Pumpkin Carving With Zack

Pumpkin Carving With Zack
Chimes Opinions Article

Nothing can get you into the right mood for the Halloween holiday season quite like creatively stabbing a vegetable, repeatedly, over and over again and then setting fire to its center. Some might prefer to call it "pumpkin carving," but whatever the name, I don't think I'm alone in saying that it's my favorite tradition — not just for Halloween but every holiday except Veterans Day.

This past week when I was given five dollars and sent out to the store to get groceries, I found myself using that logic to rationalize my purchase of a fine pumpkin instead of a basket filled with 20 packets of Ramen Noodles. I believe I made a wise choice.

The tradition of pumpkin carving actually harkens back to the days of yore when rascally children would place flaming pumpkins on Old Man Nicholson’s doorstep and quickly run away. Old Man Nicholson, getting his foot stuck in the pumpkin after stomping it out, would then shake his fist at the next generation of village citizens yelling, "You no good Punk-Kins!" –– therefore giving birth to the legend.

Of course technological advancements have made it so that we no longer need to use our feet to stamp holes in the pumpkins and can now use carving knives instead. What I realized was that this still requires a certain amount of skill, especially if one wants their pumpkin to resemble the likeness of their cat as I did.

After I first mistakenly brought home a watermelon to carve instead of a pumpkin, I made a second trip to the store, only to encounter even more disappointment when I realized I had accidentally bought a pumpkin that wasn't seedless. In addition to this, I was also saddened to see it didn't come with a candle or a prize inside. Thankfully Beth took the time to inform me that this is actually a blessing since the seeds could be baked and covered in copious amounts of salt, my favorite flavor next to the color red.

Then, it was time for the actual carving. Unfortunately it seemed that the pumpkin I had chosen was suffering from a strange sort of leprosy, which covered its most promising “face side” with a large patch of off-white growths. It seemed that unless I was willing to carve my pumpkin into the shape of a teenager who used to work at a Regal Cinema (me), I would have to use the misshapen backside. As if matters weren't complicated enough, while in need of a model to plan my carving, I had to struggle to get our cat Georgie Fruit to sit still in my chosen pose: standing. At this point Beth stepped in to assist me by making a drawing that I could easily trace onto the pumpkin and then cut around.

Every Halloween, my father used to carve pumpkins with me as well. Myself, being scared of all things sharp, left most of the hard work up to him while I just drew the outline. It was strange now doing the carving myself, still half-expecting a trip to the emergency room while maneuvering Beth’s Ikea knife around the lines she helped me draw. I didn’t know if I felt quite like an adult, but I definitely felt like I wasn’t just a child anymore. I felt responsible not just for how the pumpkin looked but for the very moment — for the holiday itself.

I took the knife into my hands and began cutting away. I ran into some difficulty when I realized that knives usually cut in one direction and not in the shape of circles, yet I continued nonetheless. And then, before I knew it, my beaver carving was complete. Beth and I stood back and nodded, knowing it would be a happy Halloween.


Gigantic - Movie Review


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I rented Gigantic for two reasons. One was that it had Zooey Deschanel, who I'm sometimes drawn to in the same way my fiancee is drawn towards Michael Cera, which is to say I'm a stalker. The second reason is its trailer struck me as a quirky, fun, and charming comedy. What I discovered is that the film is quite quirky, yet lacks all of those other attributes. For the sake of a review snippet: it's a gigantic mess.

The film is centered around Brian, played by Paul Dano who I really liked in Little Miss Sunshine until I realized he could talk. Brian is on the verge of fulfilling his life-long dream of adopting a Chinese baby. Why? Because he's quirky. That's why. He's also constantly stalked (much in the same way I stalk Zooey Deschanel) by a homeless Zach Galifianakis who attacks him without reason before mysteriously disappearing. Why does he attack him other than the fact that it's both scary and quirky? Has quiet-nature Brian upset him somehow, or is this homeless man even real at all? I'd say you'd go with your disappointed gut on that one, but I will say that the answer lends Brian to be a less suitable candidate for a solo parental figure than I would have hoped.

However, much is in store for Brian when he meets Zooey Deschanel after she passes out on one of his recently sold mattresses. Upon waking they undergo a conversation which remarkably mimics every other conversation they have throughout the rest of the movie, which is essentially structured as "That's amazing,' "you think this is amazing?" "no, I'm actually talking about something else, but that's amazing too." Oh ha ha ha, you quirky bastards. I'm amazed at how flat many of these jokes land. It might look good on paper, but on screen the timing doesn't quite match up, the editing doesn't keep pace, and the characters don't react in quite the right way that they should, and no, quirkiness is not a good excuse.

