This no doubt lucrative enterprise is about to set up shop along SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, just a few doors down from the Dragon Herbarium. With a cantina already located between the two, this could become the West Hill's premiere controlled substances district. Whippets, Corona and bongs all within mere feet of one another. What more could you possibly need to weather the ongoing economic apocalypse, people?
Awesome. How badly do I want to get a photo of this sign on a t-shirt? Kinda badly. If you were to cut that sign it would probably bleed pure, unfiltered civic pride.
Two weeks from today the Portland Urban Iditarod will tear through the streets of downtown. I would have participated in this year's race if I could have found four drunks to drag me around the course in a shopping cart. Some friends and I talked about forming a team last week but plans quickly fell apart after everybody got into an argument over who would get to be the musher.
So I guess I'll just have to settle for playing spectator. Photos to come? You betcha.
Would you trust this bowl of spaghetti sauce with your life?
I woke up on Monday, as I often do on Mondays, and noticed an odd smell in my kitchen. A quick search later, I discovered that I had absently-mildly left a bowl of spaghetti sauce in my microwave the night before. Now most normal people would have immediately tossed it out but I hesitated. You see, I put a lot of effort into this sauce. And a lot of organic vegetables from New Seasons. I had planned to make multiple meals out of the contents of that bowl and I wasn't about to just toss it out without first consulting the internet. Surely, there was no way that nasty germs and fungi could have infiltrated both a closed microwave and the Saran Wrap covering the bowl.
Now you might be surprised to learn that there isn't a lot of information out there about this particular dilemma. A Google search didn't turn up much so I turned to Twitter. Four of my online colleagues told me to eat it and, presumably, didn't do so because they wanted me to puke my brains out. One theorized that the tomatoes in the sauce would have essentially pickled the meat and anything else with the potential to go bad. Another told me to make sure I heated it to a certain temperature first.
I tossed the sauce in the freezer, took a chance on it a few nights later and again the following night. So far, I'm not dead and I'm pretty sure I've successfully ducked botulism. My thanks goes out to all those Twitter folks and Paul Newman, RIP, who's stellar spaghetti sauce recipe no doubt prevented me from spending twelve consecutive hours in the bathroom.
The Portland International Film Festival came to an end last Sunday. This was my first year covering it as a member of "the press." Here's a quick, belated wrap-up:
Number of films I saw out of 80 or so films screened: 9.5.
Wait, what's the .5 for? I walked out on a press screening of Everlasting Moments after the film broke halfway through. Yeah, yeah, yeah, some online film critic I am. What can I say? The sun was shining outside and I decided my afternoon might be better spent hiking down to Powell's instead of watching a very slooooow film about a Swedish mother and her passion for turn-of-the-century photography.
The number of films my friend Dan's father, a member of the Film Center's Silver Screen Club, saw this year? Over 40.
How did he manage that? I have no idea but I think it may involve a combination of retirement and amphetamines.
What did he think of that really depressing movie about the actors in the factory? He actually liked it.
The best film that isn't Coraline I saw this year:The Baader Meinhof Complex.
The worst film that isn't Coraline I saw this year:Karamazovs.
The biggest "You'd Never See That in an American Movie" moment of the fest: The last two minutes of Mermaid.
Total estimated viewing time of unpleasant middle-aged nudity in the films I saw: At least 20 minutes.
Number of Silver Screen members that hissed at me like a snake after I made the mistake of sitting in front of them at a press screening: 1.
Number of awkward encounters involving Teri Hatcher: 1.
Would I do this again next year: Absolutely.
Click here for the Portland Mercury's festival wrap-up.
The greatest thing the art world has ever seen? It can be found for two nights only at Holocene
The Mona Lisa?
Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night? *yawn* Everything created by the Italian Masters? [rolls eyes] All of those pale in comparison to a masterpiece that can be found tonight and tomorrow at Holocene. Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, distinguished members of the art world I give you....
...the Pancake Hole, the 7th hole at Holocene's Fourth Annual Minigolf Art Invitational (link). If you travel all the way to Paris to visit the Louvre will you get a free pancake for your efforts? Afraid not. If you get a hole-in-one on the pancake hole though? Free pancake. With maple syrup. And if that wasn't enough? A free plastic fork.
The 12-hole course created by local artists and organizations around Portland really is something else and much more interesting than what can be found at your average putt-a-round. The first hole has a plot-line involving cartoon characters and their doomed search for a "temple of eternal cuteness." The last time I visited the mini-golf course at the Family Fun Center in Wilsonville? Nope, they didn't have anything like that. Nor a hole along the lines of the second hole, which forces players to use four security cameras to guide their ball towards a chute that will place it near its target.
The course is much tougher than the two in Wilsonville. I didn't earn myself a free pancake and I wound up getting 12 strokes on the "Tiger Woods" hole (get it?). My pathetic putting skills drew the ire of an Artie Lange-lookalike who spat, "See, this is why you're still single" at me as I left in search of the fourth hole. When was the last time I felt this humiliated? Probably sometime in high school gym.
For it's worth, he fared no better. That's one tough Tiger Woods-inspired mini-golf hole/art installation. Maybe I should have dared him to compete in a Caddyshack-inspired tournament. I would have called dibs on the dancing gopher.
Other holes included one made entirely out of miniature tourist attractions from around Portland and another with a hand-cranked stamper machine. Perhaps the most difficult was the 11th hole, which required players to bounce their ball off two walls and onto a green four-feet off the ground.
I don't think Portland will see a more quirky or cool art event in 2009. The invitational runs tonight and tomorrow. $8 will get you inside and the doors open at 6 PM. Players can vote for their favorite hole and the winning designer will go home with a $1,000 prize. If you walk off the course with less than 100 strokes you're a better golfer than I.
Photos of the entire course can found over here in a Flickr gallery.
Also: a quick thanks goes out to my sister Shanna, who got me in to last night's "friends and sponsors" pre-show.
How would students in Oregon deal with Skull and Bones?
