Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Talking about storytelling, part one – Cleveland International Film Festival

Back on March 20, our department at work got together for a good chunk of the day to talk about storytelling. We had lunch, saw one of the short film programs at the Cleveland International Film Festival, and then hung out for awhile with the director of one of the movies we’d seen.

Here’s what we watched:

I enjoyed the program. All the movies were entertaining, and it was a nice mix of subjects and tones and length. Thoughts on a few:

Real Change – a nine-minute documentary about four homeless men who sell the Real Change newspaper Seattle – led off the program, and its director, Adam Michael Becker, shared his time with us after the screening. As a former journalist, I was incredibly impressed with the stories and personalities he put on screen in such a short amount of time without the movie feeling rushed.

I’m a fan of rock photography, so it figured that I enjoyed Who Shot Rock & Roll, although compared to the rest of the pieces, it felt a little long at 37 minutes. Some parts dragged or seemed repetitive while others were too short.

The Pledge for Mr. Bunny: This is such a bizarre and offbeat little movie, and I loved it, even if I can’t quite explain why. I can see where it wouldn’t be for everybody, but if you want to give it a try, it’s available in its entirety on YouTube:

 

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March 31, 2014 Posted by | Film, Ohio | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concerning The Hobbit

Note: Beyond the map below lie some spoilery thoughts on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. You’ve been warned.

thorinsmap

Continue reading

December 17, 2012 Posted by | Current Affairs, Film, geek | , , , | 2 Comments

The Car

When I was little, I remember hearing the older kids on the school bus talk one day about a movie they’d seen on TV the night before: The Car.

Specifically, they were talking about the ending – which I’m going to reveal here, so consider this the pressing of the Big Red Spoiler Alert Button.

You’ve

.

.

Been

.

.

Warned.

So, one of the kids was recalling the destruction of the murderous, driverless sedan of the title, describing it succinctly as “that big explosion where you could see the Devil’s face in the smoke.”

That’s all he said, but to my young ears, it was enough, and it sounded so creepy and cool.

For years, I had a picture in my head of what it must have looked like.

When I got older, the images that the Weekly World News used to publish of Satan’s visage appearing in clouds of disaster –

Weekly World News face of Satan

Image: Weekly World News

– matched almost exactly the mental pictures I had painted of The Car’s fiery demise.

Recently, The Car became available on Netflix instant-watch, and I was excited to have the chance to finally take a look at the scene which had so amazed the older kids at the bus stop. (I was not excited enough, mind you, to commit a full 96 minutes of my life to watching the entire movie, so yes, I skipped to the end.)

And what I saw bore practically no resemblance to what I’d pictured.

First, what seems to be sharp-clawed hand/paw/foot thing emerges from the flames:

The Car - 1977 - claw

… and then a face that looks more like a Chinese dragon costume than the devil himself:

The Car - 1977 - face

I have to admit: It was actually a subtler effect than I expected, though that subtlety is offset by the fact that the explosion seems to sustain itself for a full five minutes. Watching James Brolin and the gang cower on ground as the flames consume the sky is a little reminiscent of the Austin Powers steamroller scene.

November 26, 2011 Posted by | 1970s, Film, science fiction | , , , , | 2 Comments

Harry Potter: At the Close.

On my way into work yesterday morning, coming off about three hours’ sleep following the midnight premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and hopped up on caffeine and sugar, I got to thinking about the books and movies and what they’ve meant to me as a geek and – more importantly – as a dad over the past 12 years. I turned those reflections into a piece which is posted (appropriately enough) over at Wired – Harry Potter and the Nostalgic GeekDad:

Harry Potter GeekDad

I couldn't assemble all seven books for the photo, because they're so rarely all on the shelf together. I think that's cool.

I really enjoyed writing this one, and hope you enjoy reading it.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, Film, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Super 8: Home movie.

It took eight and a half hours for me to formulate my first written reaction to Super 8 – and even then all I could muster via Twitter was, “Can’t be impartial about Super 8: I’m too in love with the inspirations and the way it captures the era of my childhood. Fantastic.”

And that’s why this isn’t really a review of the movie. Other people have said the things I think – the best reflection, I think, being the opinion that what makes J.J. Abrams’ blatant homage to the likes of E.T. and Stand By Me and The Goonies and Jaws work so well is its complete sincerity, delivered without clever winks, nods or half-smirks.  And I agree with the most positive reviews, although I admit that while I utterly loved it, I  the story also never gave me that lump-in-the-throat moment I had expected.

So why did I love this movie so much?

There’s a bit in Wil Wheaton’s The Happiest Days of Our Lives where he writes, “If you’ve seen E.T., you’ve seen houses just like the ones I grew up in.”

