Tag Archives: Once

Fourteen Memories

Fourteen scattered memories, in no particular order, written at whim on the occasion of my birthday on the fourteenth of September.

1. Every summer, on their way down to or up from Texas, Grandma Helen and Grandpa Cliff stayed with us in Madison for a few days. Knowing they’d be there when I got home from school added an extra buzz to the day they arrived. I’d run the four blocks from school, which suddenly in my anticipation seemed so much longer than usual. Grandma would have Bugle chips and bags of cookies and homemade mounds bars. Mornings were different when they stayed with us because of the coffee; it was usually rare because only Dad drank it, but when Cliff and Helen were visiting it was brewed every morning and accompanied Cliff’s newspaper and crossword.

2. We vacationed in Florida one winter after Grandma LaVonne died. It was, as far as I can recall, my first Christmas without snow, without cold, and without everything that constituted the Christmas season. Except for It’s a Wonderful Life. Mom and dad insisted we still watch it on Christmas Eve as usual, because we had to. Dad even called the hotel to make sure they had a VCR.

3. Summer of 2012 I was in grad school and worked as a graduate assistant in residence life. One weekend an epic power outage left us campus-dwelling staff, including the student workers, without electricity or air conditioning. I and the other hall directors used our iPhone group chat to share updates, coordinate actions, and vent against ComEd and the school administration. Some of us flocked to the packed public library to charge our devices and await the impending darkness. For dinner that first night I heated a can of soup by rigging a stove grill above a candle. The next day, still unsure when the power would be restored, I showered in one of residence hall’s communal bathrooms that still had power, and prepared for another stuffy night. The power returned at 9pm.

4. My roommate freshman year had a summer job that got him up very early, so most mornings when I woke up around 7 a.m., he’d already be fully dressed, lying on his fully made bed and watching TV. Sometimes it was the Strongman competition or Saved By the Bell, but usually it was Dawson’s Creek. Soon enough that theme song became my alarm clock.

5. At summer camp we had 24 hours off between Saturday afternoon—after the kids left and we cleaned everything up—and Sunday afternoon when the new group arrived. One Saturday I drove all the way across Madison with a fellow camp counselor to see the movie Once at Westgate Cinema. We were so enamored with it that when we returned to camp I tickled out “Falling Slowly” on the piano and we sang the duet.

6. Along with Westgate Cinema, in high school I frequented the old Hilldale Theatre on Midvale to see the smaller, independent films Marcus Cinema didn’t show. Going to a showing of Brick with some friends, I didn’t realize when I walked up to the ticket counter that my box of Sour Patch Kids was still in my hand rather than stashed away in my pocket. “You can’t bring those in,” the guy said. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he wasn’t having it. So I grumpily returned to my car, put the box in the glove department, and texted my on-the-way friends to grab it from my car when they arrived and sneak it in for me. Mission accomplished, and Brick blew our minds.

7. One night at camp the middle-schoolers decided they want to sleep outside. They started bringing their bunk mattresses out but then Rich, a camp supervisor, said no, if they were going to sleep outside they had to own it and not use mattresses, only their sleeping bags and a pillow. So they did, and another counselor and I stayed out with them. As they settled in I ruminated aloud on the beautiful starry sky above us, about how vast and inscrutable the universe seemed. They’d quieted and begun to doze when Rich, in a typical bout of wild whimsy, came screaming by our quiet flock of preteens in the camp’s golf cart, honking and flashing his lights, just cuz. It took a lot longer to get the boys to sleep again—which we pointed out to Rich repeatedly the next day—but sleep they eventually did. I awoke with the early summer dawn and, with the other counselor standing guard over the sleepers, walked to the camp’s tranquil lakeshore to watch the sun rise through the distant treeline.

8. Senior year of high school my band played a gig at my high school. I was working that evening at my Copps cashier job and realized only once I got to work that I was scheduled to work past the time the gig was supposed to start. I panicked, but realized fate was on my side: the nice manager was working that night. I asked if I could cut out early, and she said we’d have to see how busy it was later. The time came and it wasn’t slow, but she said I could go. As I dashed out of the store I saw her bagging the groceries at her own station and realized she’d be short-staffed the rest of the night but still let me go. My feelings of gratitude quickly dissolved into a vat of anxiety as I hopped into my Toyota Corolla and gunned the drive to my high school, which was luckily short and not monitored by police. I bolted inside and saw my bandmates standing on stage waiting to play, their instruments in hand and my drum kit waiting for me. Out of breath I picked up my sticks, slid onto my throne, and clicked off our first song.

