The Shapiro Files

Friday, March 31, 2006

Netflix in 2005: Five-Star Reviews

Marcie and I haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch any of our Netflix DVDs for a couple of weeks — thus the dearth of “Netflix Weekend Wrap-up” postings lately. But I started thinking about how Brad has been teasing me in his comments to my various Netflix-themed postings about how I almost never deem anything good enough for a five-star rating. He’s right: I am very particular about what I think is worthy of a full five-stars. So I thought it would be fun to look up my Netflix rental/return history for 2005 and list here all the movies to which I did give five stars over a one-year period. In the order in which I watched them, here they are:

    Before Sunrise (1995)
    A true rarity: a love story that’s actually intelligent and original. Who knew two people talking for 90 minutes would make such an excellent film?

    Before Sunset (2004)
    Nine years after Before Sunrise, the same director and actors reunited for a sequel that’s actually just as good (arguably even better) than the original.

    Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
    Just one of many random things I wanted to accomplish before Melody’s arrival was to ensure I had seen all 100 films on the AFI Top 100 Films list. This movie was #100 on the list, which meant I actually made it all the way through. I would have never been interested in seeing this movie had it not been for the list. I’m certainly glad I did. It’s a wonderfully entertaining movie with James Cagney giving one of the all-time great starring performances.

    The China Syndrome (1979)
    Still relevant today with one of my all-time favorite actors, Jack Lemmon, giving another great performance. Gripping and intense. Good stuff.

    The Godfather (1972)
    After finishing my AFI list with Yankee Doodle Dandy, I thought I’d go back and watch a few films on the list that I had already seen, but not for quite some time. It was great to see this movie again. It’s such a tremendous piece of work in every regard.

    The Godfather, Part II (1974)
    Equipped with a much bigger budget for the second time around, Francis Ford Coppola was able to make a sequel just as good as the first film. How great are Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in this movie?!

    Mean Creek (2004)
    An exceptionally well-executed little independent film about being a kid, dealing with bullies, and learning lessons the hard way.

    Mean Streets (1973)
    It’s just a coincidence that my next 5-star review of the year also began with the word “Mean.” This early Martin Scorsese film has everything you go to see in one of his movies: gritty realism, great writing, and amazing performances. “What’s a mook?”

    La Dolce Vita (1960)
    Classic Felini film that I had always wanted to see. Fortunately, Netflix has the wonderfully restored Criterion Collection DVD release. Both visually and thematically, it’s a very rich film. For anyone new to Felini, after watching it, you might want to re-watch it with the audio commentary. It’ll help highlights aspects of the film that might be missed the first time around.

    City of God (2002)
    The Godfather for the next generation. An amazing film about gang violence in the slums of Rio De Janeiro. One of the best new films I’ve seen in years.

    Nashville (1975)
    Robert Altman’s masterpiece that I finally got around to seeing. The acting is so real that you feel like you walk right into the screen.

    Ikiru (1952)
    A wonderful film by one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, Akira Kurosawa. A very quiet masterpiece about post-occupation Japan an old man facing his own mortality. Beautiful.

    Tape (2001)
    A single set (a hotel room) and three people. Director Richard Linklater at his “art film” best. Incredible writing, excellent performances.

    The Killing (1956)
    An early Stanley Kubrick film that was even better than I expected. Surprisingly gripping and tightly paced. An extremely well-made film by a master director.

    Waking Life (2001)
    Another impressive Richard Linklater “art film” project. This one involved shooting the entire film on video with real actors and then having every frame manually “drawn over” using computers to create a weird live-action/animation hybrid that fits the subject matter perfectly. It’s very talky, sometimes pretentious, a little long, but it’s consistently fascinating and even challenging.

    The King of Comedy (1983)
    Martin Scorsese’s brilliant dark comedy that’s often overlooked among his amazing filmography. It’s surprisingly ahead of its time and much more relevant today than when it was made. Great performances across the board. Very funny and quite powerful.

    Sanjuro (1962)
    Yet another masterpiece from Akira Kurosawa’s highly acclaimed period of Samari-themed films. Endlessly entertaining, beautifully filmed, and starring the great Toshiru Mifune.

    Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (2004)
    I grew up in the L.A. area and remember the Z Channel well. This was a predecessor to cable TV as we know it today. But this film is more than just a very well-made documentary about a groundbreaking pay channel; it’s a celebration of great and courageous filmmaking — something at the heart of Z Channel programming. I was very surprised by just how much I enjoyed this film.

