Posts Tagged 'movies'

A Couple of Great Films

I had, in the last week, the delightful opportunity to see two wonderful, awe-inspiring movies. I’m sure you’ve heard of them.

First, I saw Avatar with my wife and brothers.

Avatar Movie Poster

Avatar

This movie was nothing short of magnificent. I did see the film in 3D, and aside from a few small gripes I have with today’s 3D film showing technology, the 3D added more than just another dimension to the movie.

What made this movie outstanding for me can be illustrated in just two solid points.

First, I went in to the movie knowing full well that the plot was essentially ripped off from Pocahontas (though I don’t believe Cameron did it on purpose), and still James Cameron’s storytelling kept me engaged and entertained to the end. If you can go into a movie knowing how it ends and what will happen around every turn, and still enjoy it thoroughly, then it is a good movie.

Second, as someone who loves movie special effects, I am familiar with a tendency in Hollywood to allow the special effects to steal the show. Many a good movie has been nearly or entirely ruined because the effects were too good for the viewer to allow them to fade into the background of the story. In Avatar, the effects perfectly faded into their rightful place as a storytelling mechanism. They were nearly perfect in every way (and where they did not excel, they receded even further into the back of the viewer’s mind).

I had no problem believing that the world of Pandora was a very real place to the characters I saw on screen, and at no time did I feel like I was experiencing another Jar-Jar-esque CGI character while watching the Na’vi. For some, the world was not only real and beautiful, but it was so much better and alluring than Earth, that they are dying to visit.

After such an epic movie (and “epic” is my favorite word to describe Avatar), I was hesitant to watch anything else for a while.

Later the same week, though, my wife and I went on a date to see Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes Movie Poster

Sherlock Holmes

This Sherlock Holmes installment was the most beautifully rendered of any I have ever seen. As a huge fan of the stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I have always been looking for a suitable film adaptation of his original characters. Unfortunately, most of the previous Holmes films I had seen had failed miserably.

Shortly after watching this new Sherlock Holmes movie, I was in a rental store and saw the cover of a Sherlock Holmes movie I had never heard of: Murder By Decree.

Murder By Decree Poster

Murder By Decree

On the cover you can see that someone once considered it the “Best Sherlock Holmes Movie Ever Made.” That statement is attributed to Rex Reed, of the New York Daily News. The movie was released early in 1979, just over thirty years prior to the newest movie staring the master sleuth. The cover certainly makes the movie look quite appealing, and it currently resides at the top of my Netflix queue. I will then report on if that film remains the “best Sherlock Holmes movie ever made.”

As for my current belief, Robert Downey Jr. played Sherlock Holmes better than any man before him, and Jude Law made a singularly perfect Dr. Watson companion to him. The two played very nicely together, and the depiction of their characters was precisely as I had envisioned it during my reading of the stories. For me, Sherlock Holmes staring Robert Downey Jr. will always be the definitive Sherlock Holmes movie.

Finally, before I let you go, I have to apologize for getting ahead of myself earlier. I rushed to offer my new book (Facebook Drives Me Nuts) for sale before it was ready. So, the first edition, which nobody bought, is immediately discontinued, and the second edition, which is currently undergoing review, will be offered for sale before the end of the month (if all goes well). I am thinking of sending out a few signed copies to my closest friends and family, in hopes that they will read the book and spread the word. Of course, if they don’t like the book, such an act could backfire on me most horrendously. I shall have to proceed with caution.

Watch for an announcement here followed by copious amounts of self promotion through all of my available channels once the book is approved for sale.

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Three is a BIG Number

When you’re stressed, tired or just four months old, three can seem like an awfully large number.  We had three events today, all of them sizable, and all of them enjoyable (when taken one at a time, per day).

First, a movie!  I love movies, and I especially love Pixar movies.  Today we saw what may soon be known as my favorite movie – WALL*E.  I generally consider movies either one of my favorites because I don’t want to actually say one good movie was better than another good movie.  In this case, though, you’ve got some great animation, wonderful characters, good story, fun laughs, stunning visuals and strong emotional elements.  Before this movie I loved Stardust, A Knight’s Tale, The Incredibles, and a few others – each as one of my favorites.  Now, though, I may begin saying that WALL*E is my favorite movie (until I find something better).

After the movie my five-year-old had to go to the bathroom and I was left holding Sophie in the lobby.  There was a huge, cardboard model of WALL*E, so I had the baby pose for some pictures in front.  Click on the smaller images to see larger ones:

Next, a birthday party for two little girls each turning one in the same month.  Silly?  Yes.  Excuse for adults to get together and drink?  Also.  We left at the first signs of tipsiness from one of the hostesses.  Not because she was getting drunk, but because we have a four-month-old and we had other things to do.

