Archive for August, 2011

My friday night started out a little slow. I came home from my last day at the DesNews feeling a little nostalgic. When I got to my apartment it was completely empty and I had no idea where my roommates had run off to. I had been working mostly nights all summer and so as I started to plan my first Friday night in a long time it struck me that I really didn’t know too many people in Salt Lake.

I walked outside to look around, as I am wont to do, and the whole sky was on fire with a crazy awesome sunset so I grabbed my camera and went looking for a shot. I ended up at Washington Square, as I am wont to do, and even though the sun had mostly gone down there were still some great clouds.

It’s been really hot lately and surprisingly stormy. There’s been at least one wildfire every day from lightning strikes and I have trouble getting to sleep at night but besides that, it’s gorgeous outside at night.

Salt Lake has been good to me. It hasn’t been the wet wot American summer that I’m used to but then again, I’m not the wet hot American college student that I used to be. I feel like I’m starting to grow up, and I’m perfectly ok with that.

I will miss old SL,UT though. There’s a ton of places I never got around to checking out: The Green Pig, The Tavernacle, Biking at Solitude. But, in 4 days I’m going to be in the city that never sleeps, with plenty of cool dives to check out.

So, stay classy Salt Lake. Bay Leaf was delicious and you have one of the coolest libraries in the world.

Read Full Post »

Trailers are a funny thing. They are, at once, the most visible product of the movie industry and yet the least discussed. Think about it, you don’t see every movie that comes out, but you see just about every trailer.

For people who don’t subscribe to movie industry magazines or check imdb and every day like me (how do you live?) the review by John Doe in the local paper and the trailer playing on tv or hulu is about the only pre-release indication of whether a film should or should not be seen.

It’s like the single that determines whether you buy the album. Well, back when people actually bought albums. Ok, it’s not like a music single at all but the point is, a well made trailer can often spell the difference between smashing opening-weekend box office records or setting yourself up for an epic failure, like Gigli.

Take The Village, for example. A quick look at its trailer gives the impression of a Shyamalanian horror film, a la The Sixth Sense. It’s got it’s share of spooks but when push comes to shove it’s actually a love story, and I would argue one of the best love stories ever told on film (the impeccable cinematography and haunting musical score is just icing on the cake). Many viewers went in expecting a good scare and were disappointed. Word-of-mouth was mostly negative and M. Night slowly spiraled into a filthy bubbling mess (read: The Last Airbender).

Much like the Trailer for Pearl Harbor. Oh, you thought it was going to be a war movie?

WRONG! Turns out it’s a chick flick with a few explosions thrown in at the end.

Sure, it made gobs of money. I mean, what would a Michael Bay movie BE without gobs of money (answer: The Island)? But still, viewers were tricked into some daytime soap love-triangle story and left wondering whatever happened to Josh Hartnet’s up-and-coming-acting-career and what in the world happened to Cuba Gooding Jr. to make his career shoot itself in the head.

Beyond misguiding viewers, sometimes trailers are just plain better than the actual film. In many ways its easier to tie together 3 minutes of images with a rousing song to provoke an emotional response than it is to write compelling story arks and dialogue over a two-hour film (just ask George Lucas).

I won’t argue the quality of the following films, since its highly subjective, but here’s a few trailers that score a perfect 10 in my book.

Where the Wild Things Are

This movie was polarizing. I, for one, dug it but that’s not the point. That trailer is fantastic. Sure it could be argued that it’s less a trailer for the eventual movie are really just the best Arcade Fire music video ever created but still, the imagery, the pace, the tone, the mood, everything. Sensational.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

This trailer is so good, I ended up being disappointed in the move. It’s a fantastic film, one of the best of the year and one of the best romantic comedies ever made but this trailer, with it’s bitter-sweet blend of comedy and drama (I went to see the new Twilight movie by myself, and it was sooo bad), it’s knockout blend of Grizzly Bear and Muse that actually creates a mood transition within the 3 minutes we have to watch and, last but not least, it presents a slew of likable characters not the least of which being the exquisite Emma Stone. I typically despise Julianne Moore but even she couldn’t bring this trailer down (maybe because she’s essentially the villain, that made it easier).

