May 30, 2007

 

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth

Some films, and stories in general for that matter, can connect the watcher with something deeper in(than) themselves, and in that way enable you to transcend every-day reality. That is perhaps the purpose of all stories; certainly all of the ones that have been found interesting. Pan's Labyrinth is like nothing I've ever seen. And somehow it measures up to everything you or I might have dreamed. I truly regret missing my opportunity to see it on the big screen.

I can't rightfully tell you much about the story, to do so would be an injustice, I think, for anyone who has not and was still considering watching it. I can say that it's a fairytale about a young girl who experiences both horrific real experiences and magical ones, hence the fantasy aspect; and that it is set in the Spanish Civil War.

This is no child's fairytale in the typical sense--It was made without any intention of qualifying as what usually passes as acceptable for children. There are scenes of violence as shocking as any ever shown on a movie screen, and images as frightening as the scariest I've ever seen. It's as thematically dark anything I've ever read or seen. But it's still a fairytale, and in that respect, although it's not meant for children, it is something a child could dream of, even as unpleasant and devastatingly graphic as it is. And so while it's not something I would ever suggest for a child to watch, it's obvious this is the product of a filmmaker who experienced a very imaginative childhood. With the blurring of reality and fantasy it reminds me of the writing of Neil Gaiman, except without all the witty humor, and explicitly more grizzly.

A casual glance at this movie and someone might think it's just about magic. But it is in fact about something much more important than magic; something that, it has occurred to me, is possibly one of the most important characteristics of humanity--Imagination.

My rating: Just about perfect.


May 28, 2007

 

Build-A-Thon -- Biloxi/Gulfport -- May 2007

Two days ago I returned from a week in the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

On the first flight there I sat beside a woman named Kim who was holding her very adorable 22-month-old daughter Ashley. I was on my way to the Americorps Build-A-Thon. The two most important things I brought with me were my hammer (which got a lot of use) and my camera (which I wish I could have used more).

The Build-A-Thon is a week long event, usually in Spring, where Americorps (which if is an organization you aren't familiar with, is maybe best described as the domestic version of the Peace Corps) who are working on behalf of Habitat for Humanity from all over the country come together to build a lot of houses at once.

This year the Build-A-Thon was in the Mississippi Gulf Coast to help rebuild areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in the Fall of 2005. Our goal was 20 houses, we had 600 volunteers, about 20 per house; the rest provided hospitality for those doing construction.

This was my first Build-A-Thon experience. They took great care of us during the week, at the camp we stayed and at the work site. The camp was once a local football stadium named 'Yankie Stadium'. After Katrina, the Salvation Army bought the stadium to be used as a volunteer housing facility for the relief effort in the Mississippi Gulf region. They turned the large bleachers, which had areas under the seats that formally housed concession stands showers and bathrooms for teams, into dorms with bunk beds and a recreation area for meals and relaxing and watching TV or playing ping-pong. The bleachers under which I lived for the week were named: Volunteer Village.


Between the two stadiums-turned-living areas was the football field, two thirds of which was available for playing soccer, volleyball, or Ultimate Firsbee (a true athletes' sport), and in the other third of the field was a large red and white tent under which dinner was served each night. At the camp there were guards 24/7 because that part of Biloxi was, as they said, not exactly the safest part of town. Although the few times I walked around the areas surrounding the camp, usually in a group I should note, I never felt unsafe; and there was even a moment when a man stopped his car, rolled down the window, recognizing that we were with Habitat for Humanity, and thanked us for being there.

In my room, sleeping in the bunk under mine was a man named Less who I would later find out joined Americorps after retiring from the US Coast Guard with 22 years of service. I told him about my brother who had also served in the Coast Guard, and he told me about some of the lesser known things the Coast Guard get involved in, which was pretty interesting.

The first full day there, Sunday, was orientation and opening ceremonies. During the ceremony there was a moment when they announced that they would be loading shingles onto the roof with a bobcat to which many people cheered. That night my Americorps roommates and I walked to the closest Casino to check it out. Monday through Friday were build days. On the 40 minute bus ride to the build site in Gulfport from our camp in Biloxi each day on the road by the ocean I saw where once there had been homes, businesses, restaurants, shopping malls, gas stations, and so on. Most of the time there were only foundations remaining. This was my first time to travel anywhere affected by Hurricane Katrina. And having seen what looked like a society that had been washed away I realized that at least for myself I don't think about what happened there every day so it's easy not to realize that there are people still living with it every day.

The first day of building we stood up the front and back walls. That morning I spent a lot of time making measurements on boards to be cut for the walls. By the end of the fourth day we finished sheathing the roof with plywood and loaded the shingles on the roof with the bobcat. At first it was more than a little uneasy to walk on the roof, but after awhile I stopped having to think about each step I was going to take. Going to the edge was still 'pretty freaky', and now that I think about it, 'the edge' is a really good metaphor for approaching anything that is pretty freaky. At the end of the last day (which was cut short due to closing ceramonies) we just bairly finished shingling the roof.


All week long they gave us plenty of water, and I drank more of it than I think I ever have in one time in my life. It was so hot, and I was so thirsty. Most of it left my body in the form of sweat. The week went so fast, and I think it is truly an amazing opportunity for all involved.

You can see many other pictures I took during the week here.


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Movie Preview: John Rambo

Recently I received a comment from captainrandom45; it was a response to my posting about the next Die Hard film.

captainrandom45 said:

"Uh oh, Rambo is back to break some facez.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4lpf_TZ1zM

I love the fact that Stalone is bringing back his old roles by just throwing the characters FULL name as the title. What's next, 'Raymond Tango'?"