Limitations are in desperate need here. At its very core Gigantic has a lot of good ideas. Gigantic ideas I should say. But those ideas are overwhelmed by quirky character gimmicks, useless set pieces, unnecessary scenes, and endless narrative alleyways that have no distinct destination. The film begins with a scientist musing on the floundering ability for a rat to swim. I assumed it would have a significant commentary on the story, in how maybe it relates to relationships, you know, like good screenplays usually do. In retrospect I'm still stumped. Maybe I'm not quirky enough to get it.

The film has a number of great performances. Paul Dano is quite good, so is Zooey. John Goodman gives his character life and a sense of strange realism that has to be appreciated. Ed Asner is simply charming in all the right ways. The rest is jumbled, messy, and made for a film festival circuit, not for those seeking something to be enjoyed. For me, that's very disappointing.

Miss it.


Zombieland - Movie Review


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It's been a pretty good year for horror flicks and luckily it's getting topped off with Zombieland, a bloody fun romp through the post-apocalyptic United States. But I have to be honest, I was really worried going into it. For anyone into the horror genre lately it's not hard to see that zombies are "in." Just like pirates were "in" until the 3'rd Caribbean movie came out and ruined it for all of us. Zombieland is filled with great set-pieces, innovative weapons, fun objectives, and any other way you could describe a good videogame. What I didn't expect were great characters, and here is where Zombieland really truly delivers.

Jessie Eisenberg (from the oddly similar and quite-good-despite-the-fact-that-i-didn't-review -it-because-i'm-lazy Adventureland) stars as Columbus, who after the zombie uprising kept his scrawny self alive by adopting a long list of rules similar to the one anyone could form had they only taken notes while watching all of the Dawn of the Dead movies (as I did). The rules are typographically displayed here-and-there for the benefit of the viewer, but we only wish they could be viewed by his rough-neck companion Tallahassee who takes down zombies more for points of creativity rather than pure need for survival.

The movie gets off to a rough start with it's dedication to Columbus' voice as a narrator. The set-up is entertaining and very funny, but is often unnecessary in the amount of information given to us. Do we really need to be told where the kid is heading? Do we need to be told how he feels about the other characters? Not really, not for me at least. I want to see this information in action. Luckily i do, but being told kind of spoils the reveal of finding out for ourselves. Let the characters figure things out on their own. It's forgiven though because really, we mostly just want some zombie action, and of course Zombieland has much in store.

The action is really similar to that of recent videogames, down to the detail of shooting a button here to save the person there. It's quite brilliant because any gamer can tell the movie really knows this. What does Columbus do when he is chased to his car and mistakenly drops his keys? He runs in a circle of course. It's the solution to beating every boss, provided (the Survival Guide notes) that you have the cardio to do it.

As a horror film there are certainly enough surprises. As a comedy there are even more, down to the best cameo of the year that couldn't be spoiled even if you already know who's waiting around the corner. The film is intense because you actually care for these people, and knowing how just about every other zombie feature ends, I really found myself hoping it would turn out differently.

Zombieland really works. It's exactly everything a zombie lover could want, and finds itself well worthy of placement next to the best in the genre. See it.


Legacy of the dead bunny

NEWCOTT: Legacy of the dead bunny
Chimes Opinions Article - 10/22/09

I have yet to explain to my roommates why exactly there's a dead bunny in the shoebox in our freezer, but I assume the less I say about it the better. Had this happened a year ago I probably would have used it as an opportunity to ward off my old roommate Jon from eating all my food, possibly along with a cryptic note written in newspaper clippings saying "You'll keep your PAWS off my bagel bites, if you know what's good for you." This time it's more out of necessity until my fiance's roommate finds a good time for a burial.

The problem I have had to come to terms with is that there's never a good time to have a burial, much less to remind someone else to have a burial, especially for their adorable dead bunny. No one wants to get a phone call in the middle of a romantic dinner to take care of the furry long-eared Popsicle that I've jammed behind the Eggo waffles. If only I had been fortunate enough to be responsible for the remains of someone's dead possum or pony, a bunny though? It's a sick world we're living in.

Beth and her friends gave the bunny to Claire on her 23rd birthday. Being a dwarf rabbit, the bunny was twice as cute as any ordinary bunny due to its small size and girlish charm, kind of like a Nintendo DS. The fact that she was so fresh from the pet store made her arrival all the more special. This, I suspect, must have driven our former dwarf bunny Johnson mad with jealousy. Could he have been the one to cause our new animal friend to meet her untimely demise? The evidence is inconclusive, especially seeing that I found the bunny stiff as a log in a very relaxed pose, but was it too relaxed? Only Johnson and our cat Geogie could ever know for sure.

