31 March 2011

My Mock-Candidacy

I had initially planned to take Drama 2 as my self-indulgent elective during my senior year of high school; I'd taken Drama 1 as an arrogant freshman.  My sophomore and junior years, I took Child Care Services, initially on a lark with another classmate who thought it was a clever way to meet girls.  It turned out we were the only boys in the class, but it didn't get either of us anywhere.  Still, I got to read Dr. Seuss to a lot of appreciative pre-schoolers and that was kinda neat (I love me some Green Eggs & Ham).  When the time came to take Drama 2, though, my Drama 1 teacher had left for Texas and I found myself without any enthusiasm for her successor.  I decided, instead, to take political science.

Our main project for the course was to stage a mock election.  We were to organize into camps with presidential and vice-presidential candidates, with campaign managers and organizers and the whole nine yards.  We had nearly free reign of the school for our advertisements, which consisted primarily of poster boards taped to walls. Several of my classmates were pretty popular, but I immediately declared my candidacy for the mock-presidency anyway.  My first--and perhaps only important decision--was to lobby the head cheerleader to be my running mate.  She and I had sparred often over the years, dating back to middle school, but there was a mutual respect of sorts.  To my surprise, she accepted--despite the fact she could have easily been the top of her own ticket.  Why she agreed, I can't say, but I appreciated that she did.

My campaign staff did an enthusiastic job on my behalf, though obviously their own grades in the class mattered at least as much as my own performance in the mock election.  I recall a Letterman-style Top Ten list of reasons why voters should cast their ballot for me went over fairly well in the hallway.  Still, the most prominent poster for my campaign was actually crafted by one of my opponents.  It featured a photograph of cult leader Marshall Applewhite, who had recently led his followers to commit mass suicide believing they could catch a ride to Heaven on the passing Hale-Bopp Comet.  The caption on the poster read, "Vote for Travis McClain - My followers and I did!"  Because of my twisted sense of humor, many students thought I'd created the thing myself and every reaction I ever heard to it took it to be a positive thing for my campaign.

Not only was he crazy, he was dead when he endorsed my campaign.
Photo from ABC News website.
Eventually the time came for the debate between candidates in the school auditorium before much of the student body.  My VP and I had never really discussed any of our views on issues, and it crossed my mind that perhaps we would be exposed as contradicting one another in the course of the debate but I never approached her about it.  I trusted her to speak her mind, and I respected her enough that I figured I would have little problem supporting anything she said.  I was right to trust in her, as it turned out; she was terrific and I had to restrain myself from applauding her more than once.

The pivotal moment, I believe, came when we were asked about gay rights.  There were three Republican candidates (six, including the VPs), who got to respond to that question first.  One of the three offered an articulate, biblical-based condemnation of the LGBT community.  Another made a juvenile "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" joke that got far more laughter than it deserved.  I forget now how the third candidate responded.

I was the first of the Democrat candidates to reply, and I wasted no time blasting my opponents over their immaturity and narrow-mindedness.  I argued that, as a chronically single guy, I was disgusted enough seeing straight couples being affectionate in public (which garnered some laughs and helped get the audience back on my side), and that if I could stomach that, then surely anyone else could suck it up and accept gay couples.  Furthermore, I argued, one's religious beliefs were insufficient in a democracy to marginalize another person.  I still believe that.  Besides which, just being gay and accepted in public didn't mean that there would be gays having sex in public; there were laws against that kind of behavior regardless of orientation, and it was ludicrous to assert that simply being in public with a partner of the same gender was tantamount to lewd behavior.  By the time I was finished, I had turned laughter into applause; it was the strongest throughout the entire debate.

After the debate, I was approached by a fellow student.  I knew her by face and name, but we'd never socialized and I don't even recall us ever having any classes together.  She was known as an outed lesbian (though I never approached her about confirming this, so maybe she was bisexual).  She was visibly shaken, with wet eyes and a quivering voice and she simply said, "Thank you."  It took me by surprise, and it took me a moment to put together why she was thanking me.  She told me that she appreciated what I had said, and that it had been important for her to hear someone say those things.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that was one of the most powerful moments in my life.  To think that my words--just spoken words, from a high school nobody--could be that important to another person...it gave me chills then, and it does now.
Never underestimate the power of your words.
I can't recall now for certain, but I think we took the vote the day after the debate.  As a candidate, it wasn't my task to run the polling table; that was left to some of my classmates.  I did, however, make sure to cast my own ballot.  It was painfully obvious that one of the popular candidates was stuffing the ballot box, quite shamelessly in fact.  I didn't bother to object; win or lose, my moment with my classmate after the debate had been my personal victory.  My teacher did pull me aside after the votes had been counted and a winner declared.  I had come in second, he made sure to tell me, and he was fully aware how rigged the voting had been and he believed that, in an honest election, I would have won.  My performance in the debate had demonstrated important skills, he told me, that could one day be of real value to me if I decided to pursue politics for real.  I never have run for an office, for a variety of reasons, but a part of me recalls that experience and wonders if there's not an alternate universe out there somewhere, in which that launched a political career for me.

I don't know how conscious my opponents were of our lesbian classmate's presence in the auditorium that day.  Maybe they were oblivious to her, and perhaps they would have spoken more respectfully had they realized she was there.  I don't know.  What I do know is that I'm glad theirs weren't the only words she heard that day, and I'm just a little bit proud that the words she heard that mattered came from my mouth.

I don't recount this experience for the sake of showing off.  Rather, I hope that maybe you've become more acutely aware how important it can be to someone else for you to speak up.  It doesn't have to be about LGBT issues.  Just remember that someone will hear you, and that your words can have an impact beyond your anticipation.

28 March 2011

On God

I was raised Baptist, though strangely to this day I've not been baptized.  I recall Sunday School from my younger years, even before I started kindergarten.  I once made a mug.  It was one of those where you got to insert a sheet of paper inside the mug.  I don't know why, but I decided to draw Jesus standing over the graves of Mary and Joseph.  Continuity-wise, I knew they had outlived Him.  The composition appealed to me, though, even if my art was pretty crude (I was four or five at the time).  I would show it to you, except my mom chucked it several years ago when she became concerned about owning anything with a graven image.

