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Archive for December, 2013

Now that it’s almost Christmas, I can start to relax and think about the things I love about Christmas. Although my lovely girlfriend and I won’t be able to be together on Christmas day, I’m looking forward to spending time with my family and friends, Cinnabon on Christmas morning, and movie theater popcorn later that day.

I’m also looking forward to watching a movie that I watch every year called The Snowman. Based on the Raymond Briggs picture book of the same name, The Snowman follows a young boy who makes a snowman that magically comes to life and takes him to the north pole to meet Santa Claus.

Released in 1982, the animation is rudimentary by today’s standards but there is warmth and heart in the images. Every pencil line seems to have a life of its own and even in the “static” scenes, the background is alive and moving. Like reliving a memory from childhood, the images are not clear or even well defined in places but there is just enough balance of open space and detail that activates the imagination that newer, digitally animated films have a difficult time delivering. This ascetic gives the film a surreal, dream-like quality which is perfect for the story being told. Despite this, or maybe because of it, there is a coziness throughout the film. Whether the scenes are inside or out, the lack of dialogue coupled with the soft visual style lends itself to easy watching.

Except for a brief, live-action intro and sung lyrics in one of the songs, there are no words spoken for the duration of the animated story and I love that. Every emotion, joke, and nuance is expressed through the pencil drawn animation and a Peter and the Wolf-like score. Childish excitement is accompanied by string flourishes, surprises are accentuated with trumpet blasts, and so-on. Both visuals and musical score could work on their own but together they provide a wonderful yet melancholic tone.

The tension between the mediums is best represented during the flight sequence. Here is a scene that is full of excitement and wonder. The Snowman takes the boy’s hand and begins running through the snow. Suddenly, they take off, their feet leaving the ground and the houses and fields grow smaller and smaller beneath them. Visually, this scene is one full of excitement but the tone is anything but. While the two are flying hand in hand, the song “Walking in the Air” plays. It is a wonderful song but is so melancholic that it twists the scene into something else. It’s no longer a simple, fun journey. There is gravitas. There is substance and depth. The journey is no longer just exciting – it’s important and a moment in time that will change the young boy forever. Moments like these happen rarely in film, let alone animated film, which is why it’s stayed with me so long.

It’s this aspect that keeps it from being in the same zeitgeist as more popular holiday fare like A Christmas Carol or Merry Christmas Charlie Brown. It’s not a feel good movie. It doesn’t end with shouts of joy down main street or a bunch of kids singing around a christmas tree. This isn’t Frosty the Snowman. The ending is very real and logical and doesn’t hold back in order to get a cheap “everything will be okay” feeling.

This film doesn’t just celebrate the Christmas spirit – it celebrates experience and life and the fleeting moments that make life worth living. It’s beautiful and tragic and one of my favorite Christmas films of all time.

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I never used to take medicine when I had a cold. I’m a firm believer in letting a cold run its course and dealing with the effects by trying to ignore them. Whether it was painful to swallow or if I was hacking up thick globs of mucus, I took nothing. The only remedies I would try would be drinking lots of water and eating lots of garlic and soups…not necessarily together.

Now that I’m trying to make my way in the music business and singing in front of people, I’ve turned to all kinds of natural cures. I take NyQuil to sleep because I’m congested and having to breath out my mouth is not a great way to catch a few z’s. Besides that, everything else I take or try is pretty natural.

Here’s a list of my sickness remedies:

  1. Emergency-C three times a day
  2. gargling salt water once an hour
  3. hot tea throughout the day – alternating Throat Coat and Gypsy Cold Care
  4. pho or other kind of broth-y soup when I can
  5. throat drops when I’m not doing these other things

There are other things I’ve had recommended to me that I haven’t tried such as using a neti pot once a day and drinking non-alcoholic hot toddies. The strangest one I’ve heard is in case of chronic cough, use Vapor Rub on the soles of your feet, under your socks for three days. Now there are pressure points in the feet that are connected to various parts of the body so this COULD be something but I haven’t suspended my disbelief enough to try it. Mostly because the cough drops have been doing the trick so far and my cough has been mild at that. But maybe if my cough gets worse you’ll be hearing about my socks smelling like menthol.

I’m always on the look out for more cold remedies (as I’m sure more people are now). Have any good ones? If so, share the love!

