Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sharing Experiences from the Chicago Monsoon

Everybody will have their own stories about the storm we've been having. It's arguably the biggest rainstorm I've ever experienced, and it's really fun. Admittedly, I'm sure it would be less fun if I or someone I loved was involved in some property damage as a result of this, but right now, I'll accept that it's fun.

Some observations/experiences:

-The bus from the train station was leaking, as if it was a poorly constructed submarine. I kept feeling like I'd hear metal groaning under the weight of the depths.

-I've never been so happy to have Timberland work shoes. They're pretty much all waterproof, which makes for very pleasant walking experiences when walking through a park under an umbrella when the ground is flooded and thousands of gallons of water are coming down and there's lightning all around.

-Because of said lightning and walking though the park (from the bus stop to home) under an umbrella, I've never before thought I'd get hit by lightning. It was kinda scary, but I can't say that it wouldn't be interesting to experience.

-It's so freakin' cool to be standing at a bus depot and almost seeing where lightning struck (it was a few blocks away) when it struck. I felt the blast from the thunder.

-All we're hearing is sirens. They're not so common now, and the rain is dying down, but for a while there, if we heard a vehicle, it was an emergency vehicle.

-I'm happy that we had planned to be home anyway, and that we have leftovers in the fridge.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Excellence in Animation

I've been thinking about this since I saw Ratatouille, and I'm not much closer to a solid conclusion or even a solid direction. However, writing is all about structuring your thoughts, so here ya go.

Ratatouille is arguably one of the worst concepts I've heard of for an animated movie. Yay. A rat who cooks. I really wasn't all that interested in seeing it, but Pixar had wowed me on another bad-concept-good-execution movie, Cars (Yay. Talking cars. What will they think of next, a cooking rat?). The only reason I saw this movie was that it was Pixar, and I trusted their work. And I was right to trust their work, as only a group of people as skilled as the folks at Pixar could make that concept work. See the movie. It's freakin' amazing, and includes one of the funniest moments I've seen in any Pixar film.

Hayao Miyazaki has been my vote for the greatest animation director of all time (even surpassing Walt Disney) since I understood what animation directing was. I clearly remember seeing Princess Mononoke in the theatres, and leaving with an altered perspective on life. That movie is, for lack of a better term, transcendent. The man has an uncanny knack for creating some of the most amazing scenes and/or animations for whichever genre he happens to be doing.

Brad Bird, however, has made me challenge my beliefs. His first film, The Iron Giant, started as The Iron Man, a novel written in 1968 by Ted Hughes. In 1989, Pete Townshend (of The Who) released an album based off of The Iron Man, one that I remember had a frequent spot in my car's cassette player at the time. In 1993, a stage musical was created based off of this album. This musical was optioned by Warner Brothers for a film. The final story of The Iron Giant is dramatically different than that of The Iron Man, but I think the changes made it a better movie (and I think it's cool that Pete Townshend was named an Executive Producer on the movie). In any case, when I saw The Iron Giant, I was torn. Was this the best animated movie I'd ever seen? Or did Princess Mononoke still hold that spot? They're very different movies, and based off of that, I chose to not make a decision at the time.

Life moved on (as it often does) and I watched more movies, some of them animated, some of them not. I saw Spirited Away, another of Miyazaki's films. This one was more subtle and ethereal than Princess Mononoke. I didn't care for it as much as the previous film, but I did find it fascinating.

Time passed and I saw more movies. The Incredibles, written by Brad Bird and him alone (he also directed, but animation is much more collaborative than any other style of filmmaking; directing isn't as auteur as it sounds in this context) was next on the list, and also added to the debate of my favorite animated movie of all time. This was his first jaunt with Pixar, and at the time, I just wanted to see the next Pixar film. I also loved the concept, and was excited about this film since I saw the teaser trailer the year before (it's the one where Mr. Incredible is trying to put on the belt of his supersuit over his fat gut, and the belt buckle pops off and ricochets around the room). I didn't know it was Brad Bird doing it; it wasn't until I was watching the first several credits that I realized, hey, that's the guy that did Iron Giant! Hmmm, the man is talented.