Well, thanks for commenting captainrandom45. I like the way you spelled the word "faces." I would be okay if they named this movie John Rambo, and if future Stallone films followed this trend of being named after the main character. Rambo is more of a movie my older brother's generation would have watched. But I remember being a kid and watching.

After seeing the trailer on YouTube, that captainrandom45 included a link to, I have two things to say:

First: It looks like the steroids that Stallone recently was found guilty to for illegibly transporting into Australia have really paid off. He looks like a ripped bad-ass mo-fo, if you know what I'm saying. (To clarify my view on steriods: It's totally not cool if you're a high school athlete using steroids to get more ripped, 'cause that stuff WILL mess you up; but it is really cool, and amusing, and even awesome when, and only when, you are a 60-year old hollywood celebrity using them to get ripped for a movie and getting a $13,000 fine for it (it could have been up to $91,000) for being caught when you apparently could care less about it.)


The second thing that really amazed me about that trailer was that about one minute and 39 seconds into it, you hear some guy recite Saint Francis's Prayer for Peace, possibly the most beautiful prayer about being peaceful and preventing suffering and ignorance ever written and then immediately following it, Rambo has had enough and goes into a killing rampage more grand than any of his previous killing rampages in the past.

I don't think it's possible to create a more obvious bastardization of the original intention of Saint Francis's Prayer than to show Rambo using it as inspiration for decapitating a guy, using a truck-mounted machine gun to rip apart a person's head that is 3 inches away in the front seat and go on to destroy an army with Japanese Animation style blood pressure issues (what kind of caliber ammunition does it take to make blood shoot two feet out of the top of a rebel military truck?) and generally going around “killing ... just as easy as [he is] breathing”. It looks like Tarantino directed it.

And I don't think the film-makers were going for iconoclasm when they pieced these segments together. This will be a “must see” film for whenever it gets released.

Check out the trailer captainrandom45 included in their commit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4lpf_TZ1zM




May 27, 2007

 
Pictures have been uploaded to the photos section of this site of the trip I just got back from to the Mississippi Gulf Coast working with Habitat for Humanity and Americorps to build 20 homes for families affected by Hurricane Katrina. Well it was an amazing experience. I'll write more about it later.

May 17, 2007

 

Ouch!

This is what running as fast as you can into a metal fence looks like. My brother thinks Ultimate Frisbee is a sport hippies play; I think he confuses it for Frisbee Golf. (I can't show you the pics from when I ran into a tree the week before.) I didn't catch the Frisbee but as my consolation, the fence looks about as bad as my arm. (Don't worry Mom, it's fine.)

May 16, 2007

 

Movie Preview: Live Free or Die Already...

I recently went to the theater to see both Spiderman 3 and 28 Weeks Later, but rather than focus on how disappointing both of those films were I'd like to focus on the preview for the new Die Hard movie that played before these films.

To preference this I'd like to point out that I have loved the Die Hard movies. I can watch them over and over again. 2 wasn't bad, but the original and With a Vengeance are great. So after seeing the recent preview for the forth installment in the series it really pains me to say that with out a doubt this movie will be terrible.

One scene in the trailer in particular comes to mind. In the preview for Live Free you actually see Bruce Willis driving a car and jumping out right before he sends it through the air into a helicopter. The car crashed into something looking like a toll both and is propelled up into the helicopter. Then the trailer cuts to a scene later when he is asked why, and he coolly says “I was out of bullets.” For me, that's the most unbelievable part of the whole scene. No one would ever be so snide after driving a car into a toll both and seeing it take down a helicopter--not even Detective John McClain, as bad-ass as he is. In real life he would really say: “Holy (expletive)! ...I can't (expletive)-ing BE-LIEVE I just drove that car into that helicopter!” with eyes wide open in disbelief. If Bruce Willis had said something like that, then that might actually have justified this scene. I'm afraid to wonder just how expensive this 6 seconds of footage cost.

Check out the preview at Apple Movie Trailers


May 14, 2007

 

The Arcade Fire. In a word: Awesome!

I've been wanting to write a review of a recent concert I attended by The Arcade Fire. But then I realized that I am not a musician so basically my only level of musical appreciation consists of how good a particular piece of music makes me feel; and to that extent, The Arcade Fire ROCKED! Before this concert I had not really listened to any of their music and didn't know anything about them, but I had heard good reviews from my friends; so I was really overwhelmed by the show. Aside from being Awesome*, the band achieved very high levels of Mystification and Amazement; and if Awestuckedness was a word then they would have achieved high levels of that as well because I felt quite awestruck at times. And I'm just speculating but it might be possibly one of the greatest performances of any kind in human history. So I feel pretty fortunate for having seen this particular show without first having been a fan. If by chance you have a chance to see The Arcade Fire, you should.

*In this post about The Arcade Fire, I used the word 'awesome' to describe the band. But according to a report I heard on NPR recently, there is an uptight college somewhere in Northern Michigan which every year creates a list of banned words; and this year they've included the word “awesome” for offensively being over used. Well, I certainly say awesome a lot, but come on? The word awesome is the most awesome word for explaining how awesome something is. What will we use now? Unlameful? And honestly, if they really wanted to ban 'awesome', they missed their most awesome opportunity to back in the eighties when the Ninja Turtles had their original heyday (when they were way more awesome by the way). Bear in mind that in the event that the word 'awesome' looses it's glory, 'radical' might be ready for a comeback.

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