9. After I returned from Colombia I was a month away from zeroing out my checking and savings accounts when I got a call from the Butera grocery store across the street offering me a cashier job. I said yes because I had to. It wasn’t bad except for it being a cashier job. But four and a half years after getting that lucky break from Copps I got another one from Butera: on February 6, 2011, I was scheduled from 12 to 5pm, instead of the usual 12 to 7pm. This was important because on February 6, 2011, the Packers were playing in Super Bowl XLV at 5:30pm. I was able to dash home, change into my yellow Donald Driver jersey, and get a ride from friends to the Super Bowl party where I’d get to witness for the second time the Packers bring the Lombardi home.

10. I was angry about something—probably my parents, as is common for middle-schoolers. I was also in a yo-yo phase, so I was holding the end of an unwound yo-yo when in my anger I slammed the door to my room and impulsively decided to use the object in my hand as an outlet for my adolescent rage. My idea was to whip it over my head and down onto my bed like a sledgehammer, but at the vertex of its arc the yo-yo crashed into one of the opaque glass lightbulb shades on the overhead fan. The bulb remained intact, but to this day it’s missing its cover. Deciding that whatever animus existed between my parents and me would be exacerbated by this, I never told them what had happened.

11. One night at Copps grocery store, I was working the register when a little before 9pm a classmate from high school bolted through the automatic sliding doors. In Wisconsin liquor sales end at 9—the register wouldn’t even allow you to scan liquor of any kind once the clock struck 9—so it was common to have a small rush around this time. My classmate hustled past me and with a smile said, “I’m gonna get liquor, OK?” Thinking I misheard him, I casually nodded as he disappeared behind the corner. He quickly reemerged at my register with a 24-pack of whatever cheap swill high schoolers drink and pulled out his fake ID. Suddenly realizing he was serious, I said, “Dude, I can’t sell this to you.” I could have. It was slow; my manager was at the other end of the registers in the only other open lane. But either out of principle or not wanting to be taken for a schmuck just because this kid was in the cool crowd and I was in band, I reiterated: “I know who you are. I can’t sell you this.” He was more shocked than angry I think, surprised a peer wasn’t playing along. “You’re sure…” he followed. “Yeah, sorry man,” I replied. And he walked out. I wondered who was waiting for him in the car, whose night I just ruined because they wouldn’t have time to get to another store before liquor sales ended. But now I think I did them a favor. A night without Keystone Light is a good night indeed.

12. New Year’s Eve, 2011. I was living on campus for graduate school, but didn’t have a girlfriend so I didn’t have plans. Luckily my on-campus friends Tone and Brian didn’t have plans either, so we decided to drive around awhile and listen to the radio. When “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” came on, Tone asked if it made me think of anyone special, and I said I had someone in mind. (My future wife.) Deciding we should have a comfort night, we stopped to get Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream and Late Night Snack and a Redbox before returning to campus. We got into our pajamas and watched the horrible Horrible Bosses while eating ice cream. I left at 11pm and went to sleep.

13. On a bright and warm weekday September morning, I had Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to myself, or so it seemed. Newly unemployed, I’d flown to Redding to visit friends, see some mountains, and find whatever else I was looking for on what ended up being a much-needed salubrious stay. I didn’t see a soul as a drove my rental to the Brandy Creek Falls trailhead and parked. On the solo hike to the falls (which I wrote about here), I found silence. I found vistas that I photographed once but no more. At the falls I found a rock to sit on astride the stream. I read, dozed a bit, let the water’s whooshing chorus drown everything else out, and then I walked back.

14. Meeting Henry Winkler.

7 Beautiful Movie Music Moments

Sometimes we as moviegoers have to let movies affect us in ways we cannot explain or control. One of those ways is through music. Whether it is an epic orchestral theme or a lone piano suite, music in the movies can make the difference in how I respond to the story. Listening to a CD of movie themes got me thinking about my favorite movie moments that were made better because of their music. There are many such moments, but here are a few that stand out.

