Ten More Movies: May 2014 to June 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Godzilla at Zurich Cinemas Pittsford 9 on May 16: Jenn wanted to go see this and I figured, "what the heck?" We haven't been to a mainstream movie-house in a while, so why not jump right in on a Friday night with the masses? The monsters that appear first—the MUTAs—represent the U.S. and its insatiable military-industrial complex. They have squared beaks much like stylized eagles and literally feed on the U.S. weaponry. Godzilla, the monster representing the natural world, appears in order to stop the MUTAs: a thinly-veiled allegory for the climate change that will disrupt the food and water supply, revealing the solely profit-centric Americans to be wholly unable to care for themselves. As far as the movie for entertainment sake, if you can get past the un-enumerable technical flaws and errors, and avoid thinking about September 11, it's pretty cool to see the monsters rip up major cities.
  2. Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) at the Dryden on May 22: Jenn and I went to see this film by Akira Kurosawa. It's about a Japanese guy who, after World War II, clings to his bravado by siding with the gangs that formed. It would be easy to make an argument that it's an allegory for Japan itself clinging to bravado in the face of the devastation after the war. The film is heartbreaking to watch—whether through Matsunaga's descent, Japan's allegorical descent, or actual footage of bombed-out Japan.
  3. Fargo at the Dryden on May 31: Jenn and I revisited this favorite of ours. It's been a while since I've seen it on the big screen, and doing so was a rewarding experience. Curiously, I don't feel like it loses much watching at home, but sitting with a group of strangers in a darkened room is rewarding enough. The story (for those who don't know) is a crime of extortion gone wrong. The unique twist is it involves very human-like characters getting in deeper than they can handle, making reasonable mistakes, and having reasonable twists of luck. The other unique aspect is it's set in North Dakota and Minnesota in winter, and nearly all the characters speak with a strong regional Minnesota accent. Anyway, it still holds up: its biggest flaw may be that it was shot in a far milder winter than it was set, so characters appear overdressed to one who has a keen sense of what a cold winter looks like. Also, I still like my favorite short scene: when Jerry Lundegaard has a setback, his frustration is revealed as he tries to scrape impenetrable ice off a windshield. Perhaps it's because I've both experienced that particular challenge and have never seen it utilized in a film to such great effect.
  4. Cold in July at the Little, June 1: Jenn and I got a chance to see this as it was the most promising in the Little's line-up. The gist is a guy kills an intruder in his house and the father of the murdered man returns for revenge. Up to this point, it's about a man's internal conflict about life, death, and killing, and whether redemption and forgiveness can be found. But then the the second-act conflict hits and it felt more like the screenwriter was out of his depth than a legitimate course of events (and, since based on a novel, it may very well have been the novelist was out of his depth, but I hadn't read it so I can't say for sure.) There's a few loose ends that go unexplained, but I was more disappointed that the interesting psychological exploration trail goes dead.
  5. Chef at the Little, June 4: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this and it was better than I expected. I also expected a standard 3-act structure, but it's a feel-good movie and lacks any conflict throughout. Nonetheless, it's a great movie to watch if you like fine food, and it's just a nice movie. I wonder if the Twitter elements will seem absurd or dated (and it was bordering on a big advertisement for Twitter—at least as much as The Internship was an ad for Google.)
  6. Urgh! A Music War at the Dryden, June 7: I really had no idea what to expect of this film; it is entirely footage of 1980's punk and (truly) alternative acts performing in front of audiences. It's not bad for a concert-footage film, and the acts are very varied and some almost never filmed. Toward the end of the film—about midway through the performance by "X"—I realized I was having an emotional reaction to a recording and got kind of irritated about that. I was experiencing a false nostalgia for events I never witnessed. And then I had the experience of the projection being seen as a series of flashing images in a darkened room: a painfully Allegory-of-the-Cave moment.
  7. The Big Lebowski at the Dryden, June 8: Maybe I've seen this too much and maybe I was just tired, but I was not nearly as amused by this quirky comedic noir this time around. It's still a lot of fun, but I may have seen it too much.
  8. Le Week-End at the Cinema, June 10: I was curious to check this one out. In the film, a couple revisits Paris for their anniversary and it shakes the very existence of their relationship. I thought it was rather astute in observing how we grow so much yet change so little at the same time. I found it unfortunate that the filmmakers chose to have some scenes' dialog so quiet as to be inaudible (especially, dare I say, a film about older people—and therefore viewed by people with less-than-cat-like hearing.)
  9. The Other Woman at the Cinema, June 10: I figured with the double-feature, I'd at least give this a shot. The gist is a guy cheats on his wife with another woman, but they get together and find out he's cheating on them both, and then the trio gets together and gives him his comeuppance. I expected an awful romantic comedy that I'd walk out of in a few minutes. But I actually laughed out loud at Leslie Mann's genius portrayal of ditzy wife Kate as she delivered a line that could have so easily fallen flat: when it's revealed to her that her husband is having sex without her, she somehow grand-slams the line, "you mean he's not training for a marathon?" Mann's performance saves it, and Cameron Diaz pulls off the high-power lawyer in as much as the script allows, but Kate Upton can't quite manage to make funny the beaten-to-death "pretty girl is dumb" routine (who could pull off the "pretend to look the wrong way through the binoculars" bit?), and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau likewise can't wring much out of the dirt-bag spoiled-rich husband routine. And tread very lightly with the suspension of disbelief: the story is held together with a tenuously thin veneer.
  10. Desperately Seeking Susan at the Dryden, June 11: After having seen a modern romantic comedy, I thought I'd check one out from 30 years ago. (Well, it's kind of an unfair comparison as it's a movie that was remembered.) It's about a woman bored in her marriage who is intrigued by a woman being sought by her boyfriend (desperately, apparently) via personal ads. It's a clever and funny movie with Rosanna Arquette as Roberta (the wife) and Madonna as Susan, a self-empowered petty thief with a wild and nomadic lifestyle that is the polar opposite of Roberta's. I did have to simply accept the huge contrived cliché (amnesia through a blow to the head with no other ill effects) as it was central to the plot. Per the introduction to the film, I hadn't realized it was not only starring two women, but the director (Susan Seidelman), writer (Leora Barish), and two of three producers (Sarah Pillsbury, and Midge Sanford) were women. In fact, I believe it wouldn't pass a reverse-gender Bechdel/Wallace test: although there is more than one male character, when two men speak, they only talk about women. But rather than expend any effort defending a feminist viewpoint, it simply presents a wholly entertaining vision of a female-friendly reality.