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I didn’t know Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska was rated R, before or after watching and I was flabbergasted when I found out. Even writing the title of this post I mixed up the rating before realizing and correcting it. It didn’t seem plausible that an intimate look at a father/son relationship would be rated more harshly than a revenge action film. Looking at the rating on IMDB, I found the reasons why. Here is the page:

NEBRASKA

Sex & Nudity

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NOTE: The *only* reason this film is rated R is because there are two uses of the f-word.

Sex & Nudity: 4/10

There are some innuendos and sexual jokes, along with mild crude terms and slangs (“screwing”, “run the bases”).

Violence & Gore

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Violence & Gore: 2/10

An elderly man falls in the dark and his son finds him on the floor with a large gash on his forehead. He is then shown getting stitches. (The entire film is in black and white, so it isn’t explicit.)

Two men get into a very brief and comical slap fight.

Characters argue and yell at each other.

A man punches another man in the face, causing him to fall down. He is later shown with a black eye.

Profanity

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Profanity: 3/10

Two f-words and a few mild obscenities.

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking

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Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking: 3/10

Some casual drinking. A main character used to be an alcoholic and is shown drinking beer in a few scenes.

Frightening/Intense Scenes

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Frightening/Intense Scenes: 3/10

There are some dramatic moments towards the beginning and end, and some brief conversations regarding death.

Total explicit content estimation: 15/50

*****
Stupid bullshit right? By contrast, here is the MPAA rating for Taken, which is rated PG-13:
*****

TAKEN

Sex & Nudity

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4/10

Throughout the movie you will hear about and see prostitutes. However, the scenes are not too uncomfortable to watch with children, although they may sound so in the description below.

A man walks through an area where curtains are strung up creating rooms where young women lie in cots (most are unconscious from drugs) and men have sex with them (not shown on screen but implied); we see a man in a room with one young woman kissing the back of her neck.

A man talks to a woman, asking how much she charges and what the fee includes (she is a prostitute).

A young woman says, “I’m going to sleep with him… I hear French guys are amazing in bed.”

A young woman is described as a virgin and that she is worth more at auction.

A man talks about another man’s wife being sexually aroused, using a crude term.

A man talks about a man “hitting on rich widows.”

A man makes a comment to another man about being competitive, using a crude anatomical reference.

There is a scene when young women have to dance naked for money.

Many young woman are dressed in little more than bikini underwear throughout the movie.

There is a scene whereby Liam Neeson’s daughter and one other prostitute is being auctioned on a boat wearing only her lingerie.

Violence & Gore

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7/10

A man is strapped into a chair, and a nail is then stabbed into each thigh. Liam Neeson then straps electrical cables to the nails and tortures the victim for information. Several jolts of electricity are sent through the cables and the man yells and twitches; the switch is flipped one last time and the man is left to die (we hear him screaming).

A man shoots a innocent woman in the arm, she falls off her chair (we see a bit of blood on her shirt) and the man threatens to shoot her in the head.

A man shoots another man in the leg and the arm and then shoots him dead (we see blood).

A man shoots another man in the stomach, and then strikes him and the man falls to the floor motionless (we see blood).

Men shoot at each other, and we see bullet holes opening in walls and furnishings.

A man holds a knife to a young woman’s throat, another man shoots him in the head and he falls back dead.

A man is chained by the hands over a pipe, another man wraps a strap around his throat and begins to strangle him, but the pipe breaks striking one man in the head and spraying another man in the face with steam (we see his face becomes charred).

A man jumps off a bridge and onto a moving boat below, he strangles a man on board, kicks and punches another one and throws him overboard.

A man shoves a young man into a taxi, punches him repeatedly in the ribs, another man pulls the man out and he lands hard on the ground; they fight briefly and one man’s head is slammed into the car knocking him unconscious.

Two men fight with punches and kicks, one man pulls a knife, they continue fighting, one man strikes the other with a bottle and one man is stabbed and falls to the floor motionless.

A man fights several men: he stabs several (there’s blood on wounds and shirts) and then shoots several others (we hear groans and see them flinch, but there’s no blood).

A man fights with several men punching and kicking them, and shoots one man (he falls back and onto the ground), but he is shot at by several men as he speeds away in a car and there’s a large explosion and fire.