Cast Away: Saying farewell to Wilson

When Chuck (Tom Hanks) finally leaves the island four years after crash-landing there, he is mistakenly separated from his beloved anthropomorphized volleyball but can’t retrieve him.  There is no music for the entire film until that time, about 50 minutes in. So when the soft strings finally come in, we feel the catharsis the same as Chuck as he paddles away. The theme itself, by Forrest Gump and Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, is so tender and affecting.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

WALL-E: Eva and WALL-E’s space dance

I’m glad Pixar has basically locked down Thomas Newman for their film scores, because every one he does its magical, including The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and Finding Nemo. In a film full of cute moments between the robotic protagonists, the impromptu, extinguisher-propelled ballet may be the cutest.

Lord of the Rings: The whole trilogy

I’d argue the LOTR score is the most necessary and perfect ever. Howard Shore’s compositions are practically supporting characters in themselves. There are many stand-out moments in that trilogy for me, but there are two that would not have worked without a musical backing:

The first is in Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf falls into the Mines of Moria as the fellowship looks on helplessly. It is a shocking and grievous moment, but the lone mournful soprano voice over the somber choir does not overwhelm it. It allows us to rest on the sadness if just for a moment.

The second is in Return of the King in one of the many endings, after Aragorn becomes the new king and the four hobbits bow to him. He stops them and says, in recognition of their sacrifices, that they bow to no one. Then the whole crowd bows down to them and the main theme of the trilogy swells one last time, representing the grandest end of an epic adventure.

Once: The breakup song

Once has quickly become my favorite film “musical” more so than real musicals because the music interweaves with the story so seamlessly without the awkward transitions between dialogue and song. In a movie with so many good moments, I still have to choose the scene when the Guy plays the song “Lies” while watching home video of him and his ex-girlfriend. He is still heartbroken, and the song backs him up in that.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

The Truman Show: The end

The piano-heavy score by Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz mixes classical standards with original compositions, adding whimsy and sophistication to Peter Weir’s allegorical tale. The best moment, though, comes at the end when Truman finally hits the wall, literally and metaphorically. It is a culmination of everything Truman has been through and we as the viewers wait in anticipation for how he handles the moment. It’s as good an ending as I’ve ever seen in any movie.

Remember the Titans: The final game

The music throughout the movie builds little by little, but it isn’t until the final game when the orchestra is at full-blast. Trevor Rabin’s score builds with the tension of the final game, but the moment I always remember is when Coaches Boone and Yost exchange congratulations at the end of the game and hold up the ball together. It is a triumphant moment for the team and for the music.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

Best Films of the 2000s

The Lives of Others (2006) – A German film about a surveillance expert who spies on a playwright in Communist Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lives of Others won the Best Foreign film at the Oscars and for good reason. Unbearably suspenseful and surprisingly moving, The Lives of Others shows that the best films don’t always come from Hollywood.

Memento (2000) – The woefully underrated and underused Guy Pearce stars as a detective who searches for his wife’s killer after losing his short-term memory. The film plays out in reverse, revealing the story piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle. Gimmicky to some, the premise demands your attention the more you watch this masterfully chaotic film. Repeated viewings required.

WALL-E (2008) – Of all the post-apocalyptic films I’ve seen, WALL-E is by far the cutest. Two robots—a clunky trash-compactor and a sleek land-rover—meet by chance and fall in robot love? It’s a match made in Pixar heaven. From the skillfully rendered 20-minute wordless opening sequence to WALL-E and Eve’s beautiful ballet in space, WALL-E is animation at its best.

Once (2007) – Boy meets girl. The concept has been overdone, but in Once it’s taken back to basics with two Irish musicians who meet and make beautiful music together and become companions fighting against loneliness. A musical in the most unorthodox way, the deceptively simple songs anchor what is one of the most uplifting and honest love stories I’ve ever seen.

Unbreakable (2000) – Most people prefer writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s 1999 mega-hit The Sixth Sense but Unbreakable is surely the superior work, if only for its restrained pace and fascinating characters. Subtly structured in the classic comic book superhero frame, everything in the film from the color palette to the redemptive love story makes Unbreakable perhaps the most underrated film of the decade.

Zodiac (2007) – Paranoia and dread permeate this noir thriller from director David Finch about the Zodiac killer of 1970s San Francisco. Based on the book by a cartoonist who tried to solve the murders, Zodiac represents the best in boiler-plate drama with its slow-building tension, superb ensemble acting, and stunning camera work. There’s no happy ending, but there’s no film like it.

