Lessons from childhood movies

Who the Great Bambino is.

Life is like a mop…

The best way to get want you want is to be adorable and polite.

Dinosaurs can sing. No big deal.

Bullies have existed across all species and eons.

The most effective way to instill a life lesson is to put it to song.

In the end, kids will prevail.


Movie trailers: too much of a good thing?

When you go see a movie, sitting through about 20 minutes of trailers before the movie is the norm, according to a May 30 article from NPR.

But in response to many moviegoers’ complaints about trailer lengths, the National Association of Theater Owners is calling for change, according to a May 28 article from The Hollywood Reporter.

Under the proposed restrictions, movie studios would have to limit their trailers to two minutes, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Theater owners are unhappy with the delays from trailers and subsequent complaints from patrons, according to NPR.

Movie Theater

Movie Theater (Photo credit: roeyahram)

Movie studios currently follow voluntary MPAA guidelines which limit trailers to 2.5 minutes and allow one exception per year. (This year, Warner Bros.’ trailer for “Man of Steel” is three minutes long.)

Like the current regulations, the new guidelines would be voluntary. Individual theaters could choose whether to uphold the restrictions, and individual studios could choose whether to abide by them.

Some Hollywood studios argue against the guidelines, citing that they need 2.5 minutes to convey the movie’s story and intrigue, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

If NATO decides to endorse the restrictions, moviegoers may notice changes at theaters. Some theaters could potentially choose to show only shorter trailers, while others would continue to show longer ones. The ones with shorter trailers may choose to simply show more trailers, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

This could create a new form of competition for theaters. Some patrons may choose to go to theaters which show fewer trailers; others may choose the ones that show shorter trailers.

In general, trailers and movie theaters frustrate me. I cringe every time I play $7.50 to go to a night show, and then I feel cheated into watching so many long trailers, many of which don’t even show the film’s release date. And more often then not in the case of comedies and chick flicks, the trailers reveal the all the movie’s funniest jokes, and if I ever go to see that movie (which I rarely do), the element of surprise is gone.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to all movie trailers. They’ve become a quintessential part of the moviegoing experience as well as a very effective marketing tool. However, there can be too much of a good thing, and my primary reason for going to a theater is to watch a movie, not a bunch of drawn-out, melodramatic commercials.

In our capitalistic society, businesses should be able to compete. If a theater receives complaints about the wait before a movie, they should be allowed to take steps to take control what they show to deal with those complaints. If they make more money than other theaters for pleasing their customers, they deserve it.


What the classes don’t teach

As a liberal arts student, I’ve had the opportunity (and have been required) to take courses on a wide array of topics, from Voice and Diction (tongue teasers galore!) to Digital Photography (more PhotoShop tips than you can shake a stick at), from Sun and Solar Systems (more math than I expected) to Spirituality in Literature (all the spiritualities!).

But for all the nuggets of knowledge I have I collected, the best have come from outside the classroom. While it was tough to move to the next state over to a place where I knew almost no one, I’m glad I did.

Living in a dorm is like a liberal arts experience of its own. Depending on the types of people you live with, new experiences build up. Doing normal things, such as washing dishes, trying to fall asleep and coordinating shower times, become learning opportunities simply because they involve working with new people.

Here are some nonacademic nuggets I’ve picked up over the last three years:

  1. It’s impossible to kid yourself into majoring in a field that’s not meant for you. Don’t lie to yourself.

  2. There’s no shame in looking to the simple things for fun. Think sidewalk chalk.

  3. With a good nickname, you’ll go far.

  4. Don’t put leftover cooking oil down the toilet. It may seem like a good idea, but it’s not.

  5. Dryer sheets are one of the most versatile inventions known to man. Besides their obvious use for laundry, they also repel bugs, get rid of static in hair, remove adhesive residue and double as an air freshener for any room or closet.

  6. You don’t really know someone until you live with them. Living together is the test.

  7. A good backpack will be your best friend, especially on a hilly campus.

  8. Baking soda removes coffee and tea stains from mugs. Good to remember after marathon study sessions, which almost always require caffeine.

  9. Sometimes the best alarm clock is your roommate and/or suitemate. Especially if they have a blow-horn app on their phone.

  10. Breakfast is your friend and cannot be replaced by caffeine.

  11. It’s okay to change, and it’s okay to move on.

Today I’d like to issue a public apology.