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, do so immediately.


This movie came out when I was a teenager and I just remember being enthralled by the trailer. I’m a big fan of Crash-style films with multiple interweaving plotlines and in a short 2:47 snippet you’re introduced to what, a dozen characters? All of whom introduce themselves to the camera and then, seemingly, have their worlds explode. It builds with a steady crescendo and then suddenly tappers off in a smooth orchestral note and dang it, i just find it so freaking compelling.

For years I wanted to see this movie and then finally caught it on TV a while back. It’s interesting, if you haven’t seen it be prepared to really dislike Tom Cruise (most people do anyway, I still think he’s the man but that’s a whole other subject). Still, this trailer makes full use of the chaos of life, and even though it tells you essentially nothing about what the movie is about, I find myself wanting to know.


I’m not a comic book guy, never have been. I did however, read Watchmen after movie came out. The movie didn’t perform as well as people expected but one thing is for sure, that trailer, is darrrrrrn good.

Zak Snyder is a visual maestro and the way the trailer bounces back and forth between settings, color palettes, dark and light, fast and slow, is like an eye massage. The first time I saw this trailer I remember rewinding it over and over again to see Ozymandias fluidly take out that guy with a metal pole and even today, after hundreds of repeat viewing the end sequence gives me the goosebumps as Rorschach says “I will whisper … No” as the ink on his mas oh-so-subtly changes.

Throw in a great song by Muse for good measure and you have yourself a good time. Also, if you’ve ever been tempted to read a graphic novel, this is a good place to start.

Read Full Post »

I was having a tiff with an acquaintance the other day. It was the most recent in a long list of writer/subject scuffles that I’ve had to trudge through with various people. The difficulty in my profession is that n0 one gives you a second thought when you’re writing about someone else, but hates you with a fiery passion when you write about them (whether your facts are accurate or not).

During the exchange this individual said “It’s funny how you think you’re changing the world behind a keyboard.” Now, he meant me specifically meaning YOU but in that statement is a sub-textual doubt of the ability of writers, all writers, to bring about social change.

I don’t claim to have done it, but I still believe that anyone, anywhere is capable of changing the world, for good or ill. There are many ways. You change the world with a microphone, with a gun, with a camera and with a pen (the anolog counterpart of The Keyboard).

I had a copy of the above poster near my desk when I was editor in chief of The Utah Statesman. I don’t know if my staff ever got the metaphor but I kept it there in the spirit of “The pen is mightier than the sword.” As journalists, words are our guns, and if used properly they can do a lot of good, but if mishandled the results can be disastrous.

But back to the point, changing the world. This individual is not the first I’ve come across to attempt to trivialize the impact of the written word. Businessmen in particular love to point out the financial problems facing modern journalism (which are not as dire as they would have you think). At every corner people sneer at journalism as an archaic relic of the past.

What they don’t see is that all societal knowledge is spread by journalists. Ask yourself, how did you find out about September 11th? I heard it on the radio on my way to school, once there, I watched it on the TV news. For some people, they heard it from a friend, but where did their friend hear it?

Here’s a positive example. On Tuesday, KSL and a few other Salt Lake media outlets reported that a new playground at a deaf and blind school had been vandalized. Wednesday morning, dozens of unsolicited volunteers arrived with cleaners and power washers at the ready to go to work.

In Utah, we’re receiving a lot of attention due to the Mormon Moment. Huntsman and Romney are racing for the white house and a smash broadway play about Missionaries is raking in the dough. How do I know that? I read about it. How do I know that Brian David Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison? Well, I was at the courthouse, but I wasn’t at the courthouse for Warren Jeffs who also got sentenced to life in prison. I read about that in the news.

Unless you are directly involved in the subject, or closely related to those directly involved, you find out about the world around you through the media via a chain reaction of hear-say. And whether it be written or spoken, it is all the same.

