#TopTenTuesday – Actresses

Top 10 Favorite Actresses:

1:   Kate Winslet.  I’m not going to lie – having my name in the title of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind set me up to like the movie.  Whatever my reasons, this is still one of my favorite Winslet roles.  No matter what character she’s playing, though, I’ve always found her relatable.  (Yes, that includes Divergent…don’t judge me.)
2:   Tatiana Maslany.  I got into Orphan Black around the middle of the second season. Holy crap.  How one actress can play such vastly different characters so convincingly – often having to fake act with herself – is beyond me.  Somehow she can play one clone who’s pretending to be another clone, and you still know which one she really is because of subtle mannerisms or facial changes or whatever that she brings to each.  Amazing.
3:   Angelina Jolie.  I’m always torn with the whole “pretty actress” thing because I think a lot of them coast on their looks.  But the emotion that Jolie can bring to life on screen really is respectable.  And I also respect the roles she chooses, often political, often stories that might not get attention if she wasn’t involved.
4:   Meryl Streep.  Cuz she’s MERYL STREEP.
5:   Emma Stone.  If she’s in a movie, at some point I’m probably going to laugh.
6:   Cate Blanchett.  Something about seeing her face on the screen immediately makes me pay attention.  She’s captivating.
7:  Katharine Hepburn.  When I first started watching old movies with any kind of commitment, I started with a lot of the other Hepburn.  Audrey is fine, I like her work, but she was always a little too proper and girly for me.  Then I found The Philadelphia Story and Katharine H., and suddenly here was a tomboy smartass I could identify with.  She had a sort of ease about her onscreen that draws me in.
8:  Maggie Smith  I can’t think of any character she’s played that I haven’t liked.  And I might enjoy her character on Downton Abbey a little too much, because blunt delivery of opinion is probably how I’m going to be if I make it to old age….if my grandmother is any indication.
9:   Marion Cotillard.  She’s just lovely.  My first exposure to her was Big Fish, but I didn’t realize that until Inception, when I looked her up and decided I was a fan.  Then Midnight in Paris… The Dark Knight Rises… And I’m looking forward to MacBeth.
10: Laura Linney.  Often when I find myself liking a character and not thinking about “oh, it’s the actress from THIS or THAT,” it’s Laura Linney.  She’s just consistently good without being overly attention-stealing or flashy.

(On any given day when my tastes are slightly different, switch up with Myrna Loy, Keira Knightley, Octavia Spencer,  Jamie Lee Curtis, Judi Dench, Jessica Chastain…)

Anybody have their own list?   Comment below!

#TopTenTuesday

Top 10 Favorite TV/Movie Cars:

1:   The Batmobile in Batman Begins.  This counts as a car, right?  I mean, who hasn’t wanted one of these when stuck in really bad traffic?  
2:   James Bond’s Aston Martin(s).  I can’t imagine a better car to be paired with the character of James Bond.  These cars are amazingly gorgeous anyway, and then you add Bond gadgets and the legal wishy-washy-ness of being able to drink in them, and I’m sold.
3:   Eleanor in Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000 version).  
With all the cars in that movie, this one is still my favorite.  I’ve always liked mustangs, and the silver/gray/metal look is perfectly sleek.  (Although, I have a horrific memory of clutching my seat belt while riding home with my dad after seeing that movie in the theater.)
4:   Mr. Frye’s Ferrari in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  It’s red and shiny and pretty.  Mostly, I like that they stole the car for a whole day, which I imagine is every teenager’s dream if their parents have a cool car… I never felt compelled to steal our Chevy Caprice.
5:   The Winchester’s Impala from Supernatural.  Okay, it doesn’t hurt who’s IN the car.  Or that I know what’s in the trunk.  But I love the growl of the car.  And you can’t go wrong with black.  Or the tape selection for the radio.
6:   The Volkswagen on Lost.  Yeah, the car itself – not the best.  But I remember how emotional and lovely the episode was when Hurley and the gang got the thing working, and all of these old buckets make me smile now.
7:  The Delorean in Back to the Future.  It’s a car that lets you time-travel.  That’s all I could ask for.
8:   The getaway MINIs in The Italian Job.  The getaway race/chase with a herd of these little guys looked fun, dangerous, and as adorable as a car chase can get.
9:   Richard’s classic Plymouth in Tommy Boy.  It’s not the car with this one so much as everything that happens TO the car.  Again, nostalgic reasons.
10: Jurassic Park’s Ford Explorer.   I remember as a kid liking the paint job before everything turned to chaos.  Since then, every time I’m in a vehicle with a sunroof, I imagine having to brace myself against it while something comes down to attack me.

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Anybody have their own list?   Comment below!