A few years ago, I interviewed a Yale graduate for an article about his efforts to set a world record. The conversation turned to his alma mater and I made the mistake of jokingly asking him about Skull and Bones. You could have heard a pin drop. His face went blank and he grimly told me, "I can't talk about it." I asked him if he was serious and he repeated the same line more firmly, suggesting that he would walk out on the interview if I asked him further questions about the organization. I never did figure out if he had been messing with me or if he was truly a former "Bonesman" sworn to secrecy.
Conspiracy theories and outlandish allegations have surrounded the secretive student club for over a century, everything from bizarre initiation ceremonies to the elaborate plot by former members to help fund Hitler's war effort. On Friday, the New York Times ran an article about former United States attorney general Ramsey Clark's lawsuit over one of the most widely heard rumors about Skull and Bones. Supposedly, Prescott S. Bush, the grandfather of GW, once raided the grave of Geronimo and made off with his skull, two bones, a bridle and a few stirrups. Allegedly, all of these items are still on display within the group's clubhouse "tomb" at Yale. The lawsuit, on behalf of Geronimo's descendants, hopes to confirm the rumor and, if true, return everything to its proper resting place.
I first heard about Skull and Bones from an old episode of The Simpsons (Mr. Burns is a former member) and I still find it hard to believe that such an organization is still operating. Perhaps its continued existence is a testament to the indomitable traditions (and pompousness) of America's top universities. Several Ivy League schools in the country still have at least one secret society student club. But one place that you never seem to see these organizations? On the campuses of state universities.
I can just imagine what would happen to a secretive club like Skull and Bones at my alma mater, the student activist-clogged University of Oregon, if it was revealed, or even rumored, that its members possessed the stolen body parts of a Native American icon. A few hundred students would stage a sit-in in front of the clubhouse before kicking down the doors and, if the artifacts were found, stealing them back. Each member of Skull and Bones would then be ostracized and ridiculed on the streets and by every student publication on campus. The story would make the pages of The Oregonian and the campus would be flooded by TV news crews from all over the Northwest. Shortly thereafter, graffiti would cover every inch of the exterior of their clubhouse and maybe someone would eventually get around to burning the place to the ground.
No, seriously. All of this would happen. I guarantee it.
Maybe this is another example of how things are done differently on the west coast. Out here the stereotypical college student is more concerned with saving the world, whereas their east coast, Ivy League counterpart is too busy trying to run it.
Anyway, if my interviewee had been more forthcoming, one of my first questions would have been about Skull and Bones' cleaning staff. Regardless of its secretive, cult-like activities, somebody's gotta tidy up and dust off Geronimo's skull every once and a while, right? The heirs to America's most powerful families sure aren't going to do it.
I wouldn't have thought so if I hadn't seen six bags of the stuff sitting in the middle of the Burlingame Fred Meyer. Disney's Old Yeller Dog Food, because nothing says quality eats for your pooch like a 52 year-old film about a beloved family pet succumbing to the effects of rabies.
Some future Disney tie-ins I'd like to suggest here: Finding Nemo Tackle Boxes, Bambi's Mother Venison, Wicked Witch Brand Juice Boxes and Mulan's Shanghai Chicken McNuggets.
One morning a jerk with a flattop haircut wakes up and discovers that he's grown a pair of wings overnight. As if this weren't enough of a problem, they begin making him do good deeds. The latest animated feature from Plymptoons is a gothic trip through seedy bars and suburbs and a bit of a dark turn for former local Bill Plympton. It's a long way from those Taco Bell commercials he did in the early '90s.
Idiots and Angels is full of the animator's signature brand of physical humor and surreal imagery. The main character attempts a multitude of things to rid himself of his new appendages, a bar owner takes out his competitors with grenades and a crowd of burn victims wrapped up like mummies all frantically run around looking for a still-open watering hole where they can wash away their troubles. With its noir-ish shadows and visuals, the movie is also Plympton's best looking feature to date and the soundtrack includes songs from Tom Waits and Pink Martini.
Mr. Plympton was at the screening I went to last night and said that he came up with the premise for Idiots and Angels while in France on the spot after a teenager asked him about his next movie. After the screening, he signed postcards in the lobby with sketches of bulldogs. What a cool guy.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 4
Showtimes: Tonight at 6:45 PM at the Broadway Cinemas
And now is the time on Sprockets when I hustle for comments
Over the past year, Another Portland Blog has struggled to draw reader comments, the supposed life-blood of any successful blog. I've decided to run with something suggested by Pete, a long-time reader, commenter and compatriot. If posts about film festivals and beer taxes aren't going to generate feedback, maybe writing a whole bunch of crazy stuff will do the trick. So, without further ado, here's a bunch of invective specifically brewed to piss you off with some additional contributions from Pete. Here we go....
Sam Adams for governor.
Beau Breedlove for mayor.
Bring professional soccer, the MLB AND the NFL all to Portland.
9/11 wasn't a conspiracy.
9 out of 10 dentists agree that Nutella, when combined with Twix, prevents tooth-decay and gingivitis better than Colgate.
For all the new trilogy's shortcomings, Revenge of the Sith was still more entertaining than Return of the Jedi.
Airborne will only make you more susceptible to influenza and cold strains and will give you herpes.
A 2,000% increase in the state beer tax? Pffffft. Let's raise it 200,000%! It is the dawning of the age of $60.00 pints of Hammerhead at McMenamins!
The Blazers shouldn't make any deals before the trade deadline. But we should hire someone who can teach players to defend the pick and roll.
Bernie Madoff is a national treasure and an American hero.
God is dead and Jesus never lived. If I'm wrong about this, they'd probably appreciate it if y'all would let gay people get hitched already.
The Convention Center Hotel? A new baseball stadium in Lents? A 45-lane bridge over the Columbia? Sure, why not? Yes, yes and more yes. Bring 'em on!
That camera that Bruce Springsteen slammed into with his sweat-soaked, king of rock n' roll crotch at the Super Bowl? It was askin' for it.
9/11 was an inside job.
Portland Indymedia is published on the web. Only the Bourgeoisie have access to the internet. Portland Indymedia is for yuppies. Informed citizens like me get their news straight from Street Roots.
Screw independent neighborhood coffeehouses, down with small businesses and to hell with farmers markets that offer locally-grown, organic produce. McFlurries and Whole Foods for all!
Arrested Development? The Office? Everything Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams have ever touched? They're nothing in comparison to the brilliance of Two and a Half Men.