Brad Bird had done two of the movies I thought could be the best animated films of all time. Hayao Miyazaki did one, but I hadn't seen all of Miyazaki's work, and I pretty much had seen all of Bird's. Still, he was rapidly gaining ground.

I saw a few other Miyazaki films since then. My Neighbor Totoro is notable not so much for the story (although it is really cute), but more for the characterization of the younger two girls. I have never in my life seen a characterization in a movie as convincing as the portrayal of the youngest girl (about four or five years old); not even when it was played by a live action four or five year old. I was floored by how "real" that show was, especially when it was very much a fantasy.

Rataouille is actually my least favorite Brad Bird film. Not because it's not a fantastic film, but rather because it doesn't make me question whether or not this is the best animated film I've ever seen. But it did hit another home run for Bird.

So I've been thinking about this for nearly a month; who is the better of the two. I have a problem picking favorites. There are so many variables that it's very difficult to point out this one thing is better on all levels (or even enough to count) than anything else. They're both amazing, but for different reasons. They both have a mastery of not only the medium, but of whichever genre they choose to animate. I still ahven't seen a lot of Miyazaki, due to the fact that most of his work hasn't been translated to English. And I think that right there is what tears it. Miyazaki is Japanese. There's a cultural difference. I don't always "get" Miyazaki, in part because I haven't lived in the Japanese culture for any length of time. I know they're much more interested in ephemeral narratives, that don't necessarily make a lot of sense to Western minds. The denoument doesn't necessarily leave an American audience satisfied, as if something "more" should have ended the story. This generally doesn't apply to Miyazaki's work, but its influence is still there.

I think, therefore, that because I am American and Brad Bird is American, I will call him my favorite. On the whole, I think Miyazaki is actually (marginally) the better of the two, but I have a deeper understanding of the cuture from which Bird creates. That's why I feel as though I'm missing something with Miyazaki sometimes.

So there ya have it. Thanks for sticking with me through my somewhat self-indulgent ramblings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The move

So we moved. I'm right now sitting in my new living room, the only room that's in any sort of order right now. I didn't write about the move prior to today, as we were both zombies for quite some time, and I didn't have the internet hooked up. Lo and behold, my craving for living brains has subsided, and I hooked up the router, and here is a very post.

I've never moved with this much crap. I had some furniture last year, Heidi had her stuff, and we bought some more stuff together. Then the wedding presents came in. We have a lot of stuff.

After the move, we both slept like stone out of pure exhaustion. Then I thought, we really didn't move much. Sure we were coordinating, and I assisted with the destruction/construction of the bedframe, but we didn't do hardly any of the carrying. We hired movers to do the bulk of the dirty work, and I can't freakin' imagine doing that job on a regular basis. They spent nearly eight hours in 90+ degrees carrying our crap. They were hot, they were sweating like pigs, they were exhausted, and they were fine with it. They got compensated handsomely for it, but they earned every penny of it.

So anyway, the new place is currently a mess, and we need to get a lot of things organized, but it's our home for the next few years. And we're here. The worst part is over.

Stay tuned for the housewarming party.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I heard nothing about the movie Stardust prior to it coming out. I saw the placard in the movie theatre, and thought it looked interesting, but nothing beyond that. When I mentioned it to Heidi as looking interesting, she was thinking the same thing. To take a break from the car panic and the packing frenzy, we chose to go see a fun little happy movie. Indeed, it was fun, happy and a movie. Not so much on the little.