    King Kong (1933)
    The original King Kong finally made it to DVD in a beautifully restored special edition. Sure the dialogue is clunky and the acting is wooden, but the innovative special effects still hold up today. You gotta love that giant monkey!

    Ugetsu (1953)
    A gorgeous Feudal-era Japan ghost story directed by the great Kenji Mizoguchi. Beautifully restored on DVD by the Criterion Collection company.

    Arrested Development: Season 1
    We ended the year with a couple of discs from the first season of Arrested Development, a show we never got around to watching on regular TV. Wow, what a brilliant show. This is easily one of the funniest, best-written, best-performed television programs to come along in years. It’s no surprise it was canceled: Shows this good (and this intelligent) never find much of an audience.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ode to a Mantel

When Marcie and I moved into our house almost two years ago, one of the first decorating decisions we made was to make our fireplace mantel into a “Next Generation Cousins Showcase” (i.e. a place to display photos of our nieces and nephews and perhaps even one of our own “some day” as we then thought of it). At the time, our mantel was quite modest with just three photos: Kim’s daughters Jianna and Kaylie and Aimee’s daughter Jenna. But in just the past year alone, the number of kids has more than doubled with seven adorable little faces now on display on our mantel. And since they’re all growing so fast (as kids are prone to do), we refresh the photos quite often. Here is what our mantel looks like in its most recent incarnation:

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From left to right: Jianna, Kaylie, Jared, Melody, Jenna, Brett, and Sarah

I just love looking at all those smiling faces. No matter what kind of mood I’m in, the mantel always makes me happy. There’s no doubt going to be more happy faces to come, so it will be an interesting challenge fitting everything on the shelf as our family continues to grow.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ten Years Ago Today (and Two Days Ago)

Today marks the tenth anniversary of what Marcie and I have deemed our “dating anniversary” — or at least the second half of it. You can read about our March 23, 1996 Sea World date in the online version of the tongue-in-cheek story we included in our wedding program. But what doesn’t really get covered is the first half, which occurred on the evening of Thursday, March 21.

At the time, I was living in San Diego pursuing my master’s degree and Marcie’s sisters both happened to be living in the San Diego area as well. So she scheduled a flight from Davis (where she was going to school) for that weekend to spend some quality time with them — or at least that’s what she told her sisters and parents. Prior to her arrival, we had already made plans to visit Sea World and for me to have her over for dinner afterwards. Although we were still “just friends” at that point, I was hoping to win her over with my culinary skills (I didn’t realize at that point that my romantic inclinations toward her were mutual).

But other than the Sea World/dinner plans, we hadn’t made any other arrangements, nor had I expected to see her at any other time during her visit (although I certainly wanted to). So I was very pleasantly surprised to get a call at work late in the afternoon on March 21 from Marcie saying she had just arrived in town, was going to be staying with her sister Aimee, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in coming by for a visit that evening. It took a considerable amount of will power to keep from turning into some sort of crazed Jerry Lewis character and saying “Laaadeeee!! Niiiice Laaadeeee! I’ll be right there, laaadeeeee!!!” Instead, I calmly said I’d be very happy to swing by and tried to get through the rest of the call without sounding completely incoherent.

I next had to race home, shave, change clothes, and ensure I was adequately favorably-fragranced (i.e. wasn’t stinky after a long day of classes and work). I tried calming myself during the 45 minute drive to Del Mar (the area of San Diego in which Marcie’s sisters both lived) by playing Pink Floyd on the radio and blasting air conditioning on my face. And then I arrived.

I’ll always remember my first glimpse of Marcie at the door. She was wearing denim overalls and looked about as adorable as you can imagine. After briefly catching up and taking up Aimee’s offer for a slice of pizza (I skipped dinner in order to get ready as quickly as possible), we decided to take a short drive to a Starbucks in a nearby outdoor shopping mall. In our mutual excitement, we both failed to pay much attention to Aimee’s directions and we got immediately lost. But after driving around for a while (and almost getting rear-ended while I was trying to move into a turning lane), we arrived at the mall with a combination of relief and laughter.

Enjoying the cool early-Spring air brushing across our faces while strolling along toward our final destination, we passed a walkway water fountain display with oddly underpowered jets. There was something comically pathetic about the lackluster sprays of water shooting out of the pipes that got Marcie laughing uncontrollably. This proved to be a most enjoyable foreshadowing of the memorable chicken-stealing seagull incident two days later at Sea World (see our wedding program story for more on that silly incident).