#TopTenTuesday

Top 10 Favorite Black & White Movies:

1:   The Thin Man Series.  I can never pick my favorite of the series – it depends on my mood at any given moment.  But William Powell and Myrna Loy are my favorite on-screen couple of all time.  The play between these two is mostly what I love about these movies, although the murder/mystery twists are great too.
Also, this was a Halloween costume one year:  
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2:   Casablanca.  The first time I watched this (which was way too late in life, I blame bad parenting), I was shocked to find that I knew over half the lines.  I mean, everyone knows “Of all the gin joints…” but there are TONS of lines that have slipped into everyday use.  It’s also a love triangle with much bigger things at stake, and that’s refreshing.
3:   The Philadelphia Story.   I like wit.  The combo of Grant, Hepburn, and Stewart is hard to beat.  I guess technically there’s more like a love “square” with the other guy thrown in, but the main thing for me is that it’s about Tracy finding herself and not settling.
4:   City Lights.  I have so much respect for early storytellers who didn’t use, you know, speech.  Emotions are conveyed with eyes or a heavy bodily sigh.  Chaplin might have been a perfectionist control-freak (directed, wrote, produced, starred), but the results is one of the sweetest movies I can think of.
5:   All About Eve.  Great cast – and the short surprise of Marilyn Monroe.  Movies like this are always super-creepy to me.  The idea of taking someone under your wing only to have them turn on you is terrifying.  It’s like “Mean Girls” meets “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
6:   High Noon.  Love Gary Cooper.  Love Grace Kelly.  This isn’t a typical shoot-em-up, horse-chase-heavy kind of western, but the slow suspense is great, and the actor performances really draw you in.
7:   It Happened One Night.  This is just fun.  I’ve never thought Clark Gable is handsome at all, but the unlikely romance that develops here totally works for me.  There are several moments of outright hilarity.  And of course the famous lesson in hitchhiking.
8:   The Treasure of Sierra Madre.  I always like Bogart, but his character in this movie was different than a lot of what I’d seen from him.  I particularly like the way greed and betrayal destroy everything, even more than the external dangers.
9:   Lost Horizon.  This kind of blew my mind.  I love questioned utopias, and the way this movie builds and builds with suspense is great.
10:   Swing Time.  I think this was the first Ginger Rogers movie I saw.  With Fred Astaire, she’s amazing.  Also, it has the lyric, “You take romance, I’ll take jello.”  That’s really all I need.

Anybody have their own list?   Comment below!

#TopTenTuesday

(This is a new thing I’m going to do every Tuesday.
I like lists.  I love “favorites” lists.
So here we go.)

Top 10 Favorite Superhero Movies:

1:   The Dark Knight Rises.  Really, you could just lump the trilogy together and list it at my #1 spot.  I thought how this one ended made it the strongest of the three.  Batman has always been dark and gritty, and the brokenness of this trilogy mixed with a bit of hope and redemption fit exactly what I wanted.
2:   Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  This surprised me.  I don’t normally root for the boyscout type, but Captain America has a lot of depth that I really enjoyed.  I really, really enjoyed the partnership with the Black Widow and the fact that it didn’t cross into a love-interest territory.  And, so often a superhero movie can be crammed with way too much to the point that nothing makes sense together (I’m looking at you, Spiderman 3), but I thought this one was just right.
3:   Guardians of the Galaxy.   I don’t care who you are, this is a great, fun movie.  I first saw this on a 4th date when he was an hour late, the popcorn was stale, and the theater was one of the worst I’ve ever been in.  But, nothing spoiled this movie for me once it started.  I didn’t really know what to expect, and I’ve definitely never laughed so hard at a superhero movie.  Also, there’s no reason I should’ve cried about a raccoon and a tree, but there ya go.
4:   The Avengers.  I was mostly relieved by how well all the previously-established characters/storylines came together.  It was interesting to see so many characters who had already been fleshed out thrown together in one movie.  I’ve always been a Whedon fan, and it was fun for all those little, recognizable quirks too.
5:   X-Men: Days of Future Past.  They had me at the use of time-travel.  And, well, Fassbender.  The first three X-Men movies were never quite what I wanted, but I loved how this “corrected” a lot of that.
6:   Nightwatch.  The most hipster thing I ever say — “You probably haven’t heard of this.”  It’s a Russian film by Timur Bekmambetov. I know this is really more fantasy, but these people can move in and out of a dimension as the forces of Light battle the forces of Evil, and last time I looked Hawkeye doesn’t have powers that super.  This is a sequel, but I liked the end so much that I liked this one more than the first, Daywatch.
7:   X-Men: First Class.  Again,  Ijust love how much better this was than the original trio of X-Men movies.  And I love a good backstory.
8:   Thor: The Dark World.  Another Marvel franchise surprise.  I don’t really like Thor, honestly.  I think the world is cool and Loki is fantastic, but Thor himself I’m just “meh” about (cue women yelling at me).  But, I let go of expecting this to be good, and I found myself liking it a lot.
9:   Unbreakable.  It’s a mess at times, but I like the use of “reality” in this one.  I feel like this is what Hancock was aiming for — a superhero set in our real world — but the slower, deeper look at discovering superpowers here I liked better.
10:   Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  A childhood favorite, largely listed for nostalgia, but it’s still fun to re-watch.

Anybody have their own list?   Comment below!

Sum-Up of My Nerdiness

For those of you who miss my more serious blog posts, I apologize but simply have such raging cabin fever that I’m getting a little slaphappy and have to amuse myself to stay sane. 