A man holds a gun on another man, pushes him into an elevator and punches him (he falls unconscious).

A man in a car chases a young man through traffic, and the young man jumps from an overpass onto a truck below and then to the street where he is struck by a car (we see the body being struck and hear a thud).

A man with a knife lunges at a woman, another man fights him off with punches and kicks and the man and woman drive away in a car.

Cars with men shooting guns chase another man in another car: one car is pushed over a hill and rolls over and another car drives into a bulldozer shovel that cuts the top of the car off.

A young woman hiding under a bed is pulled out by her feet by a man, and we hear her screaming and we hear glass breaking as she is taken away.

Two men grab a young woman by the arms and legs and carry her out of an apartment (we hear her screaming and see her struggling).

We see two young women being kidnapped by several men.

We see a young woman dead presumably from a drug overdose (her lips and skin are tinged- blue).

Profanity

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4/10

Some language, nothing too bad.

One finger gesture.

Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking

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5/10

We see in two scenes numerous prostitutes with scarred arms by injections. Likely from heroin.

We see a young woman dead presumably from a drug overdose.

After being rescued from captivity, a young woman is seen being detoxed from presumably being forced to take heroin.

People drink alcohol at a party.

A man holds a beer bottle.

Another man drinks from a beer bottle.

A woman pours three glasses of wine at a dinner table.

Three men carrying beer arrive at another man’s house.

Several men sit at a table with beer bottles.

A man puts a cigarette in his mouth but does not light it.

No actual use of drugs is shown

Frightening/Intense Scenes

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7/10

Some people may find the theme and some scenes disturbing or upsetting.

The scene in which the kidnapping takes place is very realistic and may disturb viewers. This scene is hard to watch and happens all of a sudden. The idea of having a loved one lost in another country may itself upset viewers as it is very easy to feel empathy towards the main character and his situation.

*****
So…how the fuck does that work? Taken‘s list of offensive material is twice as long as Nebraska‘s but because they don’t say ‘fuck’, it’s suitable for a younger age group. Then, we are so appalled by mass shootings in our schools and things like the knockout game. There’s something wrong with society when we judge language more harshly than physical violence. By setting Nebraska‘s rating at a harsher point, less people are able to see such a touching story about people trying to understand each other. Instead, the film with multiple murders and several acts of violence and mentions of rape is much more accessible. Good on you MPAA.
If you haven’t seen it, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut does a marvelous job of sending up such a backwards and flawed system. In it, Kyle’s mother Sheila, starts a war with Canada over the potty language in one of their movies. It’s so ridiculous and most people dismiss it because it’s A) a cartoon and B) contains some crude humor. Dismissing it on these merits alone is small minded and just because it’s mixed in with some questionable material doesn’t make it all worthless.
It’s a shame that such well-intentioned people such as the MPAA have their priorities so backward because they can be helpful. They’re just not in this case. While Taken might be a more exciting film to watch, Nebraska will teach you about life and that’s something we can all use a little more of.

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On Writing

I’ve finally started to pick up Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing and am enjoying it so far. Even though I’m only at the fifty page mark, it’s very easy to see where he picked up the ideas for some of his most famous works. As he relates to us very specific memories from his early years, it’s easy to tell he was going to make it as a writer in some fashion. It’s inspiring to read about him growing up and putting his own stories out at an early age. He certainly hasn’t stopped as he is one of the most prolific writers out there. He’s a monster. The amount of output he releases is incredible and to keep seeing adaptions of his stories year after years proves his staying power.

 

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I remember this film coming out months ago and wanting to see it but it slipped past me. From all accounts, it was the funniest film of the year so when it finally was released on Blu-Ray, I snatched it up. Then, it sat on my shelf for a few months. I just couldn’t find the right mood to watch it. I wanted to be in maximum humor receiver mode so I could enjoy everything I had heard so many good things about.

Before too long, my friend saw it gathering dust with my other movies and figured he’d give it a shot. He had heard the same things I did and went into it thinking it would be a laugh riot.

He turned it off at the fifteen minute mark.

He couldn’t get past the acting of Seth Rogan, James Franco, Jonah Hill, and crew, which, to be fair, isn’t always acting…especially in a film like this. Nearly everyone of the films when they’re together are improv’d. While it can lead to some fun and unexpected things, it can also drag out in a film.

