whole event was that many of the stories we had heard before: either in interviews, on the View Askew forums, some in books, and many of them on SModcast.

But I think that’s okay. I found him an engaging storyteller. — He’s curiously divisive, as well. Something — perhaps because I have some affection for him — I can’t quite entirely understand. I mean, he is mostly harmless. At least from where I’m standing.

People enjoy taking him down: calling him a hack, a has-been, or a no-talent boor. Oh, and he’s fat.

I guess I just have to shrug and disagree. I enjoyed tonight. I laughed a lot — and loudly. He related some poignant insights about collaboration and expectations in movie making. He told a gut-busting story about an unfortunate event in the Laser Blazer bathroom during a poker tournament. He deftly fielded a number of well-meaning if not overly reflected questions from film students. I particularly respected his maxim of “death before discourtesy” when working in the business. He told of become intoxicated by a ten-disc hockey documentary and then pleading with his wife to share his childlike enthusiasm.

These stories were intersected by impromptu unscripted moments that led me to believe he is a genuinely authentic guy with a knack for spinning a good yarn.

And that’s all right with me.

I find this week’s episode of This American Life fascinating. Entitled “Frenemies” the show’s caption begins:

This week we bring you stories about friends. Or wait, enemies? How about both? Tales of estranged sisters, BFFs breaking up and making up and breaking up, and how reality stars walk the fine line between making friends and making a name for themselves.

As engaging as the listed elements of the show are, for me the most interesting section is a smaller transitional piece with Ira Glass and lexicographer Erin McKean. Glass relates the history of the use of the portmanteau “frenemies” and its emergence into popular culture. Before leaving the topic entirely for the next act of the show Glass and McKean digress to discuss other similarly blended words. During the interview McKean gives four examples. Some are well-known; some are more obtuse.

  • guesstimate : McKean attributes the creation of this word to 1936.
  • anecdotage : The essential meaning here being the arrival at that point in life when you tell the same anecdotes repeatedly.
  • linner : That meal you must have between lunch and dinner. Glass responds, “That just makes me feel mad at somebody.”
  • slanguage : McKean describes the allegedly clever introduction of this term into conversations with lexicographers, “Slang plus language.” Glass, “But you do not find that clever.”

McKean goes on to describe a phenomenon that particularly intrigued me: the lexical gap. She assigns it as a potential source for some of these new terms. While admitting that there are lots of words for things that are uncommon, there are holes in any given language. And when we come across a concept that is not adequately filled by a single term, lexicographers refer to that absence as a lexical gap. In English the most famous case of a lexical gap is the existence of the term for a child who has lost its parents: an orphan. But there is no single term for a parent who has lost a child. A lexical gap.

When I heard McKean name the term my mind immediately jumped to the warning plastered everywhere on the London Tube: Mind the Gap.

I don’t know why I thought of that.