I’ve spent a LOT of time on the internet lately while cocooned in blankets, sipping spiked cocoa, and thus I’ve spent a lot of time taking in fandom.  My observations have led me to the conclusion that people are crazy, and people are awesome.  My real-life friends and I have had multiple conversations about the difference between being a nerd, a geek, or a dork – the fact that we’ve had this conversation probably proves some kind of point.  (I don’t mean to leave anyone out or offend anyone, so see my previous blog post “Is My Nerd Showing?” if you need clarification on my general definition of what it means to be a nerd.) For the most part, I enjoy interacting with fans of things that I too am a fan of, and I’m endlessly fascinated by how fired up people get when talking about things that don’t really matter.

Really, I’m kind of asking for it.  My Twitter profile @kynacoba declares, “I love all things nerd,” and that has led to questions I might as well elaborate upon here.

First of all, what’s the point in being a nerd?
Having interests is always a good thing.  Caring about and connecting with stories is, I think, an important part of how we understand and relate to each other.  And, quite frankly, sometimes it’s just fun to discuss/argue/debate things that don’t really matter.  A friend once said that it’s okay if someone has different opinions on religion, politics, etc. but that it’s NOT okay if someone doesn’t like your favorite TV show.  It’s kind of a nice break to care so passionately about things that don’t affect daily reality.  It’s nice to connect with people who love what you do. I try not to be an elitist about matters of taste (that’s never really made sense to me as a mindset), and it’s infectious to see others’ enthusiasm, even if you don’t care about the subject of their enthusiasm.
At the very least, being a nerd exposes you to a wide range of new things and to the people who care deeply about them.

 As a writer, how does being a nerd matter?
I think being exposed to other peoples’ beloved stories does a lot for stretching the imagination.  And people who really, really know their stuff help me see the importance of making a story as deep, as rich, as complex, and as smart as possible – people who like things and really like things don’t want to be insulted by a lack of creative effort.
As for my own nerdy things that I love, there are some TV shows, movies, books, etc. that I know are absolutely foundational in shaping my own creativity.  Some stories from childhood are so ingrained that I probably don’t even realize how much they shape me.  Some stories from adulthood trigger some part of my brain that goes “Ah-ha!” because I see something in a light I hadn’t considered before.
I think it’s arrogant for artists to not acknowledge that other art inspires and shapes our own creativity.  Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could. (If you just sang that in your head, +100 points.) The things we love obviously influence the things we create. But there’s also a problem when you love something so much that all you’re doing is copying the object of your affection.  I read some books and think, “Wow, you like Stephen King” or “Lost fan, much?” So, I think it’s also important to watch out for not going overboard in how your beloved stories shape your creativity – you have to find a way to use ideas that you love but make it YOURS, in your own voice.

 So, what are a few of my favorite things to be a nerd about?

  •  Star Wars.  The originals, I mean – and if I even have to clarify that point, we’re probably not going to be friends.  When I was little, my parents taped the Star Wars movies off of TV.  My brother and I watched them to the point of memorization and tape exhaustion.  Even today when watching on glorious Blu-ray, I still know where the commercial breaks would cut off about 3 seconds.  I think a big part of my love of Star Wars is the fact that most of it looks like something we could have built in our fort.  The imagination and creativity it took to literally create these movies’ worlds is amazing – free of the temptation to overuse CGI…which came later.  The adventure story is simple, with a layer of depth underneath that clearly shaped my own imagination.
    My brother dated a girl who didn’t watch Star Wars until adulthood (I know, right?!), and when she finally humored us, at the end she said that it was probably something we enjoyed out of childhood nostalgia.  There is likely some truth to this for anyone who grew up watching Star Wars three times a week, but I also think these movies are essential for anyone who loves Science Fiction.
  • Star Trek.  Admittedly, I don’t like Star Trek as much as I probably should.  I appreciate the history of what the show/movies did/do for Science Fiction, but I’ve never liked the general world that much.  As a kid watching The Next Generation, I didn’t like how they either made alien races a part of the Federation or else those aliens seemed to be the bad guys.  Even in my little pre-teen brain, I remember thinking of the Federation as “The Man.”  Something about the neat and tidy, semi-utopian world just doesn’t feel realistic to me – replicators making essentially whatever you need, most everyone conveniently speaking English, etc.  I understand the philosophy behind it, but it’s a little too optimistic for me.
    All that being said, Star Trek is important enough that I have to list it as one of my favorites.  The scope and variety is impressive and fun.  The different incarnations over the years have been interesting.  I like Deep Space Nine best of the shows, and I think I liked the depth of characters there.  Also, I’m glad the new movie versions are tweaking the story now.
  • Lost. Yes, even the end.  The whole “sideways” part of things ended so beautifully that I forgave a lot of the flatness of that last season.  And if you try to tell me they were dead the whole time, expect an eye roll.
    I think the #1 thing I enjoyed about Lost was that it didn’t question the intelligence of the audience.  Right up until the end, I had no idea where things were headed – as someone who regularly sorts out plots before they’re done, this was a welcome joy.  The complexity and mystery and the variety of characters was wonderful.  I think probably more than any other show, Lost pushed me to be a better storyteller.
  • Firefly.  Oh, sweet, charming, clever, funny, lovely show, how I miss thee.  My earliest memories of this show are:
    1- My friends dismissing it because of the “hooker in space” only to then later become obsessed fans.
    2- Having a great inside joke about the “special hell.”
    It’s just flat out enjoyable, and I don’t think you necessarily have to be a Sci-Fi fan to love it. Highly quotable, I’ve solidified friendships over love of this show.  It’s like gateway Sci-Fi.
  • Arrested Development. My thoughts on AD are very similar to my thoughts on Firefly.  A guy once thought I was great and said, “Marry me,” and of course I responded, “Babysit me!” He didn’t get it; we’re no longer friends (there’s probably more to it, but this is the reason I remember).
  • Space: Above and Beyond.  This one’s a little out there, I know.  But this show did a LOT for my childhood creative juices.  Shane was an early inspiration for my own character of Bullseye.  Everything with the In Vetroes inspired a lot of my use of clones. And I’ve never looked at pancakes the same again.
  • X-Men and Batman.  HUGE influences for my own series.  As kids, we watched the cartoons at every possible moment.  We read the comics.  We spent literally hours upon hours drawing our own mutant characters (see some examples here).
  • Enders Game, Speaker for the Dead, Ender’s Shadow, etc.  I have a love/hate relationship with Orson Scott Card, but crap damn it the man can tell a story.  It’s one of the prouder accomplishments of my adult life that I’ve gotten almost my entire friend circle to read this series. 
  • Dr. Who.  I really do love Dr. Who, but I list it here as more of a confession:  Until about 3-4 months ago, I’d only seen 4 episodes.  I just could not get into it.   But, I felt like a bad nerd for not liking Dr. Who, so my brother made a list of which episodes to skip because he knew they’d be the ones to turn me off.  Thus entering with low expectations, I was soon sucked in.  I still have a ways to go, but I can honestly say that I think I’ve cried over this show more than anything since the Lost finale.
    And, as a fan of my own books has pointed out, it is nuts that I was capable of creating my character of Trok without knowing about the doctor.  That might, in fact, be the reason I connect so much with the Doctor – I’m very, very familiar with the immortal, time-traveling, searching-for-connection kind of character.  The consistency of the writing for this one character over DECADES is also really, really impressive, as is the ability of the different actors to play the same character. 