In America (2002) – An overlooked film from director Jim Sheridan, In America features an Irish family newly immigrated to New York City drudging through the trials and tribulations of living in near-poverty. Told through the 10-year-old daughter’s point of view, In America shows a family fighting against tragedy and heartache and sticking together throughout it all.

High Fidelity (2000) – John Cusask is Rob Gordon, music snob and man in crisis. After his latest relationship ends, Rob catalogs his five biggest break-ups and the music that guided him through them. Underscored by a top-notch soundtrack, High Fidelity spotlights the vulnerability that stews beneath masculine hubris. Bonus points for the Bruce Springsteen cameo.

Children of Men (2006) – In a not-so-far-fetched future, the terror-wracked world in Children of Men is in chaos after women become completely infertile. Clive Owen plays a world-weary has-been who reluctantly escorts the only pregnant girl on Earth to safety. Featuring groundbreaking cinematography, Children of Men manages to inspire a ray of hope in the darkest of places.

Almost Famous (2000) – A semiautobiographical work from writer-director Cameron Crowe, this 1970s coming of age tale of a teen rock writer who goes on the road with an up-and-coming rock band is funny and serious, nostalgic and brutally honest. Patrick Fugit shines as the boyish protagonist who enters a world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll and comes out the other end a new person.

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – While Return of the King proved a satisfying conclusion to a grand trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring remains the stand-out installment for its sweeping scope and emotional core. A game-changer in every way, everything from its breathtaking locales to the expertly created creatures makes Fellowship the new standard for the cinematic epic.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) – Sorry, Crash; Brokeback Mountain was the best film of 2005 and one of the best of the decade. Against stunning Western vistas and an elegant score, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger help turn the “gay cowboy movie” cliché into a tragic and somber requiem of a dream deferred. Forget the Joker; Ledger as Ennis del Mar is the best performance of his short career.

A History of Violence (2005) – The only think more enigmatic than the title is the film itself, a profound meditation on violence disguised as a family drama and gangster movie. Viggo Mortensen proves a wonderfully complex character struggling to maintain his identity in spite of himself, while Maria Bello plays the supportive wife stuck in the middle of it all.

Casino Royale (2006) – For the last few Bond movies, James Bond was a joke. But with Casino Royale, nobody’s laughing at him anymore. Daniel Craig, the best Bond ever, turned him back into a fist-wielding badass with class, and Eva Green’ Vesper Lynd proves a sultry Bond girl who won Bond’s heart against his better judgment. Add to that exciting chases and poker games and you’ve got a Bond movie worth watching.

Into Great Silence (2005) – This is a film nobody saw but should. A German documentary about the monks who live at the Blank Monastery in France, there is hardly any talking at all for the almost 3-hour run time  instead, we get to watch what the monks do every day, which is, for 6 days a week, live simple lives in complete silence. It’s an exercise in patience, but very rewarding and immensely gratifying to the soul.

The Best of the Rest

No Country for Old Men (2007), Finding Nemo (2003), Grizzly Man (2005), United 93 (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Minority Report (2002), Stranger than Fiction (2006), Half Nelson (2006), Pan’s Labyrinth (2007), The Squid and the Whale (2007)

The Oscars — ‘Once’ Wins!

I got two of my Oscar picks wrong – not bad. I don’t remember why I didn’t pick Diablo Cody to win, but I’m glad she did.

Yay for Once! It was pretty lame that Marketa Irglova got cut off, but pretty awesome that Jon Stewart gave her time later.

The only reason why the ceremony keeps going so long every year is because of the pointless montages. Besides the standard In Memoriam and a fun one thrown in just for kicks, every one of them should have been cut. Though I did enjoy the “Salute to Binoculars and Waking Up from a Bad Dream” mini montages.

I love Jon Stewart, so I loved him tonight. If you don’t get or enjoy his humor, you probably thought he did poorly. But every one of his wisecracks were great.

I’m glad No Country won. Much has been said about There Will Be Blood, but that movie was Daniel Day-Lewis, and he was properly awarded for it. I think the right choice was made so that in 50 years, when they show another montage of past Best Picture winners, people will still actually like and remember No Country, as opposed to Crash, Around the World in Eighty Days, Million Dollar Baby, etc.

