“The object of a question is to obtain information that matters to us, and no one else.”
- Sean Connery as William Forrester in "Finding Forrester"

Visit My Amazon Store

Sunday, August 27, 2006

One Rainy Afternoon

In an attempt to do something different than staying home and watching too many movies (again), I hopped in the car despite the rain and drove up to Lake Ontario to sit on the shore and write in my journal. This shot was taken near Fair Haven, NY.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Film Reviews: Crash & Little Miss Sunshine

Having finally seen all 5 of the Best Picture nominees, I can honestly say that Crash was certainly the most deserving.

Also winning for Editing and a fantastic Original Screenplay - along with nominations for Supporting Actor (Matt Dillon), Director (Paul Haggis), and Song (In the Deep) - Crash offers a deeper look at the lives of a diverse group of people whose paths cross in L.A. during the course of a few fateful winter days.

The DA (Brendan Fraser) and his wife (Sandra Bullock) are car-jacked; the thieves (Ludacris & Larenz Tate) hit an old man; while searching for the stolen car, two cops (Dillon & Ryan Phillippe) pull over and molest a television director and his wife (Terrence Howard & Thandie Newton); a shop owner is vandalized and goes after the man who changed his locks; and an investigator (Don Cheadle) fights with his partner/girlfriend (Jennifer Esposito) while working a case and trying to find his criminal brother.

Crash is a film about prejudice, stereotyping, and trying to live into who you are instead of who everyone says you are. As the plot unfolds, the audience quickly makes judgments about the characters based on their speech, their actions, and their ethnicities. We assume what will happen next based on past actions. But what we soon realize is that these lives are not at all what they at first seemed.

The first line says so much about the film to follow:

It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.
In a world where everyone is rushing around, looking out only for themselves, the characters are numb to those around them. They see what they want to see; they see what is convenient to see. But the film challenges them, and by extension us, to look deeper, to consider that their lives are more than just the color of their skin.

At the beginning, each character lives on the surface. But as the cameras take us into their homes we find another side. Some have a smooth polish for their public selves, while others are more compassionate than they first appear to be. Different situations, different circumstances dictate our identities. Greatly divergent sides of our personalities come out depending on the whens, wheres, and whats we face. If we spend our lives avoiding real interactions we will lose sight of the humanity of those around us, and our own, until we crash into each other and are reminded of that which is real.
And now for something completely different.

For a fun diversion, I headed out to the only theater in town playing Little Miss Sunshine. Starring Alan Arkin, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Paul Dano, and Greg Kinnear, this film is a touching story about family that tells us, no matter how messed up things get, we're in this thing together.

After attempting suicide, Frank (Carell) - the #1 Proust scholar in the world - goes to live with his sister's family to be watched as he recovers. There he finds an unsuccessful motivational speaker (Kinnear) for a father, a voluntarily mute teenager (Dano), a heroin/sex addict grandfather (Arkin), and a hopeful child beauty queen (Breslin).

Upon receiving a message that the winner of a child pageant was forced to step down, little Olive, as the runner up, is given the opportunity to be in the Little Miss Sunshine competition in two days. After much arguing, the family loads into their old VW bus and begins their wild road trip to southern California. Along the way, hilarity ensues as the family turns on each other and unexpected obstacles get in their way.

Though it seems as though no one can quite reach their goals no matter how great their efforts, as Grampa reminds them, a loser is someone who is so afraid of losing that he doesn't even try. You're a winner because you try.

This movie has an independent film feel to it but it has a great heart to it followed up by some excellent writing and performances. Of particular note, given Steve Carell's comedic genius and the fact the Paul Dano doesn't talk for most of the film, they share glances throughout that say so much without saying anything.

See it. You won't be disappointed.


Neither one was accepted...

Friday, August 18, 2006

New Online Photo Encyclopedia

Just FYI, I found this link via Dave Cross Online announcing a brand new photography encyclopedia called "ProPHOTO WIKI." It's just getting started but there are already 87 articles on photographic terms, concepts, accessories, techniques, and the like. Just like Wikipedia, or any other wiki (online encyclopedia), users are able to submit articles, edit postings and do some general knowledge sharing. Good idea.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Oh, To Be Inspired...

A little-known poet once wrote:

Oh, to be inspired again
To know what to inscribe
Upon these pages that here are
So vacant and denied.

Oh, to be inspired again
To find the world anew,
To discover some greater meaning in life,
But the words I find are few.

Oh, to be inspired again
By the love I knew so well.
To feel again the joys I felt
And this misery to quell.

Oh, to be inspired again
By the leaves upon the tree.
Their beauty made me write so well;
With them my mind was free!