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So, yeah.  Those are things I’m nerdily devoted to.  There are many, many more.  And people who enjoy these things also enjoy other things I’m not as well-versed in, so there’s always more to take in.  For example, I know next to nothing about video games.  This is mostly because I’m absolute rubbish – my brother will attest to the fact that, if there’s a corner to run into or a way to grenade myself, I will find it.  I really love watching people play video games, and the artistry is usually quite impressive to me.  So that’s up next.

Muppet Christmas Lessons

[This is from a few years ago, but it’s still appropriate. And still a lesson I struggle with…although I hope I’m better. Anyway, ’tis the season.]

I am proud of Jason Segel.  I don’t know him.  Never met him.  I know being proud of someone you’ve never met is odd, but it’s true.  He brought the Muppets back to life.  The Muppets were essentially dead for over a decade, and now my whole generation has back this wonderful element of our childhood.  Better yet, as one of my friends pointed out, we are free to love the Muppets without irony (the culturally acceptable attitude painted over long-forlorn objects of childhood affection).

After watching the new Muppet Movie, which happened to release around my birthday, my friends went on a Muppet binge for over a month.  It helped that this was around Christmas, and the Muppets’ several Christmas specials fit with perfect timing.  Chief amongst these was, of course, A Muppet Christmas Carol.  Admittedly, I’ve always been partial to Muppet Treasure Island and hadn’t watched their Christmas Carol in several years, but it’s still one of my favorite adaptations.

This time, however, I for the first time noticed something about the general story of the Christmas Carol that got to me – Scrooge.  I’m sure several people who know me would say that I should always have identified with Scrooge, but that’s not exactly what hit me.  The thing about the story that I noticed this time was this:  After his midnight ordeal, Scrooge wakes up in the morning a changed man, and though we only see his first morning after, the projection implied is that Scrooge was a changed man ever after.  That made me think, as many a jaded adult should probably admit to thinking, “Yeah, but how long did it last?”

Then I watched Young Adult, where Charlize Theron plays a woman so self-important and miserable that she honestly thinks it’s not only a good idea but a possible one that she can steal back her now-married ex-boyfriend.  As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help make the connection – she’s a scrooge.  She’s entirely focused on meeting her own needs; she sees the world only from her own viewpoint.  However, unlike Scrooge, when her climactic moment of decision arrives and she realizes that she must change or else be miserable the rest of her life…she doesn’t.  She reverts.  She not only doesn’t learn her lesson but she believes that there was no lesson necessary to learn.  It’s a disturbingly accurate portrayal of our contemporary approach to choosing to be better people, I think.  (I never thought I would accuse Dickens of being optimistic, but by comparison to Diablo Cody, I guess he was.)  In Young Adult, this scrooge thinks there’s nothing really wrong with her, and it’s deeply disturbing because you come to want so badly for this person to grow up and be better.