What could Oregon really use? More Californians.
Internet trolls? Are you there? C'mon over. It's supper time!
Late Night With Conan O'Brien, one of things that got me through college, only has three shows left before its host moves to LA to take over The Tonight Show. O'Brien is sure to tone things down for his new time-slot. Among the things not invited to go with him? The best self-pleasing, fur-covered, diaper-wearing character in the history of late night American television.
That's right. The Masturbating Bear has been retired. What could be his final appearance occurred during last night's show. It can be viewed in its entirety here. The bit, which involved the bear getting frozen into carbonite, escaping and hooking up with a certain cast member of the original Star Wars trilogy was hilarious but maybe not quite as memorable as the time he jumped out of a plane and interrupted Conan's stint in Chicago.
Throughout the past two weeks, the show has rolled memorable clips from its 16 year run. Among my favorites, an evening when O'Brien made the mistake of getting drunk with his producer in an Italian restaurant and the time he went target shooting with Hunter S. Thompson.
Last week's episode of The Simpsons was the series' first in HD and it also marked what I'm pretty sure is the first time the opening has been updated since the show debuted in 1990. There's new gags and the "whip-pan" has been redone to include an epic, split-second face-off between God and the devil. The new opening can be found on YouTube over here.
Neat. A side-by-side comparison can be found here (thanks, Bill).
I think it was around the time that an elderly audience member started yelling back at the screen in Polish that I decided I should have stayed home to watch last week's episode of 30 Rock instead of going to see Karamazovs. This film from Czechoslovakia incorporates all the worst elements of art house cinema: it's too bleak for its own good, it's completely convinced it's brilliant and it includes way too much flabby middle-aged male nudity.
The film begins well enough. A group of actors descends upon a run-down factory to stage an unusual production of The Brothers Karamazov. They laugh and joke but once they arrive they become completely obsessed with pouring over Dostoevsky's words. What starts out as a decent comedy-drama immediately mutates into a meandering stage adaptation of the novel. The actor's various subplots established in the opening moments are all but forgotten and are never wrapped up. Karmazovs jumps the tracks fifteen minutes in and what follows is a cinematic wreck worthy of a serious industrial plant accident.
I've walked out of movies maybe twice in my life and the only thing that kept me from ditching Karamzovs was the fact that I would have had to trip over ten people to get to the aisle. Plus, I wanted to find out what was going to happen to the old Polish guy who wouldn't shut up. He finally pipped down after about ten minutes but the characters on screen? They kept prattling on. The film's only redeeming moment? When one of the actors decides to grab a puppet and engages in an amusing but snide mockery of Doltovesky's writing habits.
I get the movie. I understand that the actors become so immersed in their own pettiness and devotion to their craft, like the educated classes that came before them, that they do nothing to help out a struggling member of the proletariat in their midst. Nonetheless, I still think this one sucked.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 10
Showtimes: Tonight at 8:30PM at the Broadway Cinemas
A nearly 2,000% increase in the state beer tax? Er, no thanks.
Back in 2005 when I was an intern at Willamette Week, one of the editors called me into his office and asked me to contact a lobbyist from Alaska. He was in town trying to get any local journalist that would listen to him to write an article about his efforts to increase the state beer tax. Supposedly, this lobbyist had successfully convinced the state legislature in his home state to jack up their beer tax and now he was down in Oregon to do the same thing here. At the time he was up against Karen Minnis, the then Speaker of the House, who was, in his words, "completely in bed with the beer industry."
He claimed his motivations were primarily fueled by a desire to discourage kids from drinking and finding a revenue source for the prevention and rehabilitation of alcoholism in Oregon. I can't remember what third party was funding his efforts. After the would-be lobbyist caused a bizarre ruckus at the capitol building in Salem with another advocate, the editor nixed the story and I never heard another word about their proposal.
I didn't support the lobbyist's relatively modest proposal, which would have supposedly increased the average pint of beer in Oregon by eight cents and I certainly don't support the insanity that is HB 2461, a piece of legislation that would jack up the beer tax to $49.61 for every barrel (roughly $1.00 to $1.50 a pint at your local tavern). Several state blogs, the editorial pages of local newspapers and drinkers quaking in their boots over the possibility of $6.00 pints are all up in arms over the proposal.
I have no idea who's pulling the strings behind the five state lawmakers pushing for this latest increase but why are they doing it? Well, the state is running low on dough but statewide drug and alcohol addiction services are also hurting for revenue.
Nevertheless, the bill is a sin tax, pure and simple, and the links above can provide a much more informed denouncement of it than I can. So here instead are my proposals for some other things around here that could also use some taxes:
Greg Oden's knees
Sam Adam's libido
That Merritt Paulson guy
Also: the state business tax could probably still use some work. Didn't Intel pay a grand total of, maybe, $5.00 a few years ago?
Last Wednesday night I went to the Someday Lounge to see an "opera cinema" production of Camille/La Traviata hosted by Opera Theater Oregon. I went with my sister, who has been to these shows before and her boypal, who has not been to these shows before.
She attended one the company's performances last year with a group of coworkers and they all got super-smashed and had a great time. The crowd at Wednesday's show was much more subdued and sober, as was a certain boypal who almost immediately lost interest in the performance and decided to spend the following two hours complaining about his chair.
To be honest though? Those chairs were pretty uncomfortable.
Something like this isn't for everyone but it's fun, in a drama geek kinda way. As a film, in this case Rudolph Valentino's silent 1921 version of Camille, plays on a screen in the background, a cast of singers and musicians provide the soundtrack. On Thursday night the vocal performances didn't always match up with the actors on screen but I don't know if that was their goal in the first place.
The live cast was dressed in Prohibition-era costumes and a cigarette girl came out before the show and during intermission to hawk candy. Whatever happened to cigarette girls? Sure, the recent smoking ban has put the final nail in the coffin of any would-be local aspirants to the field but this was the first one I'd ever encountered in a local establishment. And she wasn't even allowed to sell cigarettes. I settled for a pack of those icky-tasting Valentines hearts instead.
Opera Theater Oregon wrapped up Camille/La Traviata on Sunday but they'll be back in June with a production that will fuse Wagner's Das Rheingold with an episode from the fifth season of Baywatch. Now that's what I call high-culture.