Upon finally reaching the Starbucks storefront, we noticed an ice cream shop next door and simultaneously exclaimed “Ooooh!” We immediately made a beeline for the ice cream and never did get that cup of joe.

After returning to Aimee’s place afterwards, we finally began to speak more personally and it was then that Marcie revealed the true nature of her feelings. I immediately let her know that her feelings were very much reciprocated. Several hours later, at around midnight, the evening came to a close with a very sweet first kiss at the door and a very happy man returning to his car.

Ten years later, we still laugh uncontrollably at silly things, we still say “Ooooh” every time we pass an ice cream shop, and we still have wonderful conversations. And yes, that happiness I felt returning home that night has remained ever since.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Melody: From Two Months to Six Months

In honor of Melody turning six-months-old last week, I have created a new online photo album covering the period since her last album. Check it out.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Whoops: One Year Blogiversary Come and Gone

The title of this entry says it all: I completely missed The Shapiro File's first anniversary. On a whim, I launched this blog on March 3, 2005 while posting comments to a friend's blog. In the process, I realized this would be a good way to keep friends and family in the loop on the then-unannounced future Baby Shapiro and other events in my life.

One year later, it's fun looking through my archives to recall the ups and downs (mostly ups) of performing in The Last Night of Ballyhoo and my experience acting in an ultra-low-budget short independent film, Nightmares on Film Street. And then of course, the focus of the blog changed pretty dramatically as I got nearer to parenthood. From Melody's arrival forward, the entries increasingly began reflecting life from someone who spends the majority of their time at home (baby photos, DVD movie reviews, etc.) but is more than happy to be so "homebound" with such a wonderful little baby girl!

Besides having a convenient place to capture my reflections for the past year, this blog has also been a great way to catch up with people with whom I've haven't spoken in quite some time. Now any time I meet up with someone for the first time in while, whenever they ask "What have you been up to lately?" I can simply point them toward this blog. This makes a perfect compliment to my website, which covers a bigger chunk of my life but only in a simplified wide-sweeping sort of way (good for reconnecting with people after years of being out of touch).

Also, a special thank you to all of you kind souls who regularly check in and leave comments (Brad and Irina both get the "Gold Shapiro Award"). It's nice to know I'm not writing in a vacuum!

So here's to a great year of kvelling, kvetching, and kibbutzing and to more to come!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Netflix Weekend Wrap-Up #7

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6

I had a particularly good Netflix weekend (still catching up on missed films from late last year). Here's what I watched:

Thumbsucker (2005) - This was a very nice little movie about teen angst, family dynamics, and ADHD. The performances were very good (even Keanu Reeves was actually well-cast for once) and the script was well constructed. As with so many movies of this sort, there were a few plot contrivances that it probably didn't need, but it was still smart and engaging. Also, while I don't typically comment on DVD extra features, there's an extended conversation between the writer/director Mike Mills and Walter Kirn (the author of the book on which the film is based) that was quite interesting. It's not very frequently you get to hear an author speak in depth with the person who adapts their work for a film. So if you rent the DVD, it's worth checking out. My Netflix rating: 4 stars

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) - I've been a huge fan of Nick Park's work ever since I saw his wonderful Creature Comforts for the first time at the 1990 Festival of Animation in La Jolla. I think it may have been the following year that I next saw A Grand Day Out and was completely blown away by the beautiful animation, character design, cleverness, and most of all, humor of what would become just the first in a series of excellent Wallace and Gromit short films. So I was very excited when I learned that after all these years, Nick Park was finally given the opportunity to create a full-length Wallace and Gromit feature film. Although I'm sad I couldn't catch it on the big screen when it was still in theaters, as always, Netflix saved the day. I'm happy to report that I loved this film. It was beautifully executed and incredibly funny (I laughed myself silly from beginning to end). I realize this particular brand of British comedy may not be for everyone. But there has always been something about Park's sensibility that has appealed to me. All this said, I feel a little funny giving a movie like this the same star-rating I'd give to Casablanca, City Lights, The Seven Samarai, and other such acknowledged masterpieces, but at least it recently won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. So I guess I shouldn't be too embarrassed. My Netflix rating: 5 stars

Monday, March 13, 2006

Six Months!

Melody turned six-months-old yesterday. I can't believe it has already been half a year since she entered our lives. It's even more amazing how much she's changed over these past months. I'll soon be posting a new online photo album to cover the period since the last album. It always takes me longer than I expect to put the albums together (I like to run everything through Photoshop to correct colors and remove distracting digital artifacts), but I'm really hoping to have the new album up within the next two weeks. So stay tuned for that.

