I decided that Alex Gregory’s comic depicting a father reading his son a bedtime story needed a little update. (Note how my attempt to redraw his comic resulted in a father wearing Harry Potter-like glasses. I’m guessing this is how my excitement for the final installment of the movies manifests itself. I’m OK with this.)
Category Archives: Short Notes
I’ve spent the majority of my hours this semester with a Centiq pen in my hand. (Centiq pens, dear reader(s), are these magical pens that allow you to draw right onto a computer screen, like drawing on a digital piece of paper.)
Here’s a short rotoscoping exercise I had to do using a short clip of Radiohead’s music video for their track “Lotus Flower.” Rotoscoping is an animation technique where animators trace live-action footage frame by frame to create animated footage that feels a whole lot like real life. Think “A Scanner Darkly” or “Waking Life.”
COMING UP NEXT:
1. My final animation project, a forty-second hand-drawn movie.
2. An update to the “Travel” section covering my experience interning at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
I miss having the time to write posts once or twice a week. Funny how school takes time away from the things you may love or really want to be doing.
Nevertheless, here are a few things I’ve done recently that make me feel lucky to live where I do. I offer these as recommendations of things to do and see if you’re in the area, but also as events you can look for no matter where you live or go to school. There are movie screenings, theater performances, and book talks anywhere you go. Get off your computer and go find them. You’ll learn things, and learning things feels good.
So, here goes this week in Really Happy Stuff, with nowhere near as much commentary and analysis as I’d like because if I don’t get back to animating my teacher will be mad.
1. Silent Films/Live Music: The Masters of Slapstick with the Alloy Orchestra at the World Financial Center
The Arts World Financial Center’s mission is to “serve as the leading showcase in Lower Manhattan for visual and performing arts—from the intimate to the spectacular –presenting both emerging and established artists.” I recently went to an Arts WFC screening of three silent films while a three-man musical ensemble provided live musical accompaniment. Watching Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Fatty Arbuckle fall and jump and romance reminded me that 1) silent films are best enjoyed with a live orchestra and 2) we talk too much when you can sometimes say more without saying anything at all.
2. Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters at the Classic Stage Company
Going to the theater has become one of my favorite things to do in the city. I feel lucky to have seen a performance of CSC’s Three Sisters featuring Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jessica Hecht, and many other notable stage and screen actors who all spoke afterwards in a discussion with the audience. Most interesting comment in response to a question on how Austin Pendleton directed the show: “He didn’t care what we did as long as it was in response to something one of the other actors did.”
3. “Comedy and the Neurotic Imagination,” a talk with Jonathan Ames
A perk to attending screenings and performances in New York is the author or director often speaks at the event. This week I went to The New School’s Arts in Mind series where I finally got a chance to meet one of my creative heroes, writer Jonathan Ames (HBO’s Bored to Death.) A therapist moderated the talk, which unexpectedly turned into what I can only describe as a free therapy session. Questions addressed topics such as mental illness and creativity and, more important, how they relate to one another. Jonathan highlighted how useful he feels after writing in light of his depression and inner turmoil as a creative person. I wanted to hug him. I told him this after the talk. He smiled.
One way to learn how you feel about things is to, well, talk about things. In this convenient way I learned something about myself when visiting my best friend in California last month. And it’s something I’m not particularly proud of. We went to his high school to visit some of his old teachers, and one of them—Mr. Key—stood us in front of his class full of tired seniors and said, “OK class. Ask them questions.”
I spoke mostly about my experience working in the film and TV industry in New York. Something like, “Working on movies and TV shows is pretty cool. You don’t get to do too much hands-on stuff though. Typical interny stuff you always hear about like running errands, making copies, etc.” And later, “It sometimes takes the magic away from things once you really know what goes on behind the scenes.”
But it was only after our impromptu Q&A session concluded that I realized the tone in which I was speaking. I sounded completely and utterly jaded. How, when, and why did this happen?! I don’t even really believe all those things I said!
Why didn’t I tell them I transferred schools to pursue my dream of writing a movie and/or TV show? Why didn’t I tell them there’s nothing like living and working in New York City where I’ve gotten to work in places I saw in all my favorite movies growing up? Why didn’t I tell him about the indescribable moment when I went to the movie theaters and saw my name in the credits for the first time?