This was also my first trip to the Someday Lounge. I never did figure out what was up with the creepy knickknacks tucked into an awning overlooking the dance floor or the large velvet bed hanging over the main entrance.
The Coraline Interviews Part 5 - Ten Seconds with Teri Hatcher
I'll admit that I didn't really know who Teri Hatcher was three minutes before I got to interview her. The Vanguard kids told me she's on Desperate Housewives so I rolled with that. I learned later on that the studio dropped $15,000 dollars alone on her hair and makeup for the premiere. I could only come up with a single question for her. Here it is:
APB: After several seasons how can the desperate housewives still be so desperate? Haven't they finally found what they're looking for?
Hatcher: I think that life will always have things to be desperate about and that will be expressed on that show. I don't think that will ever get exhausted.
I wonder if she gets this question all the time.
Coming up tomorrow: nothing. That's it. I'm finally all out of Coraline interviews to post. Next week Another Portland Blog will be back to its regularly scheduled posts about PDX-centric minutia.
The Coraline Interviews Part 4 - Thirty-Nine Seconds with Dakota Fanning
Earlier in the day I had the opportunity to interview Dakota Fanning at the Heathman but I turned it down. I had no idea what I could ask a 14 year-old Hollywood prodigy.
Well, ok, I came up with several very stupid questions but none that I could actually use. One idea: "did Tom Cruise try to convert you to Scientology on the set of War of the Worlds?" Another potential query: "are you addicted to cocaine and painkillers yet or are you making sure to learn from the mistakes of Drew Barrymore?" One more: "did Wilbur in your remake of Charlotte's Web get turned into bacon or bratwurst after the cameras stopped rolling?"
Anyway....no, wait, one more: "have you ever hot boxed with Haley Joel Osment while talking smack about Stephen Spielberg?"
The other two online journalists I conducted interviews with also turned down a shot at interviewing Fanning for similar reasons. If I had to do it over again, I think I would have gone for it just to see how quickly her manager would have kicked me out. When Miss Fanning's handler brought her down to our end of the carpet, much like with Phil Knight, I had to come up with some questions fast that wouldn't get us kicked out of the Schnitz.
APB: I heard that you might be in the next Twilight movie. Is that still a rumor?
Fanning: It's not a rumor. I think it's definitely possible that I will be in it but it's too soon to say for sure but I really hope so.
APB: I've also heard that when you're doing voice work for an animated film like this that you have to step things up and be more energetic. That you have to "act more."
Fanning: When you only act with your voice it's definitely different from what I'm used to but it's still really fun.
She signed my copy of Coraline too. She's a class act, that Dakota Fanning. I really wish I had asked her about Wilbur though. I'm worried about him.
Coming up tomorrow: a one question interview with Coraline costar and still desperate housewife Teri Hatcher.
Rembrandt van Rijn. A creator of masterpieces. A legend in his own time. And a guy who was really quite randy. I saw one of his most famous paintings, the colossal-sized The Night Watch, up close during an ill-advised trip to Amsterdam a few years ago. I remember being handed a laminated piece of paper offering details of all the hidden meanings in the painting but nothing about the murderous accusations it may or may not contain.
While the Rijksmuseum may shy away from these allegations and rumors, Nightwatching doesn't, diving full-bore into the legends surrounding the museum's most famous painting and the artist behind it. According to the film, Rembrandt was not only daring and weird when it came to his personal relationships (at one point he mischievously attempts to sketch his wife's womb as she's giving birth), he was pretty bold in his studio as well. After hearing about the deplorable crimes of a local militia group who he's been commissioned to paint, he sets about reveling their twisted hobbies through art and metaphors on a gigantic canvas.
Nightwatching is the sort of movie I wish my high school art teacher had shown in class instead of dreary public broadcasting documentaries about Renoir. While the film falls apart in the last act as it hastily tries to sum up Rembrandt's decline through convoluted conspiracies and an odd series of encounters with an orphan who may or may not be the angel of death, it's a solid costume drama.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 5
Showtimes: 2/13 at 8:30 PM in the Whitsell Auditorium and 2/15 at 2 PM also in the Whitsell Auditorium
The Coraline Interviews Part 3 - Thirty Seconds with Phil Knight
What do you ask a man who's worth nearly eight billion dollars several years after you kinda, sorta forced him to hastily flee from Mac Court? I didn't expect Phil Knight to come anywhere near our end of the red carpet but Pete lured him over by singing the U of O fight song and yelling "MR. KNIGHT! MR. KNIGHT!" The Chairman of Nike finally relented and I had to come up with a few questions on the spot. Here's what came out.
APB: Hi, we're University of Oregon alums. Thanks for taking a moment to talk to us.
Knight: Go Ducks!
APB: Yeah, go Ducks. Have you seen the movie yet?
Knight: I've seen the movie, in parts, but I've never seen it from beginning to end. I've seen something like fifteen, twenty minutes here, there and everywhere. I've seen that and I'm real proud of it but I'm really looking forward to seeing it from beginning to end.
APB: A second movie from Laika all depends on how well this one does at the box office, right?
Knight: Oh, we'll do one more movie even if this one does badly but we don't know what it's going to be just yet.
Knight: No problem. Go Ducks!
APB: Go Ducks!
Coming up tomorrow: an in-depth, 39-second interview with Coraline star and Hollyood wunderkind Dakota Fanning.
Downsizing and having your job shipped overseas: two phenomenons not entirely exclusive to wage slaves in the United States. When Japanese salary man Ryûhei Sasaki discovers that his job has just been shipped to China, the lives of both him and his family slowly begin to untangle.
This film from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa follows Ryûhei as he struggles to keep up appearances and as he spends his work days hiding out in bookshops with others like him. While his family remains oblivious, he whiles away his days with another unemployed manager who sets his cell phone to automatically ring five times an hour just to make him feel like he's keeping busy.
The film is both a serious drama and a bleak satire of corporate culture in Japan. The crowd I saw it with didn't quite know what to make of it, laughing awkwardly at various points throughout the movie, especially during the final twenty minutes.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 7
Showtimes: The last showing was last night. Ooops.
