Monday, January 18, 2010
Monday, July 27, 2009
Comic Con '09: Highlights
This year was the first for me to stay at the Marriott Marina Hotel, and boy, that sure made it a lot less tiring. The problem with the San Diego convention center is that it separated by a light-rail train and only a couple of walkable crossings over to most of the nearby hotels and restaurants. These passages are overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of sweaty nerds and geeks baking in the hot sun as they head back to hotels to drop their loot or head out to the Gas Lamp district for some food. It is already taxing enough to move through the hordes and stand in mile-long lines within the Con itself, so this extra pain can really add up.
The Marriott, on the other hand, is right next door to the convention center. A quick walk and you're in its comfortable air-conditioned lobby. It seems to be where a lot of the more famous attendees stay. David Fury (producer on Buffy, Angel, Lost, 24, etc.) and his kids, and a writer from Family Guy were in front of me in the Starbucks line Saturday morning. Legendary Marvel writer Stan Lee sat a table down from us in the pub. Adam from Mythbusters was in the elevator with us. Erica's Marriott Rewards card got us a free upgrade to a room on the 19th floor, which was quite nice.
Some highlights of the weekend:
- Participating in the standing ovation for Hirao Miyazaki
- Seeing our friends at booths and walking around (Jeff, Anita, Michele, Eric & Jodi, Tim, Dave & Jenn, Joji, Edwin...)
- Tricia & Erica getting photo ops with Tyrese Gibson
- Me getting an autograph from Leonard Nimoy
- Chatting over drinks with my brother-in-law, Hayden
- Getting some great art prints and a steam punk raygun for our apartment
- Unexpected harbor fireworks right next to our table at Roy's
- The insanely good chocolate dessert at Roy's
Photos coming soon!
Friday, June 26, 2009
X-Files: My Face Is Out There
Months later, the DVD came out and I figured I would try the deleted scenes to see if I hiding in there somewhere. Nope. I tried combing the two main emergency room sequences. Sure enough, while running scene 12 (where Skully is doing the stem cell operation on the terminally ill boy) in slow motion, I found a few spots with me! Whohoo!
Me staring at Skully and the incoming big-ass needle, second one over from the left (the only nurse with chest hair).
I am in the background on the upper left, pointing at the X-ray panel for no reason.
Closer view of me pointing at the X-ray panel, left side.
I'm dead center, facing away from camera standing at the foot of the stretcher.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Today's Musical Inspiration: Nick Drake
Turns out this is "One of these things first" by British folk singer Nick Drake, recorded in 1970 on the album Bryter Lyter. Sadly, as seems typical of many Romantic poets and painters, Nick suffered from depression and died way before his time (age 26). His work is only now starting to get some attention in movie soundtracks.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
I'm guessing the movie focuses on Nolan Bushnell, who sold Atari before it rose to even bigger success under Warner Brothers for a time. The story of Atari the company is perhaps even more tumultuous, and probably deserves its own documentary.
Atari was not just a videogame manufacturer to me -- it was the ultimate brand of everything I liked until their demise in the early 90s. Through their arcade games, console units, and computers, Atari exemplified to me what an innovative company ought to be like. It's Atari that made me become interested in computers and writing software, ever since the teacher in charge of my elementary school's computer club brought in an Atari 800 for us to look at. It's the court case of Atari vs. Activision that legitimized the business model of 3rd party games. My understanding of a "rock star programmer" first came from reading about arcade developers from Atari, like Ed Logg (Asteroids, Centipede, Gauntlet) and Dave Theurer (Tempest, Missile Command).
Over the years I've owned a 2600 VCS, a 600XL Home Computer, an Atari Mega 4 ST Computer (with Atari laser printer!), and an Atari Lynx (which I still have).
And yes, I did go to a birthday party or two at Chuck E. Cheese's way back when. "Where a kid can be a kid!" ... and adults go insane.
Friday, May 02, 2008
"An unknown intelligent designer did something, somewhere, somehow, for no apparent reason” is not a model.For some odd reason, relatively famous person Ben Stein (Jewish) decided to participate in a Creationist propaganda film called Expelled. Thankfully, this movie did not generate much buzz even from the religious folks who flocked to see the producers' other Hey-look-everybody-the-non-Christians-are-evil-so-get-outraged film, The Passion of the Christ. I haven't bothered writing about it before because the last thing I wanted to do was bring any sort of attention to this absurd creation. But others, like John Derbyshire over at the National Review have critiqued it well.
While it is fine for people to believe whatever they want about the creation of life, the filming and marketing of a propaganda film under false pretenses, with um, misinformation (or lies, maybe?) about what actually happened to certain scientists, and trying to get people outraged over Science itself (and non-Christians by association) is deceitful and it undermines the core of what their religion tells them to be as human beings.
Ben, even if you believe strongly that we were all created by a loving god and not by "mud hit by lightning" (Where did Darwin or scientists ever conclude that, hmm?), why would you collaborate on a project with these generally anti-Jewish producers?
And now I hear you're equating scientists with gas chamber operators? Come now.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Now, a website called Rifftrax by some of the original cast of this show offers downloadable synchronized files to play along with popular movies you might already own, or have rented from sites like Netflix. Some even feature special commentator guests like Weird Al Yankovic.
Seems like this concept could increase rentals of less popular, even god-awful movies out there on DVD. I wonder if other meta-content sites like this will emerge and catch on.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Life as an Accidental Movie Extra
The answer should be "Yes" with the following caveats:
- It will involve waiting.
- You might not get more than 5 minutes during the day to talk to your friend, who will be busy non-stop.
- It may take all day; possibly two or more.