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Ten and a Half More Movies: March 2014 to May 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Tim's Vermeer at the Little, March 16: This is a documentary about a man named Tim Jenison who was interested in the photo-realistic paintings by Johannes Vermeer, and tried to devise a technique to replicate his technique. As a documentary, it's adequate and entertaining, but it's the subject that is most intriguing. I knew virtually nothing of the works of Vermeer coming in to this film, so I took it as fact what they said. Afterward I did a bit of research and found that Vermeer was neither as mysterious as the film implies, nor was his work — save for a couple specific examples — anomalously photo-realistic for the time period. In any case, The Music Lesson had certain qualities that Jenison found intriguing: how had Vermeer created such photo-realism 200 years before the invention of photography? He suspected a device, and set to building one. What he made (although I don't recall the film mentioning it) is a unique form of camera lucida (thanks to Jenn for knowing that!) which uses lenses and mirrors rather than a prism. With that, he succeeded in recreating The Music Lesson, and in doing so, reproduced a tiny flaw (the pattern on the virginal curves ever so slightly while its edges are drawn by straight-edge) that strongly implied the use of optics beyond the traditional camera lucida. I think this discovery is something that would be of interest to art historians and inventors alike.
  2. Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) at the Dryden, March 18: A young woman is in love with a man who gets enlisted in the Algerian war … loves are lost … loves are found. In all it's a well-worn story told in brilliant color.
  3. Here One Day in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester Campus, March 27: It's a documentary where Kathy Leichter revisits her mother Nina's suicide 16 years prior. The catalyst was the rediscovery of audio cassettes Nina recorded for many years; Kathy found them shortly after the suicide, but couldn't bear to listen to them at the time. As such, the use of the cassettes makes the event seem extraordinarily current in the lives of Kathy, her brother, and her father. It's a beautiful, moving, and insightful film that begins to bridge the gap between the thought process of a mentally-healthy person and one suffering from depression (or in this case, manic-depression a.k.a. bipolar disorder.) After the film, there was a panel discussion and one woman spoke about her daughter's depression. What resonated with me was how she saw suicide as a loss, but her daughter saw it as freedom — a concept that made me realize how much my culture mistakenly assumes everyone thinks alike in some way, and how that may be a central reason for the challenges of addressing mental illness.
  4. The Grand Budapest Hotel at the Little, March 28: Jenn, Chris, and I went to see this together — Jenn and Chris being very excited about the new film by Wes Anderson; I didn't have strong expectations. The short is I thoroughly enjoyed it. It reminded me of the ensemble screwball comedies of the past (e.g. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) in which expected stars appear in a silly comedy. And this one is definitely silly and absurd.
  5. Pink Flamingos at the Dryden, April 2: I finally got around to seeing this after having been recommended many times over the years by different people. It's definitely a rough-around-the-edges kind of independent film, and also definitely delivers on being "an exercise in poor taste". I'm glad I finally saw it, in part to get the many references to it in a variety of media, but also because it's genuinely an entertaining movie. This version (from a re-release in 1997) included some (rather hilarious) outtakes and some commentary by filmmaker John Waters.
  6. Tectonics in Hubbell Auditorium at UofR, April 10: I saw this as part of OnFilm's "Earths" program (and stayed after for only four of 13 Lakes, mostly due to simple exhaustion/tiredness.) Tectonics was quite brilliant. In it, Peter Bo Rappmund filmed various locations along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico Border in-order from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. I went into it with a bit of trepidation as my prejudices of borders — and this one in particular — are that they are useless, harmful relics of xenophobic nationalism. As such, I began the film with negative feelings of frustration and anger. Rappmund's anti-temporal filmmaking techniques (where he looped sequences-of-images and time-lapse photography which created a timelessness, and used overlapped field-recordings to carry the chronological narrative) led me to experience the border as something intensely futile, intensely irrational, and intensely beautiful. It was disconcerting to me to see all this technology and effort dedicated to creating suffering. But by the end, I found myself at peace with all of it. One thing that helped was the timeless quality of the film which implied a longer-term view — that this silliness is all temporary. Rappmund was present at the screening to answer questions, but I was just glad to thank him personally for making the film.
  7. The Kentucky Fried Movie at the Dryden, April 16: I remember seeing this as a kid and finding its irreverent and ribald humor to be unequivocally hilarious. It's a movie consisting of short sketches which is still funny, although it's almost more interesting to watch it as a historical relic owing to the extremely dated scenarios. And I imagine anyone raised with access to YouTube will find the humor at best, ho-hum. Well, the Kung-Fu parody, "A Fistful of Yen" is still very funny and extremely clever.
  8. The Kodak Employee Variety Show (U.S. 1960, 90 min., 16mm) at the Dryden, April 22: Jenn and I went to the "Made in Rochester" series "Kodak" show at the Dryden to check out some of the rarities. We felt a bit slighted that it was a 90-minute film followed by 3 shorts: a far cry from "a number of test films and company home movies" as we were promised. Nonetheless, the first film was a recording of the 1960 Kodak Employee Variety Show — a presentation that appeared to be largely for the sales staff of the company. As a film, it was the worst musical I ever saw (har har); in large part, it was an insufferable company party like I remember from my corporate days. The productions were high-quality and weirdly yet unsurprisingly Kodak-centric. There seemed to be a lot of tongue-in-cheek jabs at the Russians and Communism, not long after the worst of Senator Joseph McCarthy's state-sponsored murders. But perhaps the best moment was a look in to the "distant future" of 1970 when, rather than a log book, salesmen (and yes, they were all men) would carry a device as small as a pack of matches to dictate expenses and take photos of where they were — an ironic premonition of digital photography. In all, I'm glad to have had a chance to have seen it, but didn't enjoy the process. (Although I did offer Jenn $50 if she could spot a black person, and we jokingly pointed out white people on-stage in shadow.) We snuck out during intermission and skipped the shorts.
  9. Richard Pryor: Live in Concert at the Dryden, April 23: I was glad to be able to finally see this — a ribald performance made legendary by tales told by high-school friends in the 1980's, right at the dawn of home-video. In general the comedy holds up today, particularly his insightful jabs at white culture. Pryor's artistry lets him talk about embarrassing personal situations without the shadow of making it into a therapy session that so often plagues other performers' anecdotes. It's wonderful to be able to remember Pryor at the top of his game like this.
  10. Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe at the Dryden, May 6: The first of two short films by Les Blank, this one deals with, well, Werner Herzog eating his shoe. He made a bet with Erol Morris to complete his film, Gates of Heaven, which, obviously he did. The film gives Herzog the chance to talk about following through with commitments and about following your own passion. I've always enjoyed listening to him as he's got a unique articulate way of explaining his view of the world.
  11. (and ½) Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers also at the Dryden, May 6: The second half of the double-shorts program is Blank's film on the wonders of garlic. It's a fascinating sampler of off-center views in the late 1970's, and Blank's style (like the previous film) paces the documentaries exceedingly well, making them both a joy to watch.

