Friday, November 21, 2008

A Beautiful Vampire Film & Wookie Cookies

A Beautiful Vampire Film

Being back in town, I’ve had the chance for some cinematic escapism. I belong to an organization called the IFP which serves as a conduit for aspiring individuals in the realm of film and video. They have many great resources and also promote a wide-range of work.

Following-up on an IFP email, I was awarded with tickets to the premier of a Swedish film entitled Let the Right One In. This is a vampire film, but one that melds together the most sensitive and haunting aspects you could ever wish for in a foreign film. In the words of famed director Guillermo del Toro, it is “as delicate, haunting and poetic a film as you’re ever bound to see.”

(Just to clear things up, this is not the new Hollywood movie called Twilight!)

It involves an emotional and longing boy, picked on at school with only himself to call friend. That is until he meets the girl who moves in next door. In times he discovers the fact she is a vampire but more important to him is her true friendship. Issues of trust, love, betrayal and revenge mix into an incredible film. It’s bittersweet, as you could imagine. Set against the Swedish winter, it connects with a Minnesotan pretty well! His parents are divorced and he goes to visit his dad on occassion. There is one part where his dad is pulling him on a snow machine of some sort and his look of youthful joy is so genuine that it just cuts right into you. The actors are spectacular!

I’d advise you to watch the trailer as it hints at every beautiful element contained in this film. No, it’s not for everyone. It tends for people searching for an emotionally authentic and touching foreign film or those hoping to venture into places they haven’t gone before. Thank you to the director Tomas Alfredson for making this film! Click HERE for the movie website.

The second film experience was humorously awful! My friend is the guilty one, as he had originally introduced me to the Star Wars Christmas Special. Imagine over 20 minutes of dialogue consisting of only Chewbacca’s family grunting and howling and Princess Leia singing, and you got it! It makes you laugh and laugh it is so bad. But, it just doesn’t end! It goes on and on and on!

In addition to the Star Wars stars, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamil and Carrie Fisher, it also includes Art Carney (of the Honeymooners), Harvey Cormann and Bea Arthur! The band Jefferson Airplane has a performance and it is full of late 70’s ‘futuristic’ technology. Bad, bad, bad! To make it even more fitting, I won the grand prize of the evening, ‘The Wookie Cookbook.’

Admittance was a contribution for Toys for Tots and it did get you out and about, but it is something you only need to see once! Now on to making Wookie Cookies!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dolphins Leap & Endeavor Awaits!

The mission to find something exciting in St. Pete's area has been a success. It was actually in Madeira Bay, which is near St. Pete's Beach, but, nonetheless, I'll consider them in the same neck of the woods!

In Orlando I was able to swing through Disney Marketplace, a place I had visited in March. This time there were all sorts of artists from photographers to potters displaying their wares. This was spectacular stuff and they were so friendly and would explain how they did things. It was a great place to get ideas from some talented folks. If in Disney, swing through. Parking is free and you get the Disneyworld feel without having to pay unless you find something you like or want to partake in.

Before I left Orlando I had to stop again at the Moroccan place and get a Turkish coffee. The same cook, with his black Kangol cap on backwards greeted me happily and made me my coffee. The sun was out and it made sitting out front with the Arabic-speaking patrons all the more enjoyable. Next stop, St. Pete's and Madeira Bay.

Feeling the approach of a real nasty cold, I attempted to push it back with a hard run on the beach in the setting sun. Upon my return, intuition pulled my eyes right to an object leaping from the ocean and splashing back down. Sure enough, a few moments later it happened again! It was a baby dolphin swimming with its pod! You could see the arcing dorsal fins of the other dolphins break the water and sink back down. But that young one! He would completely leave the water, his little body flying in miniature joy, and then return nose first to his family below the waves. At least 3 separate pods could be spotted each about half a football field away from one another. Perhaps they were of one but they seemed separate.

The nearest group was a stone's-throw away and I even contemplated swimming out to them it looked like so much fun. But I contented to watch from the shore, giggling each time the little guy would breach. The occassional couple passed but seemed unaware or disinterested. Perhaps its a more common occurrence than it looked!

Within walking distance of my place was a Greek restaurant that I had to frequent at least twice. The first night I had some tzatsiki sauce, full of fresh chunks of cucumber, triangles of pita and some avgo lemno soup. I've had many varieties of this Greek lemon soup in the past. This one was like eating a warm, salty, lemon custard. My search for chicken was in vain, as it was chicken broth by itself. No tasty bits of meat. I think I'll take my mom's instead! The second night I had a plate of long, thin ziti, covered in feta, light sauce and a encrusted chunk of chicken. The talkative, East Coast Greek, smirked, "This is your second night here, it must be good," and smacked me affectionately with the menu.