Stepping back from journalism, let’s talk about the power of writing. Upton Sinclair helped usher in a wave of workplace safety laws, including child labor regulations, when he published “The Jungle.” The writings of John Locke heavily influenced the language in The Declaration of Independence and his adage of “life, liberty and property” (changed to the pursuit of happiness) are the foundation of our society. Martin Luther brought about the protestant reformation by nailing his 95 Thesis to a door. And, lest we forget, how about the Bible, Torah, Qur’an?

Or, in a more lighthearted example. How much of modern entertainment is based on the writing’s of William Shakespeare? Answer: A ton, and then some you don’t even notice (seriously, it’s crazy).

Writing is power. Today’s writing is done on keyboard. In my opinion then, there’s no better way to change the world (if that’s what you’re going for).

Now, let’s DO talk journalists.

President Richard Nixon resigned in large part due to the investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein. Edward R. Murrow shone a light on the evils of the McCarthy era. In a more ambiguous sense, the Gay Rights movement can trace its beginning to the Stonewall riots, and newspaper coverage helped drive the debate, as it still does today.

Not all change has to be social rights and political corruption. The written word can empower individuals, unite communities and bring about tolerance and understanding. It can promote local business, it can spread a message and it can be passed on like a venereal disease.

Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I have a dream” speech into a microphone, but I read it. Hitler massacred millions with guns and tanks, but I read about it. Man walked on the moon, but I heard about it from someone who saw it on TV. Rwanda was torn apart by a civil war motivated by racial cleansing, I saw a movie about it. A restaurant downtown serves chicken and waffles, I read a review about it.

The world changes everyday, and I, for one, believe that anyone, anywhere, can be a part of that.

Read Full Post »

* note: While I always try to write my posts to have diverse readability, some topics inherently stem from my personal experience in my heavily LDS-saturated community.

*note #2: I have volumes that I wish I could say about this subject but am constrained by size. As such, this post comes off a bit choppy but I would love to discuss the subject further if anyone is interested.

I was going to put up a red Restricted screen to be more eye-catching but I didn’t want to mislabel this post (or my blog as a whole for that matter). Wood’s Stock is definitely PG-13. I would like to believe that some of the subject material (pornography, homosexuality, politics, just to name a recent few) go above those that are agedly challenged, but I hardly think that you need to be accompanied by an adult to read it.

As an avid consumer of entertainment with an emphasis in film, I have been involved with many conversations regarding the MPAA rating’s system. It’s not often that I hear someone praising the MPAA, rather, these chats tend to stem from a variation of

“Man, ______ should not have been rated R.”

Sometimes it’s a would-be fan upset that he will not be able to see a certain film. Other times it takes the form of a more liberal viewer defending their choice for watching a certain film.

I like to call it The Matrix Effect.

According to the MPAA, The Matrix is “rated R for sci-fi violence and brief language.” Essentially, there is non-stop death and destruction but no nudity and little swearing. The two big movie-no-nos of mainstream Mormonism: Boobies and F-Bombs.

Never mind the fact that Neo and his team of protagonists are essentially terrorists (In multiple scenes they either gun down or flying-kick-to-the-face dozens of innocent police officers), but it also presents an alternate reality where human beings have literally cast a shadow over the earth and are farmed for the energy our bodies produce by self-aware machines. On the sub-textual level, it calls to mind themes of ignorance vs knowledge, governmental oppression, righteous rebellion and the corruptive force of power.

Heavy stuff right?

Back when this came out I was a child, and my parents were well within their parental rights to say “No R.” Now, however, I am an adult (as are most of my associates) and yet I still hear the same cries. “That shouldn’t be rated R.”

The problem: MPAA ratings are not intended to be a perfect fit to Mormon standards of decency.

The Sub-Problem: Most members of the LDS church have created a filter in their mind that divides movies into two categories. PG-13=”Good” and R=”Naughty”

The system works splendidly for most Mormons, but creates a problem for those few that are somewhat cultured. I remember the agony of being forced to sit through “She’s The Man” by a girlfriend because it was her “favorite movie.” I suppose if you’d never seen Slumdog Millionaire, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Crash, or The Shawshank Redemption then Amanda Bynes might actually seem like a decent actress.