So.  When/if we repent, change, heal, whatever, how long does it last?  At least for me, the answer is usually “not very.”  I have all the gusto in the world and have every honest intention of being a better person once I’ve been slapped in the face with my own idiocy, and I might even make a really good go of it for a week or two.  But pretty soon, old nature sneaks back in and my enthusiastic decency-revival fades.  Or, worse yet, like Young Adult, I talk myself out of needing to change because I’m so comfortable wallowing in my own mess that I can’t see how to do anything else.  I’m not really that bad, right?  Maybe it’s everyone else who’s wrong.   Maybe I just need to focus more on myself.

Example:  Lately (I use that liberally but feel free to replace with “for quite some time”), I’ve been a pretty sulky, victimized, snippy, unpleasant brat.  I can easily admit that my biggest problem is that I quickly find flaws in people and expect too much from them, and I was living from the position that all my problems were caused by everybody else.  (Let’s face it, this is an easy road to go down.)  The stupid thing is that I’m horribly self-aware and knew I was being an ass, but I have always been able to rationalize my behavior and thoughts – okay, maybe that’s my worst quality.  Anyway, I was definitely being a scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations.  Fortunately, what finally got to me was not as traumatizing-ly supernatural.  While reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, I realized that I was being completely, self-righteously ridiculous.  The problem was me.  Yes, everyone else has problems and nobody’s perfect, but I CAN change ME.  For starters, I needed to at least realize I had a plank in my eye.  If I can rationalize my flaws, why can’t I do the same in others?  I needed to be more forgiving of other people’s flaws.  It’s only fair.  What right do I have to think I’m better than everyone I’m upset with when I know I’m being a jerk?  Why can’t I be as forgiving of other people as I am of myself?

As a Christian, I believe that the great, great thing about God is that he’s just waiting for us to realize we’re idiots.  I always imagine a spiritual finger poking me when I need to realize I’m being stupid.  The scary thing about us humans (or maybe just me…but I doubt it) is that we get really good at ignoring the poking.  Sometimes it takes something to get our attention, and in my case is was Not A Fan (I’m really happy it wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Future, because that guy always freaks me out, even in Muppet form).  As I finished reading a chapter, I felt a weight lifted, and I knew it was my own stupidity.  I acknowledged for the first time in way too long that I was being a self-righteous, judgmental idiot.  And just like that, I felt God going, “Ah-ha, there ya go.  Welcome back.”  I realized at once that this was yet another time when I had to decide where to go and how to be better.

  1. Be fair – treat people at least as kindly as I treat myself.  If I don’t like something about someone, first ask myself if that’s because it’s something I don’t like about me.
  2. Be a more invested friend – show up when people ask, because they might stop caring if I don’t.
  3. Get out of my own head.  Empathize more.
  4. Let things go.  People aren’t perfect.

Of course, in this approaching time of New Year’s resolutions, there is always the question of “How long will it last?”  There will be slips.  I’m not perfect, and no one ever completely changes.  Within a short time, I’m sure I’ll catch myself saying something or doing something that will make me feel that finger-poking rebuke again.  But I intend to remain aware and try to fix my behavior and thoughts as often as possible.  

NOT THIS:                                                         THIS:

adu       scro

NOT THIS:                                                          THIS:

adul                scroo

Is My Nerd Showing?

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A common lesson of mothers everywhere is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is bunk.  You ALWAYS judge a book by its cover and really should only NOT use this method in regards to people.  Failed metaphor, in my opinion.  Where was I going with this… Oh, yes – judging people.  I don’t know when it started for me, but at some point I developed a weird reaction to people’s covers.  I have a friend who admits she feels uncomfortable around rich people, and I think I’m this way with pretty people.  It’s not that I feel inferior or anything – I’m secure enough with my cover and am reminded I should be just often enough.  It’s not that I’m bitter and assume you’ve been gifted with blessings we mere mortals cannot hope to attain.  My real reason for not being crazy about pretty people is this:  I assume they will be boring.

I should clarify straight off that by “pretty people” I mean people who obviously care a great deal about their physical appearance, their projected persona, their level of cool.  Having worked with models, I’ve trained myself to look at people and figure out how much time they spend on the way they look. Tip: Shoes are always a good indicator.

Anyway, there are fortunately exceptions to this “rule.”  Some pretty people manage to be both cool and interesting.  One 6’5” model guy and I were once really good friends for about 10 minutes as we talked about his philosophy degree.  This is not, however, what I have come to expect, and I don’t find it true the majority of the time.  Take the girl I met a few summers ago who, while wearing an oversized scarf…in June, told me that she was a nerd because she had seen Star Wars.  Not liked Star Wars.  Not loved Star Wars.  Not memorized Star Wars.  Seen Star Wars.  Umm, thanks for playing; move along.

There are probably all kinds of studies on how class, schooling, genetics, success, attractiveness, etc. are all related to what a person is interested in, but “pretty people” are generally not interested in the things that interest me.  I don’t care what car you drive.  I don’t care how much your apartment costs.  I don’t care how many touchdowns you threw in college.  My eyes roll up into my head a little bit whenever I’m with a group of people who can’t talk about anything deeper than the last party they went to.  And, more often than not, when I find myself in these situations, I’m surrounded by pretty people.  So, I blanket judge the lot of them.