I remember defending the concept by pointing out that there was nothing known in the Bible to contradict the ability of Jesus to have stood over the graves (though, of course, I'm sure their graves didn't resemble the generic arched headstones I had conjured).  He had risen from the dead, right?  Of course, most people would think of Him joyously reuniting with Mary and Joseph in Heaven.  The notion of Jesus bothering with their graves, when He could simply be with their eternal souls, seems extraneous at best.

Eternity, despite the opportunities for such reunions, held little appeal for me.  The idea of lounging around Heaven forever honestly doesn't excite me.  Sure, I sometimes miss people and I'm curious to have met some others, but could I really enjoy their company forever?  I think that's why we're constantly reminded of Hell; if I'm going to continue existing forever anyway, I'd rather be bored than tormented.  How strange is it that even as a child the best I could say about Heaven was that it sounds better than Hell?

I have no recollection of my parents attending church together; so far as I'm aware, we didn't begin attending until my parents divorced.  My mom had been raised Catholic, what with all her Irish heritage--on both sides. She and her elder brother had gone to Catholic schools, but not her younger brother.  No one has ever confirmed it for me, but I suspect the death of her elder brother (who drowned at age 13) really put the family off their faith.  Strange that an ugly divorce would prompt my mother to resume it, but there you have it.

What does God need with a bucket?
I distinctly recall the smell of Kentucky Fried Chicken, as one of their restaurants was near the church we attended and we had to pass it on the way home.  I pictured God as looking like the image of Colonel Sanders atop the KFC business pole, but with a light blue mist surrounding Him.  Perhaps I was once wondering what God looked like while we were stopped at the red light right beside KFC and happened to look out my window.  I can't say for sure.

Once I reached adolescence, I had entirely lost my interest in God.  I figured we had disappointed one another handily, and I had no real interest in patching up the relationship.  I developed a deep resentment toward anyone who either didn't question their own faith or pushed it on others.  The bitterness has eased, but I still don't care to hear people drone on about how great God is, which makes checking my Facebook news feed particularly tedious.

I wish God would join Facebook and tell me Himself what He wants me to know.
During one of my bouts with depression I kind of rekindled my faith.  It was a tenuous relationship with God, in which I simply agreed that I would try hard to quit worrying about anything in life outside my own personal choices and actions.  Then, somewhere along the line, I just quit caring.  Too many of our social issues come down to people trying to live peaceful, rational lives being told by others that their peaceful, rational lives are an abomination unto the Lord and must be opposed.  I simply don't care.  Whatever your beliefs are, in a democracy they're to be protected--not used to vilify and condemn those whose lives do not conform to your beliefs.

In fairness, that's a problem for me to have with people, not God; like how I shouldn't resent Justin Bieber just because his fans are obnoxious on Twitter.  Yet, it carries over from worshiper to deity.  My favorite biblical story has always been the one about Jesus intervening to stop a mob from stoning a prostitute.  It's discouraging sometimes just being around my family shouting at one another; I can't imagine standing up to an armed mob.  More importantly, I loved the message.  We've got enough on our plate just trying to be decent people ourselves; no one should have time to go around pointing fingers at others.  That's a philosophy that can be appreciated even without a belief in God.  I didn't need the Holy Bible to teach me that kind of tolerance.  It's the core philosophy of Star Trek and say what you will, but I don't think any Trekkie has ever taken the life of someone for not sharing their feelings about Captain Kirk, or spewed hateful things about people in the name of Mr. Spock (the occasional rivalry with other nerds at conventions notwithstanding).

I don't know at this point whether I've stopped believing, or if I just don't care.  I don't resent those who do believe, and I'm not here to pass judgment on your beliefs.  All I'm saying is that if God really wanted to comfort me, He would let me know that when I die, that's it.  No roasting in Hell, no endless days on streets of gold; just...no more existing.  That's the kind of end I want, and the only thing that sounds peaceful to me.

27 March 2011

Top Five Favorite Concerts

A friend of mine is on yet another High Fidelity kick and posted his five favorite concerts on Facebook and has asked others to follow suit.  It's actually kind of troublesome for me.  For six years, from 1998 until 2004, I was a concert fiend.  A local club, Coyote's Music and Dance Hall, frequently had up-and-coming country acts perform free of charge.  Each Spring they held a weekly, "New Faces of Country" series.  I even saw a few shows in other cities.  Twice, for instance, my friends and I had gone to Chicago and took in a concert while we were there.  Brooks & Dunn's Neon Circus and Wild West Show tour, which ran from 2001 through 2003, never came to Louisville.  I attended a show all three years, though, by going to Nashville, Indianapolis and St. Louis.

I spent $130, plus fan club membership, to not see this guy.
It was the summer of 2005 when Crohn's disease fully entered my life and began putting a stop to my concert-going ways.  I hadn't seen Kenny Chesney in concert since he was one of the middle acts on George Strait's Country Music Festival tour in 1999.  In the intervening years, Chesney had established himself as a big star with his own aesthetics (many have tired of his Caribbean-influenced style, but I still dig it).  I was curious to see what kind of show he put on now that he was a headliner, and I knew that it would sell out quickly.  See, there for a while, Chesney concluded his annual tours in Louisville...at the Kentucky State Fair.  I've gone to a few concerts at the Fair, but by and large I hate going there; it's a traffic nightmare unlike no other and I tire very quickly of the exhibitions.  I'd just as soon go to concerts independent of all that nonsense, but the economics of concerts being what they are, the lion's share of big shows that come to Louisville have been as part of the Fair.

