Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A Side Benefit of Travel

Brewers 8, Cubs 5

One of the great things about traveling for business is getting to spend the off-hours getting to know the city you're in. Chicago is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities, for many reasons I won't go into here. But when I am on the road, it's nice to try and enrich myself by meeting people, trying new restaurants, and seeing places I might normally not get to see.

Tonight after work my destination was Wrigley Field. Although I am not a Cubs fan, the ballpark is one of the nation's oldest, built in 1914 at a cost of $250,000. The 27-foot high scoreboard (which is 85 feet off the ground) was built in 1937, and, yes, the stats are still changed by hand. The park was packed, despite eight consecutive losses at home, and the fans here on Chicago's North side are die hard.

I enjoyed the game very much, even though I was in the company of a couple of natives from Chicago's South Side (read: White Sox fans). My friend Bill O. swallowed his pride and attended the game with me, marking not only my first ever Cubs game at Wrigley Field, but his also. This was not Bill's first trip to Wrigley, however; he attended Chicago Bears games at Wrigley prior to their move to Soldier Field in 1971.

Trivia: The 1906 Cubs had 116 wins that season, a record tied in 2001 by my beloved Seattle Mariners.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Complaining About the Heat

My good friend and fellow blogger Rick posted something about how hot it's been in Columbia, South Carolina, and made mention of the fact that he cranked up the A/C in his car and his home, his glass of cola "filled appropriately with ice."

(How would one fill a coke glass inappropriately?)

The National Weather Service has issued this bulletin for Western Washington state:


My glass too will be appropriately filled with ice tomorrow, but I, like most others in the Puget Sound region, have no air conditioning in my home.

So Rick, thanks for gripe. I raise my iced cold Diet Coke to you and add my voice to yours as we complain about the heat. Oh - if you get the chance, could you email some extra cold air from your air vent? When it arrives I will open the file and cool the downstairs living room.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Got Milk? Check the Expiration Date

In planning my attendance at this year's Seattle International Film Festival, I chose, as always, to include several independent films among the movies I scheduled to attend. Film festivals such as SIFF are to a great degree about independent film, and many indies would never find an audience without the fests. I chose to screen a few indies based on how well they had been received at other festivals. I based my decision to see one indie purely on its premise, which I found both peculiar and amusing.

Shot on location in Seattle, Expiration Date is the story of Charlie Silvercloud. As he approaches his 25th birthday, he is burdened by the fact that all of the other men in his family died on their 25th birthdays, each punching out in a comically tragic incident involving a milk truck. But it is on the verge of his demise, as Charlie prepares for his own funeral, that he learns what it means to truly live.

Executing such a premise can be a dangerous thing for a filmmaker. But director Rick Stevenson fashions the nutty concept into a black comedy that is both funny and tender, a thing that works thanks in no small part to excellent casting. Robert A. Guthrie delivers a restrained comic performance as Silvercloud, and Dee Wallace Stone adds both heart and comedy as Silvercloud's mother, who desperately wants a grandchild before her son's fatal appointment with a milk truck.

Milkmen from Smith Brother's Farms provided milk to the entire audience at our June 17th screening. I had chocolate, which was cold, smooth, creamy and delicious! Expiration Date may very well be the most memorable experience for me at this year's Seattle Film Festival, and ranks as one of the few films I saw at the festival this year that I would be eager to soon see again.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Monster House

Gil Kenan described himself as lucky when his film school short ended up in the hands of Robert Zemickis (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump). Zemickis and Steven Spielberg had been kicking around an idea to make a movie about a monster house, and tapped the film school grad to direct his first picture.

I don't know why I chose to see the film Monster House, from Sony's Columbia Pictures, which will be released everywhere July 21st. I typically take my five-year-old daughter to see the animated films when they arrive at our local cineplex, and I could have chosen to see a new documentary or indie flick instead. Perhaps it gave me an opportunity to screen the film for inappropriate content before taking my child, or perhaps I just liked the title. Whatever the reason, I was glad to be apart of the first U.S. audience to see this film, which stars Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Heder, Fred Willard, Kathleen Turner and a trio of terrific child actors.