Before I leave the subject of that little party, I have to mention that it is so funny to watch the four-month-old baby when she gets her little fist wrapped around a Twizzler and starts to suck on it.  She absolutely loved the Twizzlers and the chips (don’t worry, I only let her suck until they got too soft but before they broke apart).  She also enjoyed sucking on ice and baby carrots.  Oh, and Laffy-Taffy.  She enjoyed the Laffy-Taffy for almost fifteen minutes.

Finally we headed over to the home of our friends (D’n’A) and ate dinner.  After dinner we played some games among screaming babies.  It was a good time despite my utter exhaustion and high stress levels.  I get stressed for reasons most people would scoff at, and the stress often gets worse if I begin worrying about whether my stress and social awkwardness are making others uncomfortable with me.  Fortunately for our friends D’n’A, I don’t stress much at their house because I don’t worry about whether they are uncomfortable with me or not.

At last we ended up at home with a very tired baby girl who had too much to do in one day.  I played a few minutes of a Wii game while my wife fed the baby, then I started typing this (which turned into a much longer project than I thought).  I think I hear the baby making some noise now, so I’m off to work.  Soon I’ll begin writing for the sake of writing again.  For now I’ve been using this mainly for family updates.  Before long I’ll get back to work!

Childhood Dream – Video

I was feeling a bit nostalgic today, remembering such classic cartoons as “Darkwing Duck,” “Talespin,” and others with some of my peers. Perhaps that’s why I was taken back to my catalog junkie days.

That’s right, I was a catalog junkie. I used to regularly receive catalogs from several computer and software companies (junk-mail in my parents’ eyes), in addition to flipping through the big Sears catalog my mother would get. Those technology catalogs were my favorite though, and I learned a lot from them. For example, I knew all the fastest CPU speeds, how much RAM was being put in the high-end machines, and how big one could possibly get a hard drive. I noticed when the first floppy-drive-less computers began shipping, and realized that the minuscule storage on those things would prevent them from being missed.

Perhaps my favorite pastime from the catalog days was clipping or highlighting all of the components of my dream setup. I would find the most powerful graphics computer, clip it out and put it in a box or a folder. Then I would go find software that looked interesting for doing what I wanted to do, or supplemental hardware. I was in love with the 3D animations that had begun to get big and was convinced that I would become a 3D animator for movies and special effects. I found out about programs like Lightwave and 3D Studio Max. I learned that Photoshop was used to create textures and backdrops. I began learning which programs were low-end and which ones were being used to create professional work.

Eventually I had quite a collection. My collection of clippings evolved from technology alone to everything I wanted in life. There was this really cool computer desk that I wanted from the Sears catalog, as well as an entertainment center with doors that hid the TV. I even fell in love for one of the first times going through a catalog.

It was the Sears catalog, and I found her in the teen clothing section. I remember at the time I had a little crush on Anna Chlumsky from the movie My Girl. Her beauty was by far outshone by the mystery girl I found in the catalog. I am embarrassed to add that she was modeling underwear. Honestly, I don’t remember caring about the underwear (it wasn’t lingerie, it was like a sports bra or a trainer bra or something). I stared at her warm face and immaculate hair for hours on end, barely noticing the rest of her. I thought she had the most perfect eyes, the most beautiful smile… I was truly in love. I gazed so deeply into the image that I became irritated with how poorly images were reproduced in print products. I wanted a larger, clearer view of her gorgeous face (the whole clipping was only a few inches across). I often returned to the children’s section of the Sears catalog to see if she would come back, but alas I never saw her again. Several years later, just at the very beginning of my college adventures, I went to the Sears website and the rest of the web doing extensive searches in an attempt to find out who that girl might have been. I had a time frame, I knew the catalog month (but have since forgotten), I searched for several days. My efforts were to no avail. She was lost forever. Even my beloved clipping had disappeared and all I was left with was a memory. Luckily, I met my wife shortly thereafter.

That’s not why I wrote though. I am writing because I have been realizing over the last few months that one of my childhood dreams has remained alive within me (among others – they must have set up some kind of a refugee camp or something though, because the majority of my childhood dreams have long since been CRUSHED). In those catalog days, crouching over several copies of “PC Warehouse” at once, pondering the possibilities, I used to dream that one day I would have a family of my own (check, that one came true) and produce periodic family videos (using the cool stuff in the catalogs) that would have subtle, sporadic special effects sprinkled in (just to make them a little more fun). I had seen many home videos that were boring. If my family was going to make video of itself, it would need a little extra something.