Anyway, I joined Chesney's fan club to ensure that I could have a pre-order offer on tickets.  I was right to bother; the tickets sold out pretty quickly once they were opened up to the general public.  The day of the concert, though, which I remember distinctly was a somewhat rainy Sunday, my guts were aggravated.  It was pretty obvious I couldn't leave the apartment to sit in a ton of traffic and contend with that size crowd between myself and the frequently overcrowded restrooms.  I hated to do it, but I turned over the tickets to a friend of ours who lived in the same apartment building.  She eventually repaid me (it wasn't fair at all to expect her to have $130 on the spot, and I trusted her not to stiff me on the tickets), and I was glad that she got to go, as she was an even bigger Chesney fan than I was.  She seemed to have a good time, and I'm still glad I was able to facilitate her attendance.  Still, there's a part of me that resents my stupid guts; that was supposed to have been my good time.  I have rarely bought tickets in advance to a concert since, fearing that I won't be able to go, or find someone last minute to take the tickets off my hands.

Around the same time that my guts began to be a problem, Louisville renovated a section of Fourth Street and transformed it into a relatively posh (and costly) entertainment district.  The free shows that used to come to intimate Coyote's now went to the overcrowded Fourth Street Live! and I simply didn't care enough to put up with the place.  To date, I've gone just once, in early 2005, to see Mark Chesnutt.  He'd not played Louisville since I got back into country music in the late 90s and began paying attention to concerts.  My guts were cooperative the night of his show, and I went with a friend.  We had a fairly good time.  I've only made it to three concerts since Chesnutt, and one of them was the M.C. Hammer concert before and after a Cincinnati Reds game last year, which one could very well argue was not a proper concert (though still enjoyable and a highlight of my 2010).

Fourth Street Live!  Photo taken from HelloLouisville.com.
It's in that context, then, that I hope you understand how bittersweet it is for me to reflect on the concerts I've attended.  I know that I can still attend them from time to time, but the truth is that I'm just not likely.  I was very fortunate that I was able to see nearly every artist I wanted to see during the six years I was an active concert-goer, so that's nice.  There have, of course, been new artists to come along, and my taste has changed somewhat that I would be more interested now in some older artists than I had been then.

The prospect of cherry-picking five concerts that I enjoyed more than the rest honestly is not appealing.  I don't mind the challenge; I spend quite a lot of time on Flickchart ranking movies, so that part of this exercise very much appeals to me.  Rather, it's the idea of dwelling on an activity I dearly loved and have been compelled to all but abandon entirely.  Still, that's what I was asked to do so here goes:

Photo by Lauren Schwiers; from allaboutjazz.com.
Chicago Symphony Orchestra; John Williams, conducting
18 July 1999 * Ravinia Festival * Tinley Park, IL

The full set list and my full remarks are here, but suffice it to say that this was a nearly magical evening on a gorgeous summer night.  The standout moment wasn't the main title from Star Wars causing a seemingly refined audience of orchestra aficionados erupt into fannish applause, but rather the performance of a suite from The Reivers.  You see, Ossie Davis came on stage and read the original short story to the accompaniment of Williams's score.  Absolutely amazing.

AP Photo by Matt Sayles
Alan Jackson "Under the Influence" Tour
6 October 2000 * Rupp Arena * Lexington, KY

This was another unplanned concert.  My friend and I were in Lexington entirely by happenstance, and on our way out of town they announced a section of seats on the floor had just gone on sale.  We gave into the moment, whipped across town and bought the tickets.  Clay Walker had a difficult time with the lyrics to one of his songs (and strangely decided that the Spanish-language "La Bamba" was preferable, which he got right), but put on a lively show.  Alan Jackson himself wasn't as enthusiastic, but we had a good time regardless.  The full anecdote, with set list, is here.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons; uploaded by J-smith
Gain Presents CMT On Tour: Keith Urban
14 November 2004 * Louisville Palace Theater * Louisville, KY

The last paid concert I attended before being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, and it was spectacular!  What really won me over was when Urban began reminiscing about his last visit to Louisville, when he played Coyote's in 2002.  I almost went to that show; I was leaving class just a couple blocks away when the doors opened, but I was hungry and just felt like going home.  Anyway, he discussed a few specific moments from that '02 performance, more than two years later, as if they were favorite memories of his.  Maybe he keeps a record of such anecdotes to reference when he returns to a city, but even that would demonstrate an attentiveness that I haven't seen in any other performer.  Then the dude walked into the audience, singing and playing guitar...all the way into the balcony.  Crazy!  Read more, with set list, here.

Photo by Jackie Zettles; from Tennessean.com
Montgomery Gentry
22 February 2001 * Coyote's Music and Dance Hall * Louisville, KY

Oh, how I wish I had the set list from this concert!  A friend of mine had gone gaga over Montgomery Gentry's lead single, "Hillbilly Shoes," and we decided on a lark to go see them when we found out they were coming to town.  This has the distinction of not only being the first concert I attended at Coyote's, but my first visit there at all.  It wasn't my first visit to a bar, but it was certainly one of the earliest!  Throughout their set, Eddie and Troy made a big show of swilling Jim Beam (with whom they later developed a sponsorship deal), which at first seemed like an affectation to me, but then I quickly realized that they really did just enjoy their bourbon.  A few songs into their set, Eddie addressed us to let us know how happy he was to be back in Kentucky, where he could smoke on stage.  He then asked if anyone had a smoke, and a woman near the stage offered him one and he lit up to thunderous applause.  A few months later, I was listening to a radio interview with the guys and that anecdote came up...and then the woman who had given him the cigarette called in and I relived that entire portion of the concert, hearing them reminisce!

Anyway, after the show my friend and I were on our way to her car when we spied Troy Gentry standing around in his camo bibs, chatting with some of his friends.  Tentatively we walked nearer to them, and when he noticed us, he called us over.  Mind you, no one else was around or in sight.  He could have easily blown us off and only we would have known.  He could have even been polite about it, saying something like, "We appreciate our fans, but this is our personal time to visit with people we don't get to see very often" and I wouldn't have thought any less of him.  Instead, he invited us into their little circle, asked us how we liked the show, offered to sign our ticket stubs...he could not have been more gracious or friendly.  Eddie Montgomery was having an aggravating time with one of the bouncers over an altercation with one of Eddie's friends, so we didn't bother him, though one of the band members did offer to take our stubs onto the bus to get him to sign them, which he did.