- It will mean you are part of the hierarchy, somewhere below actors and crew.
- You will likely meet very interesting people, some who do this sort of thing a lot, others like you, find themselves here for the first time.
- You will probably feel like a pawn, with assistant directors giving you vague, sometimes nonsensical instructions just before the rehearsal; Those instructions might be irrelevant as soon as the camera rolls.
- Asking anyone "What is happening next?" will result in "I don't know" up until after it happens.
- You may feel uncomfortable, over-caffeinated and tired, but once it's all over and done with, you have the chance of being in something seen by millions of people.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Stoked Movies 2007
A very unique black & white (with some color) 2-D animated film about a girl growing up in Iran during late 70s and 80s. It's very refreshing to watch a personal, adult story with animation, and this one is told very well, with lots of nuance. It's based on the director's graphic novel, but according to her is a different work of art based on the same story. Check it out on the big screen if you can!
Oh man, Brad Bird hits another one out of the ballpark for Pixar. Gorgeous romanticized Paris and an enticing cuisine-filled kitchen are the backdrops to a story about a talented rat who pairs up with a lucky garbage boy. Very inspired casting. Ian Holm (reprising his hilarious French accent not heard since Time Bandits), Janine Garafalo (almost unidentifiable with her accent), and Peter O'Toole.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
A very poignant film told from the point of view of a paralyzed man trying to come to grips with his predicament. Visually innovative and some excellent performances. One of the few movies I actually wanted to have be longer!
This is a lovely, simple musical about two musicians who meet in Ireland and develop a friendship based around their love of making songs. Much of the acting is improvisational, giving it a very genuine, warm feel. The songs themselves are full of emotion.
An epic film spanning decades, following a woman, her love, and the tragic happenings caused by her younger sister's false witness. Stunning depictions of a World War II torn France and England. Excellent acting from Kiera Knightly and others. I particularly liked the music which featured a typewriter as one of its instruments.
The King of Kong NEW
Best documentary I saw this year. In this movie, we learn about what's left of the world of competitive arcade video-gaming, still somewhat alive after its hey-day during the early 1980s when Pac-Man, Frogger, and Donkey Kong machines consumed hundreds of millions if not billions of quarters around the world. One newcomer has the chops to overthrow the longtime champion Donkey Kong player, but corruption within the league and egos stand in his way. Will he fulfill his dream of being the world's best Donkey Kong player? Watch and find out.
Now, some decent movies:
The Bourne Ultimatum
The third in the series still has punch (unlike pretty much all other 3rd films this year). I blogged about it earlier for having a "signal" theme. While it is awfully similar in style and plot to the 2nd, as long as you don't see the series back to back this movie is quite entertaining.
A surprisingly good second effort from Sony Pictures Animation (and one that I tried desperately to get onto instead of Beowulf. Oh well.) Did you know that penguins invented surfing? Neither did I! But this mockumentary informs us of that fact and follows the trials of a young wannabe surfer on his quest to win, meeting a hero of his, and doing a lot of surfing on some incredibly convincing waves. While not in the same league as Ratatouille, it's still an excellent animated film. (Personally, I found a lot of the humor revolved too much about kids saying "poop" a lot, and didn't take enough advantage of the mockumentary format.) It's too bad so many other penguin movies came out before this -- I think the audience stayed away simply because of that. But do check this out on DVD or Blu-Ray. The last surfing shot is simply stunning...
Charlie Wilson's War
An entertaining movie about a likeable politician who managed (with the help of connections in the C.I.A. and a wealthy Texas woman with a cause) to alter the Afghanistan & Russian confrontation during the early 1980s. Very good acting and writing.
Here are the so-so to mildly disappointing ones:
The Namesake (which a coworker like to pronounce: The Nam-e-sa-kay)
An Indian boy named Googel learns much later in life why his father decided to give him that name. Not bad, but not great. I very much like both the author and director of this movie, but somehow the combination of the two didn't quite work for me.
I'm still undecided about this one. It's really great to see Sondheim get such public attention. And it's true, I can't think of any other film director suitable for this particular Sondheim masterpiece about a blood-thirsty vengeful facial hair technician, or at least any more obvious one. But Burton can be too Burtonesque for his own good. Must there always be his wife Helena Bonham-Carter and favorite actor Jonny Depp in everything? The stage version offers tension and gore through lighting and sound cues, but here everything is depicted in juicy, splattery and firey detail. Subtle this movie is not! Tim, it's a bit weird seeing actors sing without breathing...
And now the clunkers, the abysmal steaming pile of disappointments:
I feel sooo sorry for the crew (who as far as I can tell didn't even get a thank you page in Cinefex this year. Come on, Sony!) It was an incredibly stressful production, and while this movie was #1 this year, fans and critics alike panned it for compressing three villains into a hyper-rushed story with some really bizarre Peter Parker dancing scenes (ala Jim Carey in The Mask).
Okay, of course this one was going to suck. But did they have to over-animate the bots? Why couldn't they direct the actors to jump a bit, or cue pools of water to ripple when a 20 ton robot steps on the ground nearby? Did they have to leave out the original theme song? Why couldn't they have found more of the original voice-over artists? All right, I concede it was fun to watch robots duke it out on the streets of L.A.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
So there's this entirely motion capture movie out there, technically similar to and same director (Robert Zemeckis) as The Polar Express. I worked on it in the character pipeline group for about 8 months. Now, a year later, I saw it and was surprised to see my name in the credits. Whohoo!