I felt that way all through Super 8.

Those houses where the folks of fictitious Lillian, Ohio lived in 1979? I’ve been in them. They were my friends’ houses and my relatives’ houses and our neighbors’ houses, whether here in Stark County or up in Akron or across the state in Upper Sandusky or down in Columbus.

Those nerd-cluttered bedrooms, with science fiction magazines and movie one-sheets and those tiny, square glass Testors model paint bottles and the National Geographic space-shuttle cutaway posters and yes, even the occasional 8 mm movie camera and film reel? Those were the coolest.

Super 8 was filmed in and around Weirton, West Virginia, about 90 miles from here, but from Lillian’s downtown to its industrial mills to its surrounding hills and railroad tracks and nearby river, it just felt so much like an actual place in my memory; like I’d been there – driven through it or knew a kid who moved there or went there once with my parents for some reason. (Geography lesson: The movie places Lillian in an impossible Escher-eqsue way, noting on a map that it’s in the southwest corner of the state, but mentioning Belmont – all the way in the southeast corner – as a neighboring county. I’m OK with that, though: It fits the J.J. Abrams mystery mold perfectly.)

And I felt that way about so much of the movie – the characters, the dialogue and the more everyday aspects of the story: There was a genuine sense of the era and the emotions without feeling like the overt, time-period-as-story-element approach of something like Dazed and Confused or The Wedding Singer.

It felt very much – even though I don’t mean this in a specific my-street, my-school, my-childhood kind of way – like home.

June 12, 2011 Posted by | Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spend Some Time In The Meat Locker

So, with No Ticket Productions’ The Meat Locker officially submitted on Sunday with 20 minutes to spare in the Cleveland edition of the 48 Hour Film Project, I can now say –

HolyFRAK what an insane and fun and sweaty and exhausting and hilarious and caffeine-and-sugar-fueled and rewarding way to spend a weekend!

I will divulge no spoilerage beyond this: We drew “suspense/thriller” as a genre, and The Meat Locker was the result. I’m sure we’ll put it online in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime, if you want to come see it on the big screen, it premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights, along with 10 other short films from the contest. Get your tickets here! (Take note: The Meat Locker is in the Group C showing on Thursday night – groups A&B screen Wednesday, but the listing for all three screenings reads “48 Hour Film Project,” so make sure you get the right tickets.)

The abridged version of the weekend reads like this: The entire crew gathered at about 7:30 p.m. Friday and threw out tons of ideas once we knew our film’s genre. Then the four of us writing the script holed up in the basement and narrowed the possibilities to two very different movies, each of which we fleshed out as completely as possible without actually reaching the screenwriting point. We then picked the one which we thought we had the best possibility of pulling off.

(Digression: This morning, I found this story about the project online, and while I was excited to see 48 Hour Film getting some publicity, I confess to taking exception to the following allegation by another participant:

“We had planned to do horror,” Gutter said, noting that all teams go into the competition with some idea of what they are going to film.

For the record, we didn’t. The only content decision we made ahead of time was to give up the Western/Musical genre if we’d drawn that one and go for a Wild Card assignment instead.)

With the general story in mind, everyone else figured out what we’d need in the way of costumes and music and props.

Over the next few hours, four of us wrote the screenplay – and while all of us admitted afterward that we’d been nervous about how well this would work, it was an absolute blast from a writing standpoint. I haven’t done a good dose of fiction in far too long, and I’ve never written anything in a fully collaborative style like this, with ideas and lines and scenes flying around and developing and building off each other, and what with the deadline pressure and all, it was quite a rush.

Even though I was just flattened by 2:30 a.m. when we finished it, I still couldn’t fall asleep right away. (Maybe because a) Jenn insisted I tell her the story when I finally came to bed, and b) I had something like 5 Mountain Dew Throwbacks and maybe a pound of assorted snack chips and candy in my bloodstream.)

Saturday’s work began at 7:30 a.m. or so, creating a shooting log from the script and gathering costumes and props and setting the equipment up for the shoot.

By the time we were ready to roll, it was after lunch, and we filmed basically nonstop for the next 7 or 8 hours, with everyone pitching in on all jobs acting to filming to boom operation to logging the sound times and scene lengths to wrangling the cables. I’m really struggling to effectively describe the massive pile of effort that went into Saturday’s work, all of which led to a roughly 7-minute movie, but it was as hard a day as I’ve had in a long time, although it was also easily one of the most fun.

I crashed just after midnight, when the sound and video were still being uploaded into the computers. We all awoke to an email notice from our director that a rough, rough cut was done.