But here’s where it gets tricky. “The Notebook,” that sobfest that every girl clings to like it’s scripture, is rife with pre-marital sex, adultery, and infidelity: BIG no-no’s in Utah. Why then has every good mormon girl seen it when they haven’t seen “Amelie”? or “The King’s Speech?” Because Notebook, despite toeing the line incessantly, has neither Boobies nor F-Bombs. It is therefore “Good” while the darling french “Amelie” is Naughty and the true-story of King George is “Obsene”

History time. Back in the day Hollywood was getting into a lot of heat for showing indecent things so in 1930, studios adopted the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hayes Production Code. It was, in essence, a list of things that could not be shown in films in order to avoid promoting wickedness. They ranged from the physical (no kissing for more than 3 seconds) to the subjective (the bad guy can never, EVER, win).

It was to movies what the Jewish laws of the sabbath had become around the beginning of the Christian Era (you know, the tie your shoe with one hand stuff).

If you’ve ever seen an old black and white and been completely confused (for example, A Streetcar Named Desire) this is why.

After decades of this, writers and directors got tired of having their hands tied and said “FORGET IT.” They adopted the MPAA ratings code and essentially told the American public “If you don’t like what’s in the movie, DON’T SEE IT.”

A novel idea, no?

Back to today. Her’s the definition of an R rating, as noted on the MPAA website.

“An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously.”

And let’s look at this statement about ratings in general, from the same site.

“Movie ratings provide parents with advance information about the content of films, so they can determine what movies are appropriate for their young children to see. Movie ratings do not determine whether a film is “good” or “bad.””

There’s many reasons why a film will land an R. People love to point out the more easily recognizable examples like “Only 1 F-bomb” or “Illegal drug use” but what they forget is that “Adult material” is not synonymous with porn. There was talk about rating “The Dark Knight” R due to its themes of anarchy, betrayal, corruption, brutality, general despair, and the capacity of every man to be both Evil and Great. My mother, who’s well over the 17-year-old limit of seeing a movie by herself, finds Dark Knight too dark for her taste. She’s seen it, and will fully admit that it’s a great movie, but she chooses not to watch again because it chills her.

No Boobies, no F-Bombs, just some heavy stuff. Heavy stuff that a parent should think twice about before taking their young children.

So, my point to end all of this. The motion picture ratings were never intended to be black and white, but merely a general recommendation and indication of what could be expected to show up on the screen. As such, they should not be treated as black and white, end-all authorities on what you can an can not watch. Most of the greatest films ever made are Rated R, films that educate, inspire, and change your perception of the world. At the same time, some of the most insipid intellectual trash ever conspired has been PG-13, or even PG (Monkeybone comes to mind, but there’s better examples)

Take each movie case by case, educate yourself on what it contains, and decide for yourself based on your values whether you will or will not watch. Then, afterwards, leave people alone who choose differently.

Read Full Post »

*note: this is the second in a 2-part tribute to some of my favorite lesser-known actors.

Stanley Tucci

Too-choo train has been a Wood Family favorite ever since his wacky supporting role as “Muerte” in the underrated film Undercover Blues. That show is great – if you haven’t seen it, do so at your earliest convenience – and The Tooch is simply fantastic. “My name is Muerte, my name is death. Don’t you forget that.”

That was in 1993, otherwise known as a looooooooooong time ago, and for most of the 90’s – and early 2000’s – Stanley has been in some seriously random crap. America’s Sweethearts? Maid in Manhattan? The Core? I mean, seriously, The Core?