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OnFilm's Layers Program

I was excited to see the short-film program "Layers" by the University of Rochester OnFilm group. It was an impressive collection that centered around the "layers" theme and all the ramifications it can entail.

Starting out was 45 7 Broadway (Tomonari Nishikawa, 2013, 5 min., 16mm) in which Nishikawa shot scenes in Times Square successively with black-and-white film filtered with red, green, and blue filters, then made a color composite by merging the three resulting films to form a pseudo-color image. The effect was marvelous, often presenting rippling true-colors in stationary objects and overlaid colors in those that moved. At one point, I felt like I could smell the city.

Volcano Saga (Joan Jonas, 1989, 28 min., video) was an interesting interpretation of the Icelandic Laxdeala Saga — a tale of dream analysis — given an experimental-video spin. Capitalism: Child Labor (Ken Jacobs, 2006, 14 min., video) was a disorienting interpretation of a stereo-view of child workers in a factory. Jacobs quickly alternated between the images creating the illusion of continuously spinning, and added detail views that seemed to rotate on their own.

In Her + Him Van Leo (Akram Zaatari, 2001, 32 min., video), Zaatari visits the photographer who created a scantily-clad image of his grandmother which he discovered in his mother's closet. I found the repetitive technique a bit annoying at times, but the film was rather humorous and overall interesting. Of note to me was that Van Leo had a large-format camera which looked nearly identical to Jenn's camera in her new studio — particularly the heavy wheeled tripod.

I was a bit lost with Castro Street (Bruce Baillie, 1966, 10 min., 16mm). It was an experimental view of trains and industrialization … I guess. I'm not good at guessing, though. Likewise, Lot in Sodom (James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber, 1933, 28 min., 16mm), being a Biblical tale I didn't know (like most of them), I was kind of lost as to what was going on. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see their experimental filming techniques that rivaled what people were doing 30 years later.

Waves of Betrayal (Jae Matthews, 2007, 5 min., 16 mm B&W reversal transferred to video) was an interesting bit of film: according to the OnFilm description, it "is a home processed short where the ocean documented in the film was also used as the mixing material for the developer, stop, and fix baths". This resulted in a unique tonality to the film and scratches from sediment. Let me just say that it is the knowledge of the process that makes this film interesting.

Concluding the night was O'er the Land (Deborah Stratman, 2009, 52 min., 16mm), a view of modern American patriotism in many forms. I personally found it upsetting to have the idea of America's jingoistic militarism echoed back to me so strongly. Contrasting it with the waning natural wonders we have, the effect was even more profound.