Too bad I can't get excited about the movie itself. Why oh why do we need to motion capture people (and horses, even) if we're just going to use their same exact image anyway? (Ok, Beowulf himself is a composite of two different actors with an artificial body...) Come on. There's a much better, proven technology for capturing performances from people -- it's called film. Is it so we can get away with a PG-13 rating? How much hotter would it have been to use the real Angelina Jolie. Leave the computer graphics to Grendel, and the very nicely done dragon (done with keyframe animation, not motion captured) that seemed to be more alive than any of the videogame characters running around. The women looked especially fake.
The script is horrendously dull. Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) asks Beowulf (Ray Winstone) half a dozen times "Are you gonna kill Grendel?" John Malcovich loiters around as the lone Christian somehow cavorting with the Vikings. The only true acting I could discern came from Beowulf's sidekick. The movie has almost no humor and takes itself incredibly seriously even during the absurdly silly moments, like Beowulf fighting Grendel in his birthday suit, a la Austin Powers. Once everybody stops talking and start getting their limbs ripped off, or fleeing from a gold-plated dragon, things get a little better, but not much.
I had the fun of getting to watch the videos of the motion capture sessions. Low and behold, it was as if the actors were given the direction "Ok, be really stiff. Stare a lot. Your motivation is that you're in tight lycra pants with dots all over face and body and the sooner you finish the take, the sooner you can go home. Action!"
The entire movie has the tone of a bad high school Shakespeare production.
If you do decide to see it, go to an IMAX 3-D screening (which I hear is out-selling the normal theatres).
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Beauty & The Beast @ the Arclight Tonight
Disney's B & B was, I think, the last mainstream animated film to use proper voice-actors in its main cast. Ok, there were a few celebrities (Broadway legends) playing Lumiere & Mrs. Potts, but the leads were talented actor/singers and voice-actors not A-List film actors thrown in to attract audiences. After this, Aladdin, Lion King, and pretty much every film of theirs after that casted as many big name non-voice actors as possible. PDI's first film Antz had Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, and every CG film after that (Shrek, Shark's Tale, Over the Hedge, etc) focused entirely on big-name actors.
B & B has an amazingly sophisticated score (written by two Broadway composers), which is why it made it later a great Broadway Musical. While Tim Rice (Lion King) has a history of writing musicals, he pales as a lyricist compared to the late Howard Ashman. (Why anyone decided Elton John (Lion King) or Phil Collins (Tarzan) should write animated musicals is beyond me.) Melodically, every song is memorable (despite some self-plagiarism -- "Be Our Guest" is basically "Le Poisson" from Little Mermaid.)
There's just something very romantic about this movie in a way unmatched by any animated film since. I suppose we're more cynical now. We prefer "chemistry" (lust), sarcasm, and South Park-ian humor now, which is fine, but I do miss the naivety, beauty, and timelessness of this film.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
We all know what it's like when there's some big event that we're all dying to see. Not long ago, if we wanted a ticket to it, we'd have to camp out in front of the ticket office, days earlier even, to be reasonably certain we'd have a shot at getting in. And while most of us probably wouldn't camp out, we'd possibly be thinking "God, I'd never do that, but hey, that guy should get in. He's crazy enough to do it, he should get in."
Today, much of life is online. We sit at home or at work, our eyes and hands attached to computer screens and keyboards. (Or, you have an iPhone and fondle it all day, but I digress) Tickets become available for purchase on websites. Ideally, people get ready to order at a certain time, click their way through the ordering process, and if tickets sell out, they are told immediately. Tickets can then be printed and voila. No waiting in the rain overnight.
This is not what happened last night for the American Film Institute's 40th Anniversary film screenings. Yes, one should expect an exceedingly high demand. After all, when in your life have you the opportunity to choose to see any one of these:
- Star Wars, presented by George Lucas?
- When Harry Met Sally..., presented by Billy Crystal & Rob Reiner?
- The Shawshank Redemption, presented by Morgan Freeman?
I applaud AFI's choice of screening the films at the Arclight. However, Arclight Cinemas online ticketing system is infamous for having a lousy web-server architecture that buckles under any sort of ticket demand. AFI went with a third party solution for email registrations and notifications called Convio. They were SUPPOSED to email registerees with news and "tickets are now on sale" reminders, one would hope well before there was no chance of getting them.
Last night at roughly 12:05 AM I checked my email. Hmm, no AFI announcements. I checked the AFI page. "Tickets are on sale! Buy now!" Huh. Clicked the link, which redirected to Arclight's main AFI listing page. I picked "Star Wars". My cursor spun and spun for about 3 minutes. Then, a text page with XML errors, spitted out by a Microsoft ASP web server. Not a good sign! I opened up two more tabs in my browser -- maybe the site hadn't started selling tickets yet and the techs at Arclight were getting things ready. For those I selected "Shawshank Redemption" and "When Harry Met Sally..." More XML error pages. About ten minutes later, I finally got a page asking me how many tickets to look for. Yay!
I noticed it allowed one to buy up to 10 tickets, just like for their normal movies. Damn, that's not a good idea at all. There are maybe 400 seats in a theatre. Does that mean the first 40 people to log in could take all the seats??? Hardly a fair policy. I tried 2 Star Wars tickets. Very long pause. Another XML error page. Shit! Then I tried just asking for 1. Nope. Server crash. The other two movies just hung forever and I finally set them to go to the Arclight front page and clicked back in. I tried other Arclight services just to see if it was movie demand or some critical failure on their backend. Tried requesting my password. "Sorry, not available" on a page with garbled HTML. Huh! Good job, Arclight techs. AFI (sponsored by Target) would be proud.