Oh, to be inspired again
And live my life entire
Without regret or want or need
And others I'd inspire.

Oh, to be inspired again
And look into the night,
Instead of blackness there would be
Something for me to write!

That's where I've been lately. I've felt like I'm just going through the motions. There are moments of creativity that come through, but just as quickly they are gone. Even now, I struggle to find the words to express myself.

Monday, August 14, 2006

In the News

Here's a recent article from the Syracuse Post-Standard about my friend Beth and her life as a young, recently-ordained pastor.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Walls Feel Naked

I just took down two pictures from the walls of my apartment and now it looks a bit bare in here. Tomorrow is the day when I take my photos down to the NY State Fairgrounds for their competition to be judged next week. I've had a lot of positive feedback lately with regard to my photography. My dad, always encouraging, has been praising my shots as I've been putting together our 4th volume of images for digital presentations this week. My best friend from college is going to make posters out of some of them to decorate her new place. And one of the youth I advise picked out one of my prints to adorn his dorm room when he heads off to college in a couple of weeks. So, without giving myself a big head, I have been pretty confident lately in my skills as a photographer and I have a good feeling about the competition. As I've said, my bar is set high to just being selected as a "work of merit" to be shown for the run of the Fair.

Looking at the bare walls reminded me of something I wrote while at my friend Laura's apartment in Boston when I was there for my former chaplain's ordination:

From January 31, 2004:
An empty frame hangs lonely on the wall. Perfectly placed and level and true, it waits for something to fill it. But What? In our lives we hang many pictures, material objects to make our surroundings more 'beautiful.' A landscape here or a still-life there, maybe even a portrait or two. For me, I've hung in my house a little bit of everything: memories of places I've been, signs of accomplishment and success, art to catch my eye, and some words I want to remember. Though, for me, perhaps the most appropriate would be an empty frame. Perhaps the emptiness of the frame speaks of the vacancy of our lives that materials and -isms try to fill. It hangs as a reminder of our own emptiness and to offer hope for the potential of fullness. Like me, it waits for someone to come along and fill it. But when will that be?

I have a little black book that I use to write my thoughts in. It's separate from my journal - which has felt neglected lately - I jot down short verses now and then or even a pair of words that sound interesting. The book sits in the bottom of the extra compartment of my camera bag, often covered up by whatever papers, accessories, or other assorted objects that make their way in there.

I read through some of my more "recent" notations (from last summer) and thought I would just put them up here. Not for any particular reason, just because.
From June 6, 2005:
In the silence of the evening
As the bright sun dims
In the reddened sky to the west
And the cool hint of wind
Signals the last breath of day
I sit in awe
That this moment -
In the midst of fear & confusion,
In the midst of solitude & loneliness,
In the midst of possibility & hope -
That this moment
Was offered not
For the ones who wanted romance,
Nor for those who came to play.
It is mine.
As I question and complain
And the din of my thoughts
Echo across my being
The gentle whisper of peace
Leads me on to a place
That I never thought could be.
I am not home.
Nor do I know the way.
But I am compelled to step on
Following the unseen.
Listening to the unheard.
Embracing the mystery.

And from June 24, 2005:
The Still & Quiet Times
Where are you when I need you?
Those moments when I get
Caught up in the outside,
The external craziness of my world,
Where are you?
I feel lost without you.
Stuck in the round,
Stuck in the wide-open expanses,
Trapped in the middle
Of I don't know
And What if?
But something
happened today.
I felt it in my bones;
No... Deeper.
Somewhere way, way down
In a place I hadn't seen -
At least, not for a long time -
There you were,
Waiting for me.
And I smiled.
It is in the still and quiet times,
In the meaning of moments,
In the middle of it all,
At the heart of everything
Where I see who I should be,
Where I see you,
Where I find peace.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Almost Watched It

After watching The Village a couple of weeks ago I've been in the mood for the "scary-what's-out-there-psychological-off-beat-I'm-now-afraid-of-the-dark-again" genre. The first film that came to mind was 1999's The Blair Witch Project. I thought about putting it in tonight, but I just couldn't do it.

I'm not a horror movie junkie and I don't believe in witchcraft or anything like that, but boy do I have an active imagination! And if I watch a scary movie at night, especially alone, it will freak me out a little bit. I'll hear every tiny noise in my apartment that night!

I know a lot of people didn't like The Blair Witch when it came out during my senior year of high school. They said it was so stupid that they did all the fake press before hand and built it up to be some sort of "lost footage" of three students who disappeared in the woods. I can see their point. It's tough to keep audiences entertained, especially in the horror movies where everyone is expecting unusual things to happen and the music is all too telling of what's coming next.

