Saturday, May 17, 2003


I've realized something important about my own --er, threshhold of entertainment. (The expression isn't mine; I sure wish it were!) I've long claimed that I don't like movies much, but it turns out that I'm not really a movie hater. I'm merely a Hollywood hater, not to mention that the full-length supergenre doesn't do much for me; it's too much of a commitment, and special effects, while interesting, just don't hold my attention while vying with a supposedly believable story for two hours. But this weekend I've re-discovered my youthful enjoyment of short animated film.

Our new friend Jen invited us to one of the events of the animation festival now being held in Kalamazoo. It was billed as an evening of international animation (with free admission), and was held on the campus of nearby Kalamazoo College. Somehow, someone supplied the wrong videotape to the folks at K., and we were instead treated to a program of "Star Search" shorts by up-and-coming animators (mostly American and Canadian) that was supposedly being shown at the nearby State Theater to folks who had paid a $10 admission charge. When it became clear that we didn't have the international program, the small audience voted to go ahead and watch the reel anyway. (I don't know whether the fee-paying customers at the State got a duplicate tape or received the international tape by mistake, but Jen was one of the festival staff and didn't hear of any complaints by the end of the night.) Anyway, it was a treat, and reminded me how much I liked the short animated films that were often presented before MIT Lecture Series Committee movies in my undergrad days.

A spacecraft full of intelligent multicolored droplets rescued a compatriot from a talent-show act gone terribly wrong in an upstate New York bar. A frog gloated as he was plucked from his pond by a supposed princess -- who turned out to be a biology teacher intent on dissection. A grubby but handsome construction worker enjoyed a brief reverie about the pretty upper-class woman who sat next to him on the subway. On another subway, a kid quaked in his boots when trapped in a car with a monster -- but the monster merely sweet-talked him out of his jacket, hat, and ice-cream cone. A Chinese narrator reminisced about the violence and failure of the Cultural Revolution, against a background of Mao-era posters juxtaposed with fine Chinese calligraphy. A room full of automated musical instruments played themselves, and each other, by spewing streams of ping-pong balls in exactly the right directions. A little carrot, born in the wrong garden and taunted by the other plants, finally found its true home. An Elvis impersonator went mano a mano with a Transformer bot a hundred times his size -- and beat it into submission with rock and roll.

All of this happened within the space of two hours. It was an ADD sufferer's happiest dream of what living in the movies could really be like. Rick, Jen and I followed it up with a discussion of animation, politics, life, the universe, and everything over decaf and dessert at a local coffeehouse. We're all going to another animation show tonight.


Add to my list of real-life heroines: Nisha Sharma, the 21-year-old Indian student who had her groom-to-be arrested just before their scheduled wedding when he and his family demanded an illegal dowry. Even better: She's become an immediate sensation, and potential role model, in India, hailed for her courage by women and men alike.

Ms. Sharma is hardly a revolutionary, by the way. She has told reporters that she has no objections to the custom of arranged marriage; what pushed her over the brink seems not to have been fear for herself (in a situation where many, many young wives have died in "accidental kitchen fires" in the remarkably coincidental presence of dowry-hungry in-laws), but her having watched the groom's family heap abuse on her father. Outrageous demands for dowries in India are attributed to increasing pressure to buy and possess the latest high-tech Stuff In A Box -- contrary to what many Westerners assume, this is not an ancient tradition -- and this puts an interesting twist on the whole affair, because a high-tech gadget actually helped save the day. Ms. Sharma reportedly called the police on her royal-blue personal cell phone.


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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Spammers got hold of my undergrad school's alumni-email-forwarding-for-life list a few months back, and the ensuing crapfest continues. Most of the ads fall into three major categories: (a) porn, (b) Viagra, and (c) printer cartridges. What this combination says about the perceived lives of those in the targeted market is best left up to someone else's imagination.

My banner ad yesterday touted various bug killers, and I can't complain about this because I killed a few myself in the course of the day. Collected some ants to practice keying them out from the Holldobler and Wilson book; it was slow going at first, but I did okay (two subfamilies, four genera), and Nick, our local myrmecophile, pronounced my work acceptable. Not bad for someone whose microscope technique is rustier than her 1987 Colt. Also killed the tick that tried to take up residence on my head while I was out collecting; we cracked its exoskeleton in numerous places and fed the little bugger to Nick's colony of Tetramorium. No doubt about it, it's a bug-eat-bug world.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Went to see "A Mighty Wind" yesterday. I'm one of those folks who generally cringes when asked to go to the movies, or when someone brings a movie on tape or DVD to the house, but I think I could watch 20 hours straight of Christopher Guest's outtakes. The music written for the film was impressive; although the styles and song lyrics were meant to poke fun at some of the dustier cliches of folk and pop, all of the music was something one might actually listen to on purpose. Of course, we'd expect nothing less from the folks who did "This Is Spinal Tap"; yeah, it was bombastic kick-ass rock and roll, but that was the point, and besides it was good bombastic kick-ass rock and roll. If, like me, you were pumping your fist in the air at the final Budokan scene in Tap, you'd probably be tapping your feet and clapping your hands through much of Wind. Best scene IMO: At the beginning of the live broadcast, the Folksmen react to the New Main Street Singers' opening number. Ouch ....!

I was distressed to find out, from last night's trailers, that one of my favorite films, 1979's The In-Laws, has been put through the remake wringer. (When I become dictator of the universe, I'm going to ban Hollywood remakes, subject to life imprisonment for making one that involves a live-action version of an animated TV series. Creme-de-menthe garnishes on cups of Irish coffee and any article of clothing that contains more than two belt loops will also have to go.) Looks like they inflated every bit of dialogue by about 100 decibels and trashed a few millions' worth more of props to do this one over. Damned shame, because the thing that made the original so funny was that it was so relentlessly low-key, as Alan Arkin and Peter Falk tried to maintain decorum while meddling with the affairs of a Neotropical dictatorship and outrunning gunfire in the middle of nowhere, all the time attempting to get to their kids' wedding with a minimum of disruption. From the IMDB, I learned that the plot has at least been juggled enough so that no one will mistake it for an attempt at a real remake. I don't know whether I hope that they did or didn't preserve the original's wonderful low-speed car chase.