Photo by Daniel Bayer
Willie Nelson
29 September 2002 * Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom * Louisville, KY

This has the distinction of being the only concert I've attended entirely by myself.  As I recall, they asked for a donation of a few canned goods and knocked down the price of admission to $10 or $12, which I thought more than appealing.  I arrived early in the day, and was tempted to jump on some rides before the show began but then I saw that a crowd had already formed and I decided to go ahead and secure my place in line.  As it turned out, I needn't have worried; the majority of attendees flocked to the bleachers inside the amphitheater.  I elected instead to stand in front of the stage.  In fact, I was so close that for a while I leaned with my arm propped up on the stage!  Mickey Raphael, who plays harmonica, stood about six to ten feet away from me throughout most of the concert.  He knew the woman standing directly behind me; between songs the chattered for a bit and discussed a party they were attending with some friends after the concert.  I never did quite catch onto the location, or I might have pressed my luck and crashed it.

What surprised me most was that Willie would begin playing a song while the band was still finishing the last one...and he sustained that breakneck pace throughout nearly three entire hours!  I don't think there was a song I remotely imagined him playing that didn't appear throughout the set.  It was also a memorable show because numerous women--of various ages--kept running onto the stage!  Willie graciously hugged 'em and let security escort them off the stage, never once flummoxed by an intruder.  I've seen a few enthusiastic fans dash onto the stage during other shows, but nothing like the nearly endless train of women who needed to get closer to the Red Headed Stranger!  Being there by myself allowed me to just get lost in the concert, and I don't know that I've ever had a better time at a show.

In case you care to see my list of attended concerts, here it is on setlist.fm.

24 March 2011

Giving: The Butterfly Effect - Update (March 2011)

You may recall my recent foray into micro-loaning through Kiva, thanks to a $25 gift card I received from a friend for Christmas.  I settled on Herbart Mwesigwa as my first loan recipient, as he wanted $650 to help provide medicine through his clinic in Uganda.  Anyway, Dr. Mwesigwa has already repaid $2.08 in March and is scheduled to repay another $2.08 in about a week.  It's nice to know that Ugandans have more access to medicine through Dr. Mwesigwa.  My $25 isn't scheduled to be repaid in full until early next year, but I'm already eager to recirculate it!

23 March 2011

100 Things I Love About Films

This was originally a "note" on Facebook, but I thought I should also share it here on my blog.  Credit for the premise goes to Beau Kaelin, who is hopeful that this concept goes viral.  On his behalf, therefore, I invite you to compose your own such list and share it.  His original introduction:

Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies.  I dig the concept, because instead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are "objectively good enough" to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends.  Just read below and you'll get the idea.


P.S. I'm probably gonna regret leaving something off the minute I post this.

P.P.S. If I tagged you, it's because we talk movies and as such, I'm genuinely curious as to how your list would look.  I didn't feel like assigning a special number to the number of people tagged, but I'm sure if this circulates long enough, it'll happen.
1. Everything about The Wizard of Oz, from the production design and costumes to the music and performances.

Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif
2. The look on Peter O'Toole's face when he declares, "No prisoners!" in Lawrence of Arabia
3. The 20th Century Fox Fanfare with Cinescope Extension, composed by Alfred Neuman
4. Tags after the end credits
5. Teaser trailers that actually make a movie seem interesting instead of a 3 minute summary of the entire story

Val Kilmer
6. Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone
7. The atmosphere of Lost in Translation; I can just get lost in the film without even paying attention to the characters
8. A balloon animal in the shape of a dog tracking people in Killer Klowns from Outer Space
9. The arrival at Jurassic Park, from John Williams's score to Richard Attenborough saying, "Welcome to Jurassic Park."

Alan Rickman
10. Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
11. The way the opening montage of Up manages to grab and then break my heart
12. Michael Keaton saying, "I'm Batman."
13. The nuances of Tom Cruise's performance as Bill Hartford in Eyes Wide Shut, most of which were beyond me when I saw it during its theatrical run
14. Unexpected cameos, particularly in comedies for some reason
15. Seeing anything in a movie made before CGI that makes me wonder, "How did they do that?!"

Salma Hayek
16. Salma Hayek's dance in From Dusk Till Dawn; no nudity, but highly erotic
17. The way a film can sometimes actually improve on its literary source material, like with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Christmas with the Kranks (seriously, John Grisham, learn punctuation!)
18. The way a lively, attentive and respectful audience can elevate even a mediocre movie into a memorable, enjoyable experience
19. Pierce Brosnan as Julian in The Matador
20. When actors reprise roles after a lengthy time has passed, like Leonard Nimoy appearing as Spock in Star Trek after not having played him since 1991
21. Kevin Jarre's dialog for Tombstone, including such gems as "Are you gonna do somethin' or just stand there and bleed?" and "I'm sufferin'...from a hangover!"
22. The ease with which I fell completely in love with Casablanca
23. Camping out for midnight tickets to Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, before it became unnecessary to go to such lengths to see a movie
24. The way Paranormal Activity got me looking at the screen for things that weren't even there

Harrison Ford
25. Dramatic declarations from Harrison Ford, like "Get off my plane!" in Air Force One or "I need eggs!" in Morning Glory
26. The fact they managed to cast Ossie Davis in Bubba Ho-Tep
27. Seeing Michael Moore approach congressmen on the Capitol steps in a way "real" journalists never would
28. The bravery of every filmmaker who agreed to appear in This Film Is Not Yet Rated
29. The fact that Christopher Walken only ever changes his hair for a role and not his mannerisms, voice, cadence, etc.
30. Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking
31. The rare occasion when a movie portrays something I've always wanted to articulate, like Robert DeNiro's frustration with the doctors who tell him there's nothing wrong with him in the beginning of Analyze This.  (I'd been having anxiety attacks around the same time, took a battery of tests and it was the receptionist who finally told me there was something wrong because the cardiologist apparently didn't believe in acknowledging anything outside his specialty.)