Hypothetically speaking (translation: not hypothetically speaking), I have no interest in that pretty guy at a party who only wants to talk about how much money he makes while eating Twizzlers and accidentally flicking spit at me as he gestures with said Twizzler. However, I am VERY interested in the conversation going on across the table about the Avengers vs. the Justice League.

These are my people.

This is my language.

I was summing up this story with a friend last weekend, and he laughed at me, “So being smart and interesting means being a nerd?”  I blinked and realized that, yes, this is exactly what I mean.  So, I guess I judge in the opposite way that most people view pretty people vs. nerds.

To be clear, I’m not saying that being ugly or socially awkward is a prerequisite for being interesting or vice versa.  And I’m not limiting being interesting to only a quality of the nerdy.  What I’m saying is that nerdy people tend not to care about exteriors.  They’re much more all-inclusive.  With pretty people, appearance is everything.  With nerdy people, interests are everything.

I think this whole dynamic is much better as adults than as teenagers, obviously.  Bridging the gap is attempted more often.  At that party, for example, the dude-bro was welcome to sit and talk about comic books – even if he did eat his Twizzlers in boredom and play on his phone.  And he did invite me to the basement where the pretty people were playing beer pong. I went as a kind of experiment, and I was at least pleased to find that they were nice. They seemed confused why I was there – sheep in wolf’s clothing that I was – but they were nice.  (Sidenote:  The dude-bro made an honest mistake in assuming I was one of them.  On the rare occasion that I go out in public, I do take the opportunity to wear the better part of my closet – i.e. nothing from the sweatpants section.  I can care, but the majority of the time I forgo makeup and end up walking around the Knapp Meijer being judged by the natives.)  Anyway, nice as the pretty people in the basement were, I just didn’t fit down there.  I wanted to get away from the discussion about their last party and back to the convo upstairs about making homemade movies.

As an author bud told me recently, “You’re unique.  You don’t have to be pretty.” …I’m really not sure how to take that, but I think I thanked him.  I guess I like not worrying about being a pretty person and instead letting my nerd show.  That is what I want people to see of me.  That’s the interesting part of me that loves connecting with other people’s interesting, nerdy bits.  I guess it feels more real to me to get to know what a person loves.  Can you be a nerd about football? Sure.  Can you be a nerd about iPhones and the GAP and breweries? Certainly.  I’m not limiting my interest in what people love – just have interests that matter to you more than how you present yourself.

So.  Maybe I do judge people by their covers.  I’m delighted when I’m wrong.  But I think maybe it’s healthier for me to focus on being unique rather than pretty, and that attitude is certainly something I gravitate towards in others.

Apologies to Twizzlers Dude.

Movie Magic Word

I am a manipulator.  If I had a superpower, it would be mind-control.  I learned at probably a too-young age how to get what I want (it didn’t hurt that I was adorable), and ever since then I admit I’ve enjoyed working people.  Christian and I often quote Conan O’Brien when he was making puppet motions and sing-saying, “I like to play with peeeople.”  But I DO try to use this power for good.  Most of the time.  Or at least for entertainment. People who know me usually at least raise an eyebrow when I seem up to something, but if I ask nicely with a “please” I can usually get my way.  This is not exactly healthy, I’m sure, but I can live with that.  Why?  Because it has led to some really entertaining movies.

My friends fortunately have the same sarcastic, over-the-top, ridiculous sense of humor that I have, and we’re a bunch of creative, artsy types that tend to be a little over-dramatic in all the right places.  Therefore, it didn’t really take much to talk them into making movies with me. But I  still have no idea why they were willing to sacrifice so much dignity for the sake of the scene…

I Dream of Sasquatch

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During our last summer together as roommates, Gloria and I were watching a documentary about Sasquatch.  It was terrible, and one of us blurted, “We could do better than this!” Thus an idea was born.  For the next week or so, we began a list of ideas on how to make a mockumentary about hunting Sasquatch.

  • Since our funding was limited, we would rent a camera from college and film at my family’s hunting preserve.
  • We would use peanut butter cups and Skittles as bait.
  • We would use my parents’ camping gear and get my dad to pour gas for our bonfire for night-shoots.
  • We would dress my brother as Sasquatch in inside-out coats, gloves for his feet, etc. – THAT, by the way, is the first movie example of getting people to do what I wanted no matter how ridiculous my request. And, as my brother, Christian really should have known what he was getting himself into.
  • Since we didn’t know any actual Sasquatch experts, we would interview a few of our college professors  – the fact that they barely blinked before coming up with  Sasquatch lore off the tops of their heads was awesome.
    Us: “Do you believe in Sasquatch?”
    Stevens:  (long answer)”…If you’re out there, Bigfoot, I’m here for you.”
    Bonzo: “No.  But Yeti, that’s another story.”
    Duff: “I’m a seeker.”