In the interim, as a sneak preview, here are a couple of pictures I took just last week of Melody and her beloved teddy bear:

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Click for a larger image

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Netflix Weekend Wrap-Up #6

Previous installments: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5

With the Olympics now over, Marcie and I finally had a chance to once again sit down and watch a new Netflix DVD over the weekend. With so many big releases coming out at the end of 2005 when we entered parenthood and it became impossible to go to the movies, we have lots of catching up to do now that the movies are starting to get released on DVD. So we decided decided to dive right into the next big late-2005 release in our Netflix queue:

Flightplan (2005) - The second big airplane-based thriller released last year (the other being Red Eye, of course). As much as I hate to give the impression that I'm hard to please, I once again have to grudgingly give another negative review. Despite some impressive set design (a two-story passenger plane complete with bar and lounge!), this just wasn't a very good film. There simply wasn't anything particularly original or special about this movie. Sure, Jody Foster gave a good enough performance and I'm a fan of Peter Sarsgaard, but the story and execution were both clunky and downright silly. I guess there were a couple of fun moments that kept this movie from one-star rating status. But it was just too hard to get wrapped up in a story so illogical. At least this time I'm not alone in giving a critical opinion, as the first thing Marcie said when the movie ended was, "Well, that was stupid." My Netflix rating: 2 stars

Monday, March 06, 2006

Classic Marcie Quote

I speak fast. Very fast. Or at least that's how it seems to everyone but me. I like to equate my speed of speech to Einstein's theory of relativity in which time is relative to the speed at which we move. The faster you move, the more time slows down. So if you travel away from Earth then back again at the speed of light for an hour, what will take only an hour to you will actually be something like 60 years to everyone else. I think my speech patterns are like this--albeit in reverse. When I speak, my personal time slows down; whereas, time speeds up for everyone else. Or to put it another way: When I'm speaking, I'm never aware of just how fast I'm going--thus proving that my personal time is going at a different pace than the rest of the world. This is always made painfully clear to me when I see myself on video or listen to an answering machine message I've left for Marcie. Only when I hear myself speaking outside of the actual act of speaking do I realize just how fast I go.

But it gets worse. I also mumble. I think this comes from a childhood-long fear of being made to feel embarrassed for saying something inane. Try as I might, when I'm not acting, singing, or giving a speech, I simply don't enunciate enough. So this combined with my fast speech makes understanding me quite challenging.

But it still gets worse. I also have this odd family-wide affectation of constantly thinking one word and saying an entirely different word. Thus, even if the words I'm speaking are understood by others, those spoken words may not necessarily be the words I'm hearing in my head. Most of the time, I don't even realize I'm doing this. Just a few examples of this include saying one day of the week when I mean to say another day, constantly saying "blanket" when I mean "towel" (and vise versa), and saying one person's name when I mean another.

All of this makes Marcie's life with me pretty challenging. Remarkably, after knowing me for over 10 years now (including over five years of marriage), she had gotten pretty good at understanding what I mean to say, rather than simply taking in what I'm literally saying. Still, that doesn't mean that miscommunication isn't a regular occurrence at our house. After one typically frustrating exchange for Marcie, she said the following:

"Speaking to you is like playing the lottery. You never know."

This cracked me up. I immediately wrote it down so I could share it here. My wife is a genius. And if I weren't lucky enough, she also has one of the clearest speaking voices you'll every hear.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Myspace, My Schmace

Several months ago, an old friend of mine (and a fabulous bass guitarist) Craig sent out an email to a bunch of his friends announcing his new Myspace page promoting his music stuff and invited us to leave comments. Once on his page, I learned that in order to leave comments, I had to set up a Myspace page of my own and then request to be added to his "friends" list. So I did. A few months later, another friend (and my former manager at B. Dalton bookstore in late 1989/early 1990) also named Craig invited me to seek out his Myspace page that he set up to promote his freelance photography business. And then pretty recently, a couple of good friends from my high school music department days (Deane and Peter) sought me out and linked to my page. This, in turn, led to my discovering the page of yet another high school music department friend, Chris. So I now have five Myspace "friends" and a nice way for other old friends to find me.

At the moment, my Myspace page is pretty darn sparse, but I've at least added a few photos and perhaps can use the page for promoting my music activities in the future if I ever fulfill my New Year's resolution to start recording some real demos. So if anyone is interested in being added to my "friends" list or otherwise just can't get enough of me here at The Shapiro Files or at my website, feel free to mozy on down over here!