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Ten More Movies: January 2014 to March 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Inside Llewyn Davis at the Little, January 29: Jenn and I got a chance to see this with her mom. Jenn was looking forward to the latest Coen Brothers' movie and I thought it looked good enough. It's another great film if you like live music. And if you are an artist or know artists—musicians particularly—you'll certainly recognize the duality of their lives: to others, they seem to be ego maniacal jerks, and within themselves, they suffer the (socially acceptable) indignity of having their creative vision treated like some kind of worthless communal property.
  2. Bettie Page Reveals All at the Dryden, January 31: Jenn and I saw this together as we were both interested in Page's life, but as a documentary, I found it lacking. Perhaps it was because, while I think Bettie Page is pretty and I think she's unique in being the canonical example of a pin-up girl, I don't think of her as some sort of magical being outside the realm of humanity. Unfortunately, the filmmakers were dazzled by her. So I guess if you're dazzled by Page, you might adore the film more. Anyway, both Jenn and I were fascinated by Page's central interview. I couldn't help but think there was something she was omitting. It wasn't until much later that I realized it was her: she never spoke of her own aspirations or motivations, only about what happened to her, as if she were simply a passive party to her own life. In some ways, that's the most interesting thing about her as a person, and something the documentary makers seem to have ignored.
  3. Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? at the Dryden, February 11: Ted, Jenn, and I went to see this animated feature by Michel Gondry as he interviews Noam Chomsky. Although I admire Chomsky, I often find his densely intellectual sentences daunting. Gondry plays against this—plays the fool if you will—to great effect, slowing the flow of Chomsky's wisdom into digestible pieces.
  4. The Straight Story at the Dryden, February 20: Overall I enjoyed this (true) tale of a man who travels by riding lawnmower to visit his estranged brother. I'm not sure if it was solely perception, but I noticed David Lynch's cinematic affectations very much at the beginning of the film (e.g. slowly tracking to a window on the side of a house) but by the end, I didn't notice them at all (e.g. frighteningly aggressive-seeming vehicular traffic).
  5. Trouble Every Day at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, February 22: Jenn, her friend Heather Wetzel, Ali, Ted, and I saw this on a group trip to Columbus. As I was watching, I was acutely aware of the feeling I was going insane. Jenn compared it to Possession which I found to be a similarly impenetrable film, somewhat about an abusive relationship. It's got the methodical, deliberate pacing of a French (or Italian—see La grande bellezza, below) film as it outlines a bizarre condition or illness that causes people to behave, ostensibly, like vampires.
  6. Jack Goes Boating at the Little, February 28: This was the only one of the films in the Little's Philip Seymour Hoffman Tribute series that I went to see, and lo, I had seen it before—when it was released, actually. Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch it one more time. It's the story of a couple middle-aged people mired in each of jeir own neuroses who try to date, mirrored against the seemingly "normal" relationship between Jack's friend John and Connie's friend Lucy.
  7. Her at the Cinema, March 1: Jenn and I went to see this together and since the double-feature totaled well over 4 hours, we opted to watch this as a matinée. In case you haven't heard the rough plot outline, it's about a writer who falls in love with his computer's new, artificially-intelligent operating system. There are so many ways this could have gone terribly badly—as a movie, I mean—but Spike Jonze managed to avoid all the many possible pitfalls in both his writing and directing. The operating system, named Samantha, is amiable and its relationship with Theodore is downright believable. Even the conclusion is as reasonably satisfying as can be expected.
  8. La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) at the Cinema, March 4: I had been looking forward to seeing this since before I missed it at the Dryden. I've been trying to describe it for some time now. What seems most satisfying is that it is a methodical meditation on what it is to look back on one's life. It's about a man named Jep Gambardella who looks back on his life where he became the epicenter of nightlife in Rome. It's punctuated with numerous expansive, loving shots of the city.
  9. A Foreign Affair at the Dryden, March 13: Jenn and I headed out to see this together on faith that Billy Wilder would deliver an entertaining movie. While it was truly entertaining, it's more evocative as a time capsule, as it's one of the only films I know of that is shot in Berlin shortly after the end of World War II, and it deliberately uses the bombed-out backdrop and opportunistic American GIs to move the plot forward.
  10. Dead Man, March 14: Jenn and I had both seen this before—she's far better versed in the other works of Jim Jarmusch than I (and has introduced me to Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and Broken Flowers, both of which I liked.) I wrote about this a while back and my comments still hold, but I'll add the film holds up well after repeated viewings. I think I made a stronger point to notice the respectful and un-romanticized view of Native Americans, and of the un-glorious view of killing and of life on the Western frontier.

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A Trip to Columbus

Jenn and I headed toward Columbus with her dog Maia on Friday morning. We first went to The Wayne & Geraldine Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery at the Marion Campus of Ohio State University to take pictures of Jenn's show Rec•ord, which has been on display since the beginning of the year. The gallery is small, and the satellite campus is not nearly as well attended as the main campus in Columbus, but the guestbook revealed quite a few visitors.

The show itself was of Jenn's ambrotype photograms of small objects. She uses a wet-plate collodion process to create the one-of-a-kind ambrotype positives on anodized aluminum. Her level of mastery of that technique is on par with a fairly small set of experts in the field. Her work speaks to the distortion of the photographic process as a way to reliably represent objects and people.

Afterward we went to Columbus to visit her friend Heather Wetzel. We walked near Heather's house and stopped by Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (4247 N. High St., Columbus, OH). On this visit, I found it too busy and rushed to make a proper assessment, but the ice cream was indeed good. I didn't find it substantially better than Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, though, and actually found the huge array of flavors to be more daunting than appealing.

On Saturday morning, Ted and Ali arrived to join us for the weekend. We headed to Whole World Natural Restaurant (3269 N. High St., Columbus, OH) for lunch. As vegan food goes, it's hit-and-miss, but I went with the safe bet of avocado on a croissant. Afterward we went to the excellent Pattycake Bakery (3009 N. High St., Columbus, OH) and had some great vegan treats.

Heather wanted to stop by the opening of a The Mirage and the Rainbow: 2014 Department of Art Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition at OSU's Urban Arts Space (50 W. Town Street, Suite 130 in the Historic Lazarus Building, Columbus, Ohio 43215) so she could see some of her students' work. Overall it was a good show. Ali, Jenn, and Heather took part in this "Dr. Armbruster's Laboratories" "experiment" where they were measured then drew with a paint drip test. It was a lot of fun.