230619_219014004795390_5974327_nIt was so much fun.  We had only a basic outline of a script and so made up a lot as we went along, and it was a great learning experience as the three of us – me, Gloria, and Christian – stumbled (often literally) through making our first movie at the Haymarsh.  Of course, we had no clue what we were doing aside from Christian’s guidance as the lone film major on “set,” and this lack of experience is further evidenced by the fact that our editing process basically consisted of putting the scenes in the right order.  But, turns out, it was kinda hilarious and charming.  We somehow even worked in a dream-sequence where Gloria dances with Sasquatch to the song “I Hate You, Then I Love You” by Celine Dion.  Spoiler alert:  At the end of the movie, Gloria and I haven’t found Sasquatch and so pay a hobo (Christian) to dress as Sasquatch so that we can claim success. And we accidentally kill a guy.

LoveNotReally

487672_475577845805670_1249807734_nFor our second movie, we decided to do a romantic comedy with a script 95% composed of quotes from other movies, TV shows like Arrested Development, etc.  We got a little bit more serious about the production on this one — in that we had a script at all — and created for our own amusement The Face Productions.  (Sidenote: “The face” was something we’d noticed in bars where people will just stare with their mouths open in a vacant expression, and we’d practiced copying them to the point that we could see someone in a bar, point, and go into “the face” ourselves as a joke.  I have no idea why we thought this was a good name for our movie productions, but it kinda fits.) 

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This time, we had a larger cast.  Control freak that I am, I still kept the reins with the script, direction, etc., and that also meant I was largely the one to talk other people into being in our little movie.  Not a problem.  Since Miranda, Rachel, and Racie and I were living in the Knapp House, of course we were the main characters, along with Gloria who came back from chiropractic school just for the movie.  The basic plot is that Rachel wants us all to stay friends after college and so develops a scheme to intermarry us with each other’s brothers so that we’ll all  be related and live happily ever after.  This meant we cast our brothers, who were shockingly more willing than I would have thought.  (Since they were 20-year-old boys at the time, I’m pretty sure what did it was the promise of free dinners.)  But I’m still delighted we talked people into some of this movie’s crazy antics.

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  • It took VERY little prompting to get Prof Stevens to be in a scene where he gives my love-crazed character advice about dating and marriage.  Like for Sasquatch, he gives a long, impassioned speech that then deteriorates into, “Or sign up for eHarmony.”
  • Jonathan, Gloria’s twin brother, becomes forlorn and jumps off a bridge at the park into shallow water.
  • In a pivotal scene, Al and Al’s friend Carter “wake up” in bed on either side of me.
  • Our friend Denver has to suffer being hit on my character while he tries to fold his laundry.
  • Our friend Jeff (who still doesn’t know he’s in our movie) passes out on Rachel’s bed and I blow kisses at his head while he’s out cold.
  • Our friend Andrew donned a sock puppet and ends up as Rachel’s love interest in the end.
  • (I would also like to point out that I am worst on myself – I’M the one who wore a pregnant pillow and sat out on our front porch during rush hour, eating and spitting out Oreos.)

I Knew What You Did Last Summer, Then I Forgot, But Now I Remember Again  (aka, our Zombie Movie)

248803_219014908128633_3609797_nDid I mention we like spoofs? This one was my favorite to make.  It was during the time when Miranda, Al, and myself were the only ones left in the Knapp House, and since our main cast was smaller we could do things at our pace. The idea for this one started when Rachel and I were watching Hostel and hated all the main characters but got really excited during a torture scene and both yelled “Chainsaw!” happily at the same time.  So, at some point I surprisingly talked Miranda into starring in a horror movie with me.  We wrote a script playing with typical horror movie clichés and ended up with this story:

Miranda and I fight over men, kill each other’s suitors, and then the “exes” come back from the dead to punish us.  We’re terrible people, and Al (our “perfect man” sidekick) isn’t much better.  We end up barricading ourselves in the house, fighting for our lives as the zombies break in because I get distracted by watching TV, and then driving to the country where we kill the zombies in a creepy old barn (which took absolutely no set preparation, considering the barn’s been on the downward swing at the Haymarsh since I can remember).  At the end of the battle, M and I kill Al just to make sure the curse is broken and he doesn’t come back from the dead.  In true horror movie fashion, that’s only the first ending, because then it’s revealed that I didn’t really kill all the zombies after all but kept Zombie Justin in our basement because he was my favorite.  Then in the second ending, it flashes to a year later where M and I happily have boyfriends…who then hit on another girl.  The last shot is of M and I glaring at this new girl and then pickup up sharp gardening utensils.  I guess the moral of the movie is….teamwork?

“Why do people go along with this craziness?!” points:230942_219010994795691_1990898_n

  • Miranda, dressed in a Halloween costume as a baseball  player, and myself, dressed in a Little Red Riding Hood costume, walked through the busy parking lot of the local theater at 9:00 ON A FRIDAY just to get a single shot.
  • My dad dressed like a farmer zombie and attacked M with a baseball bat.
  • Al sipped rubbing alcohol and blew a fireball from his mouth.
  • Buddy had to do multiple takes where I take a Blow-Pop out of his mouth and put it in mine.
  • I dressed M in the worst date outfit ever and put makeup on her so she looked like Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and on top of that she had to act drunk while carrying a container of mustard in her purse.
  • I fell and broke a rib, nearly killing myself. (Okay, that has nothing to do with anything, but I want it mentioned for the record.)

