Category: documentary

Bryce Dreams of Writing

I’m on a movie blog post kick lately–what can I say? Part of it is due to the fact that I’ve seen a series of great movies. Last night’s was Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about a Japanese sushi chef. Now, if you know me, you know that sushi and I don’t get along. So why in the world would I watch a documentary about sushi?

Because I’m always open to learning about new things. Plus, I’d heard good things about this movie, and I wanted to give it a shot.

It’s an interesting documentary–very well done, but very contemplative. And I’m sure if I were a person who liked sushi, it would be mouth watering. I, however, am not, and so the beautiful fresh raw fish and octopus didn’t leave me with any cravings other than a reminder that I don’t like sushi.

Still, a very good documentary. 7.5/10

One of the most fascinating things about it was watching how this man had devoted his whole life to sushi–to mastering basic principles that many people wouldn’t think twice about. He’s not just about making the sushi. He takes care in how it’s presented. In what fish he buys. In who evaluates those fish. In how the rice is made–what kind of rice, and where it’s grown and who grows it. This is a man who used to massage his octopus for 30 minutes before serving, but he’s upped that to 45 minutes because he thinks it tastes much better.

That’s the sort of attention to detail we’re talking about.

Of course, throughout it all he’s talking about how devotion to work should come before everything else. Sushi came before his family, his personal life, his vacations. He’s 85 years old, and every day continues to be all about sushi.

It’s something I definitely have no desire to emulate. I work hard, and I care about my work, but I care about my family more. If I ever have to make a choice between what helps my family and what helps my career, my family will come first. The same goes for my writing. I’m passionate about it, but not to the expense of all else. Which might explain why I don’t see the kind of success I might see if I approached it differently.

And you know what? I’m okay with that.

In any case, I recommend watching the film, if only to make you think about the same sorts of judgement calls you have to make in your life. Also, to consider what sort of effort and practice true mastery of a craft takes. That’s something that can be applied to anything you’re doing, and this movie has it in spades.

Already seen it? Let me know what you thought!

Movie Review: The History of Future Folk

One of my favorite Netflix experiences is when I come across a movie the service says I’ll love, but which is fairly obscure. It’s funny–a lot of the time it takes a fair bit of convincing for me to watch those movies, even with the great recommendation. I just have a hard time believing I’m really going to like it as much as it says I’m going to. Such was the case with The History of Future Folk. I mean, take a look at that picture. Who in their right mind would actually like this movie? I was so worried that it would just be an hour and a half of painful that it took me a long time before I finally decided to actually give it a shot.

It was late, I was stuck in a dorm–what did I have to lose?

I loved this movie. Loved loved loved loved. Loved it so much I came home the next day and had Denisa watch it with me, and I still loved it the second time. Sometimes there are movies that are tailor made for you–movies that just connect with you. It’s tee ball, watching and enjoying those films. In this case, you’ve got a movie about aliens who come to destroy the earth, only to discover we’ve got this thing called “music” that they love, and so they decide to start a band, instead.

How could I not love this?

Try a preview for a slice of this awesome:

What exactly made this movie so great for me? For one thing, it stars the actual musicians, and so it features them actually playing their songs. But it’s not just some mockumentary thrown together at the last minute. It’s got real production value. It’s well written, well acted, well executed.

More people need to watch this movie. Now.

Or am I late to the Future Folk party? Anyone else out there seen it? Can I get an amen?

10/10. No, it’s not going to change your life, but I couldn’t find a thing wrong with it. Not all perfect movies need to be Important Cinema.


20 Feet from Stardom: The Third Side of Fame

Denisa and I watched the Oscar winner for best documentary this year last night: 20 Feet from Stardom. Netflix just added it to Instant Watch, so why not? It’s a very well done piece on the history of backup singers in American music. I enjoyed the film, though I thought it could have used a bit more focus to the narrative. 8/10 for me, and worth a watch.

One thing that I wanted to talk some about that I appreciated from the movie was how well it showed a side of fame that I think often gets overlooked. Most people hear about the big successes or the big failures. The people who make the big time, or the people who wish they could but never do. This movie highlighted the people who get stuck in the middle. They’re close to their dream of stardom, but in some ways that puts them farther away than the people who are just starting out.