Dear any and all drivers on Manchester Road between 1:30 and 2:00 this afternoon,

I am sorry assaulting your ears with the bluegrass blaring from my open car windows. I am sorry I turned the volume on my radio up to 18. I am sorry I opened both front windows instead of the usual one. I am sorry I did not take pity on you and close those windows at the stoplight.

2005 picture of USA banjo player Earl Scruggs

2005 picture of USA banjo player Earl Scruggs (source: Wikipedia)

I understand that some people have a great opposition to country music. I understand that for these people, bluegrass is especially offensive since it is the most exceedingly country of all country music. I understand that I may have made some of these people’s ears bleed and eye muscles involuntarily twitch. Please let me explain myself.

Consider this post my “coming out” as a closet bluegrass lover (although my post on Dolly Parton may have been a hint). I love bluegrass and always have–the driving beats, varied instrumentation and tight harmonies. I’ve always been the only one who will gladly sit through one of my grandpa’s old country records in its entirety without cringing or leaving the room. If you’re looking for someone to blame for my transgressive musical quirks, he’s your man. There is no other explanation.

And I’m not talking about the hipster type of bluegrass (cough cough Momford & Sons) that seems to have come out of the woodwork in the last couple of years. The object of my affection is the stuff that has been around since your granddaddy’s heyday. The twangier the instrumentation and the scratchier the recording, the better.

But my love for twang faces one critical obstacle: the time of year. For whatever reason, I listen to certain musical genres and artists according to seasons and even certain settings. For example, I only listen to J. Tillman in the winter, and I only play Ben Fold’s album “Songs for Silverman” when I’m at an airport or driving through Amish country. (Don’t ask my why.) So for me, hardcore bluegrass is only appropriate from May through September. It just doesn’t work any other time of year, so I relish in it while I can.

And with certain aforementioned hipsters trying to encroach on the music I love, it can be difficult to find authentic music these days. I make a point of driving somewhere (anywhere) on summer Sundays between noon and 2 p.m. to catch the Bluegrass Breakdown show on KDHX, St. Louis’ independent radio station. They got the good stuff.

The fact that I did not roll up my windows even as the cars lined up beside me at the stoplight today is perhaps a sign that I went a little overboard. Again, I’m sorry for any ear bleeding.

Sincerely yours,

The driver of the car in the next lane.

Vine: giving the artistic inch

Give ’em and inch, and they’ll take a mile. This could be a good thing or a bad thing.

In January Twitter released the Vine app, which allows users to shoot and edit six-second video loops with only a few taps of their fingers.


Apple iPhone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In March Marvel used it to produce a trailer for this summer’s “The Wolverine.” The app reached the top of the overall best free app list two months ago and currently holds the number four spot.

It’s like the Twitter of the video world. The artistic challenge is to cram as much content, impact and creativity into a tiny space. On the other hand, this concept could also be an artistic downfall.

Making the video-making process that easy reduces the value of good craftsmanship. Anyone–artists and non-artists alike–can now piece videos together, so we can expect to see Vines of all types. Unfortunately, there’s no quality control.

Like Twitter, you’ll find well-constructed, clever videos. And you’ll also find pointless ones (like those “Here’s what I had for lunch!” tweets) as well as stupid or even downright embarrassing ones. (Luckily, Seenive has collected some examples of this latter category.)

As Vine continues to grow in popularity, it may take more searching to find the better ones. But rest assured; they do exist. People are using Vine to make bite-sized bits of video art, employing rapid storytelling and stop-motion techniques.

Following in Twitter’s footsteps, Vine is yet another example of the Internet’s sped-up and short-attention sense of humor. The quality of the content depends on who you follow. I recommend subscribing to FunnyVines on Youtube or following them on Twitter. Follow individual users at your own risk!

Chick flicks are sort of like Shakespearean dramas… sort of.

When Elizabethans went out on the town for one of Shakespeare’s plays, they knew more or less what to expect. His tragedies end with deaths, and his comedies end with weddings or betrothals.