This is one of the grander adventures I've seen in a while. I loved Lord of the Rings, but it was an epic quest, not really an adventure. It's a story of a young English man by the name of Tristran (Charlie Cox) living in the 19th century from the village of Wall. Aptly named, the town is near a very long wall with one gap in it. Not many people know of it, but the wall separates England from Stormhold, a magical, mythical fantasy realm, ruled by a monarchy based almost entirely on fratricide. The king of Stormhold (Peter O'Toole) lies dying, somewhat passive aggressively chastising his four remaining living sons that they haven't killed one another off yet. Meanwhile, the dead sons' ghosts are providing a hilarious commentary on various situations as they follow the action along, waiting for the next king to be crowned before they can pass on to their actual afterlife. The king decrees that the next king will not only be the last living male heir of the line, but the one who restores his diadem/amulet/necklace. As he dies, the ruby flies from his castle into the sky. Menawhile, Tristram is trying to win Victoria's (his female obsession) heart by spending his entire savings on a champagne picnic under the stars. She mentions that his rival will return in a week with a ring for her, they see a star falling from the sky and Tristram promises he will bring that star back for her before the week is out, in return for her hand in marriage (and yes, it's even more pathetic in the movie). The star is on the other side of the wall, and Tristram makes it across. As it happens, the star is a lovely young woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes), who was knocked out of the sky by the king's diadem. Michelle Pfeiffer plays a hideous old witch who stays young and beautiful through easting the heart of a star. When she sees the falling star, she heads out to get her and her sisters Yvaine's heart. Sounds like a complex setup, doesn't it? It is, and it makes for a fantastic experience.

The princes are simultaneously trying to off their siblings while racing to find and restore the ruby. Lamia is desperately trying to find the star so she can cut out her heart. Tristram is, somewhat ineptly at first, trying to get Yvaine back across the wall to Victoria. Eventually the one remaining prince realizes that if he eats the star's heart, then he will live forever and establish a kingdom eternally under his rule. Through the various travels and misadventures, we meet fun and quirky characters (particularly Robert De Niro playing a sky pirate trying to hide his flamboyantly gay side from his rough-and-tumble priate crew) , see amazing sights, and are along for a great ride.

This is a wonderful movie. It's akin to The Princess Bride in that it's a fun and dynamic adventure, with a quirky sense of humor, but it's more complex and smarter than The Princess Bride. It inspires me to be a man, to be noble, to be an adventurer. It inspires me to love my wife and to be truthful to my heart. It makes me feel like a big kid again. It actually makes me beleive that a story can actually end "Happily Ever After." It's almost as if it's a two hour advertisement for an exciting life.

I'm not sure if this is going to be an all-time favorite (although it'll be in the short list for 2007), but it will be one of those films that I can see once a month for the rest of my life and have as much fun the 157th time as I did the first. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I saw this in church on Sunday. Frekin' beautiful (FYI, watch past the first minute or you'll miss a lot).

Did you see me waving?

Hey, you know that Metra train that derailed? I was on that.

It was just the back two cars. Nobody was hurt, just a few people were annoyed, and we all got to work an hour later than anticipated. Here's what I know happened: we stopped, we started again, and we stopped again. The conductor got on the PA and told us we'd derailed the back two cars. Here's what I think happened. We stopped with the front five cars on one end of a switch, and the back two on another end. Somebody turned the switch, and we started moving, pulling the two back cars off.

Yay for an adventure on a Monday morning commute!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gotham Ongoing

The new Batman movie is using the Post Office Building for a lot of things. Set, staging area, all sorts of crap. For weeks, I've seen film trucks outside and signs pointing to the set. It's getting almost commonplace. I lived in LA, and worked in film (occasionally). This really isn't that big a deal, but (A) it's freakin' Batman and (B) it's freakin' Chicago!

Anyway, to share the love, here's a couple shots taken with my crappy camera phone. The Gotham Police department here was zoomed in about as far as my phone will go, and subsequently cropped, so it doesn't have much of the image, but doesn't really need much either.

The truck here is sort of a maybe. Don't know much about it, although I'm sure it'll all come together when I see the movie next summer. You can't quite tell, but it looks to me inside like there's a lot of pyrotechnic gear. And it's an upside down smashed truck on top of another truck that's supposed to cart it to its location.

That's all I got.