The film was not animated traditionally; instead, the filmmakers spent 34 days shooting the film with live actors using motion capture technology. This is the same technology that brought King Kong and The Lord of the Rings' Gollum to life. The result is an animated style that is fluid and provides the characters with a resonance that rings true.

I found the film very imaginative and entertaining, and enjoyed it immensely. The characters are compelling and ring true. There are a number of very scary moments, and it features an on-screen animated death that is darkly comic. In my opinion, the film is better suited for the older kids.

There is a scene in the film where the monster house, played by Kathleen Turner, uproots itself and goes on a rampage through the neighborhood. Kenan said he was actually able to convince Turner to perform the scene as the house. If you see the film, remember that scene was created by one of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses flailing about and pulling herself around a tiny neighborhood set by her hands. Perhaps that footage will show up as an extra on the DVD.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Notes on a Couple of Movies

This past week I attended a session of "Talking Pictures," a program in which well-known creative-types introduce a favorite film and lead a post-screening discussion. Artist Dale Chihuly introduced one of his favorite films in an archival presentation of Lonely are the Brave. This 1962 film about a cowboy whose world is has been encroached upon by modern society was a delightful discovery. It stars Kirk Douglas, Walter Matthau, and Gena Rowlands, and is Douglas's personal career favorite.

The following night was set aside for the French film, OSS 117: Nest of Spies. Although few on this side of the pond know much about the exploits of the Bond-esque Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, the character has been thrilling and amusing audiences in France since 1956 in both print and on film. In this comedy/adventure set in 1955, Hubert is assigned a mission to Cairo to protect the Suez Canal and to restore peace to the Middle East. The production is fist rate, well-produced and very funny. It plays like an odd combination of espionage thriller, satire and farce.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Dose of Film Noir

I spent Sunday getting a dose of film noir at the Seattle Film Festival, screening a couple of rarely seen archival presentations at the Egyptian Theater. They were presented by Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation, a non-profit group dedicated to the preservation and restoration of this most American motion picture genre.

Muller pointed out that there are a number of movies which are in danger of vanishing or have disappeared altogether. Period negatives and prints from our film heritage have been misplaced or in some cases are simply disintegrating. Muller introduced two films that his organization has helped bring back from the brink of oblivion.

The first was a film that has not been screened in more than fifty years, the 1950 thriller The Man Who Cheated Himself starring Lee J. Cobb and Jane Wyatt. Shot on location in San Francisco, this dark tale of a cop who protects his mistress after she murders her husband was taut and well received by our Seattle audience.

The Window, released in 1949, stars Disney regular Bobby Driscoll as the boy who cried wolf. In this case, the nine-year-old teller of tall tales cannot convince his parents or the police that he witnessed a murder through a window outside his New York apartment. The film received the Edgar Award for best picture, 1950, and was nominated for a Writer's Guild Award for best American drama. The screenplay was based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich. Coincidentally, Woolrich wrote a similarly themed story that became Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Film Festival Adventure Continues

I continue to attend screenings at the ongoing Seattle International Film Festival, and the experience this year has been quite wonderful. There have been a couple of delightful cinematic surprises these past two weeks which I am not allowed to commit to print, a few enjoyable shorts, as well as the occasional unavoidable dud (among them, the overrated The Puffy Chair).

There was one oddly uncomfortable moment during the screening of an independent film where I was seated on the second row. Many of the films' directors, writers, and stars attend the screenings, particularly those films premiering at the festival. Prior to this one screening, the SIFF host introduced the director to the audience, who happened to be seated next to me. As one who appreciates film, particularly independent film, it was difficult for me to fully enjoy the screening knowing the director of the picture was at my elbow. Questions kept circling in my mind: What if I yawn? What if I laugh at the wrong place? What if, heaven forbid, I doze? It is rather late, after all.

In the end, while I appreciated the work of the filmmaker, the movie left me feeling a little underwhelmed. But I managed not to doze while sitting next to the director whose movie was being screened for a large audience for the first time.