Robert Redford, Paul Newman
32. The chemistry between Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting
33. The multiple layers of storytelling taking place throughout Bride of Frankenstein
34. Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman in Cairo in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the anecdote for why that scene was shot that way
35. The thrill from seeing a movie again after I've forgotten a familiar actor was even in it because it was a small role, like Vincent D'Onofrio in Adventures in Babysitting
36. Knowing that even the extras were outfitted with period-authentic undergarments for Doctor Zhivago
37. The shameless gratuity (both violence and nudity) of a good slasher movie
38. The thought-provocative, soul-searching nature of The Seventh Seal
39. Any time I get to see real footage of outer space or Earth, like in For All Mankind
40. Seeing the evolution of Leonardo DiCaprio from a movie star to an actor; I don't think enough people realize how extraordinary his career has been
41. The authenticity that Sean Connery brings to everything he's ever done, even something as odd as playing a defecting Soviet submarine captain with his own Scottish accent

Jonah Hill, Heidi Hawking
42. The party scene in Grandma's Boy
43. The long pullback opening shot of Star Trek: First Contact
44. Knowing that when Bill Murray was asked by Golf Digest to name the greatest golf movie ever made, he answered "Goldfinger."
45. The complete absurdity of "Like a Virgin" in Moulin Rouge
46. The conversation about Superman in Kill Bill Vol. 2
47. The 16.5 minute long single shot discussion between Raymond (Stuart Graham) and the priest (Rory Mullen) in The Hunger
48. Yoda walking into the hanger bay for the finale of Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones because we all knew what was coming and had been waiting 22 years to see it
49. Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, a performance I appreciate even more now that I've finally read Bret Ellis Easton's novel
50. There may be nothing more rewarding in life than staying up all night watching The Three Stooges short films
51. The way Sullivan's Travels explores the value of comedy

Anne Heche and Joan Chen
52. Joan Chen and Anne Heche's sex scene in Wild Side, for the bravery as actresses to film it, and because it's smokin' hot
53. The Break-Up for not caving in and giving us the predictable, feel-good ending everyone expected
54. I love discussing movies and seeing people react when I admit I haven't seen something they think everyone in the world has seen
55. The banter between the good that was Bob Hope and the evil that was Bing Crosby in their "Road" movies
56. The absolute goofiness that is Disney's Robin Hood
57. Thinking about what the MPAA used to allow in a PG movie
58. Everything about Dick Tracy from the production design to the make-up, the costumes, the star power of its cast, the songs, Danny Elfman's score, etc.

Louise Brooks
59. The unapologetic sexuality of Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box
60. The way that computers process, download, upload and transfer data instantly without fail unless it's to build tension
61. The fact that movie characters always have concise phone conversations devoid of the rambling that characterizes real life phone conversations
62. Recognizing the same locations in different movies, like the bridge over the creek in Hollywood Homicide and Valentine's Day
63. Product placement (I can't help it; I actively look for those things)
64. The gunbarrel opening of a Bond movie
65. When I actually wonder whether a line was ad lib or script
66. Piper Perabo's pouty face in Coyote Ugly
67. When a movie invents something and makes it convincing, like taking pictures of the borders of paintings in The Thomas Crown Affair
68. Seeing characters enthusiastically sing along with old pop songs
69. When the camera work is manipulated to show us that someone is under the influence of a mind-altering substance, even though it makes no sense that our omniscient narrator would be affected
70. The way characters who have just met somehow know how to contact one another later; i.e., "I'll call you" or "Pick me up on Friday" even though we've never seen any indication they should have that information
71. Elaborate period drama costumes, even when most characters should be outfitted with something far more plain
72. Rousing, defiant performances of "La Marseillaise," such as in La Grande Illusion and Casablanca
73. All the quote-worthy phrases from Office Space
74. The fact that the entire premise of Smokey and the Bandit is a beer run

Alec Guinness and a bunch of guys who didn't speak as clearly
75. The precise enunciation of Sir Alec Guinness
76. The remake of 3:10 to Yuma, a movie set in the American West, stars Russell Crowe (Australian) and Christian Bale (Welsh)
77. Montages that show a group of people preparing for battle; gathering weapons, fashioning defenses, modifying cars with spiky add-ons, etc.
78. The Muppets
79. The contrived ways actresses with star power remain clothed during and after sex scenes
80. Mark Wahlberg as Sgt. Dingham in The Departed
81. The way we know a phrase like "There's no way I'm doing that/going there" is a cue for an immediate quick cut to that character in fact doing that or being there
82. Seeing animated short films before features; not sure why I love this but I do

Fred Savage and He-Man action figure
83. Watching a movie made in the 1980s and recognizing things I had as a kid, like the He-Man action figure behind Fred Savage in The Princess Bride
84. That "Oh, wow! Really?" feeling that comes with seeing an "Introducing" credit for someone like Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia or Kirstie Alley in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
85. Guys firing two guns, in slow motion, midair with fire behind them, John Woo-style
86. When Danny Glover says in Silverado, "I don't want to kill you, and you don't want to be dead"
87. Sometimes George Clooney just mails it in, but sometimes he takes some creative chances and captivates me, like From Dusk Till Dawn, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Men Who Stare at Goats and those are the performances that remind me not just why I love seeing him in movies, but why I love seeing movies
88. Walking out of a movie like The Prestige and immediately having to talk myself out of seeing it a second time
89. The cheap thrill I got from leaving The X-Files: Fight the Future and saying, loudly enough for the next audience to hear, "I can't believe they killed the Cigarette Smoking Man!" when, in fact, they didn't, but I'd planted the seed in their suspicious little minds and I know they hated me for it
90. Hearing the little boy behind me at Toy Story 3 yell at Andy about his toys, "They're not junk!" because it reminded me how great it is to be so invested in these fictitious people