Some of the ideas for CG (computer generated) additions to my home movies were things like a video of the children playing in the front yard, and in the background something crashes down from space into the house, causing an explosion (which the kids would ignore, of course, seeing as how they’re playing) and a giant robot or monster would come out of the rubble and crash around. I even thought it would be fun to have the kids participate, with me telling them to freak out and run at a certain time. Another idea was to have a video of one of the children’s rooms and have a doll or toy of his come to life in the background, dancing around and playing until the kid looks back at it.

At the time such ideas were the stuff Hollywood special effects artists were only beginning to get good at. Now, the tools exist for all of us; and anyone with the money to spare, the time to invest, and the skill to learn can do it. I’ve got the skills, I only lack the time and money (for now). Eventually, if I ever get that time and money, I still want to produce my own video. Home videos, perhaps a podcast/internet show, maybe some short films… I don’t know. The possibilities are endless. I wouldn’t want to make it a career, but as a hobby I could have a lot of fun with it. I even think my wife would love participating both in front of and behind the camera.

So, in advanced preparation for such a day, I am going to assemble and maintain a list of items to buy. I will assemble that list here and when I have a specific product, I will link to it and include it in a special list at metawishlist.com, so if you want to donate thousands of dollars to my cause, feel free.  The metawishlist keeps a running total of how much everything in the list would cost together (as of right now, over $12,000 not including the computer).

* I probably won’t link to one specific system because the “best” system specifications change almost daily.  If we ever really do this, I would simply look for the most powerful computer system available in the $2,000 – $6,000 range from a hardware manufacturer I trust.

** Adobe has ONE package called Creative Suite 3 Production Premium which contains all of the (starred**) items plus a few extras for a really great price.

That just about does it for now. If you have any suggestions for items on the list that are missing, better products than the ones I link to, or product suggestions for items I don’t have product for, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!

Movie Feelings

I had plans for my writing time tonight. I had big plans. Then, something horrible got in the way – my emotions.

What are emotions good for? Really. They don’t seem to do much for me, other than get in the way of logic. Emotions are like that one slab of sidewalk that is sticking up a little, and you always see it and walk past it, but even still you manage to trip over it every once and a while.

Lucky for me, my emotions get in the way rarely. I am a very logical person, and most of the time I keep my emotions at bay. Every once and a while, though, they trip me up. There is usually a trigger, and tonight is no exception.

I just watched a movie. It was a good movie, and I would definitely recommend it, but beware – it has a hard-hitting emotional edge that may render your logic useless until you can sort out your feelings. You’ve probably heard of it – Bridge to Terabithia.

The funny thing is that my son actually spoiled it for me. I won’t do the same to you (in case you haven’t seen it), but he claimed he hadn’t seen the movie, and when he remembered that he had, he blurted out, “Oh, I remember…” and in somewhere between two and five words (I can’t remember exactly what he said) he gave away the entire ending of the movie. Even still, when “that part” came, I was caught unawares. Perhaps I was already feeling a little emotional, but from that point on my brain no longer functioned. Even now I am using this writing time as an outlet to try sorting my feelings out and regaining a state of order in my mind.

Hopefully, once I get this out, I can move on to that wonderful piece I had been looking forward to writing all day.

Not that the movie was bad, it was actually a very nice movie. In fact, I loved it. It’s not one of my favorites or anything, but it takes an extra special movie to wring tears from me. Also, if I were an English literature teacher, I would use this movie to teach allusion and foreshadowing. It had some wonderful literary devices employed skillfully and effectively. If you haven’t seen it, wait for an emotionally stable day and watch it. I’m sure you’ll like it.

OK, maybe not, but it’s not that bad, so I don’t expect that you’ll hate it.

I’m going to try writing that other thing now. Wish me luck. I hope I’m over this…

Favorite Superheroes

In an effort to distract myself from all things stressful and real, I decided to dedicate my writing hour to honoring the greatest men in faux-history, as far as I see it. What follows is an exploration of a few of my most favorite superheroes. Among them there are three that got their start in the comic books, and one that didn’t (as far as I know).

First up is the man who has always been at the top of my list. I think the greatest appeal any of these heroes has with me is that they are ordinary guys. None of them has a super power that separates them from me by a super-margin like the one between me and Superman. The only thing that keeps me from actually being any of these heroes is money, and in some cases technology that hasn’t yet been developed.

Again, first up is one I have had at the top of the list since as long as I can remember. Batman. Rich, secretive, loves technology and gadgets, and is a smart crime-solving detective. That’s me in a nutshell… Well, if I had it my way, that is. Sure, a lot of the toys and gadgets he uses are a little out of reach (for now), but it’s nice to dream.