On and on this went, constantly managing three tabs, trying all movies till 1:40 in the morning. At 12:30 AM, I received my first email: "AFI Tickets are now on Sale!" Gee, thanks -- there are none left, you schmucks. Getting to any sort of real pages was tedious and rare. Nearly always, XML server errors. I did manage to get to a few "Sorry, there are no seats available" screens eventually, but even those were difficult and slow to get. This server was getting the crap beaten out of it by something and I don't think it was hundreds of people all doing what I was doing. If the scenario were the first hundred people all logged in asking for 10 seats each, a normal web-server could have handled it and let everybody else know "Sorry, there are no seats." But Arclight's was choking to death.
And that leads me to my suspicion, which my coworker colleagues who know a lot about web-server architecture agree with. The Arclight was probably hit with a MASSIVE attack of automation scripts (called "robots") designed to order tickets. These guys could (theoretically) hit the site hundreds if not thousands of time per second, choosing 10, 9, 8... down to 1 tickets over and over. Arclight has absolutely NO ROBOT prevention in their system. No password check, no captcha's (those annoying things where you have to type letters you see). I bet you $$$ that if one were to check the server logs, there would be a dense pattern of activity unnatural to human beings.
The result of course is that nobody I know got tickets. The only movies available in the morning were for Spartacus and Beauty & the Beast. (I bought 2 of these as a consolation prize to myself for all that wasted time.) How could anyone have? Now some enterprising folks can charge $100+ for tickets that were $25 (although I have not seen these up online yet. Let me know if you do.)
Nobody camped out the night before. There's nobody to say "Oh, well you fool, you deserve it." to. There is no good side of this story, only pathetic planning, poor technology, and probably lots of money spent on worthless marketing, since their was no way for anyone (short of a hacker) to buy these tickets.
I just hope the AFI decides to go with competent partners for its 45th Anniversary.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
The Bourne Ultimate Frisbee
Jason Bourne sends signals to a targeted journalist, in hopes of navigating him to safety outside the Waterloo train station.
Plotwise, this movie is about signals. The CIA sends signals to an "asset" (i.e. assassin) to hit targets. A CIA team searches for relevant signals that might reveal Bourne's location, be they cel phone messages, GPS coordinates of phones, trips taken, passports stamped, or visual clues from security video feeds. Meanwhile, Bourne sends false signals, even spoofing signals on behalf of CIA folks, using old passports, giving false meet-up locations, and doing his best to avoid sending overt signals of any sort. He also sends signals in specific languages, like when he calls the Spanish police as an obstacle against encroaching CIA gunmen.
Visually, this movie is about whiplash. Unsteady camera moves, insanely fast fighting choreography and editing, cars and motorbikes racing through skinny Moroccan and congested New York streets, all coming to rapid, neck-wrenching smashes against walls.
Well, neck-wrenching for everyone except Bourne, who had some pretty amazing training it seems. He can survive 10-story falls into water, 60+mph car crash impacts, cel phone-triggered explosives less than 10 feet away... Hell, he can even get a brand new mobile phone activated in minutes!
But overall, I thought the movie was tight -- most of the signals were clever, made sense, were well-motivated and didn't come from out of nowhere. In this surveillance world we live in, it's time we got used to having all our signals captured and potentially scrutinized (done East German Stasi-style gone high-tech). We need heroes like Bourne to remind us that fighting for privacy is a good thing, dammit!
Friday, July 14, 2006
It made me want to buy an electric car, right now. Trouble is, now there are no affordable ones for sale anymore. Thanks to a coordinated effort of lawsuits, anti-PR campaigns, and oil-baron friendly government leaders, big car companies have dropped their focus on EV for hybrids and lesser technologies. As the film illustrates quite well, EV really is the best of the technologies out there now, AND it meets the needs of 90% of people in this country. But it IS a threat to the status quo we've had for the last 80 years. It has no need for gas. It needs fewer parts. Requires less maintenance. It can be refueled at home.
GM decided that even though it had spent a billion dollars making one of the best cars ever made, it would stop production, and crush all the ones that existed (ending the leases for all those who had one, and hauling them away to be scrapped). It and others sued California to end the requirement for such cars (and won, thanks to a committee member who worked for a competing hydrogen fuel cel firm) Ironically though, all the development of low-emissions automobile technology lit a fire under Japanese car companies to get into it themselves (hence, the success of the Prius).
What's frustrating to me now is, all this technology is just sitting there. The public wants it. But's it's too expensive. If you do a search for EV, you'll find most automobile manufacturers were intent on selling by early 2001 or so. We would have had real, working, EV cars. Now, basically there's the Prius, a decent hybrid but still reliant on oil. A sports car was built (by the EV1 engineer featured in the film) that is faster than both the Porsche and Ferrari, can go 300 miles without recharging, and has zero emissions. But it is not available for sale. Aaargh! His website keeps suggesting the possibility of vehicular greatness, but sadly, nothing can actually be bought right now unless you build it yourself.
The next big thing then, will be plugin modifications to hybrids.
UPDATE: General Motors responds to criticisms in the film, and to a rant in the New York Times.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Favorite movies in 2005 so far
Me, You, and Everyone We Know
Mad Hot Ballroom
Howl's Moving Castle
March of the Penguins
the first hour and a half of Batman Begins
That's all I remember. Not many good mainstream movies. Sony, you're not helping. Duece Bigelow 2 and Guess Who?
Monday, July 11, 2005
March of the Penguins proves Intelligent Design is Bogus, Part I
What sort of intelligent being would deliberately create a mating ritual as obfuscated as that of a poor penguin?