The "Armbruster" name was fictitious, but I had to look up the list of MFA candidates to remember the ones I wanted, and didn't discern who did that work. The complete list from the website included: Jacci Delaney (Glass), Jonathan Fitz (Ceramics), Leah Frankel (Sculpture), Andrew Frueh (Art and Technology), Keith Garubba (Printmaking), Nick George (Photography), Anne Keener (Painting & Drawing), Gun Young Kim (Ceramics), Amanda Kline (Photography), David Knox (Printmaking), Sage Lewis (Painting and Drawing), Peter Luckner (Art and Technology), Jessica Naples (Photography), Ashley Neukamm (Ceramics), Amy Ritter (Glass), Philip Spangler (Sculpture), and Jennifer Watson (Printmaking). Anyway, I also liked Gun Young Kim's distorted self-sculptures and I was drawn to Amy Ritter's cardboard cutout nudes (digitally manipulated to remove any sexuality).

From there, we went to the Wexner Center for the Arts where we saw Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2002). (I added it to my mini-reviews for the last few months if you're curious.) For dinner we went to Dirty Franks (248 S. 4th St., Columbus, OH) which I thought was quite excellent. They specialize in hot dogs, so it seems natural to compare them to Dogtown, but in this case, I liked Dirty Franks better. In all fairness, the quality is about the same, but Dirty Franks has a few extra unusual toppings, and adding cream cheese to a vegan dog is just great (rendering it vegetarian, at best). The macaroni-and-cheese was considerably sub-par for my taste. (Along with the other meals we ate-out, it made me think Columbus had a preference for blander food.) Later we made another visit to Jeni's and I was more satisfied with my selections and the experience.

On Sunday we took a little detour and stopped at Delaware State Park (5202 U.S. Highway 23 N., Delaware, OH) to let Maia run around before stopping by the Kuhn Fine Arts Gallery to take down Jenn's show. From there, we headed back home.

We stopped in Erie for a bit. We tried to find Whole Foods Co-Op (1341 W. 26th St., Erie, PA) as they have something called "cashew cheese". However, we made a mistake somewhere along the way and found the co-op had just closed. So, quite hungry, we decided to go to Wegmans (6143 Peach St., Erie, PA). I get grumpy when I'm hungry and Erie is, as best I could tell, the most miserable place on Earth and I will never go back there. (Time may moderate that opinion.)

Upon leaving Erie, our collective plans, so Jenn and I in one car, and Ted and Ali in another headed toward home at our respective paces. We forgot to stop for gas in Erie as we had planned, and we started running low so we got off and stopped at the Flying J Travel Plaza (8484 Allegheny Rd., Pembroke). To our surprise, Ted and Ali were there too in the same predicament despite having last crossed paths somewhere around Buffalo.

We arrived home late that night, exhausted.

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Finding Ivy

Last night, Jenn and I had quite a little adventure. We had gone with Ted to see Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? at the Dryden and drove him back home. On the way back to Jenn's I spotted a dog standing in the snow off 490 near the Averill underpass.

Going back a few days, while Jenn was working at her studio, a woman came by and handed her a poster about a lost dog named Ivy [corrected1]. We see notices for lost pets and pay them little mind other than to hope the animal gets home okay. But Ivy was a rescued black Labrador retriever mix from a shelter in Kentucky. The reason we paid attention is sheer coincidence: Jenn's dog is also a black lab, and was also a rescue from—of all places—Kentucky. Ivy had just arrived and escaped from an Another Chance Pet Rescue foster family near Meigs and Monroe just a day after she arrived (they didn't know the dog's name so they named her Ivy … for all of a day, so obviously the dog wouldn't respond to that name.) The poster said that she was so timid that we should not try to approach her as she'd just run away.

Anyway, when we saw this black dog, we immediately thought it might be Ivy. So we got off at Goodman and went to go back to see off an overpass. But then I figured our best bet would be to get back on the highway, so after trying to remember the existence of the Byron Street entrance, we passed the poster on Alexander. I snapped a picture so we could have the phone numbers. We got back on but we saw neither the dog nor her prints. So we looped around again. This time, we found the tracks in the snow just behind the Spring Steel place on S. Clinton.

We called the people on the poster and they said they'd send their friends out. I had my headlamp from biking so I put that on and went up the embankment cautiously. I had noticed in the past I could see animal eyes in the darkness using the headlamp. After searching a bit, I found a pair of eyes looking back at me from under a tree near the building.

I went back and called again and really set things in motion. They called Animal Control to try and catch the dog, and sent a half-dozen people our way to help find her. One of the women affiliated with Operation Greece Pug Rescue and the officer from Animal Control arrived nearly simultaneously. We went up the embankment and found the dog—this time positively identified as Ivy. Unfortunately, she did manage to get away.

But she had been in the elements for about 7 days already, so she wasn't moving too fast. I watched her cross under Averill then continue to past Alexander before I lost sight of her, all the while fortunately staying in the snow and out of traffic. Jenn and I got back in the car and looped around again. We found Ivy just about on the entrance ramp. We stopped the car to call that we saw her, but she started running back. We followed her and tried to keep some distance, but she doubled back again and we lost her.

We got in touch with the Animal Control officer and one of the women involved. The officer provided a can of food for the dog and they were planning to set a live trap over night. We left and decided to see if we could find her again. We stopped in the Goodwill parking lot to look for tracks on Byron Street and found some, but no dog.

We got back to the car and called the woman from the Pug Rescue to say we were going home. She said that they had her—they actually caught Ivy. She was badly dehydrated, had hypothermia, and was on her way to the pet emergency center! It turns out she also had a laceration on her leg and a possible fracture.

A sickly black lab being carried by a volunteer.

Ivy gets rescued by a volunteer.

By today she was out of emergency care and it looks like she's going to survive. She'll need some more veterinary care in the coming weeks. If you want, you can donate through the PayPal link on the lower-right of the Another Chance Pet Rescue website.