But one of the things I really like about Blair Witch is that it is its own film. It's different. They took unknown actors and shot it as though it were really doc footage and "home movies" with people having fairly realistic reactions under stress. Movies just aren't made that way. It was risky and, for me anyway, it works.

The best part about the film is that it is playing with your senses throughout. You hear noises that aren't quite natural coming from every direction. You actually get disoriented alongside the characters because you see what they see.

I'm a pretty discerning person when it comes to plots. I can usually figure out any twists fairly quickly - I figured out that Jennifer Aniston was behind it in Derailed the first time I saw the preview - and I'm always expecting the unexpected. I watch for subtle cues and look at all the details. In spite of all that, though, I can pretty easily allow myself to get drawn in to the world that the movie presents. I can let go of my "that's not real" reflex enough to be affected by the characters and what happens to them.

One of the best ways to get an audience is to keep the unknown unknown for as long as possible. Keep hinting at it but don't reveal the object of fear until the last few minutes. Not being able to identify the "evil thing that is out there" will cause the audience to begin to form images in their minds which will often be more terrifying than anything that could show up on the screen, thus adding to the suspense of the story. This works especially well in Blair Witch because you never actually see the witches. You hear them, you see them attacking the outside of the tent, but you never see any part of a witch throughout. And yet, one by one the characters disappear.

Another thing that I think works is the gradual progression of isolation that the characters face over the course of the film. They start off at home, surrounded by the comfortable, the familiar before heading out to the small town. From there, they visit with everyday townspeople, keeping it relatively normal, almost ordinary. Then they head out to meet with the "crazy lady" on the fringes before reaching a cemetery outside of town and then out to the forest. Little by little they head outside of safety.

The forest is obviously a secluded area and the loss of a map makes it all the more daunting and disorienting. As the group loses a member, tensions rise and there is greater loneliness and fear. Being in a tent certainly doesn't provide the most security either. When they get to the house, you are at the height of your anxiety because it's difficult to figure out where sounds are coming from, you're closed in, the children's handprints make you feel like something terrible has happened to innocence in this place and at the end you're left hanging with the source of fear is never revealed and everything becomes quiet after the camera hits the floor.

I almost watched it. But it's too late to even think about putting it in now.

It's Been Too Long...

This past week has really taken a lot out of me. The heat and humidity up here has been almost more than I can bear and it's left me feeling so disgusting and exhausted.

Last weekend was good. My brother turned 27 on the 21st but finally made it into town over the weekend and I took him to see Clerks II - a movie my sister-in-law wouldn't want to see - and we were able to be just brothers without throwing in the other parts of our family to distract us. It was a really fun afternoon, I must say. We had lunch with our dad and then headed to the mall for the movie. We had the windows down, the music up, and no obligations until dinner.

Saturday was one of those lazy days where I did nothing but watch movies. Sunday I went to a water park with a friend and a couple of youth from my old church. It was a relaxing day for the most part - floating around the lazy river on a tube and bobbing up and down in their wave pool. The only down side was that I put on my sun screen before taking off my shoes which left large dark red burns on the tops of my feet. Summer is definitely here. There must be a rule somewhere that says I have to get burned at least once every year and this time it was my feet's turn.

After the water park we headed down to hear the symphony play at Rome, NY's Honor America Days. It was a fun evening, despite how loud the speakers were. It was nice to hear the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra again. I had a chance to sing with them for their Holiday Pops concert when I was in high school.

The rest of the week is somewhat lost in a haze. The weather's been terrible and I've been so lethargic. It feels like I haven't done much of anything all week, yet, this humidity makes it near impossible to actually sleep. Go figure.

When I was a kid, on hot nights we would lay out some blankets on the floor in front of a box fan and clothes pin a bed sheet to the fan to act as a canopy, I suppose to help direct the flow of the fan right onto us. Not only was it a really good way to keep cool, I found that the gentle billowing of the sheet was quite relaxing as well. So, at the height of this week's heat, when I just could not get comfortable, I laid out all of my blankets on the floor to make a soft pad by my bedroom window, installed an old window fan my parents gave me at one end and my oscillating fan at the other with a sheet clipped to a chair, one of the fans, and the pull string from my mini-blinds.

It's amazing how something so simple from my childhood did so much. I certainly noticed the difference in temperature due to the flow of air under the sheet but the memories of my younger summers eased my restlessness as well. I may just keep things that way for a few more days, even though we're heading for more tolerable weather, just to feel that calm for a little while longer.