(Design notes of the Intelligent Designer follow... )
I think I'll make cute birds that can't fly, but can swim and walk and slide on their bellies. I'll put them on the South Pole, where sliding is easy. I'll put lots of food right underneath the ice. Hmm. It'll be cold there. -100 F at times. Too cold to expose the egg. Oh well, I'll have the male and female penguins take turns getting food 70 miles away where they can access the ocean, while the other keeps the egg warm. The male penguins will have to huddle together to keep from freezing together, and not eat for two months while they wait for their mates to come home
(Me as a 12 year-old pupil in science class)
Brilliant! But may I make a suggestion or two?
How about letting there be HOLES in the ice where the mating is taking place? That way, you avoid the constant marching back and forth for food, and the starvation?
Too hard? What about making the penguins have beaks strong enough to make their own holes in the ice, or claws maybe? What about egg shells with anti-freeze?
I'm told in class that you're intelligent. Lacking in creativity? (Seems unlikely, given that you invented Creation itself, right?) Are you just lazy?
I'm sure you have your reasons.
Monday, June 06, 2005
Go see Mad Hot Ballroom now!
I'm sooo glad I choice the 3rd option. How nice it is to see a sincere movie about joy for a change! I haven't felt this much genuine suspence since I watched a similar movie, Spellbound a couple years ago. Uplifting to see underprivileged kids -- who might otherwise succumb to desperation -- find focus and self-confidence through the mastery of dance.
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Ok, I did not see Star Wars Episode II. Why bother? One long videogame interstitial. No acting. Yoda reduced to being a shiny 3-D videogame sprite instead of a character that Luke finds heavy to lift were it not for the power of the Force. No real anything except maybe the fabric in the costumes. Episode I wasn't good either for plenty of reasons, but it was watchable and had fabulously bad lines like "A communications disruption can only mean one thing. Invasion." Um, how about, forgot to pay your Nabooian palace energy bill maybe?
So I think the only reason I went to see it was the co-worker "Oh come on, you gotta see it with us when it opens!" factor. And I did. Some quick observations:
- Using the Dark Side is really bad for the skin.
- George, why must a distracting robot enter frame during the heat of Anakan/Obi Wan's lava battle?
- The Jedi aren't all that good at defending against sneak attacks...
- Basil Twist's underwater puppetry (ala Symphonie Fantastique) was all the rage on Coruscant, albeit with floating ball of water instead of 1000-gallon fish tank. Actually, the seats looked fairly empty... maybe the future Emperor of the Sith had taste in the obscure puppetry arts?
- Why did the Sith-contracted officers all become British, other than to coincide with the first Trilogy?
Friday, March 04, 2005
It is very surreal. I'm somehow part of the Oscar-crowd now, with Chris Landreth (whom I met years ago at Alias) and Charlie Kaufman (whom I met at his screenings at the Arclight). Accepting the Oscars for us at Sony Pictures Imageworks were VFX Supervisors John Dykstra and Scott Stokdyk.
The Spider-man 2 Production Services Technicians and Scott Stokdyk (center).
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
The Polar Express? Well It Had a Great Cast & Crew Party At Least
The party was fabulous. However, the movie is a bunch of great sets, snow, train noise, and unblinking humanoid-like things moving around. Far too many of them that are acted, or I should say, read aloud and pantomimed by, Tom Hanks. Story-wise, there isn't much. A boy, who can't blink and who seems to have suffered from a bad botox treatment, wakes up and reluctantly (?) jumps onto a train full of really weird kids going to the North Pole. There he meets a black girl with malformed lips, a boy with glasses who sounds just like Eugene from Grease, and a poor boy who sings about Christmas in a fairly syrupy way.
Because riding a train is not much of a story, there's the onflict of losing a ticket, arbitrarily being on the top of the locomotive when not necessary, some obstacles like ice, caribou, and two incompetent engineer weirdos losing control of the train. There's a creepy hobo (Tom Hanks) who I guess is supposed to be an angel to save passengers from falling off this vehicular safety hazard, but why? He tells our boy to believe what he sees. We eventually arrive at the North Pole to discover Santa's Village is a largely abandoned Dickens-like factory with (I kid you not) Christmas Muzak, conveyor belts ripped straight out of Toy Story II (and Monster's Inc), a creepy Brazil-like control room, and a town square full of elves that looked at home in City of Lost Children. The unnamed "hero boy" decides he believes in Santa just moments before he steps up to him (this, despite being surrounded by elves and having gone through Santa's workshop). Yay. That's enough for him to beat out the black girl and the poor boy for the chance to ride Santa's sleigh. And for us to witness the horrific site of Steve Tyler (as elf) riding a unicycle.
It would seem the only way to tolerate this movie is via the 3-D IMAX version, but I'm just not up for it again.
Monday, November 08, 2004
The Top Stoked Movies of 2004. So far.
Spider-man 2 - A great sequel made better because I worked on it, and it's my first ever movie credit! Whoohoo!
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Kaufman and Gondry are two of the coolest, most original filmmaking folks out there, and this is easily my favorite Jim Carey movie.
Sean of the Dead - Extremely clever romantic comedy with a twist of zombie movie. (Although technically, it came out before 2004)
Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban - Wow! I dismissed the second movie of the series after being so unimpressed with the first one, but this one, directed by Alfonso Curan, was terrifically mature. The CG griffin is one of the best CG creatures ever animated, by a European company called Framestore.
Control Room - Forget Farenheit 911; the best movie about the Iraq War I saw this year was this one, because it was a nuanced, poignant, and mostly balanced observation of the inner workings of Al Jazeera, the Arab news network. Fascinating to see the representatives from CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, and the U.S. Military all talking sincerely from their very different points of view.
