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- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lone Star State of Mind

Last weekend I spent 4 days with my best friend from college who lives down in Austin, Texas. We watched some really funny movies, ate some amazingly good-though-not-good-for-you food, and just enjoyed the opportunity to be present with each other. We talk on the phone regularly but it was nice to be able to just hang out and chat and be friends.

I took a lot of pictures and may post some in my photo gallery but this is one of my favorites that I took in Leander, TX.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Another Look

Just for fun, I took out the vine and branches from the hinge picture below.

More Shots

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

First Shots with My New Camera

Click On the Images For a Larger View

Monday, March 20, 2006

Destination: Canada

This past weekend my friend Valerie from Semester at Sea drove out from Boston for a visit. Deciding to be adventurous, we hopped in the car for a 3 hour drive to Niagara Falls, hopped the border into Canada, and spent the day wandering. We watched an IMAX movie about the falls, had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Valerie spent $5 at one of the casinos before heading back into the US. It was a nice weekend, a good escape from the stresses of work and normal life. And it was great to spend time catching up with an old friend.

I'm still waiting on my new camera, but it should arrive any day now. It should definitely be here in time for my trip to Texas on Friday.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

New Tool (Toy)

I had been wanting to get myself a good, high-grade digital SLR camera for some time now. Since I am the main photographer/videographer at work I've had free-reign of the company's Sony DSC-F717 since we bought it a couple of years ago but since I've become more advanced in my Photoshop skills and with a number of trips coming up with the potential for amazing shots, I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade.

This is a Nikon D50. The people over at NAPP use Nikon almost exclusively and this model comes highly recommended by every review I've read, including one by Moose Peterson, a giant in the wildlife photography field.

Once it comes in I'll definitely share some of the inaugural photos!

Monday, March 13, 2006

California Here I Come

Last week we received the "go ahead" from the committee to pursue our treatment for a video project for the conference finance team. Using trees as the metaphor, and the redwoods in particular, we are going to show how working together (planting trees) can make something grow and last beyond our own lifetimes.

We are also going to tell the story of the redwoods which, from what I've read, have fairly shallow roots but they are able to grow so big and tall because the root system is interconnected, gathering nourishment from the entire forest and gaining stability because they are woven together.

So, in just over a month I get to fly out to San Francisco and drive north along the coast (at sunset as it turns out) to the Redwood National Park for a couple of days of taking pictures and gathering footage for this project. I can't wait!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

I'm Back (for now)

After the whirlwind of posts leading up to last week's Academy Awards and the busyness of this week at work, I decided to take the week off from blogging.

This past week my dad, brother and I provided sound for our 4th school musical of the season. We provide wireless mics and sound effects for middle and high school shows in the area and we're finally done. Our most recent show, that wrapped late last night was High Society. I had never seen it before this week and I wasn't particularly taken by it.

It's the story of a well-to-do family, the Lords, on the eve of daughter Tracy's wedding to the ambitious, though not very "nimble-witted" George. Tracy's ex-husband and neighbor Dexter conspires to break up the couple and win Tracy back. Meanwhile, a reporter and photographer (Mike and Liz) from a tabloid magazine are invited to the wedding to report on some salatious gossip about Tracy's father. In order to play it up for the reporters, Tracy and her sister Dinah make up stories and convince their often-drunk and bottom-pinching Uncle Willie to play their father, Seth, while their father plays Willie as love triangles abound.

Having nothing to do with the school's production, the play isn't very good. The writing is just perhaps for a different audience, but it certainly doesn't translate well. Though there are moments of humor, overall it's just not funny. The music is by Cole Porter but most of the songs are not very memorable - though after hearing them for a week straight I can't get them out of my head!

It was certainly a high school performance. There were a couple of singers who did very well and the entire cast came a long way from last Monday. It wasn't perfect but, as with all the shows we do, it's great to see the students having a good time and watch them grow throughout week that we're there.