And when today’s audiences sit down to watch a chick flick, they know in the backs of their minds what to expect. A chick flick almost always goes like this:

  1. She is probably a publisher, designer or architect.
  2. He has an impeccably clean and stylish house…somehow.
  3. They meet in an “unconventional” way. A bus stop? A friend’s wedding? Who would have thought of that?
  4. The actors that play their parents look way younger than their characters are supposed to be, and the actors who play their teenage siblings look way older than their characters are supposed to be.
  5. Only the trendiest soundtrack with a few 80s classics or oldies sprinkled in. You know, for quirkiness.
  6. Unnecessary sex or make-out scene. Maybe two for good measure.
  7. Product placement, including fancy SUVs and shiny cell phones.
  8. Suddenly, tragedy. One conversation, one misunderstanding, ten minutes of sappy music and…everything changes. Will their relationship survive?!
  9. Her father dishes out some quirky advice and she follows it, because she’s daddy’s little girl.
  10. He realizes he can’t live without her and runs, drives, sails or flies to “get her back,” because that’s what men do.
  11. Dramatic makeup scene complete with inclement weather and declarations of eternal love.
  12. Wedding dance montage! All conflicts are suddenly resolved! Fade or freeze-frame to credits!

I guess if a certain formula works (by some people’s standards), why change it?

You are who you are on the Internet

You are who your social media profiles say you are. One veteran anchorman with St. Louis’ KMOV-TV has recently brought that fact to light.

Larry Connors, longtime anchorman with “News 4 St. Louis,” posted on his Facebook page May 13 claiming that the IRS had been targeting him following his April 2012 interview with President Barak Obama.

In the post, now removed from the page and quoted in an article on stltoday.com, Connors stated, “I don’t accept ‘conspiracy theories,’ but I do know that almost immediately after the interview, the IRS started hammering me…What I don’t like to even consider … is that because of the Obama interview … the IRS put a target on me.

Can I prove it? At this time, no. But it is a fact that since that April 2012 interview … the IRS has been pressuring me.”

On Tuesday Connors backed off the comment during KMOV’s evening newscast, saying, “To be fair, I should disclose that my issues with the IRS preceded that interview (with Obama) by several years.”

And now Connors is facing the consequences. He is off the air until further notice and was scheduled to meet with KMOV executives today to discuss his future.

He is a reporter using a Facebook page with his name on it to report the news. His speculations, which Connors himself later admitted were inaccurate, hint at paranoia and bias against the Obama administration and the IRS. They have no place on that page or anywhere in Connors’ reporting. He should have kept them private instead of broadcasting them to his followers who rely on him for news coverage.

The fiasco is not only embarrassing for Connors and KMOV, but it provides keen insight into the ambiguity of the use of social media.

If Connors wasn’t a reporter, he could post those comments on the page without jeopardizing his professional reputation. But reporters take on the responsibility of being fair, unbiassed and accurate; therefore, as a reporter, Connors has forfeited the privilege of writing whatever he wants on social media.

Because our personal profiles are supposed to represent who we are to anyone viewing them, social media makes it easy for anyone, not just reporters, to embarrass or even incriminate themselves.

For instance, it would be unwise for a corrections officer to post photos of themselves participating in illegal activities online.  That officer would gain the reputation as an unprofessional representative of his profession, just as Larry Connors’ statement has led many to believe him an unprofessional journalist.

Our roles and responsibilities in society determine our roles and responsibilities on social media. Some professionals must forfeit certain privileges and keep certain aspects of their life private to preserve their professional reputations.

That time I had to watch a French film

Last semester I had to choose a French movie to watch for an assignment in French 102. I selected “Entre Les Murs” (“In Between the Walls”), which I’d heard described as the French version of the “Freedom Writers.” The documentary-within-a-movie follows a young French teacher as he spends a school year struggling to connect with students in a diverse, inner-city Paris neighborhood.

Cover of

But when I finished the movie, all I could do was sit open-mouthed and wonder what exactly had happened. Throughout the two-hour movie M. Marin had tried his hardest to teach the students French grammar and creative writing, sometimes becoming losing his temper or making short-lived breakthroughs, but all for nothing.

The movie’s ending wasn’t tragic, but it was far from happy and left lots of loose ends to try to sort through. There was no explanation about what happened to any of the students after the end of the school year, and it was clear that M. Marin had failed to connect with most of them.

What was the point? I was almost offended, wishing I hadn’t wasted my time.

Luckily our class discussion and some of my own research made me understand exactly what I’d watched.

Ambiguous endings like these are left over from the La Nouvelle Vague, or the New Wave movement. These filmmakers had grown tired of the tidy, formulaic movies of previous generations. Inspired by the tragic realities of living in occupied France during World War II, they began to focus on realism, using location filming, discontinuous editing and non-linear story lines.