Optimus Prime
91. Seeing my mom cry when Optimus Prime died ("They killed my baby's favorite!")
92. Thunderheart for being the first R-rated movie I saw in the theater (thanks to Justin and his family for taking me!)
93. What Lies Beneath for making the drive home from Clarksville, Indiana the night before Thanksgiving 2000 spooky and unnerving
94. The way the rules for surviving Zombieland appear in text on screen throughout the movie
95. The animated bat-to-person transformation of Count Dracula in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein

Glenn Strange and Lon Chaney, Jr.
96. The whole Universal Studios series of DraculaFrankenstein and The Wolf Man movies and their various crossover sequels, for going ahead and just throwing those worlds together for the fun of it
97. James Bond movies for still using practical effects and stunts and not farming it all out to CGI artists
98. Bad Santa for going ahead and admitting what we all knew anyway: that people are not somehow better around the holidays than they are the rest of the year
99. All the various adaptations of Alice in Wonderland for trying to show us the unreal
100. Zombie movies for being both an allegory for social anxieties and for being unadulterated fun

Other "100 Things I Love About Films" lists:
Beau Kaelin, original "100 Things I Love About Films" list
Nathan Chase, co-founder of Flickchart
Hannah M
Tyler Harris

                                                                                                                                                                                                      22 March 2011

                                                                                                                                                                                                      On Depression

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I suppose it's high time I addressed depression in this blog.  I mean, if I can devote time to reviewing Darby O'Gill and the Little People, share a checklist of Star Trek toys from Burger King and even create a label tag for John Boehner, I may as well discuss something that actually matters once in a while, right?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Depression is at least as important as those toys, right?
                                                                                                                                                                                                      I can't say now when I first became depressed.  In eighth grade I once ignored a class lesson to instead compose a suicide note.  It was fittingly accusatory and morose, and a classmate--nay, a friend--interceded and reported it once I permitted him a preview of my handiwork.  I had a rather bothersome discussion with the guidance counselor and my mom, and shelved the whole thing as an anomalous writing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      My mood, however, never stabilized.  In 2000 it came to a head when I fell down the stairs while again contemplating suicide.  Again, I composed a note--this one was far more bittersweet than the angst-ridden diatribe I'd previously constructed.  I agreed this time to consult a physician and try an anti-depressant.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't recall all of what I sampled, but I distinctly recall that Zoloft had an adverse effect on me as a guy.  Not that it really mattered; I was single at the time and had no one to disappoint.  Still, when you're already self-conscious and consumed by an inferiority complex, impotence isn't a welcome addition to your psychological woes.  For a while, Prozac seemed to help.  At the very least, it was a lot easier for me to stave off the nagging interior voices.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Photo taken from Wikipedia commons.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Those who have never dealt with an emotional disorder assume that anti-depressants are "happy pills" for people who whine too much about the real world that everyone else deals with like a grown-up.  You can't approximate an understanding of what it's like to be depressed, no matter how many doctor's office pamphlets you've read or how many Cymbalta commercials you've seen on TV.  The best analogy I've found is one of my own, and that's to think of driving in the rain.  You can't control the rain.  It's there regardless of what you want.  Maybe it lets up, maybe it comes down harder; you can only react to it.  It's hard enough, depending on the terrain, but it's almost impossible without wipers.  Having an emotional disorder is like being deprived of those wipers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Most people have no idea what it's like to actually resent being alive, and it's such a foreign idea to them that if you introduce it in conversation they often become defensive.  Sometimes they want to insist that you don't really feel that way.  Some of them think of your immediate circumstances and believe that you don't have sufficient cause to be depressed, as though there's some kind of criteria to be met.  Trust me, people of all walks deal with depression regardless of anything else in their lives.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Depression is an internal problem, and it doesn't give a damn about your circumstances.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      When you're depressed, there is no right job to have, no right lover to share a bed with, no right car to drive, no right home to live in, no right clothes to wear.  Whatever it is that it's in your life, it's insufficient to make a difference in how you feel about yourself or your life.  People who are happy assume that you just need to make some kind of exterior change, and happiness will follow.  It doesn't work that way.  You can change jobs, seek a new lover, trade in your car, move and change your entire wardrobe and still be just as depressed as you were before you altered a thing.  Plenty of rich people have talked about depression; money didn't help, and we're talking about people with the kind of money to change everything else about their lives on a whim.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Recently, I went to the doctor and discussed my depression.  She prescribed Cymbalta, but confessed that she honestly didn't think at this point that there was anything on the market that would make a difference with me.  I've taken two pills.  Both times induced severe nausea, vomiting and left me so fatigued and out of it that I honestly had no recollection of the entire next day either time.  I won't take a third Cymbalta pill.  I don't know where that leaves me, honestly.  It's a hell of a feeling, knowing that a physician has outright said that medical science is apparently unable to help you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      If you've read this and have dealt with depression, I hope that you got something out of this.  Sometimes it's helpful to hear someone else describe our own experiences, and maybe something I've written will be of some value to you on that level.  Maybe it's just nice to know you're not alone.  Maybe you'll show this to someone, and hope that it helps them understand your situation.  Whatever you get out of it (if anything), more power to ya.  And don't be scared by my experience; there's a very good chance that one of the anti-depressants on the market can help you.  At the very least, you owe it to yourself to find out for sure.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      If you haven't dealt with depression, I know exactly what I want you to get out of this.  Humility.  Know that your imagination isn't up to the task of approximating what it's like to actually be depressed.  Understand that you aren't qualified to determine who around you is entitled to be depressed.  And if someone you know indicates that he or she may be depressed, take the "that's life" speech and shove it.  No one who is depressed has ever been helped by someone who isn't depressed telling them they need to get over it. The best you can do is tell them that you will support them if they address the situation and seek help.  You'd be surprised how hard it is to seek help when you're already self-conscious about the problem.  The best you can ever do for someone who is depressed is help alleviate that singular instance of embarrassment on their part.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      10 March 2011