Henry Selick got his start as a Disney animator before going on to direct films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coraline. When I spoke with him during a round-table interview last week he discussed the impact of online media on independent films, why he decided to set Coraline in Ashland and what the average work week is like while filming a full-length, stop-motion animated movie.
APB: I'm the small fry of the group. I write a local blog called Another Portland Blog about stuff around town.
Selick: Well, Another Portland Blog, that's kind of like the whole concept of Coraline, the other world, the other version of things. The web is driving information exchange and knowledge. It's been interesting. Our distributors at Focus, they've done some other great independent films. They produced Milk with Gus Van Sant. But even those guys in New York and LA they're still kind of old school and use "tracking" and all this. When we see what's happening on the web for our film there's just a whole 'nother wave of information exchange. People get really excited about it. I think it's much more democratic and it's a much better way to find out what the hell is really going on.
APB:Coraline, the novel, takes place in the UK but for the film everything was moved to the states. Why was the decision made to have it take place in Oregon, specifically Ashland?
Selick: I got...the manuscript and took it to producer Bill Mechanic, an old friend, who was the executive behind Fight Club and some other really cool films. It was the second draft of the screenplay, I wrote the adaptation, where I found my own voice and started to tell the story and turn it into a film that I could really bring to life. I just wasn't comfortable with all of the British dialog. Neil's British, although he lives in Wisconsin and has for fourteen years, but it's set in England.
I had to transplant it and it's almost an arbitrary thing that I chose Oregon for the rainy weather. I wanted it to be a very atmospheric film and there's the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I've been there. I wanted to keep a few of the characters British. I was just looking for an excuse and that was reason enough. It could have been a Shakespeare Festival in any state in the country but I happened to choose Ashland and I went there and I soaked it up. It wasn't until several years later that I moved to Oregon to make the film.
APB: How much involvement did Phil Knight have in the process of making the movie? Was it a situation where he said, "Ok, here's the money. Go for it"?
Selick: He wasn't heavily involved but there were lots of meetings, all the time. Once we finished Moongirl there were several projects in development. This was, absolutely, the dark horse. There was another project called Jack and Ben, which was much more traditional. It was much more reliable, it was so much more like so many other films. This other project, Coraline, well, it was strange and so there were a lot of hurdles created that I had to clear. A lot of rewrites. I tried some different things, doing tests in animation. We had one test where we put CG against stop motion. We finally got to a point where the only hurdle left was to find the right distributor.
I happened to meet someone who hooked me up with Focus Features and the head of Focus responded to the story. He knew Neil Gaiman, he knew my work. Instead of saying, "Well, this could work if you make it 'safe' and change this and this he said, "Wow, this could be great." Once we found the distributor, all the hurdles were cleared and we got our green light and incredible support for the film [from Phil]. The best since The Nightmare Before Christmas. What you see on the screen is, like, 90% of all of our efforts.
APB: On a movie like this where you're in one big warehouse, no location shooting, what is the workload like? Are you putting in 80, 90 hours? Or is it much more like Monday through Friday, 8 to 5?
Selick: I think a few people would have liked the later approach. We eventually did get to a point where we felt like we were dying because we were putting in so many hours. Live action shoots are much quicker but they're the shoots where you don't have a family. Your life is absolutely the film. On a stop motion film like this you get a little more recovery time. You're not working six days a week right from the start but you do ramp up into that. We start with a 60 hour work week and as we get into the final months of the film it ramps up.
APB: As you get closer to the deadline?
Selick: We also ramp up the production in terms of the number of animators and sets we have going so I just have to physically be there longer. Sure, we're not on location but I'm walking seven or eight miles a day going from set to set, to editorial to the arts departments. It's a surprisingly exciting, vital, kinetic place to be.
Coming up tomorrow: an interview with Laika owner and co-founder of Nike Phil Knight.
As I mentioned last week, I had the honor of interviewing members of the cast and crew who worked on Coraline. Here's the first with author Neil Gaiman. I'll post the remaining four, one for each day this week, through Saturday. The movie made at least $4 million more at the box office than analysts were expecting this past weekend, which bodes well for Laika and hopefully also for the shelf life of all of these interviews.
So this was my first and, given my credentials and geographical location, most likely last press junket. From what I've read and heard, both entertainment journalists and talent aren't fans of these things. They're grueling, repetitive and there's never enough time for interviewers to ask more than a few questions. When I went to speak with Gaiman on Thursday at the Heatman Hotel here in Portland, I was introduced to two other local online scribes, Joseph Dilworth Jr. with Pop Culture Zoo and Scott Dally from Film Fever Radio. We were all thrown together in a suite with Gaiman to ask questions as part of a "round table format."
I asked the author what it felt like to be insulted on The Colbert Report last week, the host's idea for a children's novel and what movie might serve as the best litmus test to determine if your kid can handle "scary" fantasy movies like Coraline.
APB: Congratulations on the Newberry Award. I was watching the Colbert Report last night and, sure enough, you came up.
Gaiman: I was dissed by Colbert. Can anything be cooler than getting dissed by Colbert on The Colbert Report? [watch the clip here]
APB: Is this a first or has this happened before?
Gaiman: No, this is a first. I've never been dissed by Colbert before. You know, frankly, I've thought about retiring.
APB: So this is the apex of your career, you're reached the top of the mountain?
Gaiman: It's as good as, you know, my Twitter feed suddenly went wild. I'm sitting with my daughter, she's just got in, I got in an hour or so before her and we're eating late night room service, finally getting some dinner and my phone starts going wild. Something weird is happening on Twitter and I go and look and a hundred people are telling me, "Dude, you just got dissed on Colbert." I crank up my Slingbox on my computer, activate my home Tivo feeling someone really living in the 21st fucking century and I watch it and I'm going, "I'm sitting here with my daughter the night before my film premieres being dissed by Colbert. It cannot get better. This is, honestly, as good as it gets."
APB: At the end of the segement he came up with his own idea for a children's novel. It was called Fuck it, We're All Going to Die. What do you think about his idea?