I was involved in drama throughout high school and I can certainly appreciate the amount of work they've put in and how much it takes to get up on stage - being someone who isn't a huge fan of being in front of people or is able to memorize lines very easily. In a moment of immodesty I will say that I had the best male voice in my high school for my senior year and was fairly confident in that fact but I still got really nervous whenever I had a solo or acted in a show. I much prefer being behind the scenes, even now as I run the camera instead of sit in front of it.

I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging over the next couple of weeks. A friend of mine from Semester at Sea is coming out from Boston next weekend and the following weekend I'll be flying down to Texas to visit my best friend from college for a few days of movies, UNO, and all in all rowdy behavior. (And I can certainly use it right now!)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Oscar Review: Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Well, here it is, our final review in the Oscar Review series of Best Pictures leading up to tomorrow night's 78th Academy Awards ceremonies (8pm EST on ABC). There were a few moments in there when I didn't think I'd make it through the 37 reviews I had set for myself. I've tried to be fair with those I didn't particularly like but because you're dealing with stories that convey such emotional depth, it's hard to not be subjective. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I have enjoyed taking this stroll through movie history.

And now, for last year's winner...

Winner of 4 of its 7 nominations - including Best Picture, Director (Clint Eastwood), Actress (Hilary Swank with her second award from as many nominations), and Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman, his first) - Million Dollar Baby is a moving tale of courage, hard work, and finding family.

Frankie Dunn (Eastwood) and his friend Scrap (Freeman) run a gym for up and coming boxers. One day, all-heart but few skills Maggie Fitzgerald (Swank) walks in looking for a trainer. Frankie doesn't train girls but because of her persistence and drive, he gives Maggie a shot.

Quickly making her way up the rankings, Maggie and Frankie develop a strong bond that goes beyond the sweaty gym. When Maggie's family shows nothing but selfishness and greed, and Frankie runs out of hope for reclaiming ties with his own family, the pair reach out to each other for the support they need.

When tragedy strikes while in the ring, Frankie is faced with an overwhelming decision that strikes him to the core. If he chooses one option he'll be going against his faith and his own desire. If he chooses the other he will be leaving his "Mo Chuisle" to live a life she doesn't want.
Up against formidable opponents in the nominations for Best Picture - Ray, Finding Neverland, and Sideways (that I've seen) - Million Dollar Baby came out on top to snag the statuette. Each of its fellow nominees are excellent films, each one touching on a different part of the human experience in powerful ways making it a formidable challenge to select one that rises above the rest.

Though it has nothing to do with reviewing the film, I remember the first time I saw Million Dollar Baby. It was last spring after it had already won. I was on vacation in London and during my last day there, having seen everything I wanted to see, I ventured into one of the cinemas on Leicester Square where I bought my ticket, went up to my assigned seat - which I wasn't used to when seeing a movie - and waited for the lights in the small, cramped theater to dim. It was physically uncomfortable given the accommodations, but it left me with no reservations that this is a great film.

We will soon know which films will join this, and others, in the long list of Oscar winners. Not having yet seen all the nominees I couldn't venture a guess as to who will be awarded the little gold men. All I can say is, if these past 37 films - and the others that won other categories, if not the top honors - are any indication, the winners tomorrow night will represent excellence in filmmaking, will be examples of storytelling at its best, and will touch on the many facets of the human condition that are found in each one of us.

Oscar Review: The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (2003)

While not receiving the most nominations ever - even falling 2 shy of the film that captured the first part of the story - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is tied with Ben-Hur and Titanic with the most wins (11), taking home an Oscar for every category in which it was nominated; it is a feat only accomplished 4 other times with the films Gigi (9), The Last Emperor (9), It Happened One Night (5), and The Matrix (4).

It is the culmination of Tolkien's adventure trilogy about a fellowship of hobbits, dwarves, men, and elves and their quest to reach Mount Doom to destroy the One Ring.