With my friend’s criticism in mind, I waited another couple weeks to finally sit down and watch it. Immediately, I understood why he didn’t finish the movie. The acting, especially the beginning is horrible. It’s very stilted and jerky and I could almost see them thinking about what they were going to say. It’s very real life speak but watching it in a film is awkward and tedious. It gets marginally better as the film goes on but the believability of people reacting the way they do about things is painful. Granted, it is a comedy and laughing at people’s lack of knowledge has always been an easy way for comedies to go but I just wasn’t into it.

I think it’s the film’s subject matter that made the biggest difference. For those that don’t know, this is an end of the world movie – one of my favorite genres. From Dawn of the Dead to Mad Max, I’m really fascinated with the subject matter of society as we know it being gone and the survivors finding out the best way to do things. Like Robinson Crusoe or MacGyver in making something useful out of the things we wouldn’t expect. I wanted to see more of this world, not watch actors struggling to outdo each other’s jokes. It has it’s place but I wished they were two separate movies.

That being said, there were plenty of funny and interesting things that happen within the two hour running time. The story centers around Seth Rogan as himself showing his fellow actor and childhood friend Jay Baruchel a good time in Hollywood. Seth takes Jay to a party at James Franco’s house that is full of other actors. Since everyone is playing themselves, there is some good natured ribbing between the principle actors. It’s fun to see them bash each other’s films as well as their personal lives. I think it could have been even funnier with some quick and well executed jokes instead of the rambling we got but that’s what we got. The beginning is full of cameos that the current generation will recognize, some playing hilarious and obscene versions of themselves. Micheal Cera and Danny McBride are especially great in their portrayals of themselves.

I also liked the world outside. There isn’t much screen time for the ruins of Hollywood but it really opens the story up nicely. Just hanging out with the guys in the house, it’s easy to dismiss their time as maybe just a paranoid delusion that the world around them is gone. Once they get outside and see what happened to the rest of the city, the true scope of what happened really sits in. There are scenes scattered throughout but they are used more as establishing shots instead of set pieces for the characters to play in.

Overall, I liked this movie just as I liked Pineapple ExpressKnocked Up, and Superbad. There are plenty of laughs and some fun imagery but, like those other films, This Is The End is not a movie that will really stick with me.

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It’s that time of year again, when the temp drop below freezing, when overtime is allowed. It’s miserable work.

I applied to a new job at a different company. A technical writing job. I’ve never done technical writing, so it’ll be a new experience for me if I get it. 

And if I don’t get it…I’ll apply to another one. And I’ll keep applying because if I have to spend another winter standing out in the freezing cold for eight hours a day, I’ll be miserable. I already am.

And I’m sick. It’s difficult to concentrate. To write. To sleep. To do much of anything. My plan tonight is to take some NyQuil and pass the fuck out. Live to fight another day and all that.

I’m trying to get better by drinking plenty of herbal tea, eat pho, and keeping warm. The latter will be the most difficult, especially at work where you have the potential to sweat. This might not seem like a big deal but once you sweat, that sweat freezes, which will only make you colder. Finding a balance is hard and for me, always seems to favor the slightly cold side. That way, once I start moving, my body heat will heat me up enough to be comfortable without sweating. I’m still cold but at least it’s a consistent cold.

It’s still miserable though.

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I never really got into the Fast and Furious films. I watched the first, decided it was a flashier version of Point Break and moved on. Now, six films in, they’ve reached a popularity that far surpassed the original, adding bigger and bigger stars along the way. The later films may have been about these new characters, at least, that’s what the trailers would have you believe. But I always saw Paul Walker’s character as the main character, the focal point. I think it may have transitioned to Vin Diesel at some point but Paul was the good guy in the original and that just stuck with me.

Paul was mostly known for these amped up, car porn movies but I really liked him in films like PleasantvilleEight Below, and Timeline. In these, he was always the good guy and I always liked him as an actor but he never seemed to reach the upper echelon of actors. I never understood why and even in the franchise he helped create, he seemed to be pushed back to a secondary character, under such acting luminaries as Vin and The Rock.

He was underutilized as an actor but after all the good things people who knew him have been saying about him, he wasn’t underutilized as a person. And that’s something we should all want.

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