Next door there was an Italian ice place. It just opened that day and the owner, from Boston, was giving this place a go. He was very friendly and enthusiastic and I made sure that I gave him some free advertising. It's easy to be partial to places like these especially when full of good people!

During my next day shoot the owner took me down to an area called John's Pass. It was a pretty marina area full of shops and restaurants, feeling more comfortable than the sun-baked concrete and pavement stretches of St. Pete's. From the dock above we saw dolphins feeding out in the harbor. He remarked that just that morning he woke up to find a manatee sauntering by his house, which was built at the tip of the harbor. "You never get sick of seeing those porpoises," he told me.

The day continued with that Florida, perpetual summer weather. It has in fact been cooler than usual, with temps getting down into the 50's at night. Nonetheless, the sun is healing and the evergreen palms and St. Augustine grass do well in slowing you down and asking you to take it in.

Now it was time to reverse direction again and head back in the direction of Orlando, to Kissimmee. The name of that city always makes me chuckle as it sounds to be like Italian English. "Kissimmee! I a-kiss-a-you!"

Today's shoot was one of pools and palms, spas and Florida-esque rooms of floral theme and mirrored walls. It's quite pleasant shooting with the way Florida's nature enhances everything. The perfect blue sky with puffy clouds, missionary style architecture and those palm trees with their jagged stepped stalks, curving to this side and that, with a sprout of this years green leaves at the top. There is usually a body of water in the midst of that shot, whether it be a pool, bay, backwater or ocean. It makes you feel good, that does.

With half a day remaining the decision was made to drive to the other coast, to the Kennedy Space Station. It is about an hour and 15 minutes away from Kissimmee. The drive is a usual, smooth, straight and uncomplicated Florida drive, though tolls cause some slight interruption. Signs are frequent reminders of where you are going and soon, you are there! The approach is one along the Challenger Memorial Parkway that sets a straight line through an expansive body of water and green, bushy hammocks which are refuges for the birds. Most of the area around the Space Center, in fact is a wildlife refuge. The security and safety concerns in human terms have had the wonderful residual affect of creating a haven for living things!

I had got there just in time! Able to make my ticket reservation while I drove there, I entered the lot to find a man in a little security vehicle wave me behind him and he found me a nice parking spot all the way at the front. I grabbed my gear, got my ticket, passed through security and boarded the last tour buses (which leave at 2:15). I started to get excited at not only my timeliness but the fact that i was about to see many wonderful things with my childhood adult eye.

The bus first brings you pass the immense Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the box that they keep the Space Shuttle Inn. It is impressive. With that circular, blue NASA badge we know so well and little specs of birds flying all around it. Those little specs aren't crows, they're giant buzzards (turkey vultures)! Unless you were told you would have no idea! This is the largest single-floor building in the world! The entire Yankee Stadium could fit on the roof with room left over for parking! The blue star-field on the U.S. flag is the size of a basketball court!

From the VAB the shuttle gets wheeled out on the Mobile Launcher Platform, carried by the tank-tracked Crawler. This moves around one mile-per-hour to the launching site some 3.4 miles away.

The bus drops you off at the observation platform. During this trip I had been bummed that I was missing seeing the launch by 3 days. But now that I was there I started to become excited, realizing that the shuttle would be at the pad! You could see the launcher some three miles away and as you climbed the multi-floor observation deck, the shuttle came more in view. I joked with another spectator that they must not have thought about the orientation of the launch pad when they built the observation deck! The only part of the shuttle you could see was the orange liquid fuel tank and the two, white solid rocket boosters. But let me tell you, it was still fantastic! Here it was! To actually see it! Equal, if not surpassing, in every way, the Parthenon, the Colliseum, any work of DaVinci or Michelangelo. Just as in those great works and individuals is something that is just so difficult to wrap your mind around! Better yet, it supersedes the individual, as it is a product of a collective of human ingenuity! Seeing an actual launch should be an American pilgrimage, taken at least once in a human lifetime. At least, witnessing some form of our propulsion beyond the binds of terra firma! So, you get the point. It's moving and it's significant!

The view from up top is actually quite pretty. You can see the tracks from the Crawler still fresh in the tan gravel. The second crawler was just across the street.

From here you are bussed to the Apollo site and as you enter the building you stand beneath the suspended and detatched segments of a Saturn V rocket. Big, big, big!