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) are making their way to Mordor along with their guide Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis) trying to keep under the radar of Sauron's all-seeing eye. Meanwhile the rest of the fellowship are actively engaged in the battle for Middle Earth as the army of Orcs marches on.

Aided by Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd), and Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) comes to terms with who he is destined to be as he fights on for the freedom of all. Overcoming tremendous odds, using their passion for what is good and right, and struggling for something greater than themselves, the fellowship stays strong in the midst of such and overwhelming situation.

Despite Gollum's efforts, Sam and Frodo continue on, ever deeper into dangerous territory yet ever closer to their goal, testing their will, and their friendship, at every turn.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a big undertaking that would have seemed impossible at any other point in film history given the need for the huge amounts of CGI, the large cast of extras, and just the scope of the film.

Though not nominated for any acting awards - due to the amazing performances in other films that year - it is no wonder that The Return of the King walked away with so many Oscars.

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Peter Jackson)
  • Art Direction
  • Costume Design
  • Makeup
  • Original Music (Howard Shore)
  • Original Song - "Into the West"
  • Sound Mixing
  • Visual Effects
  • Adapted Screenplay

For such an ambitious film, with so many details and such high expectations from not only the audience but the filmmakers themselves, The Return of the King was certainly worthy of its honors. Though many great films were nominated in 2003 - Lost in Translation, Mystic River, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Seabiscuit - I think because it capped off such an innovative, epic trilogy of great movies, there is no doubt that this installment deserved to be named the Best Picture of the year.

Oscar Review: A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Winner of 4 Academy Awards - including Best Picture, Supporting Actress (Jennifer Connelly), Director (Ron Howard, his first), and Adapted Screenplay (Akiva Goldsman) - and nominated for 4 others, A Beautiful Mind is a master work of cinema.

The story follows the life of brilliant mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe) from his time as a student at Princeton and the exciting and trying years to follow. As a young man, John competes with his fellow students, and himself, to come up with one truly original idea. As he goes, his free-spirited roommate Charles (Paul Bettany) helps him to feel normal amidst the rat race of academia.

After graduating, John goes to work at MIT while doing cryptography for the military. While teaching a class, which he feels is a waste of time, a young, independent woman, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), captures his heart as she breaks through the elaborate walls of his personality.

When he is tapped by a mysterious government agent (Ed Harris) to do some top secret code breaking, John withdraws from his friends, his work, and his beloved Alicia and begins down a turbulent road of self-destruction.

Finally getting the help he needs, John is able to focus on his real work, renew his commitment to his family and go on to winning a Nobel Prize in economics.
Supported by notable performances by Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas, and Anthony Rapp, this is the role that deserved to earn Russell Crowe his Best Actor statuette.

Director Ron Howard has been a giant in the entertainment industry since his young days on TV and just about everything his puts his mark on has become a classic. A Beautiful Mind is no different. Its depth of character and the psychological struggles of such a brilliant man coupled with tremendous writing make this one of the finest films of 2001.

It is one of those movies that I can watch over and over again and always find small details that I've never caught before. It's just a great film.

Friday, March 03, 2006


If you've never come across Dooce.com, go there now and read her blog. She is hilarious and her perspective on raising a child and life in general is priceless.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Oscar Review: Gladiator (2000)

Winning 5 of its 12 nominations - including Best Picture, Actor (Russell Crowe), Costume Design, Sound, and Visual Effects - Gladiator was the biggest film in a year of big films that took audiences to the depths of the human spirit and the far corners of the world.

General Maximus (Crowe) is the head of Marcus Aurelius' (Richard Harris) Roman army that is sweeping across Europe. On the completion of yet another triumphant campaign, the emperor calls upon Maximus to be the one to return Rome to the people once again and names him the heir apparent to the throne.

When the emperor's power hungry son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) hears that he is not going to be Caesar, he murders his father and sends Maximus to be killed to ensure his ascendancy. But the evil doesn't end there. After thinking the powerful general dead, Commodus orders the killing Maximus' wife and son as well.