Those of us still there helped choose the various pieces of music for the soundtrack and offered editing notes and that sort of thing, and Jenn & Kelsey & I left shortly after lunch while the final polishing was under way.

While a big part of a project like this is clearly to just have fun, we all did share a focus on wanting to make the best movie we could, and even when we were being goofy, I felt like we all had the right amount of taking things seriously mixed in, and being part of that with my friends and my wife and my daughter was pretty damn cool.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s 48 Hour Film Project Weekend!

Jenn and Kelsey and I will be trekking Cleveland-ward this afternoon to assume our parts in No Ticket Productions’ inaugural entry in The 48 Hour Film Project‘s Cleveland edition.

The group of friends with whom we’re working has been pondering this for almost a full year, having only discovered the project right after the 2009 Cleveland weekend had passed. We’ve spent the past week or two gearing up and planning as best we can – just nuts-and-bolts and general assigning of responsibilities, since the whole point is to tackle the entire creative process within the 48-hour time limit.

Our movie – and 10 others – will be shown next Thursday, Aug. 5 at the renowned Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights. (There are 35 teams registered: Two other group screenings are Aug. 4.)

I’ve never done anything remotely like this, and even though the whole thing’s just for fun, I really do want to be a part of writing something we can be proud of, and I’m kind of excited and gut-wobbly about the whole thing.

July 30, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , , | 1 Comment

I wonder if our parents felt as strongly when subjected to Tiffany’s “I Saw Him Standing There”

To go all codgery for a moment: Karate Kid remake?

DO. NOT. WANT.

I am generally open-minded about all sorts of movies, and most of the time, reinventions and reboots don’t bug me, good or bad.This one, though, has me feeling extremely “Blee-effing-ARGH.”

Oh, well. At the very least, it gives me a reason to remind people that scriptwriter Robert Mark Kamen’s opening of the original remains iconic 26 years later, and that kids today are watching and enjoying and quoting from that version, which says an awful lot.

EDIT: added May 31 –

Upon further review while mowing the lawn yesterday, I concede a minor error in the inclusion of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in this category, since it’s really an interpretation of the original book and not based on the 1971 Willy Wonka movie.

In fact, I’d feel a lot less cranky about this new Karate Kid movie if, similarly, it was based on some sort of original source material from which the 1984 version was also drawn – but it’s not. And what my irritation comes down to in light of that, I think, is the usage of the title. (Put that way, yes, it does make me sound a little irrational, and that wouldn’t be an entirely off-base assessment.)

Because here’s the thing: If you want to make a misfit/mentor coming-of-age movie, go ahead – it’s a generic enough storyline that anyone can tackle it. Don’t call it The Karate Kid, though. Consider the way Love Don’t Cost A Thing was a pull-no-punches remake of Can’t Buy Me Love, for instance: I’m OK with that. Same story, two different movies, and both get their own identity.

Call this Jackie Chan movie Kung-Fu Urchin or Martial-Arts Manly Makover or something, and honestly, I’d care a whole lot less. My feeling though, is that Hollywood knows a movie like that – without the benefit of the original’s title – would probably strike people as much more of a Three Ninjas or Wendy Wu, Homecoming Warrior than the marketable summer star-maker they’re clearly hoping the new Karate Kid becomes. (Me, I’m hoping it goes the way of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, but then again, I’m bitter that way.)

And it may be a fine movie. It may even be a great movie, even if its makers didn’t have the faith enough in their own craft to let it stand on its own. But it’s still not The Karate Kid.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, writing | , , | 8 Comments

Lost Boy Lucas

Corey Haim was in 10 movies and two TV series between 1984 and 1989, so it’s not really surprising, I guess, that I have this vague recollection that he was everywhere when I was a teenager. (Which, as it happens, is also pretty much when he was a teenager, since he was born about 13 months after me.)

When I think about it, though, I really only have three Corey Haim movie memories, and one of those is the 1992 crapfest Blown Away, which I’m sure I’m extra-bitter toward because it came along during a horrible time in my life. (To digress a little: that same year, I was once dragged to see both Poison Ivy and Wind on the same day, despite not wanting to see either of them, so yeah, that’s just a tiny, tiny hint of what made ’92 an awfully suck-ass year. Anyway…)

So, the first Corey Haim movie I saw was Lucas, which I associate with HBO and our family’s first videocassette recorder, and I’m pretty sure that if I dug through the old plastic storage racks with the fake-wood fronts that my mom still has somewhere, I’d find a VHS tape with Lucas on it. I remember that Haim’s Lucas reminded me of a kid I had known when I was little, with his scientific mind and fascination with bugs, and I also remember that while the movie does end on a pretty inspiring note, it was fairly grim in spots for a “teen movie,” and it didn’t come to a life-altering, wildly-improbable everything’s-better-now close.