But, Mr. Harvey Dent Aaron Eckhart and Million-Dollar Baby Hilary Swank were also in that trash-heap of a movie so it just goes to show that you can’t always judge an actor by the crap they’re in. (Sometimes, however, you can. Exhibit A: Lindsey Lohan. Exhibit B: Sandra Bullock Exhibit C: Hillary Duff)

What I love about The Tooch is his range. He is pretty much the go-to guy for supporting older male characters. He seems to have cornered the market as the elderly sassy-gay-best-friend (Devil Wears Prada, Burlesque) even in movies where technically speaking he’s heterosexual (Easy A, Julie and Julia).

As I have said before – read: over and over again – I am in love with Emma Stone and thought she was dynamite in Easy A, but How Freaking Awesome where Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her post-hippie California Parents?

Answer: Legendarily.

Even with such loveable characters as his forte, he still makes a dynamite pervert sociopath serial killer (The Lovely Bones) or Financial Executive (The soon-to-be-release Margin Call, do yourself a favor and see it).

I don’t know if he’s ever headlined a movie but frankly, if I were to ever do Hollywood, I’d want to be just like him. Taking care of business, one movie at a time.

David Strathairn

First thing’s first. For a 62-year-old man, Strathairn looks good, and has awesome hair.

Strathairn has been around for a while, and even though I had always like him for being the blind guy on Sneakers, he kept off my radar, for the most part, until his star-making turn as Journalist legend Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck.

Sure, I’m a sucker for film-noir, and I rever Murrow on a level that reaches god-like status – I was honored with the Steady Eddy award from The Utah Statesman, of all my awards its the one I’m most proud of – but GNGL is an incredible movie with an incredible cast, including David.

That’s when I started noticing. There he was all along in The River Wild with Merryl Streep. There he was hunting Matt Damon in The Bourne Supremacy. There he was macking on Elizabeth Banks – respect – in The Uninvited – which, by the way, is not bad as far as horror flicks go.

The guy has an impressive resume, bouncing around between just-often-enough forays into mainstream popcorn before returning to independent, artistic fare. Looking over his filmography, which includes guest stints on House, Monk, and The Sopranoes, you get the feeling that this guy just makes a living out of doing what he feels like doing. If only we all could be so lucky.

And, he has awesome hair.

Read Full Post »

*note: this is the first in a 2-part tribute to some of my favorite lesser-known actors.

Djimon Hounsou

I was watching The Island the other day — An underrated film, in my opinion — when I found myself thinking the same thing I always think when Djimon comes on screen. And that was: “Man, that guy is awesome.”

Djimon — pronounced, as far as I know, Jai-man even though I like to refer to him as Digimon like the old Pokemon animé knock-off.

But I digress.

Djimon has existed comfortably below the radar but within sight ever since making his first major splash as the-only-person-to-survive in Gladiator.

Since then, Digi has stayed busy without buying a condo in A-list paparazzi land, shelling out a score of solid performances in popcorn fare (The Island, Beauty Shop) and critical darlings (The Blood Diamond, In American — for which he received a well-deserved Oscar Nomination). Even in movies that aren’t the most well-recieved (Constantine) or films that just plain suck (Eragon) Digi carries a remarkable gravitas and seems to seize control of his scenes without making a meal of the scenery.

In the aforementioned Island, Hansou plays a mercenary on the trail of two runaway clones. You can see his conflicted character arc and subsequent redemption coming a mile away and yet it still feels real. That, to me, is Digi’s strength. He brings a subtle sincerity to the screen and is a complete and utter B.A.

And for someone who could probably crush my head like a grape, he still carries an unreal emotional strength. In no way do I imply that his costars in Gladiator and Blood Diamond were weak — I mean have you seen Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator? Crazy-scary-freaking awesome — but in both those movies Digi made the film work for me, no more so than his painfully raw performance of an African slave-laborer in Blood Diamond.

Fantastic stuff, truly.

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel has been around for a while but he first hit my radar playing the cold-calculating assassin in 2005’s Serenity.

Now, I have to admit that anyone associated with the Firefly universe gets an automatic pass to my good side but even so, Chiwetel is gifted and severely under-appreciated actor and has been involved in some fantastic films. Let’s take a quick look at his acting resume.

* Love Actually – arguably the greatest chick flick and/or Christmas movie ever made.