1 2014-Feb-13: Correction: it wasn't her mom who gave her the poster, but her mom was present.

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Rochester Movie Makers' "Mind2Movie Challenge" Screening at the Cinema

Ali, Ted, and I met with Jenn, and Jenn's mom at the Gatehouse restaurant for dinner. After that, we all headed to the Rochester Movie Makers' Mind2Movie Challenge screening at the Cinema. They screened last year's winner and the 19 entries then had an awards ceremony.

If you recall from the post introducing the Mind2Movie challenge this year, the gist was to try and include three elements in our story: a character, an object, and a scenario. We were scored based on how well we used our character, our prop, and our situation, the storytelling, and the film technique.

This year's winner was team "Claydogh" with its sole member, Ben Doran. (2014-Feb-18 update: You can view "Ed" on Vimeo now.) His film received a score substantially higher than any other team. They said the next 5 teams were differentiated by only 6 points (out of a possible 200). I seem to remember them being in the 140-range; we got 135, and a few people said they really liked ours (including the MC, Mike McFadden.) We're all very … umm … curious about the surly judge who seemed to like nothing about what we made, but three of the four judges thought it was quite good in all categories.

Ted uploaded our film to YouTube and you can watch it there, or you might be able to watch it below. The film is called "The Singer" and was to include an entertainer, a communicator, and a scenario in which the communicator is stolen. Ted plays The Singer, Jenn plays The Photographer, I'm The Conjurer, Lucy is The Singer's Dog, and Maia is The Photographer's Dog. (That's right: we decided to make a movie with two dogs!)
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Ten More Movies: December 2013 to January 2014

So here's the last 10 movies I watched …

  1. Death Race 2000 at the Dryden, December 11: Cheesy, schlocky, violent, and sexually exploitative: yes. And it's still got some teeth as social commentary. Usually films about the "distant" future 25 years away miss their mark, but this one gets a lot of things right like that the U.S. President will be revered as some kind of exceptional being (at least substantially different from a normal mortal), and our affinity for witnessing death on the highways. Of course it never saw anything like YouTube or the "car fail" meme therein, but who could have known that?
  2. Camille Claudel, 1915 at the Dryden, December 14: Jenn and I went to see this together—neither of us knew much about Camille Claudel except that she was a sculptor at the turn of the 20th Century. The film is a fictional account of 3 days of her life while she was confined to a mental asylum in the South of France, culminating in a visit from her brother Paul. It's a saddening document of a woman who showed such creative promise, but failed to embrace the demands of what was expected of her in civilized society. She recognized her persecution but mischaracterized its purpose or meaning. As such, her family thought they were helping her by locking her away from the art that brought her her only true joy.
  3. Bill Cosby, Himself at the Dryden, December 20: My brother Adam was visiting for a few days and I convinced him to see this with Jenn and I. We all enjoyed it quite a bit. It's still funny and relevant, and Bill Cosby steadily meanders between intertwined stories and ideas to create a well-crafted whole.
  4. Nebraska at the Little, December 21: Jenn and I went to see this together and we both liked it a lot. It's the tale of an aging father (Bruce Dern) visiting his hometown on his way to (futilely) try to claim a million dollar prize. I recognized Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk as primarily comic actors, but here they adeptly play Dern's sons as just regular folk. Alexander Payne had the film shot in black-and-white which was a somewhat unusual choice. Jenn felt it was to lend an air of timelessness by removing the bright color cues of present-day advertising. I was a bit more cynical, I guess, and thought it was because it was set in Montana and Nebraska in winter, and it should have had a blanket of snow to elicit the same effect (see also, Fargo) but the absence of snow forced the hand of the artists and they shot it in black-and-white. One thing I take issue with is the "villain" of the story, played by Stacy Keach, was a bit too vengeful for his age and demeanor.
  5. Phase IV at the Dryden, January 7: I was drawn to this film as it's Saul Bass's only feature film (being far better known for amazing title-sequences on hundreds of famous films.) The story is pretty weird: ants gain collective intelligence and go about taking over the world. The weakest part of the whole film is the dialog, and the ham-fisted allegorical nature of the script. But the cinematography is incredible and includes yet another favorite scene in cinema: a telephoto shot across a hot surface where something starts to appear and we're left wondering what it is for the better part of 20 seconds. Oh, and the extended Saul Bass ending is many minutes of stylized, artistic structures in the style of a Saul Bass title sequence; hence: spectacular.
  6. Prince Avalanche at the Dryden, January 10: Jenn and I went to see this together as she's a David Gordon Green fan. I guess I am too, at least after this film. I'd put it in the bunglingly-named "mumblecore" genre as it's really just a slice of life about two men on a remote road painting lines over a few days. The brilliance lies in the complex, natural characters that are gradually revealed—both just so simply, uniquely flawed.
  7. Du zhan (Drug War) at the Dryden, January 11: Paolo Cherchi Usai selected this as his Curator's Choice for the month, citing the ambiguous morality layered upon what could otherwise be dismissed as a popcorn action flick. I'm not so sure I agree. While I do understand the moral ambiguity—that there are no well-defined "good guys" and "bad guys", nor is the story itself a simplified morality tale—it lays out such broad strokes as an action movie that I couldn't help but see it as primarily that. In some ways I see it as a superior form of action movie since it delivers an interesting plot and sophisticated sequences by genre-decree, but it fails to let the audience root for any team, and thus there is no moral payoff at the end, as I think there is something socially dangerous about celebrating such inhuman behavior.
  8. Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie at the Dryden, January 18: Back in the late 1980's, I could swear I remember the Morton Downey Jr. Show in some form of on-air syndication. It was actually something I avoided: even then I did not enjoy witnessing people in conflict, and I especially despised prideful ignorance and anti-rational thinking. So I cringed my way through clips of the show where Downey would essentially deliver a non-stop barrage of ad hominem arguments to the show's guests to the delight of the mob-worthy studio audience. The documentary steadily and artfully paints the background portrait of a man living in the shadow of a famous father, desperately trying to find his own voice. Filmmaker Seth Kramer was on hand to answer questions, but for the most part, everything he wanted to say about Downey is in the film.
  9. Tôkyô monogatari (Tokyo Story) at the Dryden, January 22: I was sold on the Roger Ebert quote, "With no other director do I feel affection for every single shot." And the film delivers. It's a stunningly well-crafted piece of cinema that tells the tale of aging parents visiting their adult children in Tokyo. The kids don't appreciate the significance of the visit, snubbing their parents as an annoyance in their busy lives. But I think it was respectful of both parties, merely showing the melancholic truth that children grow up and drift away from their parents.
  10. Shtikat Haarchion (A Film Unfinished) at the Dryden, January 28: As I was watching I realized this seemed familiar, and indeed, I saw it in October, 2010 when it was released. I think I forgot because it is such an impossible concept to believe: German footage inside the Warsaw Jewish ghetto just months before nearly everyone there was annihilated. The documentary suggests the Nazi footage was to demonize the Jews—propaganda to allow average citizens to justify the Holocaust. It's all quite horrifying, and it actually happened. All I can say is: beware of media generalizations of the character of a people.