Some of these backup singers are recognized by stars as being exemplary musicians, but because of fate, managing, luck, or whatever reason, they just never quite made it to the big time. They got stuck between floors. Sting has a great quote in the movie that touches on this concept, but I can’t find a copy of it online to share.

In any case, as I was watching it, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the writing industry. I have some friends now who are bonafide rock stars when it comes to writing. They sign seven figure contracts. I have other friends who aren’t published at all–they just dream of being published one day. Me? I’m in the middle, though much closer to the end of “not been published” than “seven figure contracts.” I wouldn’t even put myself in the same region as the equivalent of the ladies featured in 20 Feet. No, those are other friends. Friends who are great writers, who’ve written excellent books, but who just. can’t. break. through.

Friends who got publishing contracts, but then their books didn’t sell. Friends whose books review well, but they don’t take off.

It’s one thing to be frustrated that you can’t get your foot in the door. It’s another realm of hurt when your foot’s there, and you find out no one cares about you anyway.

Watch the movie. Think about the topic. I’d love to hear what others have to say about it. Again–this isn’t about me. This isn’t even about me pretending it’s not about me. I didn’t watch this film and think “That’s me!” But I did see others I knew.

The hope of course is that with epublishing, a lot of people will be able to be discovered who couldn’t be previously. The fact, however, is that all it does is increase the noise, making it hard to stand out and be seen. I’ve read a few well-reviewed (on Amazon) self pubbed books that were just dreck. It’s the nature of the beast. The sooner we can realize that talent and skill don’t equate to success and big bucks, the sooner we can be at peace. Frustrated, but at peace.

Anything to add?

Cosmos’s Assault on Religion

Whoa boy. I know what some of you are thinking, and I want to rein that in before this gets off on the wrong foot. I’ve never considered myself to be a frothing at the mouth anti-science sort of a chap. Yay science. I believe evolution. I believe in the scientific method. So if you’re here to have some bobble-head reassure you that the earth is only 6,000 years old and that dinosaurs are imaginary or whatever, move along to the next blog, thank you. And if you’re here to yell at me because SCIENCE, same thing.

I want this to be a rational, polite discussion.

Why? Because like many of you, I was really excited to hear they were running a new version of Cosmos. And like (I assume) many of you, I’ve seen the first two episodes. (Streaming on Fox’s iPad app, since I like watching them with my kids, and I like being able to watch when and where I want). I love fostering my children’s love of exploration and knowledge, and this seemed like a great way to do that.

What I wasn’t expecting was for a full third of the first episode to be focused on how awful the Catholic church (and religion in general) was, historically speaking. And then in episode 2, the continued subtheme about how fundamentally flawed religion is didn’t go over too well with me either. Let me take each of those on one at a time.

First, I don’t think any sane person is going to argue successfully that religion has a perfect track record over the years, especially when it comes to nurturing inquisitive minds. Point taken. But I’d expected Cosmos to be about the wonders of the universe. The marvels of discovery. To spend so much time focused on the story of a monk who’s constantly oppressed by those evil evil churchy types . . . seemed like the wrong place to put your focus. It’s a missed opportunity. There’s so much awesome out there to focus on. That 15 minutes or whatever you spent focused on that meant that I got 15 minutes less of black holes or string theory or god particles.

I get it. Science feels a need to get back at religion for what’s been done to it over the centuries. And many sciencey types like to do a bit of chest thumping about how awesome science is and what a fairy tale God is. To me, you don’t make your point by rubbing people’s noses in what you aren’t. There’s no need to muck rake here. If you’re so awesomely right, then show us that, and let us figure out the rest on our own.

The same thing about the presentation on evolution. Yes, I know it’s a hot button topic. Yes, I realize that there are people out there who want to dismiss it as a whole and talk about “theory” this and “incomplete” that. But at the same time, the show made such a big deal about how great science is because “It’s okay for us to admit we don’t know something” (I don’t have the exact quote here, sorry–it’s along those lines), but it seems to me science is often unwilling to allow people of faith the same leeway.

I am fully confident that there are things being presented as fact today in schools and by science that will one day be deemed over-simplistic, misguided, or just plain wrong by scientists in future. Science is far from infallible. So let’s follow that bit about glass houses and stones, eh?