                                                                                                                                                                                                      WTF, MPAA?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Even before I saw This Film Is Not Yet Rated last year (thank you, Netflix Watch Instantly!) I was very conscious about film ratings and the often confusing, if not outright hypocritical, nature of the MPAA.  Lately, though, I'm so baffled I'm angry.  Or am I so angry I'm baffled?  I just can't tell anymore.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Last month, I streamed the astounding documentary Restrepo.  It follows a platoon of U.S. soldiers stationed in the most volatile region in Afghanistan as they try to turn the tide of war there.  We see them in action several times, including two ambushes--during each of which at least one soldier lost his life.  The actual killings are not shown (I presume out of respect, but possibly because it's really hard to know where to point a camera when you're literally under fire), but we are clearly informed what has taken place.  Want to know what the MPAA rated Restrepo?
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Rated R for language throughout including some descriptions of violence.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      These men have put their lives on the line for real, but the MPAA
                                                                                                                                                                                                      is afraid that teens will hear them talk about violence.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Think about that for a moment.  It's not the actual combat captured on screen that was the problem.  Seeing civilian casualties of a bombing offensive--including a horribly burned little girl--didn't faze the MPAA.  The notion that teens might see this fine documentary and hear some soldiers describe what happened, though, set the self-righteous MPAA all in a tizzy.  I don't know what bothers me more: the fact that the MPAA didn't even feel that the on-screen imagery was even bothersome enough to note in its rating, or the fact that language alone was given as a reason to keep this out of the hands of teens who may have gone to see it during its admittedly limited theatrical release.  That's right, Johnny: you may have a loved one serving our country, and have a personal interest in seeing what things are really like for them, but because they talk about violence you're not considered mature enough to handle this.  Had they just shown the violence, however...well, who knows?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      "S-s-so ho-ho-ho-how ma-ny times ca-ca-can...I...s-s-s-say, 'f-f-f-fuck'?"
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Then there's the matter of The King's Speech, which included Colin Firth swearing rapidly in the context of speech therapy.  He may as well have been yelling, "frak!frak!frak!frak!" for all the meaning that the words have in the scene.  By that, I mean to distinguish it's not as though audiences are hearing it in the heat of sexual passion, nor is it hurled as an invective.  The film opened on Christmas Eve, became the darling of the awards season and took in $100 million along the way in two months.  Then it was announced literally the day before the Academy Awards were held that the Weinstein Company had agreed to mute some of Firth's language to secure a new PG-13 rating.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      The votes had already been turned in and counted; it was too late for this move to be seen for what it is: throwing the artistic intent of the film under the bus in the name of commercialism.  The Weinstein Company had the opportunity to insist on the edits before the film was released, but were content with its R-rating.  It wasn't until they'd gotten every last bit of mileage out of the film for awards and that it had grossed $100 million that the bean counters appear to have said, "You've proved your artistic point; now let's make a lot more money before this thing hits DVD!"  It's disingenuous both to the filmmakers who felt their film complete, and to audiences who see the retroactively edited version.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Ironic, isn't it, that a film about finding one's voice would be subject to this kind of censorship?  I'm sure someone reading this is thinking, "But Travis, they could have chosen another word for Firth to yell in rapid succession and achieved the same point; it's not as though they were following an actual transcript of the therapy sessions."  I would counter that by saying that the word of choice does have a more significant value than another choice, and that it suits the scene perfectly.  The point is to get "Albie" to not only speak clearly, but to have a sort of catharsis; to break through the timidity heaped upon him by his family and really let out his own thoughts and feelings.  It's difficult to imagine another word in the English language being sufficient to the task.  Moreover, I would argue that this was an instance for the MPAA to properly consider context and artistic merit.  Instead, it appears that their rater simply kept a tally of f bombs and once it hit a second tic mark, an R rating was stamped on the film.  And while we're at it, isn't it funny that the MPAA was willing to give a lower rating for the film once it had made a ton of money and been lavished with high profile awards?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      What we've learned here is that the MPAA is not concerned about the effect that visual imagery of real soldiers in live combat might have on our youth, and that the mere discussion of those acts is tantamount to a handful of "fuck"s.  Imagine, if you will, that Elmer Fudd says, "I'm hunting wabbits."  He then shoots at Bugs Bunny, who reacts by yelling, "Fuck!"  The MPAA would consider that sequence too mature for teenagers because 1) Elmer talks about the violence and 2) Bugs drops an f bomb.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Seeing Elmer actually try to shoot and kill Bugs is not considered a problem.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Close your ears, Daffy!
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Traditionally, the MPAA has insisted that its ratings are based solely on the context of the film at hand.  That is to say, that they realize the difference between a the fantasy of Batman fighting a group of thugs and the historical value of reenacting D-Day.  It appears to me, however, that the MPAA is no longer cognizant of any artistic merits in their blind pursuit of reasons to penalize a film.  Seriously, I can't think of two films from 2010 I would rather a teenager see than Restrepo and The King's Speech (its whitewashing re: the royals and Nazis aside).  Who are we kidding?  The average teen would have passed over both of those in favor of Iron Man 2 anyway; why exclude the minority of teens who may actually have a mature enough taste in film to want to have seen either of these on the big screen?  They have far greater value as works of art than nearly any other film released last year, but the MPAA's self-righteous fretting over language became a barrier between youth and art.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I imagine a fifteen year old movie-goer standing in line to buy a ticket to Restrepo and saying, "I want to see the truth" and the MPAA denying his ticket request, shouting,
                                                                                                                                                                                                      "You can't handle the truth!"
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Sorry, MPAA, but it seems you're the infantile one if some words bother you so much, or that you honestly fear for the corruptive influence those words might have on today's youth.  I've got news for you: despite the banal caricature you may have of today's teens as iPod carrying, Facebook-obsessed narcissists, this generation is far more frank about mature subjects than you'd like to admit.  Hell, they grew up in a world where terrorists could hijack a pair of planes and bring down the World Trade Center on live TV.  I think they can handle some "fuck"s in their movies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      08 March 2011