The Corporation - Not enough people saw this one. This is a movie I've been longing to make about the central problem of today's dominant species, the corporation. Corporations aren't just neutral places we buy stuff from or work at. They're sociopathic entities, programmed by law to care about nothing except for making money. This movie explains how they evolved to be what they are now and wakes us up to the fact we live among unfriendly giants.
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Spike Jonze, looking a bit scared, and me, looking giddy.
Charlie Kaufman, who loved my shirt of Charlotte from Making Fiends.
Amy Winfrey has a famous fan!
I asked Charlie (as he was signing someone else's autograph) "Do you like puppets?" and he turned his said to say "Yes! I love puppets!" But that's about all I was able to find out, as a young woman approached me to chat about that same topic.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Three Movie Imperatives (2004)
DO see Going Upriver an informative documentary about Kerry's Vietnam experience.
DO see Sean of the Dead, particularly if you enjoy watching humor going on in the background and clever cinematography.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Team America: Almost Hilarious?
I get the sense the whole thing was rushed. And it was! They had they're first cut ready 3 weeks before it opened, according to a Sony projectionist friend of mine. (Team America had its dailies on the Sony lot). With more time, Trey & Matt would have had the opportunity to add more humor towards the middle (where it started to slow a bit) and make better use of the marionette gags. The ending didn't have the "progressive punch" I'm used to. In fact, I'd say it was more of a "Conservativism may be violent, but hey, get used to it" message.
It was very exciting to see puppeteers get top billing though. And I don't care if a certain song was reused from an episode. I was singing "Montage!" on my way out of the theatre.
Thursday, October 07, 2004
Two degrees away from Bryan Singer?
Back in 1995 or so when I was working at Lamb & Company (a defunct animation house in Minnesota), I got an email from a guy named Michael Dougherty, then a film student at NYU, who if my memory serves me right, had seen one of my posts to alt.tv.muppets newsgroup. He was interning and called me about getting a subscription of Post magazine. Anyway, we corresponded between 1995 & 1997, and perhaps a little in 2000. I still have the emails!
He went on to work for Nickelodeon, did some short films that were in Spike & Mike's Animation Festival. A few years ago I checked on his website, to see that he'd gotten into making more illustrations and making software for Palm pilots.
Flash forward to today, when I'm web-surfing, randomly. I remembered his name and decided to search for him.
Holy shit! He was the Michael Dougherty who co-wrote X-Men 2 with Bryan Singer and others. Now he's got an agent, and gigs to write the next Superman movie as well as Ender's Game.
Wednesday, July 14, 2004
(or Attack of the Crash-Test Dummies)
Since I won't be seeing this upcoming Will Smith meets Crash-Test-Dummy action-fest, here's my best guess about what it's about.
Corporate guy promotes robots. Says they won't kill people. Will Smith says they might. They do. They fight.
(Will gets jiggy with it in a few scenes.)
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
My name in Credits, my "arch-nemesis", Grover, and Fireworks!
About fourteen of my friends and I all went to see Spider-man 2 on Saturday night at the Arclight. (A pity we didn't take any photos, bleh). Most are puppeteers. One I met via Craigslist. One I've known since college and was a key member of my puppet troupe. Others friends I've met from those friends.
All had a blast! I'm am so lucky and thankful that my first movie is so highly reviewed, so successful (already at $180 million. Geez!) It was also cool that my name appears dead center with no names to the left, so it is easy to spot.
Afterwards a subset of us ate dinner/dessert.
The next evening, some of the same people (The Johnsons, Victoria, Anita & Jeff, and Danielle) and I went to the Hollywood Bowl for their Sesame Street Live event. I'd heard about it from Eric Jacobson (see in earlier blog), who was performing in it. It was fabulous! And strangely cosmic. For in 1999, The Johnsons and I met Victoria in Los Angeles before any of us had moved here, at the Muppet Auditions. Kevin Clash led a workshop and in class had us do an improvisation with Elmo. The topic? "Elmo wants to know how to get to the Hollywood Bowl." Well here we all were, at the 2004 Fourth of July festivities in the Hollywood Bowl, watching Elmo (Kevin Clash, our workshop teacher), Grover (Eric Jacobson, my childhood friend), Big Bird (Caroll Spinney, whom we all know now after assisting him at his award ceremonies), plus Zoe (Fran Brill), and Rosita Monster. AND Brian Stokes MITCHELL, my honorary "arch-nemesis."
You see, Brian Stokes Mitchell is the owner of http://www.brianstokes.com and the fabulous singing god of theatre, particularly in "Man of La Mancha" and "Ragtime." For a while in 1996 I was receiving his fan-mail, because Yahoo™ listed my website before his. There he was, live, talking to Grover, and Elmo. Elmo kept referring to him as "Mr. Stokes" (which made me & my posse laugh hysterically). I found out later from Eric that he had told Mr. "Stokes" Mitchell about me. Hehehe.
The show was sensational. Big Bird was wonderful. When he first conducted the symphony (gesturing madly, resulting in a mish-mash of noise), Big Bird commented to the conductor "Boy, they're not very good, are they?" Grover was hilarious, trying to help out with the music but failing miserably, starting with Christmas music, then incorrect anniversary music selections. Rosita Monster was hysterical too! At first she suffered from a bad microphone, and the conductor handed a handheld one to her. She lowered it down below herself, which added just a tad bit of unintended innuendo. Then she made a comment about seeing only one star in the sky over Los Angeles. Grover sang his rendition of "Elmo's World" as "Grover's World" making Elmo furious, which I loved. (It was nice that Elmo was not the center of attention for a change). Brian Stokes Mitchell sang Sesame Street songs, as well as "To Dream the Impossible Dream" which was worth considerably more than the price of admission right there. Then finally the FIREWORKS, which were really great too! Perhaps a bit too loud though as they were right over the orchestra.