I’m especially in love with the Tumbler, his Batmobile in Batman Begins and The Dark Night. Sometimes, when I’m driving around in my car, I imagine that I’m in the Tumbler.

Even better than having to drive in the first place would be flying, and my next two super heroes can do just that (without mystical powers).

Next, then, is Iron Man. Batman’s resourcefulness comes from his gadgetry first, then from his costume. Iron Man is the costume. No gadgets here (which does make me a little sad, since I love gadgets), just pure awesomeness in the form of an exoskeleton suit and some pretty impressive computer programming, both of which I love.

I’ve always been into robotics, and exoskeleton research is a big spin off/byproduct/sister project of robotics. With the recent release of the Iron Man movie, many people have been talking about the technology behind such a suit.

Oh, if you haven’t seen the movies I’m talking about, you really should. They’re all excellent films.

Since I saw the Iron Man movie, I’ve been wondering what it would be like if you combined the two heroes, Batman and Iron Man, into one really cool hero. I’ve decided that, while it might be overkill, it would be pretty cool.

For the final of my comic-book-based heroes, I give you an older one: The Rocketeer. This one goes way back to my childhood. In fact, I’d venture to say that I wanted to be the Rocketeer before I wanted to be Batman (but I’m not sure because it’s a close call).

Though not as technologically advanced, the Rocketeer does have something we’re still working on – a jet pack. Even without an exoskeleton or a bunch of gadgets, having a jet pack would be awesome.

I think the Rocketeer must have made a great comic too, because he really is just an ordinary guy with one thing that sets him apart from the rest of us, that cool rocket pack. Other than that, he’s not a super genius, he’s doesn’t have a ton of money to buy whatever technology or gadgets he wants, and more of us can identify with him for it.

The movie is still one of my favorites, and it never gets old (right up there with Short Circuit , but we’ll talk about robots another time).

As you may have noticed, we’re working our way down from most gadgets to the least, but we’ve covered varied amounts of technological integration. My final hero is just a man with a bunch of gadgets, but he’s got so many other qualities I love that I had to add him to my list.

I suppose he’s really not considered a “superhero” by most, but James Bond has always been a favorite of mine. I especially loved the portrayal of him in the recent film Casino Royale.

Though I wouldn’t ever want to be the womanizer that he is, I admire just about everything else in the character. I especially love his resourcefulness, intelligence and wit. Plus, he always dresses pretty sharp, which is great.

You know what’s funny? As I’ve written this, my list of heroes has been growing. So far, I’ve realized that a list of my favorite heroes in fiction would never be complete without Sherlock Holmes. It was his work (well, the writings of Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle) that helped me realize how much I love using my mind to solve problems and analyze the people and world around me. When it comes to awesomeness, you would be pressed to find a better man than Jason Bourne from the Bourne series of books and movies. Though I don’t actually know much about him, there is one more comic book character that I was a big fan of when I was young. Dick Tracy. I think the main reason I loved him was for his video phone watch. Anyhow, that just illustrates my deep love for gadgets.

No matter how many fictional heroes I may want to be like, there is one real guy (well, two) who I’ve actually met and I model my life after him (them) every day. I say two because the first, obviously, is my father. I don’t just say that because it’s what everyone says. My dad is a true hero and someone that more than just his children can look up to for a great example of how to live. The second is someone I served with for just over a year and a half, but in that short time he helped me more than any one person aside from my parents. He was my mission president in Mexico, President Alonso.

I love and look up to both of them, but I really want to be like the fictional characters here because it would be fun.

Fix-it Saturday

Today we fixed some things around the house. Last night I went out to see a movie with friends. We saw Iron Man (not a bad movie, if you’re into science fiction action films). I enjoyed it because I am a nerd.

Anyhow, just after I left the house my wife informed me that the washing machine had quit working. She played around with it, checked that it was plugged in, checked the breaker… Everything seemed right, but it wasn’t working. We don’t have money for new stuff, so it’s used and it will continue to be used until we can afford something else. We don’t have money for repair people to come around and fiddle with it and fiddle with us, so I got a little worried when I started thinking about how much I don’t know about washing machines.

Well, when I got home I tried turning it on and it worked fine for me. Strange, but true. Then, before it was done with the same load, it mysteriously quit working again. So, I started fiddling with it and found some loose screws (literally). This discovery led to the finding that the switch that signaled to the machine when the hatch was opened or closed had mostly fallen from its mounting. Tightening the screws was futile – as it turned out the plastic had broken long ago. So, I found an old hair rubber band and rigged the sensor to the closed position so the washing machine always thinks the lid is closed.