Gaiman: [laughs] I would read it. I want you to know that I would read Stephen Colbert's children's book Fuck It, We're All Going to Die. I think it's awesome. You can tell what's going on. He doesn't have a Newberry. That hurts. He doesn't have a Hugo Award either. I have three. This is from someone who is obviously a science fiction geek. He has created his own science-fiction series. He has shown us many times on his show his large science fiction book, although not published yet. Three Hugos. Two or three Nebulas. The Bram Stoker Award. You know, it's sad, frankly.
APB: When you're writing material for children do you ever think to yourself, "Ok, maybe I've gone too far. Maybe this is too scary. Maybe I shouldn't go with the buttons for eyes or the huge monster mother? Or do you think that kids can handle it?
Gaiman: So far I haven't run into any kids that have problems with buttons for eyes. They have dolls with buttons for eyes and they don't really have a problem with that. Adults get hugely freaked out by buttons for eyes. Just in terms of things that creep them, that get under their skin. You put a kid and an adult next to each other and you say, "Ok, guys. People with buttons for eyes?" The kids go, "cool" and the adults go "oooooo." I get letters from schools every week with drawings and the kids have an enormous amount of fun drawing people with buttons for eyes.
With something like Coraline you're looking at something that kids tend to experience as an adventure. It's like Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. She is a hero and she's up against something nasty and that's cool. Adults watching this are watching a completely different genre of story. Adults are watching a story about a child in danger, which is much, much more unsettling. As adult human being we are hardwired to worry about children.
Every now and again, you get a missing child case and it's kind of like every other missing child case but the media taps into it and everybody taps into it and they obsess. There was in England a few years ago, there's one going on right now...there's something deeply troubling about children in trouble, children in danger, children under threat, which is, honestly a different genre of story. Children aren't watching a children in danger film they're watching a film about someone like them going up against something nasty and, in terms of....what kids can handle, if you have a kid who is fine with watching the original Disney's Snow White and the original MGM Wizard of Oz with the witch and the flying monkeys and The Nightmare Before Christmas I cannot imagine that that kid would have a problem with Coraline. I can't guarantee that they're parents won't.
APB: So if you were to select one movie that would be a litmus test for a six year old before you sit them down and introduce them to [these sorts of films] would you say Snow White is it?
Gaiman: Yeah, I'd say Disney's Snow White. If you can cope with Snow White which has the murderous witch queen who is absolutely murderous and you have poison apples, you have her turning into the evil, old hag, you have, well, all of that shit. If you can cope with that you can handle it.
On my blog, last week, a lady wrote in and asked, "I have a six year old son. Will he be ok with Coraline? I wrote back, "lady, I don't know your son. Your letter is the equivalent of saying, 'I have a six year old son. I'm planning on making a mushroom omelet tomorrow. Will he like it?"
I don't know if your son likes mushrooms, I don't know if he likes eggs, I don't know if he likes eggs being folded into an omelet. You know your son. That, in my experience...it makes no more sense than asking, "Can a six year old handle this?" anymore than asking "can a thirty-five year old handle this?"
I had another chance to speak with Mr. Gaiman on the red carpet later that evening. Here's what he had to say.
APB: When you sold the film rights to Good Omens to Terry Gilliam you supposedly sold it for one goat? Did you ever get it?
Gaiman: Not a goat, a groat and we never got our groat. In fact, I would like to point out here that I actually had to go and figure out what the commission was from my agent on a groat, which is a farthing. I have gone onto eBay and bought a farthing in preparation for Terry Gilliam getting us a groat.
APB: Is there still the chance it may one day hit the screen?
Gaiman: Lots of people want to do it on the screen but we've been holding out for Terry. If anybody you know has $65 million in loose change under their sofa or anything, Terry Gilliam would love it to make a movie.
APB: There's a gentleman down on the other end of the carpet named Phil Knight. He might have that much lying around.
Gaiman: [laughs] Even he might be terrified of the idea of giving it to Terry Gilliam.
Coming up tomorrow: an interview with Coraline director Henry Selick.
We didn't quite make it onto the red carpet but we were at the tail end of the carpet, wedged between latinoreview.com and a film crew from the PSU Daily Vanguard. Talk about a weird night. The Vanguard kids made fun of the blog, Teri Hatcher offered a great response to my snarky question about Desperate Housewives, Dakota Fanning signed my copy of the book and we also talked to Phil Knight, Neil Gaiman and others. All the interviews will go up on the blog on Monday after I fulfill the duties of my day job and get some sleep.
The after-party at the Portland Art Museum was also pretty amazing, all pomp and glitz with Phil Knight and son holding court in a VIP section. Laika rolled in several of the sets and puppets from the movie in addition to the artists' workshops. The film's enormous "Pink Palace" served as the ballroom's centerpiece.
More to come. In the meantime, here's a Flickr gallery of photos from last night. A tip of the hat goes out to the folks at Focus, Laika, my photographer Pete who took all the red carpet photos and a certain PR rep who put us on the list and talked security out of dragging me out of the Schnitz after I ran down to Safeway for more batteries (Mr. Levy, if I'd known you could have had them. We got through the night without needing 'em).
It's been a weird day and I've got an even weirder night ahead of me. My photographer for the evening, one Mr. Pete Hunt, and I are about to head down to the red carpet for the world premiere of Coraline at the Schnitz. Earlier today, two other online media types and I had the pleasure of talking with the film's director Henry Selick and this fellow:
I really didn't think any of this was going to come together and was kinda surprised when I showed up for the interviews to discover that my name was actually on the list. More photos and today's interviews with Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick will be posted here on the blog over the course of the next few days.
Also: this is Another Portland Blog's 2,000th post. Huzzah!
I'm a graduate of Nike College, also known as the University of Oregon. While I was working towards my degree, a group of students decided to camp out on the front steps of Johnson Hall to protest university president Dave Frohnmayer's decision to sign a controversial Worker Rights Consortium contract. They held out for ten days and a friend of mine, along with a small band of her fellow demonstrators, staged a sit-in before getting dragged out of Johnson Hall on the heels of having mace rubbed in their eyes by members of the local police department. The whole thing made national headlines and eventually caused enraged Nike founder Phil Knight to relinquish his substantial financial contributions to the school for a number of years. You can read all about the fallout from the protests here.