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The 2014 Rochester Movie Makers' 72 Hour Mind 2 Movie Challenge

I read about the Rochester Movie Makers' 72 Hour Mind 2 Movie Challenge on their website and really wanted to give it a try. So when I mentioned it to Jenn, Ali, and Ted, they jumped at the chance. Ali and I went to the RCTV Studio on Thursday evening to get our packets. We had to make up a team name and after a few minutes, we settled on the pun "For Fools". (And, if there are any judges reading this, well, you should probably stop now to keep our team's entry as anonymous as it can be.) Continue reading

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The 2013 Burning Man Report

I left this post for quite some time, but after a New Year's Blog-Off Challenge on Facebook, I thought I'd wrap it up and post it. It's about how back in August 2013, Jenn and I headed to Burning Man.

We left on August 23 and got to Chicago on the 24th. We met with a friend of Jenn's and did a bit of a tour of Chicago before getting back on and—in a roomette sleeper—finished the journey to Reno. We met some nice people along the way, particularly at meals when we were seated with two strangers.

The train ran pretty much on-time and we arrived in Reno around 9 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Monday the 26th. There were quite a few other people heading to Burning Man on the train and most of them headed off quickly. We chatted with a couple stragglers and one of the guys had a friend in Reno who was going to pick him up. We asked if we could hitch a ride with him if he had space. He arrived with a gigantic van and transported Forrest, Jenn, and myself to the Save-Mart where we hung out for some time.

We bought provisions and met other people going to Burning Man—many from the U.S., but a small group from Italy. We dawdled around a bit and had pretty okay pizza from Pizza Baron before getting a cab ride to the airport—somewhat ironically to the airport "exit" and baggage claim area where the Burner Express bus was to pick us up. The process was relatively smooth and quick: we checked in, got tags for our wrists and for our bags, waited a bit, put our bags on a trailer, and boarded a bus.

The air conditioning wasn't working so well and I felt a bit frustrated at the slow rate we made it to Gerlach. A couple times the traffic stopped completely and we got out of the bus. When we arrived at Gerlach, things were a bit less organized. The gist was that everyone on the bus was to exit, then Burning Man staff would check that we had proof of tickets (and they could confirm will-call and provide a hard ticket right there) before boarding the bus to Black Rock City. One person said we'd have time to buy a bit of water, but as we walked over, someone called out to get on the bus. We got on then had to get off again because it was not our bus. Eventually things got straightened out and we got on the same bus we arrived by (our bus was one of a few that had the ability to close the air-conditioning intake vents on the bottom of the bus; otherwise we'd be on a school bus.)

The great feature of the Burner Express bus was revealed when we turned away from the gate line into a special lane, passing several miles of cars 10 lanes wide. Random (the greeter) checked our tickets and we were on our way into the city. We arrived just before sunset and, oddly enough, the very same bus was our shuttle. We got our stuff loaded back onto it and headed down GDP street toward the 10:00 crossroad. The driver was willing to stop at each 0:15 street, so we got off at 7:45, walked 30 yards and arrived at our camp: Mama Kabuke's Big Tent at It Still Stings Camp at 7:45 and Holy.

It was great to see my friends from last year—Mama Kabuke, Jordi, Devon, Uncle Brett, and T who primarily set up the camp along with a bunch of fellow campers from last year. Jenn (now Vadra) and I (now Zhust) got the tent set up quick before it got too dark and started unpacking. We didn't stay up too late—we hadn't acclimated much from Eastern time, so by 10 p.m. we were experiencing 1 a.m. tiredness and went to bed.

We got up and had some breakfast and got settled in with the camp. This year two of our fellow campers were getting married on Thursday, and they brought a fair number of people for that but only one of them really liked being at Burning Man. We also had an inordinate number of freeloaders making for a stressful time trying to keep up with their consumption and messiness. We also had a genuine "sparkle pony"—a girl who brought only her physical beauty, nary lifting a finger to perform any tasks and frequently leaving half-eaten food and drink.

Vadra and I got out over the week to see the art and visit some random camps. For the most part, I felt like it was a year of "duties and obligations": I was tasked with setting up the lights on Connie the Baby Blue Whale (the camp's art car) we had as well as to install and test the blowhole device I made for her. I felt pretty spent by Thursday and really wanted to take a day off by then but couldn't and had a rough day.