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I Dreamed of Cookies and Warriors

                                                                                                                                                                                                      We've all had bizarre dreams, and this is one that has stuck with me vividly since I had it more than a decade ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      The dream began aboard a submarine.  I was in the company of one of my friends, and we were searching for another friend.  The sub was dark, and we didn't really encounter anyone in the corridors.  Before long, we had found our way into the galley.  It was all stainless steel, and had an island counter in the middle of the floor.  Above the table was a hanging display full of utensils (spatulas, serving spoons, whisks, etc.).  I was struck by how brightly lit the galley was, relative to the rest of the sub.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Mrs. Garrett takes a dim view of
                                                                                                                                                                                                      people shooting up her kitchen.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Following us into the galley was Mrs. Garrett from The Facts of Life.  I'm certain it was the character, Mrs. Garrett, and not the actress Charlotte Rea because she identified herself to us as she strode past us to pull out a tray of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from the oven.  Mrs. Garrett (who addressed in her sing-song voice, "boo-oys") offered us some of them and we decided that our friend could wait a few more minutes.  They were, after all, right out of the oven.  And anyway, how often does Mrs. Garrett offer you cookies?

                                                                                                                                                                                                      While we were eating the cookies (only in a dream can you eat a cookie right out of the oven without burning yourself), Todd Bridges burst into the room, being pursued by seamen armed with submachine guns.  I don't know what protocol allows for someone to open fire with something like that aboard a submarine, but apparently Todd Bridges warranted it because they began firing the moment they got to the door.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Mrs. Garrett seized the cookie sheet and leaped into action, dashing past the cowering Todd Bridges and swinging the cookie sheet across the outstretched weapons.  Todd pointed us to a door and the three of us made a run for it while Mrs. Garrett fended off the obviously incensed crew.  We entered a room with an inflatable raft, and Todd insisted we make a break for it while we could.  He let us know he couldn't accompany us, but that we needed to go immediately.  We hit a button that inflated the raft and we climbed into it.  An airlock opened and we floated out of the submarine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I don't recall seats, but the one in my dream could fly so nyah.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      We broke water, and kept floating until we were soaring among the clouds.  How we navigated, I can no longer recall.  Anyway, before long we came under fire again--this time from a World War I-era biplane.  I can't say now what color it was, but I'm wanting to say it was red.  Our raft took a direct hit and we began to crash.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      We fell toward a city, landing in a back alley near a dumpster.  As I recall, it was actually a very soft landing; the raft hadn't had time to completely deflate before impact.  We sneaked toward the dumpster, using it for cover as we conducted surveillance of the city.  There came the sound of a group of people marching and chanting, like the guards of the Wicked Witch of the West's castle.  Imagine our surprise when the group came into view and they turned out to be Aztec warriors!  How I recognized them as Aztecs, I cannot say, nor can I say that even now I would know how to distinguish them from Incas, Mayans or even a group of Hispanic trick-or-treaters.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Aztec warriors, shown in a textile artifact preserved by
                                                                                                                                                                                                      the Chicago Field Museum.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Somewhere near the marching Aztecs was our friend.  Was he a captive, was he with them willingly or perhaps even leading them?  Again, my memory fails me.  In fact, all I know for certain now is that our reunion is the last of the dream that I could ever recall.  Perhaps it was the end of the dream altogether.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      04 March 2011

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Majored in Grub, Minored in Walking

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I earned my associate of arts degree at Jefferson Community College in the late 90s.  I loved college, because I didn't have to schedule morning classes.  The earliest class I took started around 11 in the morning.  I went until 8-9 at night, of course, but that didn't faze me.  Like every other student I had to figure out some kind of plan for grub.  There was a Subway in one building.  The campus was surrounded by McDonald's, Rally's, Taco Bell and a pub called Michael Murphy's.  I rotated between them, like everyone else.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      One day in the spring 2000 semester, Coyote's Music and Dance Hall held several free concerts.  Being a few blocks away, I volunteered to hoof it on over between classes (I wasn't about to drive and risk losing my parking space!) to pick up tickets for my friends and myself.  That's when I had the epiphany that I was perfectly capable of strolling from campus to the Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      It was perfect.  For about $10 (including tip) I could have a pleasant walk downtown both coming and going, and a quiet lunch by myself in a place with great ambiance.  This was before Crohn's took my guts hostage, of course.  I ate the whole loaf of bread, the salad and the pasta singlehandedly.  Early on I ate the spaghetti but soon I began trying their pasta with browned butter and mizithra cheese.  At first I preferred to get half of the pasta with marinara and the other half with the browned butter and mizithra, but eventually I stopped bothering with the marinara.  It was a lot like my graduation to dry reds when I began drinking wine.  The dryness takes some getting used to, but once you acclimate it's hard to enjoy anything less.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Browned Butter & Mizithra Cheese
                                                                                                                                                                                                      A toothsome treat for cheese lovers.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Legend has it that Homer lived on it while composing The Iliad.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      I didn't eat at the Spaghetti Factory every day I was on campus, of course.  Sometimes weather wasn't cooperative and I didn't care to walk in the rain or cold that far.  Sometimes I just didn't have the money on a given day.  I did go often enough to really enjoy myself.  I remember many an afternoon, sitting at a table by myself, perusing my notes for a test later in the day.  It wasn't as important as the well dressed executives poring over business papers, but I'm pretty sure I was the only student there most afternoons and I was mildly curious what the other patrons may have thought I was there doing.  I like to think they thought I was a writer of some kind, but I'm sure they paid me no heed at all, except those waiting likely wondered when I would be vacating the table.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Maybe you've had your college years already.  I'd be curious to hear whatever stories you have along these lines.  If you haven't gone to college yet--or maybe you're currently enrolled--I hope you take something out of this anecdote of mine.  Go explore some day.  Don't limit yourself to what the other students are doing.  There may be a much finer experience for you within walking distance of the fast food trap that ensnares your classmates.