While “Entre Les Murs” did not exhibit all the hallmarks of this style, its unresolved conflicts and open ending served as a vivid example.

I’m used to American films, where even if the ending isn’t happy, tensions are resolved and the audience can easily predict what will happen to the characters. The style of “Entre Les Murs” isn’t bad or wrong; it’s simply rooted in realism in a way that most American movies aren’t. Sometimes life itself is open-ended without clear answers, and the endings of French films tend to illustrate that.

This experience was one of those liberal arts moments. I often get frustrated having to spend time studying subjects like ethics, statistics and French. The assignment to watch a French film seemed straight forward enough, but I was grateful I ended up finding a new appreciation for something I’d never expected to learn about.

Seven stereotypes I’m guilty of

As unique as I like to think I am, there are some qualities I just can’t escape.

  1. Missourian: I have been known to slip up and say “farty” instead of “forty,” even occasionally uttering the quintessential “warshington.”
  2. Cat person: If I don’t want to leave my room, I won’t. I don’t care if you invited friends over. (But thankfully, I’m not as bad as this guy.)
  3. Liberal arts student: I learned about eight track tapes in Mass Media, David Hume in Logic and Nature and where to find a dead rat’s bladder in Biology. All in the same academic year.
  4. Catholic: The Rosary around my rearview mirror almost hit me in the face once while I made a sharp turn.
  5. St. Louisan: I, too, ask that big question.
  6. English major: Reading Chrétien de Troyes in a coffee shop. It happens.
  7. Mass communications major: Whenever I hear friends talking about what they heard in the news: “Who reported that??” 

Luhrmann’s Gatsby: Well-woven and not altogether disappointing

I’m a bit of a literary purist, so I can’t help but be disappointed by some of the details of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. However, I’m not totally disappointed by the film as a whole. It could have been a lot worse, but Luhrmann could have been more true to the story.

I understand why Luhrmann made the changes he did, but at times I felt he was spoon-feeding information to those who’ve never read the novel.

The cover of the first edition of The Great Ga...

The cover of the first edition of The Great Gatsby (1925) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the film, Tom tells Wilson that Gatsby owned the car that killed Myrtle, whereas in the book Wilson finds out through his own detective work and kills Gatsby assuming him to be the man Myrtle was seeing. I assume Luhrmann made that change to help viewers understand how Wilson came to suspect and murder Gatsby, but it takes away quite a bit of the drama surrounding the murders. It also places some guilt on Tom’s shoulders, making him at least partially responsible for Gatsby’s murder; that element simply does not exist in the book and holds no place in the story.

Equally disappointing were the changes made to Gatsby’s funeral. Nick tells the audience directly in his narration how many people he had called to invite to the funeral, but I wished Luhrmann would have showed the calls and the refusals to attend in order to create a greater emotional impact. Contrary to what the film showed, one person did show up at the funeral: his father. His appearance illustrated that Gatsby could not escape his unexceptional roots and the poverty of his past, and leaving it out left a loose end that could have been tied up.

Despite what Luhrmann left out, he did seamlessly blend some of the other significant points of the novel into the film. He exceeded my expectations with Myrtle’s death. Fitzgerald describes each gory detail in the novel, and Luhrmann echoed that drama by showing us the gore. Again, and again, and again. I’d worried that Luhrmann would soften the scene or completely chicken out, showing no more than a dead limb or flash of light. But he showed the injuries and emotions described in the book to the utmost detail.

Luhrmann also showed no hesitation to introduce the audience to Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. I’d suspected that Luhrmann would skip all the religious symbolism to avoid offending anyone, but he made it clear that the billboard’s presence mirrored that of God.

As for the music, the more modern music matched the tempo and intensity of the party scenes. Surprisingly, it was the instrumental music which outright offended me. At certain points, such as when Gatsby and Daisy met at Nick’s, the music was too cutesy and intrusive. The actors held their own, and the music was not necessary to portray their emotions.

Luhrmann crafted the film with the intention of pleasing all audiences. He knew that most had not read the novel (at least not since high school or college) but acknowledged the picky Gatsby fans like me. He included certain specific details (such as the dancing twins in yellow dresses) for die-hards, but also made the essential plot elements easy to understand for the others.

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