Vadra was selected to participate in Spencer Tunick's photograph at dawn, so we got up around 4:15 a.m. and biked out into the cold early morning. We arrived at the staging area by the temple but all the slots had been filled. She was quite disappointed, having missed a previous opportunity in Buffalo a few years back.

But we made the best of it and got a chance to visit The Man. They were only letting 50 or so people into the UFO base at a time so there was a line, but it moved quickly. There were zoetrope inside that were beautifully designed but the animations were rather bland black-and-white line-art. Dawn was upon us, so we left and watched the sunrise through the hazy smoke from the forest fires in California.

Vadra surprised me for my birthday: she secretly made Instax pictures of a bunch of people in camp holding a whiteboard to spell out "Happy Birthday". It was very sweet of her and I was quite moved by it, especially after spending days feeling under-appreciated.

After the wedding, many members of the wedding party left, relieving some of the burden (although there were still a lot of freeloaders.)

It was an interesting experiment, really. We brought a camp that provided abundant resources. But in trying to embrace the principles of Burning Man, "radical inclusion" led us to attract consumers of our abundance. It gets to be an interesting puzzle, really: if you offer abundance, you'll attract people who will consume, but if you hoard, you'll expend much more energy doing so than if you simply shared.

I have been wrestling with capitalism versus communism for quite some time. Communism fails by people offering less than "their ability" and claiming more than "their needs". The way we are seeing capitalism fail is in failing to find a balance in moderation: either you are earning too little and constantly toiling, or you are earning too much and have no means to share your wealth. On the train, we met a woman named Amber who said she saw something about bacteria being freeloaders: in some colonies, they need to produce a particular protein to float, but some bacteria figure out they don't need to expend the energy; eventually the whole colony collapses.

But I recently read a blog post by Burning Man founder Larry Harvey that talks about commerce and community. I think it helps define when commerce (née capitalism) is most effective and when community (née communism) is most effective. In the article, Harvey quotes an article written by Zay Thompson, the Burning Man regional contact in Kansas. Thompson brilliantly lays out an analogy in the form of his large extended family getting together to compete in a soccer game:

If my Dad stumbles and falls, I don't run over him in my rush to score on his team. My love for him and the value of human life causes me to suspend the game, help him up, and check to see if he's alright. Likewise, I don't continue to view my family as mere competition after the game is over.

In the case of our camp, it seems the balance between commerce and community was skewed. It felt like the desire to achieve enrichment by helping out was somehow suppressed. When a task needed doing, I felt an urge to not help because I felt that was the spirit of our community. It wasn't until these months later that I can even begin to articulate that, but I do recall that experience: when something needed doing, it was defiant to stand up and act rather than it being common and beneficial.

On Sunday we had a most unusual bit of excitement. Chris returned with a report of a DPW official stating that a huge thunderstorm cell was headed for Black Rock City and would arrive shortly before noon on Monday and the city would be shut down to all traffic. The report also recommended that anyone able to leave should do so before Monday. (By the way, the DPW is the "Department of Public Works", a not-governmentally-affiliated group who maintain the Burning Man infrastructure.)

I suspected it was an incorrect report—ordinarily this happens from "telephone game" failures, but this was unique in that it was reported nearly intact to the radio station. And again, Burning Man is susceptible to urban legends, but I thought immune to mass-media misinformation until now.

Many of our campmates were concerned. A couple new friends from Canada had an early flight on Tuesday and opted to leave on Sunday afternoon. Vadra was very concerned but I had instinctive confidence in the inaccuracy of the report. To calm her fears, we walked to the Emergency Services tent that were a mere 30 yards down the road. They had heard nothing of such a storm but cautiously refused to deny the report outright. Rivka pulled out her iPad and checked the weather on their private wireless Internet: partly cloudy with a chance of 0.01 inches of precipitation for Monday. Vadra was not entirely reassured but I persevered, gambling I was correct.

I know that humans are susceptible to visceral dangers more than statistically likely dangers. Even I was not brimming with confidence save for my tenacious rational side.

We stayed—and continued embellishing the tales. By Monday morning, we were expecting the caldera that formed nearby to erupt by noon, and that a raging storm would pin people down and lightning-rape everyone. I advised others that it was likely an attempt by DPW to hurry exodus, and I encouraged other camps to hurry along the freeloaders in their own camps.

Monday came and a front was indeed approaching, cooling the air and changing the wind direction slightly. I held fast, though, and we left by the Burner Express bus at 11:45 with no issues. During the morning, two drops of rain hit me, and none even left evidence on the parched lakebed. It took us 90 minutes or so to get to Gerlach and no rain arrived. I saw nothing on the weather radar once we got Internet back at the hotel room. (The Burner Express bus, by the way, dropped us off at the airport around 3 p.m. and we got to the hotel before dinner.)

Later, I contacted Jordi and Mama about the storm but none materialized. I started a thread on ePlaya that sparked some interesting theories: indeed, nearby areas received some downpours that, had such a downpour arrived at Burning Man, it would have shut down the event for 24 hours or so—and with no proper sanitation either. I suspect the nearby mountains cause vast changes in weather over just a few miles, and I believe that is what "protects" the Black Rock Desert. (For another example of localized weather, see "lake-effect snow".) But I could have been mistaken and we may have been stuck for 24 hours or longer. Who knows.

We stayed overnight in Reno then got on the Amtrak and headed back to Chicago to visit Jenn's friend there for a couple days. It was nice to visit the city more in-depth. We returned to the Amtrak for our overnight trip back to Rochester, arriving pretty much on-time on September 8.

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