I use myself here to preface the main topic of this little post, which was largely inspired by two people with whom I’ve had brief interactions over the past few weeks. The first was an enthusiastic airline attendant on my flight from Oakland to Phoenix. I don’t know anything about the guy, but I know he loves his job. Everyone on the flight knew it. In addition to smiling and interacting with most of the people on the flight, he took seemingly routine tasks like passing out drinks and collecting trash and turned them into games. Instead of just pouring my soda into the little plastic cup, he said, “Watch this,” and proceeded to pour the soda from above his head down into the cup while yelling, “Waterfall!!!!!!!” He smiled, and it made me smile, too.
The next person was just as enthusiastic but in a less conspicuous way. This woman worked in the frozen food section at my local Giant, and she also loves her job. While she didn’t play any fun games (which was most likely for the best considering she works with raw meats and metal monsters that could slice my fingers off as easily as Justin Bieber could date Selena Gomez or any other Disney tween of the like), she smiled, asked me how my day was, and said, “Take care, honey,” as I was walking away. Simple and sweet. And I appreciated this.
The message here is clear: There’s something to be said about taking pride in what you do. No matter what it is. Seeing these people working at jobs that kinda sorta seem to me to be ostensibly sucky ones has led me to suck it up and count all the good I have in what I do. That airline attendant thinks his job is cool, that Giant employee thinks her job is cool, and I’m working on a Ben Stiller movie right now, and that’s also pretty freaking cool.
A friend of mine asked me, “What if the enthusiasm making you think they like their jobs is totally artificial?” In thinking about this question a famous commencement speech delivered by David Foster Wallace came to mind. In it he discusses the struggle of distancing yourself from your inner monologue, or “default setting,” which automatically surrounds hypothetical angry grocery man in blame and negativity. But, as he explains, you also have to consider what could be going on in the life of said grocery store employee or CEO or anyone who happens to rub you the wrong way. Maybe they’re a single parent and working two jobs just to make ends meet, or maybe it’s something even worse. Or, in truth, maybe they’re just a bitch.
In any case, the takeaway here is simple: A simple change in perspective can go a long way. Then things like Oprah owning her own network and the trailer for the new Adam Sandler/Jen Aniston rom-com just may not piss you off as much. In other words, bad can potentially be turned into not so bad, or good, or maybe even really good.
Unless you’re me and no f-ing change in perspective can remedy the terror felt upon realization that Oprah is taking over the world and movies like Just Go With It continue to get made.
COMING UP NEXT: (ON TOPIC) “The Time I Was in a Jennifer Aniston Movie and it Inspired Me to Write a Blog Post About the Current State of Rom-Coms”
(SHORT NOTES) Really Happy Stuff: 2011 Movies, TV Shows, and Acoustic Songs. And a Little Spike Jonze Word Vomit.
I should consider changing the name of my “Really Happy Stuff” section to “Really Happy Stuff (and Possibly Some Really Sad Stuff, Too)” because not everything on this week’s list makes me happy. Actually, some of it makes me kind of not happy.
1. Being John Malkovich DVD extras
These make me kind of not happy. (See, I told you it wasn’t all Happy with a capital “H” this week.) Charlie Kaufman has a brilliantly twisted mind, as reflected in any of his movies. Therefore I shouldn’t have been surprised when watching the DVD extras on Being John Malkovich, which are just as odd as their creator. One feature includes a potentially insightful interview with director Spike Jonze during which Spike looks like he’s going to vomit uncontrollably at any moment. As you can imagine, this kind of takes the attention away from the words coming out of his mouth and places it, well, on other things. You’ll have to watch it for yourself to see how the interview ends.
(He vomits. And it’s really, really gross.)
2. Fish Tank, 2009 (directed by Andrea Arnold)
Thanks to shuffle mode on iTunes, Bobby Womack’s rendition of “California Dreamin’” blasted out of my speakers this morning. The song reminds me of one of my favorite movies that had a limited release in 2010 and came—then quickly went—with just a small rustle of the indie curtain. The movie follows 15-year-old dancer Mia (played brilliantly by newcomer Katie Jarvis) as she tries to grow up under the eyes of her neglectful mother/Mom’s sexy boyfriend (Michael Fassbender, Inglourious Basterds). One quiet scene finds Mia and her mom and sister dancing side-by-side to Womack’s “California Dreamin’” as if they’re trying to hold on to something that wasn’t ever really there—family, or at least something like it.
It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, in addition to dozens of other awards from them good ol’ Brits. A DVD release date is unfortunately TBD. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.
3. Late December/Early January Oscar Buzz Movies
In spite of a relatively slow 2010 at the box offices (Sex and the City 2. Cough. The Tourist. Cough.), I love the heart tuggers that find their way into theaters at the beginning of the year, which is usually the time of the flops.