You know, it feels really good to, what do they call it? – Jerry rig? It feels good to get something working with a rubber band and not have to pay someone sporting trouser cleavage from my life savings just so they can waste my time and charge me three weeks’ pay.

As a final note, we’ve (my wife and I) been working on designing some radical changes to our family’s routine to help us all develop better self-control and patience. Needless to say, we wouldn’t need to do this if we all had acceptable levels of discipline and prudence. My five-year-old especially needs something that will help him with his physical and emotional control (he tends to beat the snot out of playmates who don’t worship him and bow to his every whim). We’ve got a plan, but I’m wondering if anyone out there who reads this might have any suggestions for a program (something like a cross between yoga and some martial art form) that we could do as a family that would promote patience, self-control and some basic self-defense techniques. My only requirement is that I need to be able to do this without too much class training – we need to start doing this in our home, as a family, without paying for regular classes (we may do regular classes later, but not now – no can do).

Alright. This wasn’t the type of thing I was planning on posting here, but I wanted to take some time to write despite my creativity being on vacation.

Bleeping Beep

Anyone who has made a trip to the movie theater lately has seen the creative advertisements reminding moviegoers to silence their cell phones. Nobody questions the need for such ads, because we all get the point – it would be really annoying if some guy in front of you (or behind) had a cell phone ringing to the tone of the latest pop hit right at that crucial moment when everyone is leaning into the film.

As a result of such advertisements and signs in specific public places, cell phones do not cause quite the disturbance they are capable of. There is another disturbance [in the force], however, that is much older and far more annoying than the cell phone. I’ve heard many an excuse for these disturbances, and I am aware of potential uses for the perpetrator, but I am this close to coordinating a large-scale movement to have a particular feature of a certain, common, personal electronic device completely abolished.

Please, allow me to share a few ways that these horrid devices have ruined many a special moment for me.

Imagine the feeling: Everything was perfect. We had planned this moment for a long time. As a missionary for my church, I had worked and served and planned so that a new baptism could take place at our meeting house. We filled the baptismal font with perfectly warm water, scrubbing and rinsing it out beforehand so the tiles would shine. We vacuumed the room where the service would be held preceding the ordinance to be carried out. We set out the programs on a table just inside the entrance. We laid out the hymn books, one on each seat for the attendees. We had the white baptismal clothing cleaned the night before and had it hanging, waiting in the changing room. Everything was set up to perfection. The guests all arrived, the young man who was getting baptized, the bishop… Everyone was in their proper place five minutes early. We had a CD player singing beautiful, soft music in the background. What a knockout job of setting the mood for such a memorable day for the new member of our church.

Then, the program started, right on time (of course). A couple of speakers, a special musical performance by a family we had asked to participate, and finally the moment arrived for us to huddle around the baptismal font and carry out the special ordinance. A missionary descended into the water with the young man, who was beaming with glee. They stood in the water, said the pr– BEEP BEEP! What the… ?!? Who… ? How inconsiderate! Of course, the baptism continued without any other incidents, but that moment will be engraved in my mind forever.

One of my earliest memories with this rude, inconsiderate molestation takes me back to middle school and high school. Back then, the BEEP BEEP usually signaled the end of class and I was glad to have it… most of the time. Every once and a while, though, one or a few of them would sound in the middle of a special class, or a moment of silence in the morning.

Now, in my current job we pay a lot of respect to the flag and we hold special ceremonies from time to time. Every once and a while my old nemesis returns to steal the show and get those two BEEPs in as loudly and conspicuously as possible for such a small device.

If and when I have been able to identify the human possessing the bleeping beeping device, I have asked them why they keep that ridiculous hourly alarm on. Some respond with the most ignorant response possible, “I don’t know how to turn it off,” and others just shrug. To those who truly don’t know how to turn it off and were too lazy to consult the instructions or never received them, you know there are people around you that know how to do it. For every one person that doesn’t know how to turn it off, I’ll bet there are at least two who would be willing to try to figure it out for you (and it’d probably only take them a few seconds to actually turn it off).

Of course, these bleeping beeps are not confined to special moments or church events. Oh no, these things go off in movies too. Why in the world would someone silence their cell phone but not their watch? If I don’t want to hear your Brittany Spears cell phone ringer, why would I want to have that jarring BEEP BEEP go off at the climax of the film?

Please, out of respect, turn off your darned hourly timer. If you are one of the rare people who uses it to keep track of how much time has gone by at your job or something, get a separate watch and leave it at work or school. Don’t take it with you to special occasions, movies or anything else where you would be expected to silence your cell phone. It’s just logical, if you think about it, but it’s the considerate, humane thing to do as well.


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