I’m watching the show with my kids, as I said. And I paused it after the big talk about how evolution happens over billions of years and how it can all function without any guidance whatsoever. How things are all just random, and how yada yada yada. And I asked my son what he thought of that. He wasn’t sure what to say. The kid’s only 9, after all. So I asked another question. “Does God exist?”

“Yeah,” he said. It was the safe answer.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

He thought about it some, still not sure what to say.

“Have you ever prayed?” I asked.

He nodded.

“And were your prayers answered?”

Another nod. He and I have had numerous talks about prayer and faith and finding out for yourself what to believe. It was nice to be able to draw on that experience during this talk.

“There you go,” I said. “Your prayers were answered. You know from personal experience that prayer is real, that God hears you and helps you.” I went on to talk about how I don’t understand everything, but I’m a firm believer in the scientific method–with the disclaimer that I don’t believe it’s the only way to acquire truth and knowledge. If we all went about insisting on using the scientific method all of the time, none of us would get anywhere. At some point in time, we have to read what other people have discovered. Learn from their truths and not just our own. Yes, we can and should put those truths to the test, but one of the big ways we’ve advanced so far scientifically is that science is a team sport.

The same holds true for religion. If there’s a God, and He hears and answers prayers, there should be a way to put that to the test. For me, it’s been following the doctrines and teachings of the Mormon church. Certain promises are made to the faithful. I’ve seen in my personal life and experiences that those things really work. Prayer is a fact for me, not a theory or a new agey puff of incense.

I went to college at BYU, a church owned and operated school. Evolution was taught in my biology class. It wasn’t dismissed or ridiculed. It was accepted as-is. How does evolution match up with what I know of God? I don’t know. I’m not God, and I’m also not smart enough to be able to know everything about evolution. But again, it’s okay to admit you don’t know something. There are tons of mysteries science has to do the same thing with: shrug its shoulders, say “I don’t know” and work on figuring out what the solutions might be.

Why does evolution have to exclude a creator? Why does it have to be random–what’s to say it isn’t guided by someone or some thing?

I don’t know. And I’m okay with that. I’m going to keep watching Cosmos. I love learning new things, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of the explanations on the show. I’ll keep having my kids watch it. I’m not threatened by truth and the search for truth. I’m confident that one day it will all make sense. For now, I’d just appreciate it if Cosmos played to its strengths (the awesome presentation of the potential of the universe) and left the interpretation and spin control out of the picture. People like me don’t need it, and people who are frothing-at-the-mouth aren’t going to listen to it.

Movie Review: I Have Never Forgotten You (and Thoughts on the Holocaust)

I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon WiesenthalDenisa and I watched a really well done documentary last night: I Have Never Forgotten You. It’s focuses on the life and efforts of Simon Wiesenthal, well known Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter (which sounds like it would be a really cool profession–sort of like Vampire Hunter–but turns out to be really hard and difficult, and without the cool stakes and holy water). Bottom line is that it was very good viewing, although also filled with a lot of brutal history. (It’s the Holocaust–what else do you expect.) I came away from the film with a much better understanding of the efforts that went into punishing WWII war criminals. Three and a half stars.

But it also got me thinking. What is it that makes an entire people feel like it’s justifiable to look at another race and view them as animals, not fellow humans? How is it that we can do that? It wasn’t as if the Holocaust happened overnight. There were many steps taken that led to those gas chambers–steps that were very apparent. I remember when I lived in Weimar and talked with some of the people there–people who lived just down the hill from Buchenwald. They said that they knew what was going on at the concentration camp. When the wind blew just right, you could smell it in the air. Yes, they tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, or justify it, but people were dying by the thousands not a mile from where German citizens lived and played with their children, and no one did anything to stop it.

Wouldn’t you like to believe that humans as a whole would rise up and object to behavior like that? But I guess we just don’t. It’s still happening today in Africa and other countries, but we as a species go about our lives worrying about weight loss and LeBron James and who’ll be voted off this week. Because no matter how enlightened we are or like to think we are, when it comes right down to it, other people’s suffering isn’t our suffering. We might feel guilty other people have it hard, and we might throw a bit of money at them to make ourselves feel better, but until it becomes our suffering, we do nothing.

I don’t really have anything else to add to this right now. My brain’s still working on it. I’m interested to see if any of you have any insights to offer. Please–the floor is yours.

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