My contribution to the controversy? I threw a wad of paper at Phil Knight during a basketball game at Mac Court, inspiring everyone around me to do the same. How did Phil deal with this abrupt assault? He got up and walked out without so much as glancing in our direction. A classy response to a bunch of fiesty undergrads.
Knight and Nike are no strangers to controversy. They've been getting knocked around for over a decade for sweatshop labor practices, overpriced sportswear and Knight's decision to pull the rug out from under Will Vinton and partially hand over his Portland film studio to his own son Travis. Coraline, the first film to come out of the renamed Laika Inc has its Portland premiere at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall tonight at 7:30, a few hours from now. The screening sold out quickly when they went on sale a few weeks ago.
Given the history surrounding Coraline and the origins of the cash that went into financing the film, I guess I should automatically hate it for purely political reasons. After all, wasn't Coraline at least partially made off the sweat and tears of international child labor and Will Vinton's broken dreams?
Regardless of all of that, I gotta call this one like I see it.
As much as it might annoy the former wannabe student radical in me to type this, Coraline is an incredibly well-made animated film. In terms of ambition, story, visual splendor, voice work and characters it rivals the best of Disney and is on the level of Pixar's output. The icing on the cake? It's even set in Oregon. According to The Oregonian the film takes place outside of Ashland (link). That would explain the Shakespearean actors hanging around town when Coraline and her mother go shopping.
Based on Neil Gaiman's New York Times bestselling novel, Coraline follows the adventures of a pre-teen who moves from Michigan to Oregon. Ignored by her workaholic parents, bored out of her skull and disgusted with the Pacific Northwest's gloomy weather, she finds a doorway into a parallel universe much like her own. There Coraline's greeted by her "other mother," the polar opposite of her distant real one who presents her with everything she could ever hope for.
In this alterna-reality Coraline can eat whatever she wants, ride around an elaborate garden in a cricket carriage, visit a circus populated by acrobatic mice and attend nightly performances in a concert hall populated by hooting Scottish Terriers. Even her annoying neighbor, the one who talks to much? In this world he never utters a word. There's just one little problem: everybody in this wonderland has buttons instead of eyeballs.
Of course, nothing in this parallel world is what it seems and Coraline is about to get hit with a substantial amount of fantasyland hassles and headaches. The movie is marinated in the pathos of Gaiman's source material and it refuses to shy away from the novel's Brothers Grimm-esque horrors. Coraline is downright scary. Maybe not on the level of the Pleasure Island sequences in Pinocchio or Bambi's mother taking a bullet but it could traumatize especially timid kids. The tougher tykes are gonna love it though.
Director Henry Selick assembled an amazing crew that put a tremendous amount of painstaking work into integrating Coraline's stop motion animation with its elaborate 3D effects. Reportedly the filming took over two years to complete. Coraline's splendors and set pieces are a pretty trippy treat for the eyes, both normal ones and button ones. At the very least, it's the best set-in-Oregon movie ever made.
Will Coraline out-gross pop-culture reference spewing garbage like the Shrek movies at the box office? Unlikely but here's hoping it's at least nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature next year.
It's nice to see that Phil's shoe money going to produce a film on this level. Here's hoping Laika continues to rise above its roots and keeps cranking out stuff like Coraline. Sadly, the studio's future, according to this week's cover story in Willamette Week is dicey. Mr. Knight (current net worth, $9.8 billion) recently laid off 65 of Laika's employees in December and is waiting to see how much cash Coraline pulls in before bankrolling a second feature. I guess he doesn't like to lose.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 2
Showtimes: It screens tonight at a sold-out screening at the Schnitz and opens in theaters around Portland tomorrow.
If Amelie had been born in a small Russian fishing village instead of Paris she would have probably turned out a lot like Alisa, the precocious hipster heroine of this incredibly quirky and really weird fantasy film. Things like Mermaid just don't get made in the states. Here's a quick rundown on the premise:
Alisa is a free-spirited girl living in a seaside ramshackle made out of empty water bottles with her overbearing mother and senile grandmother. She wiles away her days dreaming of the day her father, who she can't quite remember and thinks might resemble the monster from Bioshock, will return. She desperately wants to become a ballerina and she can magically make things happen ala that kid in Firestarter when she gets overly emotional. After a fire destroys their home, the family relocates to Moscow where Alisa grows up and gets a job handing out fliers on the street while dressed in a cell phone costume. She later saves the life of a self-destructive entrepreneur who sells plots of land on Mars to millionaires with too much money and time on their hands. Oh, and one afternoon a huge soccer riot breaks out after Alisa has a bad day at work.
Director Anna Melikyan turns Moscow into a vibrant, electric wonderland reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's portrait of Tokyo in Lost in Translation. Don't judge the movie by its cloying trailer and its fairly terrible first ten minutes. Mermaid and its offbeat, Beck-lookalike protagonist should be an annoying mess but somehow it works like a rusted-out VW van with 500,000 miles on the odometer. Just when you think the movie is going to finally fall into the cliches of your typical romantic comedy it jumps the rails with a finale that slaps you across the face like a sloppy, radioactive smooch from Chernobyl. It's a damn shame that only around fifty people in the US will see this one.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 3
Showtimes: 2/6, 6:15 PM at the Broadway Metro and 2/10, 6 PM at the Broadway Metro
An excerpt from a fictional letter published by Reason magazine yesterday regarding the recent revelation that the Olympic champion enjoys a little marijuana every now and then....
Yet you all get bent out of shape when Ricky Williams, or I, or Josh Howard smoke a little dope to relax. Why? Because the idiots you’ve elected to make your laws have, without a shred of evidence, beat it into your head that smoking marijuana is something akin to drinking antifreeze, and done only by dirty hippies and sex offenders.
You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process. And it’s hypocritical righteousness at that, given that 40 percent of you have tried pot at least once in your lives.
Here’s a crazy thought: If I can smoke a little dope and go on to win 14 Olympic gold medals, maybe pot smokers aren’t doomed to lives of couch surfing and video games, as our moronic government would have us believe. In fact, the list of successful pot smokers includes not just world class athletes like me, Howard, Williams, and others, it includes Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, the last three U.S. presidents, several Supreme Court justices, and luminaries and success stories from all sectors of business and the arts, sciences, and humanities.