Let’s use 2010 as a case study. We got Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness, The Wolfman, and Repo Men, which was a sad flop for me because I really, really like Jude Law and it’s never fun seeing a favorite actor stuck in a bad movie.
And so, in early 2011, look out for three Oscar hopefuls tackling love in all its pain and glory:
- Another Year (directed by Mike Leigh, Happy-Go-Lucky) – Follows married couple Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Mary (Lesley Manville) through the four seasons as they’re surrounded by friends and family stuck in unhappy relationships. How happy. 🙂
- Blue Valentine (directed by Derek Cianfrance, known for his TV docs and shorts) – Follows the deterioration of couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). The movie is being released after years and years of setbacks and intense pre-production, during which Gosling and Williams lived together in a house to learn their characters inside and out. That’s what I call commitment.
- Biutiful (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Babel) – Something about love and fate. Whatever. Javier Bardem is in it and his character’s name is Uxbal. It’s gonna be good.
4. Somewhere, 2010 (directed by Sofia Coppola)
This movie should be included in the above Oscar hopefuls, but I decided to give it it’s own paragraph to allow for a mini-review.
I love when you go see a movie and it feels different from the other movies you’ve seen recently, when you know there’s a brilliant creative hand hovering over everything you’re seeing onscreen. I also love when filmmakers break genre conventions and in turn make the audience uncomfortable. Sofia Coppola, as expected, does this repeatedly in Somewhere, her latest film about a famous actor (played by the rugged Stephen Dorff) in L.A. who’s routine of sex-eat-sleep is interrupted when his daughter shows up at his door. She’s the master of the slice-of-life portrayal of people just sitting and going through the motions (see The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette and Lost in Translation), which means you get long shots, few cuts, and lots of slow zoom-outs. But the people in the theater didn’t like this. They fidgeted and grunted and some even left. But stick it out and I promise you’ll get a character study that’s worth your green stuff.
5. Winter TV preview
TV, TV, TV. It ran away from us in December, but it’s back and shining brighter than ever starting this Sunday. Two things about Winter TV are making me happy this January:
- NBC Comedy Thursdays (in this order): Community (returning), Perfect Couples (from executive producers Jon Pollack and Scott Silveri of 30 Rock and Friends, respectively), The Office (returning), Parks and Recreation (thankfully returning!!!), and 30 Rock (returning).
- Showtime Sundays (in this order): Californication (returning), Episodes (new, starring former Friends star Matt LeBlanc as former Friends star Matt LeBlanc), and Shameless (new adaptation of a British series starring William H. Macy as an alcoholic father to a quirky clan of children).
6. 2011 Movie Preview
The lists are out and predictions are already being made about what will sink or swim. In any case, every Friday on my calendar this year is filled with at least one movie I’d like to see. (The math side of things: It would cost me about $650 to see one movie per week while living in New York City. This makes me not happy.)
We also have a theme emerging, as it seems that 2011 will be the year of prequels, sequels, quadrilogies, and other -ilogies: X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Apes, The Hangover 2, Kung Fu Panda 2, Cars 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Scream 4, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, Thor, Green Lantern, Green Hornet, and Captain America.
So, in short, look forward to a lot of green things, animals, and movies with a semicolon and/or hyphen in their titles (i.e., The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1).
7. Acoustic Versions of Songs
I’ve heard this line from my parents and grandparents on countless occasions: “Everything on the radio sounds the same.” And they’re right, more or less. Songs that have been digitally manipulated tend to blend into one auto-tuned track. (Think Cher’s “Believe” on crack.) So, what makes me happy is when chart toppers with said auto-tuned hits release acoustic versions of their songs. Stripping the music down to guitar and vocals allows artists to let this thing called talent shine through. Taio Cruz, for one, just released an iTunes Session album on iTunes featuring an enjoyable acoustic version of his 2010 hit “Dynamite.” Jazmine Sullivan also makes the list even though she hasn’t released any acoustic tracks. Nevertheless I think she’s the best example of a contemporary artist with an old school, pre-auto-tune sound a la Lauryn Hill. Listen to “Holding You Down (Goin’ in Circles).” It’s refreshing.