So I suppose we did our part to help Elmo get to the Hollywood Bowl, eventually.
Monday, June 28, 2004
Whoohoo! Saw the SPI screening of Spider-man 2. It still does not suck. In fact, it's a lot better with Danny Elfman music, sound effects, and a tighter edit.
Plus if look carefully, you'll find my name listed as the first name of the second line of names listed under the title of "production technicians."
PLUS, I'm now listed on the IMDB! Yayyy!
Sunday, June 27, 2004
On Friday, everyone at work was abuzz talking about Michael Moore's new docu-tirade about Bush, and how it was sold out everywhere. This turned out not to be true; one could catch it at the convenient times of 12:20 and 12:55 AM, depending on which end of L.A. you lived.
When my shift ended at 10 PM, I decided "why not?" and drove to Universal Citywalk to catch the 12:20 one. After wandering through the kitzchy adult-playland, surrounded by a mostly Hispanic, high school/college crowd, I noticed a line forming in front of the cinema. Hmm. Was that for Fahrenheit 911? Naaaa, I thought incorrectly. That must be for White Chicks. So I rummaged through the toy shops and retro-videogame shirt places to pass the time. Came back. Sure enough, the lady at the front said "Sorry, have to wait in line for Celsius 911." Wow, these youngsters were interested in a politically-charged, anti-Bush movie?? Amazing!
Whether or not you like Michael Moore, this movie does make a sound case against Bush and our administration. Where the movie works best are these factual nuggets of information that the media has largely ignored, starting with the questionable election results in Florida, to John Ashcroft's & Bush's flagrant disregard of rather specific pre-9/11 warnings, to the conflict of interest of Bush family's business relationships with Saudi Arabia & the Taliban, and onward to the tactful switchover of attention from Afghanistan (where the Bush family was building an oil pipeline), to Iraq.
Unfortunately, the film is inconsistent and unfocused towards the end. For me, the emotional portions pull heart-strings, but of course they do. What point is Moore trying to make? An otherwise Patriotic and pro-Bush woman learns her soldier son has been killed in Iraq. Soldiers getting injured from rebel bombs, American contractors getting burned to a crisp by militants, Iraqi mothers crying over their innocent children killed from our bombs -- it's hard not to react. War is Hell. I would have liked to have seen more evidence of the Administration's outright neglect though of our troops, its lack of planning, its awful behavior, because that to me is the core of what Moore is saying. I felt the first hour or so of the movie was the strongest, when we watch less of Moore and see footage of Bush, the Senate, the administration. This all speaks for itself. Moore's trademark antics were not that effective this time around, when he tried to read the Patriot Act (none of its contents can be heard) and get Senator's to encourage their children to enlist. The entire segment about recruitment is interesting, but drafting poor people to fight wars (justified or not) is an Age Old situation, not unique to this Administration.
At the very least, Fahrenheit 911 will galvanize those opposed to Bush, the Administration, and the Iraq War. This movie makes it more challenging to believe that those in power of the so-called "World's Greatest Democracy" are looking out for the People, and not behaving like a corrupt group of self-serving rich folks. Those who believe that Michael Moore is lying -- that the Iraq War is really about saving Iraqis from a dictator who had weapons of mass destruction, that Bush is a strong, intelligent president intent on helping the average person, and that his Administration has a wise plan of action to rid the world of Terrorists without violating the Geneva Convention or the Constitution in the process -- will they watch this movie? Will they change their minds because of it? That remains to be seen.
But I'm more determined than ever to vote this November.
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Only a couple weeks till Spider-man 2 is finished! A month later,
a bazillion people will see my movie.
Well ok, Sam Raimi helped. And maybe a couple other people...
A couple hundred.
Tobey and Kirsten added a little bit. Alfred had a cameo too.
But I'm soo psyched! My name in the credits! Keep an eye out for it under
Sony Pictures Imageworks and probably under Production Service Technicians (PSTs).
Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Thanks Mel, for inciting More Rage against the Jews.
To all those that think that the Jews Killed the Lord. One, if you're Muslim and anti-Jew to begin with, a fictional death isn't a credible source for your anger against all Jews. Two, if you're Christian, you should either realize that certain Jews & Romans may have killed him (i.e. don't blame the whole race), or be thankful we did.
After all, you'd have no Savior if he weren't killed.
Friday, March 26, 2004
I love Charlie Kaufman movies. (Well ok, I have not seen Human Nature) Adaptation had an incredible Klein bottle of a plot. Being John Malcovich was a hoot especially amongst us puppeteers. But Eternal Sunshine is a perplexingly brilliant look at the memory of love, and what it might be like if we had the ability to erase it when it hurt too much.
This time Michael Gondry is the director (rather than the awesome Spike Jonze). Gondry does a lovely job of depicting what it might be like to hide in one's own memories as they're being erased (similar to the ending of Being John Malcovich but with CG effects). This has to be my favorite Jim Carey movie, as I don't like any of his other ones. He plays the shy, neurotic but sweet guy counterpoint to Kate Winslet's flighty, outgoing, spunky but insecure love-interest.
As with any Kaufman movie, do not expect clichés -- this is a love story that only a surrealist or comedy science fiction series like Red Dwarf might tackle. I loved the scenes in which Carey's character roams about his memory of a city street only to have the orientations shift, objects be in the wrong place, and faces blurred. Carey & Kate are very honest, real, and believeable as lovers. Not perfect by any means. The only character I didn't quite get was Elijah Wood's. Oh well. Maybe I'm just too used to him as a Hobbit.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Sunday, March 14, 2004
Let's get this straight. Mel Gibson, a wealthy and evidently Christian actor has made a film. But because he's chosen a 2000 year-old story that many believe to be true, even though he insists it is a work of Art (well, commercial art anyway), an expression of his interpretation of that story, many unintelligent people think he has created a spiritual work.