* Serenity – ’nuff said.

* Inside Man – a superb trippy entry into the Heist flick genre

* Children of Men – a semi-noir dystopian delight.

* American Gangster – I mean, come on.

* 2012 – dumb as a bag of hair, but you know you saw it and you were entertained.

* Salt – The kind of smash-bang summer tentpole America is founded on.

Take a closer look and you’ll recall that Chiwetel’s vignette in Love Actually is one of the most memorable (kind of like saying which of your children you love the most, I admit) and sure, it wasn’t because of him (how awesome is that cue card confession?) but still, respect.

In Gangster and Inside he’s Denzel Washington’s right-hand man (not an easy task), in Children he’s a traitorous leader of a group of rebels, and in Salt he’s the military agent with a conscience who sees through the web of lies.

He’s got a little way to go, and admittedly 2012 may not have been the best career move (although he did get to share some screen time with Thandi Newton, no complaint there) but he’s a treat every time and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Read Full Post »

I haven’t ranted in a while, and since July registered alarmingly LOW viewership on Wood’s Stock I get the impression that I need to break up the reviews with a few cans of crazy out of my deranged mind.

Last month I went to a concert downtown. It was the quintessential free outdoor summer-time show that bleeds Americana. I hadn’t been to a concert yet so I figured that as unimpressive as the roster sounded (Allred, really? Why do we as consumers allow this person to continue performing?) I’d throw on some flip flops and a t-shirt and go get my summertime on.

I should’ve stayed home.

Besides the fact that the talent was utterly forgettable, I realized soon after arriving that the event was being hosted by Fight The New Drug.

For those of you who haven’t spent a lot of time around predominantly LDS college campuses in Utah, FTND is a anti-pornography club who’s mission is to “raise awareness” about the dangers of pornography.

I remember a marketing class I had once where we were all assigned into groups and given the task of raising $1,000 for charity. We had to turn in mission statements and my professor said that if anyone stated their mission as “raising awareness” he would fail us on the spot. Rightly so.

“Raising Awareness” is one of those good sounding yet innocuous phrases that actually mean nothing. As my professor pointed out, it is an un-quantifiable goal. Unless you plan on going door-to-door both before and after your project/event to quiz everyday citizens on their awareness of a particular group/topic there’s no way of knowing if you were successful.

Which brings me back to FTND. They don’t care that their battle is un-winnable because they have no intention of actually winning a battle. Between acts a group of 7 20-something men came out on stage and shouted into a microphone “I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH PORNOGRAPHY” (intended as a pun, not a confession. They have a “problem” with it, get it?) amid a chorus of cheers from a mostly female crowd.

It was a pure exercise in futility. What’s more, it was one of the most blatant displays of a desired ego massage that I’ve ever seen. Here you had 7 unremarkable men who’s primary skill set involve the ability to attend classes on time with 17,000 peers and how to make a symmetric faux-hawk using OTC hair product. These men had never been cheered, and yet here they were receiving the adulation of 3,000 people simply by putting on a club t-shirt and standing on stage, declaring themselves “better” than the New Drug.

I’m sure somewhere in the crowd were 7 girls, brought to the event as dates, who were lucky enough to see their men taking a stand against a multi-billion dollar industry that degrades women and brings out the prurient instincts of men.

It’s a ploy for attention, pure and simple.

Standing in front of 3,000 Mormons and saying “Pornography Sucks” is the Cause-al equivalent of taking candy from a baby. It’s the same as holding an event where the message is “Cancer Sucks,” or “We hate racism,” or “Democracy is good.”

They weren’t raising money for an anti-pornography campaign. They weren’t rallying behind a politician who had pledged to destroy the porn industry. They were merely putting on a pair of skinny jeans, spritzing some cologne and screaming “HEY, PORN IS BAD” to a crowd made up of some of the most conservative youth in the country.

So, FTND club, thank you for a forgettable evening and forgive me if your useless attempts made little to no effect on my level of “awareness.” Try actually DOING something next time.

Read Full Post »