This week in Really Happy Stuff:
1. New York Times: 14 Actors Acting
The New York Times produced an online video series called “14 Actors Acting,” which features fourteen famous performers (James Franco, Natalie Portman, Tilda Swinton, and more) in one-minute short films. Paying homage to classic screen types (see Tilda Swinton’s tortured Joan of Arc), each short highlights one emotion/state of being in black and white. The performers are completely silent while string music by Owen Pallett provides a faint soundtrack. Critics have said the work is pretentious, but what’s better than a one-minute film in which James Franco seduces himself in a mirror? (You must be thinking, “A two-minute film in which James Franco seduces himself,” and you’re absolutely right.)
2. Christmas Episodes of “Community” and “Family Guy”
For some, December is the unhappiest of months. Loved ones uniting in the jovial holiday spirit simultaneously remind others that what was unfortunately is no more. In other words, just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean there’s more green stuff in the bank place and Daddy’s coming home from war. And it’s the resulting raw emotion that made the Christmas episodes of “Community” and “Family Guy” classics because these shows are the kind of wacky comedies that just don’t hinge on said raw emotion. Therefore, when they do use it, it tugs even harder at the heartstrings. In “Community,” Abed and the gang (in fantastic stop-motion animation) travel to a mystical North Pole where they learn just how deeply Abed’s been hurt by the separation of his parents. And after families wake up to a presentless Christmas in Quahog, Brian and Stewie bring home a deteriorating Santa from the North Pole and go on national TV to spread the message, “If we all just consume a little less, the world will be a better place.” Ultimately, both shows highlighted how personal the holidays can be and the importance of focusing on what’s there in life instead of what’s missing.
3. iTunes Music Previews
Tuesdays are iTunes Day. (You might be thinking, “Ha. You still buy music? Just download it illegally.” But shut up. Yes I still buy music on iTunes, so don’t try to make me feel stupid for following the law.) New music is available on iTunes every Tuesday, so I’ve added “Check iTunes every Tuesday” to my weekly routine. And now they’re rewarding me for my persistence. If you click the little “play” button next to a song on iTunes, a thirty-second tease of the song typically plays. But tease, no longer! You now get a whole MINUTE AND THIRTY SECONDS of the song, which is, like, three times the amount of good tunes for your earholes. So thank you, Apple, thank you very much.
Sunday means one thing: NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour.
I’ve combated the all-work-no-play epidemic by reserving time every Sunday for my friends at PCHH. And for the little jingle from Mike Katzif’s band Hello Come In that ushers in each new podcast and consistently puts a little smile on my face.
De dum. De dum dum dum.
(I’m wondering if my use of the word “friends” is premature. Whenever you share an interest with a friend or acquaintance there’s that initial, “Well. You must me OK if you like (insert pop culture reference here),” so this makes me think they’d at least like me a little. Upon first meeting, Stephen and I would most likely talk about the magic that is “Kung Fu Panda,” Linda and I would relive our favorite moments from the brilliance that is “Community,” Trey and I would cry over “The Big C” finale because none of my friends watch it and I really want to talk about Adam crying in the garage of gifts, and Glen and I would wrap up via reminiscences about our separate albeit similar experiences at swim-up bars with happy, smiling people in exotic locales. That was a long sentence, but it was worth it.)
Anyways, through an ongoing process of trial and error, I’m finally twiddling down the online sources on which I rely for all things news, and NPR’s coverage of the arts via podcasts like PCHH remains at the top of the list. So, thanks to NPR hosts Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Trey Graham, and Glen Weldon, I’d like to use one of my favorite NPR podcasts as inspiration for a little weekly section on my blog. (Follow the gang here: http://www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/) The podcast often closes with a section called “Things Making Me Happy,” during which the hosts talk about what’s made them happy that week. So, I’d like to do the same thing here.
However, as discussed a few weeks ago on PCHH, it’s important to recognize online lists and recommendations as very, very subjective. If you don’t like me, then you probably won’t be interested in hearing what I have to say about James Franco’s new book. But if you’re reading this, you’re most likely Claire (or another one of my close friends who actually reads these posts), which means you’ll hold my opinion a little higher than said person who hates me.
So, this week in Happy, with a capital H:
1. It Gets Better Project
Last September, author Dan Savage created a YouTube video with his partner to give hope and inspiration for young people dealing with harassment. As the website explains, the “It Gets Better Project” has since been created “to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach–if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone—and it WILL get better.” Thousands of viewers including celebrities and activists have joined the cause, and you should, too. Click here to learn more and watch the videos: http://www.itgetsbetter.org/
2. James Franco
This guy fascinates me. He shares my desire to know a lot about everything, so I try to live through him vicariously as he hops around from university to university, impressively soaking up all the knowledge he can and then moving on to the next one, like a vampire sucking blood from a human. (Is this simile too graphic? I have a funny visual while writing this of Franco literally hopping on land from NYU to UCLA, thirsty for knowledge.)