Listen carefully. I did not say people who believe the story of the Bible are unintelligent. What I am saying is that anyone thinking Mel Gibson has created a Holy Creation is not smart at all.
I have issues with going to see the movie. Passion is not history. It is not even a documentary. It is "spiritual fiction" loosely-based on the Bible, other interpretations of it, and Mel's own ideas. If Mel were being honest about this being a work of art, expressing his opinions, then perhaps I might see it. However, it is based on Holy material and yet succumbs to merchandising -- precisely what Jesus urged not to do. You can now buy "Official The Passion thorn necklaces" which is stunningly bad taste, I think. Then of course, the movie is about a Jew getting his ass kicked. The Bible does not devote a lot of text to this, yet apparently most of the movie is a blood-fest. Blood-fests without character development are shallow, yet I hear that all we learn about Jesus in the movie is through minimal flashbacks.
I hear some parents are taking their children to see it. I think this is absurd -- they would rather have them watch Jesus get crucificed (in a glorified way) than allow them to see a breast on TV?? Ridiculous.
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
I saw a Sony screening of Good Bye Lenin, a really enjoyable film about a family living at the cusp of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. The mother is heavily involved in the Socialist Party just before she falls into a coma. Upon her return to consciousness, doctors warn her son and daughter not to shock her (for risk of her having another heart attack). But all around them, the West is encroaching, and the son decides to carry on the ruse of Old Germany in a redesigned room in their apartment. He goes to great lengths, convincing neighbors, former colleagues, and a former cosmonaut-turned taxi driver to carry on the charade.
Things I really liked:
- Visual Symbols -- rocketry/travelling into space, grand daughter learning to walk (as the mom recovers), Lenin statue flying away...
- Honest romance -- sincere, trust (not lust) based, tenderness, love
- The intertwining of historical montage and family life
- The depiction of young children as respectful, non-bratty, friendly
- Use of other movie's music (Amelié)
- Coma motif -- reminded me of Talk to Her, another great film.
Sunday, February 29, 2004
Living in Hollywood, I am only a few blocks away from the mystical Academy Awards. Doesn't seem quite as mystical when it's being set up. Very surreal to know that in 24 hours, millions of dollars worth of celebrities, clothing and jewels will convene in the same spots I was below:
Outside the Kodak Theatre...
Wonder who gets to sit in these bleechers?
Winner of the Best Grip in a Drama category carries away his Oscar™...
Here's where I will check in, pretending to be John Cusack.
Inside the Kodak Theatre plaza
An ABC camerawoman practices her cues.
Saturday, February 14, 2004
The other night I saw the full version of Spiderman 2 as it is now. The entire crew walked over to the main Sony lot and huddled into a smallish theatre, the same one they show movies to executives. Sam Raimi (the director) introduced himself. He did not seem much like a Director... at least not what you imagine one to be like. Too unassuming.
My reaction the movie: Yay! It won't suck.
It feels really good to be working on something a LOT of people will like! When I was an enterprise software engineer, that was something entirely absent.
It will feel really cool/weird/strange to know that millions of people (that bother to stay for the credits) will see my name on the big screen. Subconsciously, at least.
Monday, February 09, 2004
In no particular order, here are Brian's favorite movies last year:
- Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
I would say, hands down, that LOTR is the best film trilogy ever created. No, Star Wars blew it with Jedi as far as I'm concerned. No other fantasy film comes close to attaining a true human connection to the characters, accompanied by incredible special effects that serve the story (not the other way around, ala Matrix)
- Lost In Translation
This is a controversial movie. Perhaps part of it has to do with it being billed as a comedy. It's too quiet and serene to be a comedy. It's not Groundhog Day. What it is however, is a poignant mood piece about a middle-aged man and a young woman, both feeling trapped in their marriages, and in their present, completely foreign location. It's a unique connection tied to the situation, that not everyone can related to. But I sure did.
This should have been nominated for best documentary! The most suspenseful documentary I've ever seen, involving the fates of several National Spelling Bee participants and their families.
- Finding Nemo
Not my favorite Pixar story, but I'm a sucker for underwater creatures. The lighting effects are the best of any CG cartoon movie so far.
- X-Men 2
Not exactly great, but it was fun.
- Peter Pan
Nobody went to see this, but it was surprisingly good! Definitely not dumbed down, and a bit scary for kids I would imagine. Only a few scenes didn't quite work, and the casting/directing of Tinkerbell was amiss. But otherwise, enjoyable.
This was almost a great movie but it had just a little too much schmaltz. It made me realize that the so-called American dream is based on the Poor gambling on the successes of the Wealthy. Also, we spent too much time seeing Toby Maguire's ass. Still, not a bad movie.
Of course there are quite a few movies I have not seen yet. I missed Whale Rider, Winged Migration, and still haven't seen either Cold Mountain or Mystic River. And some people's favorites like Big Fish just didn't work for me. There was The Cooler which I think was good but I had been drinking too much to remember....
Friday, December 19, 2003
Sunday, July 27, 2003
Horses, gambling, and the American Dream
- The film is largely about Tobey Maguire's ass. It's either darting across the screen trying to beat the other asses, or it's getting beaten up.
- The American dream is actually gambling. Gambling on stocks, boxing, horse races...
Therefore, I suppose "trickle-down economics" is just wealthy people buying horses (or corporations) and spinning stories so that the common people can know who to bet their money on. This gives them hope.