I  Was Told There’d Be Cake

0319131733This was probably our most ambitious movie.  M and I were big Sloane Crosley fans, so we decided to make a movie out of her many stories/essays in  I Was Told There’d Be Cake.  It ended up as a Christmas comedy.  Rachel was bridezilla.  We had Christmas costumes for bridesmaid dresses. 

This movie was such a beast all the way through that for a long time we swore off ever doing another.  (Note:  If you can avoid editing an entire, feature-length movie on only 30 days, do so.)  It also had the largest cast we’d ever used, and that made things complicated.  Plus we had to decorate an entire church for Christmas, film those scenes, and then tear it all down again in a single day.  Since we were going off of a book with a very specific script this time, this movie took the most direction, and mostly I turned things over to Christian on that front…mostly.  And I really have NO idea how we talked people into being in this one, except that it was Christmas-themed and maybe everyone was feeling charitable.  Again, I did the worst things to myself, for once again I had to don that horrible Red Riding Hood costume, only this time it was painted with green to make it more Christmas-y.  And there’s a part where I’m in bed between Brian (whom I’d met once before shooting) and a Papa Smurf doll.  But as for others…

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  • Rachel had to act like a crazy bridezilla, wearing Racie’s actual wedding dress, and for the bridal entrance scene she had to dance to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
  • Matt, Rachel’s brother, put up very little fuss despite the fact that I pushed what I asked of him to the limits of my imagination.  A 6’ 5” man in a onesie is a sight to behold when he’s dancing “Hammer Time,” by the way.
  • I already mentioned how poor Brian had to strip his shirt and lie next to me and Papa Smurf.
  • Dan had to dance “Thriller” while wearing reindeer antlers.
  • Kyle took over performing “Single Ladies” with more enthusiasm than I could asked for.
  • Uncle Lee was “Chip Guy” who kept eating Sun Chips in the back all during the wedding ceremony.
  • Aunt Penny played Rachel’s even-crazier mother and ALSO hosted all of us at her cottage during our filming weekend.
  • My dad wore an elaborate head device with bobbing mistletoe that hung out between the bride and groom.  All this while reciting the Princess Bride priest’s marriage speech.
  • Racie dressed up as Santa to be the groom because we had no male for that part.

Super La-La Mancha

256863_233607750002682_754448_oMan of La Mancha is my favorite musical.  We’d talked about doing a superhero movie since our very first movie.  Somehow, I got the idea to put the two together.

Rachel and I, as the un-official heads of The Face Productions, spent a day while she lived in Ann Arbor plotting for this one.  We’d learned enough by this point to know that we should shoot it documentary style so that we’d be free to accidentally look at the camera from time to time.  And we’d make sure everyone was committed to learning their lines before filming day(s).  Then we hashed out the story.  It followed the basic plot of “Man of La Mancha” but with Rachel as “Donna Coyote” and me as “Sasha Panza.”  Rachel’s love interest was Josh M. as “Aldonzo.”  Buddy would play the villain as “Mr. Eff” (okay that has no Man of La Mancha significance), and Rachel’s cat Samson would be “Rocinante.”  Think Don Quixote meets Mystery Men shot like Reno 911.

272376_233607980002659_6019507_o“Super La-La Mancha!” ended up being the most involved movie of the five.  This was largely because I took all the controls (producing solo, writing most of it, etc. etc.) and did it my way.  I also decided halfway through that this would be our last movie because I can’t handle being that angry at my friends when really they’re just doing me a favor to support my obsessive-compulsive hobbies.  But the end result turned out to be our best movie, despite combining my most-beloved musical with our…talented singers.  But, really, the whole cast and crew were troopers during this one.

  • 0319131730aRachel’s superhero makeover costume consisted of balloon boobs, a cape, fishnets, and knee-high boots spray-painted green.  Plus she had to spit and drool everywhere because her superpower was toxic saliva.
  • Randy B. finally lived out his dream of playing “Middle-Aged Fat Guy” while singing “Hail Knight of the Woeful Countenance” to Rachel.
  • Josh M. had to put up with us shrilling singing in his face for more than a few scenes.
  • Dan, as “Casanova” had to talk with a terrible French accent, wear a ridiculous mustache, and wear one of Rachel’s tank tops.
  • John H. acted like the biggest nerd alive as our “Number 1 Fan” and developed an impressive lisp.

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It’s self-serving, sure, but I love my friends for being willing to do every crazy thing I ask them – and on FILM!  And I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys the end results.  (Although it was a little weird watching “I Dream of Sasquatch” with my landlord when he was on lunch break while painting the Knapp House.  Sometimes I need to remember to hide our movies on my shelves…) As great as blogs and journals and pictures are, these homemade movies are my favorite things to look at and remember.  They were great creative experiences.  I’ll always laugh at Buddy singing “I’m Only Thinking of Her.”  And it’s great to have captured these little slices of time spent with friends I don’t get to see that often anymore.  And, let’s face it, these movies are great blackmail.

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