Most people know him as James Franco the Actor, but he’s recently dabbled in performance art and has also just published his first book, a collection of short stories called Palo Alto.
Our time at NYU coincided by one semester so I had the unique privilege of being taught by him in a small classroom one evening. He brought in Yugoslavian/Serbian/Montenegrin performance artist Marina Abramović to speak to us, and they both left me just as confused as I was when the lecture began as to what performance art really is. Something about communication between the artist and the audience without a script. Nevertheless James (Is this too informal? Should I call him Franco?) was quite engaging while speaking. It must be the acting.
In the past two weeks I’ve also read Palo Alto and seen both “Howl” and “127 Hours,” his latest acting vehicles. His book is a light and innocuous read, comprised of short stories about troubled misfits in his hometown of Palo Alto. A few of the stories feature a female narrator and recurring characters, which ultimately create the most engaging narrative. I understand why reviews have intimated Franco should stick with acting, but if you ignore the Bret Easton Ellis parallels and at least try to separate the actor from his words, I think you can find Alto to be a quick and enjoyable read.
While he may not write with the poetic brilliance of Ginsberg, he embodies the famed Beat poet perfectly in the biopic “Howl. Scenes with Franco reading the 1955 controversial poem are joined onscreen by beautiful animated sequences that bring the poem to life, footage from the obscenity trial surrounding the actual reading of the poem in the 50s, and interviews with dialogue taken straight from a Playboy magazine interview in which Ginsberg was asked about his struggles with his homosexuality.
But if you prefer a one-armed Franco (his left, to be exact), perhaps “127 Hours” should be your Franco flick of choice this holiday season. Unless your stomach can’t handle a human game of Operation, that is. The movie is based on the true story of Aron Ralston, the twenty-eight-year-old who got stuck in a Utah canyon and was ultimately forced to amputate his lower right arm. While it’s easy to get lost in the anticipation of this final extraordinary event, I most enjoyed when the film slowed down and we just got to see Franco reacting to his surroundings. The footage from the camcorder Ralston used to record his experience was released to Boyle and Franco during the making of the movie, and it was these recreated moments that felt most personal and engaging. Boyle drives the story in a fast-paced “Slumdog” tradition via split screens, quick cuts, and pumping music, but it’s these slower scenes that really let you in on the pain and torture Ralston endured. And then there’s always a good ol’ cameo from a life-size Scooby Doo blowup to pump up the action.
Kudos James, kudos. I look forward to seeing what you do next. I recommend a one-man Off Broadway show during which you read Kerouac’s On The Road cover to cover.
3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Go into any bookstore and you’ll most likely find this book, cover facing proudly forward, in any one of the main displays. And rightfully so. The premise really speaks for itself: Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in a dystopian future where one girl and one boy between the ages of twelve and eighteen must participate in the annual Hunger Games, a televised fight-to- the-death battle. The reader joins Katniss on her high-stake journey as she volunteers to take her sister’s spot in the Games.
I’m fascinated by the idea of humans as conditional beings, those whom could do the unexpected given the right time and place. And this is exactly what the book explores through Katniss’s fight for survival. You’ll be asking questions throughout: Why would she risk her own life? How can the Capitol create such a cruel event? More important, how can they then publicize it for all to see?
The more interesting questions, however, arise when thinking about what you do if you lived in the fictional country of Panem. Would you be able to watch this on TV? Would you be able to kill another human being if it meant you could survive and bring glory to your town? The answers will keep you busy, and the book will most likely be over before you know it.
But don’t fret. There are two more books in the trilogy, and the movie adaptation obviously has a tentative start date next year. (I use the word “obvious” because making movies from books is the thing to do these days.)
I’m thinking Saoirse Ronan would make the perfect Katniss.
4. “The Simpsons” opening credit sequences
Since most opening credits stay the same week after week, I appreciate “The Simpsons” for switching it up and using FOX and Banksy references, among many others. Click here and watch the opening credits of “The Fool Monty” and “MoneyBART”: http://www.hulu.com/the-simpsons
This season Trey and Abed built a blanket fort, which quickly became the site of Jeff and Annie’s pursuit of Professor Professorson, a Turkish district, a Latvian parade, and a Civil Rights Museum.
What other show could pull off consistently wacky but brilliant A- and B-plots each week?