Then, of course, there was The Lost Boys, which I saw at a second-run one-dollar showing at the Canton Palace theatre with my then-girlfriend. Being a real theatre fitted with a movie screen rather than simply a cinema,  the Palace had the amazing effect of making mediocre movies seem great and good movies seem awesome. (See Exhibit A, Best Movie Experiences Ever, re: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off & Crocodile Dundee double feature.) I was really stoked about seeing The Lost Boys, and being there underneath the theater’s faux-starlit ceiling with the faint moving clouds projected on it, encircled by the towering half-walls and archways and false doors just made it that much more fun. (“My own brother, a goddamn, shit-sucking vampire. You wait ’till mom finds out.” That was Good Stuff, Maynard.)

And that’s it, as far as me and Corey Haim movies go. Still, those two were enough, apparently, because I always associated him with my teenage years in that ever-present background way, like Pat Benatar, Hill Street Blues and Pontiac Fieros. At the time, maybe I didn’t notice so much, but the weird thing is, even as I get older and realize how many pieces there are to that massive pop-culture backdrop in my memory, I think about it more when one goes missing.

March 11, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weekend: Avatar, The Big Bang Theory and Star Wars

Quick Monday morning catch-up on weekend stuff:

Jenn & Kelsey were out of town Friday night, and after some brief waffling over an evening of videogaming or catching a 3-D showing of Avatar, I went for the latter. (After which, of course, I came home and played video games.)

I went into the movie with expectations set to medium, and those were exceeded on most counts.

From a visual and immersive standpoint, there is absolutely nothing like this movie, and I’m glad I shelled out the extra bucks to see it in 3-D, because it was absolutely incredible, as advertised. Story-wise, well … look, I’m going to skip all the heavy overtone drama discussion because, frankly, it’s all been said elsewhere and I went into this thing for the ride, because that’s what you get in a James Cameron movie.

The story is decent enough, though there’s never any doubt where it’s going, and how it’s going to end, and given the rich setting and environment, I was pulled in pretty easily, though I never reached that pit-of-your-stomach connection you get with a really well-written story and characters. As opposed, say, to District 9 – also a science-fiction movie with a too-easily-trumped-up-and-heavy-handed-allegory and, at its heart, the story of one human’s literal and metaphorical transformative journey – which absolutely did hit me in that fantastic, unexpected sock-in-the-gut way.

I won’t be surprised if Avatar wins the Best Picture Oscar, and while part of me thinks it would be great to finally see a science fiction movie take home that trophy, it will also bug me because it will mean epic visuals and a wave of hype will have – not for the first time, either – beaten better storytelling.

Now to the small screen for just a minute: Last week, I picked up The Big Bang Theory season one DVDs from the library to do a little flashback test and see if the early shows were as cringe-inducing as I remembered. I had fun writing up my thoughts in a  Friday morning post for GeekDad, and got a nice Twitter reply about it from one of the show’s writers. (Incidentally, it’s very difficult for me to write that and adequately express how neat a feeling it is. Even the briefest note of appreciation for something I’ve written never fails to move me. And when it comes from someone whose own work has inspired and entertained me, well damn, that’s something to keep tucked away for those “Hey, You Suck” kind of days.) Saturday morning, I woke up to find that the GeekDad post had gone popular on Digg, which is a first among my contributions to the site and another nice surprise.

I spent Saturday afternoon in Hudson for a shared Collect All 21! and Deus Ex Comica reading at The Learned Owl, and hanging out with Adam and catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a few years. This marked the second time I’ve done a presentation based on my Star Wars memories, and I built on the reading I did at JediCon WV last October and had a lot of fun doing it. I’ve got another one on the calendar in May around the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back which I’ll share details on as it gets closer.

Which brings me back to the Quest for 1,000 Star Wars Fans & Friends I decided to shoot for about two-and-a-half weeks ago. I’ve gotten a lot of great notes of support and sharing on Twitter, for which I remain inexpressibly grateful, and on the advice and encouragement of friends, I built a Facebook page for the book. I’ve also added a direct-buy button for the PDF version of the book on the Collect All 21! home page, which includes, as a bonus, the front and back cover images that the Lulu electronic edition lacks.

Adding up distribution sales estimates plus Lulu buys plus the copies I sold over the weekend and last week at the Harper Comics Akron-Canton Comic Con, I’m up to 1/67th of my goal and thankful for every reader and supporter and friend along the way.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Fiction, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Television, writing | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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