Returning home to find his family dead, Maximus is taken as a slave where he is forced to train to fight as a gladiator and to die for entertainment. Proving to be a formidable, albeit reluctant fighter, Maximus quickly rises to prominence on the gladiatorial circuit all the way to the Coliseum in Rome.

When Commodus' sister Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) learns that Maximus is still alive, she knows that he is the only one strong enough to take back the empire for the people and bring down the corruption that flourishes under her brother's rule.
Despite the countless historical inaccuracies of this film, Gladiator certainly entertains. It is visually interesting, has a decent balance between story and action and lives up to its epic nature.

Though I believe Tom Hanks deserved the Best Actor Oscar for Cast Away - his performance had much more depth and proved to be more compelling overall - Russell Crowe was in his element in this role, earning him the #50 spot on AFI's list of film heroes. (I still say that it wasn't his best performance on screen by far.)

Gladiator has something for everyone from the fight scenes to the adventure and drama of the plot. I may not go so far as to describe it as a great film, but it definitely has all the right elements for a really good movie.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I've Been Tagged

My friend Beth just tagged me...

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now. Post these instructions in your blog along with your seven songs. Then tag seven other people to see what they're listening to. In no particular order:

  1. The Rent soundtrack - particularly "Will I?", "Seasons of Love", "Another Day", "La Vie Boheme", and "What You Own" (does that count as 5?)
  2. "What's Goin' On" by 4 Non Blondes
  3. "All I Ask of You" - Phantom of the Opera - one of the best musical duets ever
  4. "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell
  5. "Collide" by Howie Day
  6. "Remember" by Harry Nilsson
  7. and "Remember When it Rained" by Josh Groban


Oscar Review: American Beauty (1999)

A surreal tale of self-realization, lust, and unapologetic behavior American Beauty is an interesting look at one man's story during the last year of his life.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a sedate man, tired of being bossed around by his cheating wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and not getting anywhere with his teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch). After being asked to fill out a job description for a job he's held for most of his adult life, Lester loses it and blackmails his company so he can finally live the life he's always wanted.

While attending a school basketball game, Lester begins to fantasize over Jane's best friend Angela (Mena Suvari) and begins to imagine how wonderful it would be to be with such a young, beautiful girl. This, of course, only adds to the distance that is already present in his relationship with Jane.

When new neighbors move in next door, Jane begins a relationship with the social outcast son, Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) - who becomes Lester's supplier of designer pot. With a controlling former Marine colonel for a father (Chris Cooper) and an emotionally vacant mother (Allison Janney) Ricky must hide his dealings out of fear of being sent back to military school.

After quitting his job, Lester remembers that his happiest times were as a high school student flipping burgers to save up for his first car. And so, the obvious answer is for him to live out his mid-life crisis and become the person he feels he needs to be, and thus driving Carolyn insane and into the arms of the "Real Estate King" (Peter Gallagher).
The first time I saw American Beauty in the theater I wasn't sure what to make of it. I just didn't get it. But when I saw it again, everything clicked and it has become a favorite.

Winning 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Actor (Spacey), Director (Sam Mendes, in his directorial debut), Cinematography, and Original Screenplay (Alan Ball), this film is phenomenal. It's abstract, it's emotional, it's off-beat, and it's a brilliant piece.

From the symbolism of Lester's computer screen at the beginning - the data and reflection make it look like he's trapped in his job - to the obscure plastic bag and Ricky's fascination with Lester's dead body American Beauty makes the audience pay attention and "look closer" than perhaps they are used to.

One of my favorite things about movies like this - and my favorite TV shows, for that matter - is that one of its first assumptions is that the audience is intelligent. There are so many films that get made that are very shallow, superficial, and rather simplistic to appease an audience that has become demanding of dumbed-down entertainment. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy turning off my brain long enough to enjoy stupidly funny movies, but there are times when I want to watch something that evokes a deep emotional response or challenges my mind a bit more than I'm used to. And, on many levels, American Beauty is one of those films.