So go ahead. Ban me from the next Olympics. Yank my endorsement deals. Stick your collective noses in the air and get all indignant on me. While you’re at it, keep arresting cancer and AIDS patients who dare to smoke the stuff because it deadens their pain, or enables them to eat. Keep sending in goon squads to kick down doors and shoot little old ladies, maim innocent toddlers, handcuff elderly post-polio patients to their beds at gunpoint, and slaughter the family pet.
Just when I thought that everything that ever needed to be said about the mafia had been said along comes Gomorrah, an Italian film based on real-life incidents that exposes a new level of nastiness festering in Naples. Filmed documentary-style, it falls somewhere between The Sopranos and City of God presenting an unblinking overview of the city's crime world and the life cycles of its participants. Teenagers are recruited and forced into an ugly initiation ritual involving bulletproof vests while their older counterparts are massacred in tanning salons.
It's a bleak ride but not without its moments of grim humor. In one subplot, a pair of clueless, Scarface-obsessed newbies make the mistake of striking it out on the own against a local don after uncovering a cache of machine guns. The film's biggest flaw is that it tries to cover a huge amount of material while juggling a multi-generational cast of characters all diving into or trying to escape their lifetime gigs. The best of Gomorrah's various stories: one unwitting goon's struggles to come to terms with his boss' unwavering vileness and what could be the most repugnant mafia job in the history of film. Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone may as well be Mercy Corps volunteers in comparison to this guy's employer, the impossibly corrupt Don Franco.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 4
Showtimes: 2/6, 6:30 PM at the Whitsell Auditorium and 2/9, 6 PM at the Whitsell Auditorium
It's nice to see that the Oregon Zoo has its own take on Groundhog Day, which I just found out about. Using an African hedgehog, the zoo offers a second opinion on the annual tradition of using small mammals to predict the weather Too bad the little bugger has been wrong three out of the past four years. For 2009 she predicted that Portland is in for another six weeks of winter. Based on today's temperatures it may as well be late April out there.
You know you're in for some pure art house arrogance when a documentary opens not only with a pair of theater curtains parting but a lengthy James Joyce quote. Director Terence Davies' love letter to his lost youth and the Liverpool of yore is certainly heartfelt and the historical footage he acquired is nothing short of amazing. The film weaves together hypnotic clips of bonfires, beauty contests, boardwalks, piers and slums. Unfortunately, his heavy-handed narration adds a lofty, pompous air to the proceedings, making the whole thing feel like a lecture from a grandparent that not only thinks everything in human history that happened after 1962 is completely awful but who also not-so secretly hates you.
For Davies, post WW2-era Liverpool was nothing short of a paradise that was a cultural epicenter until those pesky Beatles came along and ruined everything. Yes, he actually bashes the Fab Four and admits that, as a teenager growing up in the city, their songs turned him off from rock music forever. Different strokes for different folks, I guess. He also makes the mistake of including ill-fitting music over several sequences. I'm still wondering why he decided to slap the Hollies 1969 hit "He Ain't Heavy" over footage of the Korean War.
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 9
Showtimes: 2/8, 3 PM at the Broadway Metro and 2/12, 7 PM at the Broadway Metro
The Baader Meinhof Complex taught me an important life lesson. Don't piss-off German hippies. If you piss off German hippies they may just toss a Molotov cocktail into your car while you're stuck at a stoplight.
Based on a true story and a nominee for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film, director Uli Edel's thriller follows a group of recklessly idealistic and uncompromising Vietnam-era militants as they tear through the fatherland fighting a threat they deem as serious as Hitler. You see, they weren't too into the whole "American Imperialism" thing so they spent the '60s and '70s robbing banks, blowing up federal buildings and shooting guns at freeway signs when they weren't too busy hiding out in Italy or smoking cigarettes while looking cool.
Of course, their escalating wave of terror eventually gets the better of them, landing four ringleaders in prison. As their cause unravels, so does the film as its last act becomes heavily mired in courtroom drama. It's an exhaustive look at a period of left-wing radicalism almost entirely unknown to most of us in the US. Still, The Baader Meinhof Complex attempts to cover too much rather than the moments in the group's history that audiences are more likely to be interested in (ie, all the explosions, riots and gun battles).
Rating on the PIFF Pretentiousness Meter: 3
Showtimes: 2/8, 7:30 PM at the Whitsell Auditorium and 2/9, 7 PM at the Broadway Metro
So, yeah, I landed a press pass to this year's Portland International Film Festival (link). I've got the festival guide sitting here on my desk and I've been flipping through it. There's just no way I could do this thing justice. By my count, seventy-eight feature-length films will screen over the next few weeks, in addition to numerous short films. I wonder how many of them I'll get through between now and closing night on the 21st. So far I've seen 5.5.
Yeah, so I kinda, sorta walked out on one of them when the film broke at the halfway point during a press screening this afternoon. I decided I'd rather be running around outside in the sun. A desire to expose myself to natural light on a day off? Pfffft. Some online movie critic I'm turning out to be.
Anyway, I'll be running reviews on the blog over the next few weeks and I wanted to come up with something that none of the other blogs and publications in Portland are going to offer. Something straight-forward, honest and, yeah, more than a bit snarky. I give you, THE PIFF PRETENTIOUSNESS METER.
I wish I could have found a more impressive GIF, and a better name for the meter, but maybe this fits. The PIFF Pretentiousness Meter doesn't need to be big and flashy with a huge budget and a catchy title, ok? It subsists outside the Hollywood mainstream. It's the sort of meter you're not going find at your average shopping mall chain cinema. Go back to suburbs and watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop with actual mall cops if you don't like it.
Anyway, in addition to trailers, upcoming screening times and reviews, I'm going to rate each movie I see on how overwhelmingly snotty and art house-y it is. A "1" rating on the scale means that a movie is as mainstream and accessible as something like Kung-Fu Panda. A "10" rating means it's as unbearable and highfalutin' as the smuggest student art movie ever made or, say, the worst five minutes of Inland Empire.
As with any film festival of this scale, this year's PIFF is sure to offer plenty of gems and lots n' lots of pap. So far I've seen more of the former than the later.