I love movies.

Listen Up, Academy…

My 2007 ACADEMY AWARD PICKS:

Best Picture
Who will win: No Country for Old Men
Who should win: No Country for Old Men

Best Director
Who will win: The Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men
Who should win: The Coen Brothers

Best Actor
Who will win: Daniel Day-Lewis for There Will Be Blood
Who should win: Johnny Depp for Sweeney Todd

Best Actress
Who will win: Julie Christie for Away from Her
Who should win: Laura Linney for The Savages

Best Supporting Actor
Who will win: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men
Who should win: Javier Bardem for No Country for Old Men

Best Supporting Actress
Who will win: Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton
Who should win: Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton

Best Animated Film
Which will win: Ratatouille

Best Original Song
Which will win: “Falling Slowly” from Once
Which should win: “Falling Slowly” from Once

Best Adapted Screenplay
Who will win: Coen Brothers for No Country for Old Men
Who should win: Coen Brothers

Best Original Screenplay
Who will win: Tony Gilroy for Michael Clayton
Who should win: Brad Bird for Ratatouille

Best Films of 2007

Originally published in the North Central Chronicle on January 11, 2008.

The-Lives-of-Others

1) The Lives of Others
This German film won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars last year, and boy, did it deserve it. Set in East Berlin during the Cold War, involving a member of the German secret police who spies on a dissident writer and soon finds his loyalties in a tug-of-war. It’s an intimate and compelling story, worthy of every penny when you rent it.

2) Once
If I could watch only one movie before I die, it would be Once. The concept is simple: a guy and girl meet and make music. What transpires is an uplifting, unconventional journey through life and love that never succumbs to cliché. The songs tell the story much more than the dialogue, and seeing the story unfold is truly a delight.

3) Waitress
The most pleasant surprise of the year. Keri Russell deserves an Oscar nod for her role as a pregnant, pie-making, emotionally-abused waitress who falls in love with her gynecologist. I instantly fell in love with Russell’s character and her supporting cast. Waitress is the sweetest and most filling story of 2007.

4) Zodiac
Despite its long running time, this film had me completely mesmerized. Scene after scene the intrigue builds as we watch detectives, reporters, and a cartoonist try to discover the identity of the Zodiac killer. It’s an old school whodunit story with great performances and a unique style, akin to other thrillers like Collateral and All the President’s Men.

5) Michael Clayton
It’s Erin Brockovich meets The Bourne Identity. George Clooney plays a fixer at a high-end law firm that has trouble fixing the latest case of malfeasance. It’s a tight, modest thriller that flew under the radar but deserves many awards. Clooney gives his best-ever performance, and the ending is the best of the year.

6) No Country for Old Men
Everything about this film is so good. The acting, cinematography, and writing crank this modernized western to eleven, keeping the tension building as a deadly cat-and-mouse game plays out in ways never seen before. The film is as violent as it is contemplative. Javier Bardem plays the best villain I’ve seen in a long time.

7) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Johnny Depp commands the screen as a vengeful barber in 19th century London, slitting throats and hitting high notes in this gruesome, gothic musical. The costumes and sets are beautiful, but the singing shines, especially from Depp, whose haunting melodies are backed up by a lush orchestra. I saw many musicals this year; this one rules them all.

8) Ratatouille
Pixar is so good that they could make a film about a homicidal drug dealer and still make it family-friendly. Of course Pixar’s animation is superior to its competitors, but this film transcends being simply an “animated movie” and thrives on the merits of its story alone. The voice work is top-notch, especially from Peter O’Toole who voices a food critic.

9) Juno
This year’s Little Miss Sunshine. After the first 20 minutes, Juno stops being insufferably twee and hip and settles into form, becoming hilarious and charming. The titular character, played by Ellen Page, is refreshingly frank yet oddly lovable, becoming the bedrock of a film filled with strong supporting characters.

10) 3:10 to Yuma
Westerns are back! Christian Bale and Russell Crowe maneuver an epic back-and-forth between Bale’s browbeaten farmer and Crowe’s swashbuckling outlaw he’s paid to bring to jail. Themes of loyalty, justice, and right-versus-wrong weave through this ruggedly gorgeous western. If you don’t usually like westerns, check this one out.