The final stop, before the end, is the Internationa Space Station. Here you can walk through several different segments and see the work of the different country's components.

The drive back was at dusk. There were these little wisps of dark clouds about ten feet off the ground, at the edge of the road, above the trees. Upon a closer look I saw they were insects of some kind. Mosquitoes? I didn't know.

Finally tonight, I had a New York Strip. This may have been my first time, I can't remember. According to our friends at Wikipedia, this is a very tender piece of meat because it's taken from a place on the cow that sees very little use. If you keep the bone attached with a piece of the Beef Tenderloin as well, then it's a T-bone/Porterhouse. This particular piece of meat had been aged six weeks. I ordered mine medium rare. Why? Cause it's tasty, yes. but in medium rare I think you find the best of the flavor range. The middle will be bloody and juicy and the meat is more cooked as you work your way out. If truly grilled then it will have some black char on the outside so you get that extreme as well. Cooking meat gives it more flavor and also makes it easier for human stomaches to digest as well as kills bacteria. But don't overcook... then again, to each their own! I'm more than ready to return home to regular diet of Ramen, pasta, carrots, coffee and juice.

Now the road has not been all sun and rainbows. I came down with some dumb harsh cold. Starting with harsh sore throat and head misery that eventually graduated into lung crap and then the regular stuff. But what you gonna do? Though I did find that those lemon Ricola are excellent for sore throat and surpressing coughs without the mediciney taste. I also got a nasty little spider bite on my inner thigh. There are lots of spiders down here! I think I got it when I was at Dinosaur World in the jungle-like woods. I wanted to do some on-camera bit but saw a giant web with spiders right where I wanted to stand. Instead of ruining their home with a stick or something, I simply pushed it to the side with my leg and did my camera stuff and then stepped out of it. As I was leaving the exit a woman remarked, "Ooh, a black widow!" I stopped to take some picks and video footage but the little guy dropped like an ace to the ground above. I don't think he was a black widow, but it was neat nonetheless. Finally, I pitted my wide angle lense. This is probably the biggest bummer of all! Fortunately, I am done with all property shoots, etc. But still, it's right in the middle of the lense and I know not what I'm going to do about it. But, things will work themselves out! Things are what you make of 'em!

For now, it's back up to Daytona we go! Kissimme! I a-kiss-a-you!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Return of the Sun in the "Sunshine State"

Having been overcast, windy and often looking like rain as of late, Florida has cleared up and the sun has finally returned!

My time in Daytona was spent mainly with property shoots. It was a little exciting, being in a state so important to the outcome of the Presidential election. Campaign workers were out on the corners, holding McCain and Obama signs, until the very last hours of the polls. People wore their 'I voted' stickers and there was the same buzz in the air that was prevalent throughout the U.S. On the eve of the election the clouds finally began to break and the sun peaked through.

I was happy to be back in Florida. While the touristy beach stretches get old in a hurry, the weather feels quite healing and people are usually friendly and laid back. One sad thing is that beaches and ocean views are usually fenced off by the privately owned resorts. Depending on what town your in, these buildings can reach up some ten stories. It's only the owners, patrons and workers that get access to theses nice beaches, the public accesses tucked away here and there.

But even in the warmth of a Florida this gig can begin to get old and it becomes easier to focus on the occasional annoyances more often. But all of a sudden, you'll find yourself somewhere completely new and unexplored! Such was Tomoka State Park. Like many beachfront cities, Daytona Beach has island strips. Along one such strip, sandwiched between two rivers, is a park that preserves the oldest stand of old growth live oak in eastern Florida. Live oak trees are those enormous oaks, with octopus-like arms, usually draped in yet another strong symbol of the south, Spanish Moss.

The paved park road, like a vegetated tunnel, turned quickly into sand, with turn-offs here or there where you could picnic, fish or camp. It was not busy, this week day, and I soon found myself alone at the end. Stepping out of the car my senses charged my recently gloomy heart up quickly! There were oaks and palms and all sorts of ferns. The sandy floor helped to add to the 'soft' feel of the place. Before me was a great collage of statues. Several figures were reaching up to one strong figure at the zenith. He was a bold, fierce-looking individual, gazing out and spilling a cup down to the masses below. It had a Meso-America feel to it, somewhat Aztec-like. This made sense as it represented the Timucuan natives, whose midden-mounds of shells now create the beds of many a hammocked Florida island.

The shore was only 30 feet away on either side. You'd pass through a stand of ferns and be upon the beach, looking out at tiny palm islands standing in the river or brackish backwaters. In the spring and summer you could see manatees and dolphins here, but for now, there were some fish and heron.

Feeling charged I returned for the afternoon shoot, and then got additional sunny shots for the two previous properties before making the 3.5 hours drive to Bradenton, below St. Petersburg. I arrived after dark to discover one of the bridges was closed. After asking someone for directions I found another bridge which brought me to another island strip where I would shoot the next day.

Today the sun was out in full glory. The Gulf-side beach was caressed by bands of emerald waves and with the silouette of little tiki huts in the foreground, proved a nice video shot. Wanting to linger, but knowing that I would need to find a public beach to do that, I decided I should get going, backwards, up to Orlando.

When driving, I'll pass many things which catch the eye. Sometimes I'm pumped to explore, sometimes I just want to get where I'm going. I'm half motivated by personal interested, half by getting area footage. I passed some campers, sticking out of the ground in a series. Then, I came up to the giant dinosaurs of Dinosaur World and thought, "OK, I really should." And I did. Getting in free under the auspices of promotions, I got my shots of live-size dinosaur statues. They were clean and well-kept and the scenes were really helped by the fact that they sat in Florida, jungel-ey vegetation and were helped even further by the buzz of insects. I played with the camera and even stuck my head out of a tyrannosaurus Rex mouth, designed as a photo-op. I videoed it instead.

Finally, here comes Orlando. Once again, there's just something magic about it. Yes, it's crowded and you need money in order to participate but the air has that optimistic, summer day childhood aura. My lodging is in one of two towers, in a long room on the 8th floor, that has a balcony that looks across a lake. The puffy clouds reflect in this smooth body of water.

To end this day, some words on food. My first night was at an Italian restaurant where I went for some linguini and meatballs. But what stood out to me was the bread, a thick, doughy mass with a hard crust, accompanied with oil and vinegar, roasted garlic and olives. I had to ask how the vinegar was made, as it tasted of caramel. First, you bring some balsamic vinegar to a boil and throw in your sugar. Drizzle this on a plate, add your oil, previously soaked garlic and olives and you've the perfect bread dip. Yesterday, I had some shark. To me, it tasted like tuna, but I'm no connoisseur of either! And tonight, though trying to cut back, food becomes not only a hobby but an amphetamine. It was at a long deli/cafe. Once I saw the Moroccans out front smoking a hooka I was like, "Thank God!" Or Allah, for that matter. I had to go with the lamb kabob, or in Kiwi, kabab or in Greek, souvlaki. After the pound was served up with a tabouli-tasting salad, bread and Moroccan mint-tea (sweet), the cook came out and asked if I had enough meat. Ha! We agreed that when you find lamb you must indulge, it's hard to find, most coming from Australia or New Zealand.

The sliding door is open, Disney air is flowing off of the lake and tomorrow is a trip back down in the direction of St. Pete Beach, not my favorite by any means and I've yet to find something that sparks my interest there. That is my mission.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The New Era

As I write this, I'm enjoying my free cup of Starbuck's coffee, in honor of voting in today's election. Being in Daytona, I've voted absentee some days ago.

It could be a pretty remarkable day, couldn't it? We could be voting in the first African-American President in United States history! Furthermore, we could be electing a man that more than any previous President, most represents the composite demographic of the actual American.

I think we will be able to raise our heads high with pride, once again. Instead of an age of fear and intimidation with a lock-footed goose-step, our times have forced us into an era of hope. After all, what else have we?

From an amalgamation of race, physical characteristic and namesake comes an individual of pragmatically inclusive political approach and idealistic goals. A man who has pulled together a country of such diverse opinion to common paths. It goes beyond our disgust of the past, and instead has ushered up something from our American psyche. There is no people more capable, no opportunity more present, than what is to be found now in America. What an opportunity! After all, we have always measured our greatness by surmounting the insurmountable.

Dust off the tomes and incant the pages of Eleanor and FDR! This is a nice article on how our next hopeful should emulate FDR. It will spare you from hearing me going on about it. Click HERE.

If we embraced the great Green Era, and channeled our resources into physical and intellectual pursuit of the reconstruction of our infrastructure to environmentally-sound practices, imagine! Like the Space Era, the lofty goals achieved. Like the FDR-era, transformation of unemployment, depression and doubt into jobs, housing, and hope! A flag to rally around. A common-pursuit.

So, from a person who once dismissed such banter as vague, corny and lacking substance - "we will change this country and we will change the world!"

What a time to be alive!