Georgie is perhaps just as much a suspect as anyone. After an in depth research involving reading someone else's question on Yahoo Answers, cats apparently have the ability to hypnotize bunnies, to death. That's right, cats can literally kill other animals with their minds. That is messed up.

Whatever the case, now the bunny serves as the constant little reminder in the back of my mind, be it when I'm getting groceries or running to the bank, that death is all around us. Every moment I go to grab a Sunny D I hear its lifeless heart beating from behind the freezer door, it's cuddly paws clutching at my conscience. Every so often, I grab its cold body in my hands and am just inches from running out the door when I remind myself that I'll probably forget about it at some point in the afternoon and leave it's frozen body to defrost in the boiling interior of my car, most likely only to find it later among the possibly hundreds of other snacks, drinks, and animals I've left in my car earlier that week. The circle of life continues.

It's times like these that I'm glad my body won't be left in a college students refrigerator after I die, or at least I desperately hope not. Really makes you think. Now that the bunny has found her way to frollick on the giant carrot in the sky, she doesn't have to worry about what she left behind, and neither will we when it's time for us to go to our own respective giant carrots. It's down here that we have the problem letting go. Life's a fragile thing.

Latest Favorite Song - All Yr Songs

Although he doesn't appear to have any other songs posted anywhere else on the wide world of the internets, Diamond Rings has made it onto my favorite list with the little ditty entitled All Yr Songs.

Listen to Diamond Rings - All Yr Songs (via: fighting)

And if you're into it, check out the retro-esque video, which I think is brilliant... even if you might disagree.


Where The Wild Things Are - Movie Review


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Where The Wild Things Are

It's rather amazing how faithful Where The Wild Things Are remains to its source material, a storybook that contains (to my surprise) more than a few words, and stays faithful to it throughout the course of an entire feature film. With that said, the film directed by Spike Jonze and co-written by literary front-man Dave Eggers, takes liberties unto itself in the form of exploring ideas regarding relationships, friendships, and "all those ships" we've seen in similar dream-like films.

But what a dream it is. It was either a mistake or a fortunate opportunity to view this film late at night. In my mind it remains vibrantly kicking in a vague haze of comprehension. What exactly happened? Well, if you read or simply looked at the book you have a pretty good summary. A young boy is sent off to bed for being bad, without his dinner I might add, and takes off into an enchanted wilderness where the wild Things roam. The Things themselves aren't always so nice, but despite their threats to eat him instead opt to elect the self-declaring boy as King. The King then wishes to return to the world he left, and he does, to the regret of the wild Things.

What the movie captures so well are those moments in childhood when a time of playfulness suddenly turns to a moment of pain and betrayal. These moments are doubly painful due to the fact that in the betrayal we ourselves are the constructors of our own pain. We create games we cannot win, and when we want to win we create games where someone else must lose. The first fifteen minutes of this film are mostly wordless, but in that we are given a truly authentic and engaging experience of what being a kid was all about. It's actually when the Wild Things come into the picture that the image begins to wander, sometime to greatness and sometimes along lines of confused tangents.

This really isn't a movie for kids. Where the Wild Things Are is less akin to The Cat In The Hat than it is to Lost In Translation. Except in this one the kid goes to the island of the Wild Things rather than the island of Japan. The characters themselves are very broken. A central theme is that of loneliness. Max is elected not by his claims to magic, but his claims to bring happiness to the Wild Things. He does, for a little while, but people have a way of letting each-other down. The film is really quite profound in its subtle reveal that the Wild Things were quite wise to elect themselves a king, they were just mislead to choose a human one. What they need is someone who can, quite literally, be inside of them.

Where The Wild Things Are is at times quite abusive to its massive, hairy, muppet/Labrynth-esque friends and often quite dark. I imagine its surreal world just isn't suitable for young children. For adults its wandering nature can either be a joyful excursion or a confusing one. All in all, it's a work entirely of its own which in and of itself deserves great praise just for sticking to its guns, or in this case dirt clumps.

Take a look.

More News Everyone!

That post I made earlier about IndieFest 09? Well, you might want to cancel all your flights to Florida for a few weeks 'cause it's temporarily postponed. Mawww.

The good news is that they're still going to tally up the films and announce winners, and considering that Florida is so far away, we can all still just imagine the movie playing on a gigantormous screen.

C'est la vie. But speaking of French I have some wondrous news. After checking online today I found out that I got a final grade of B for Frenching it up. Hooray!!!

In celebration please enjoy this stock photo of a guy I found while google image searching "French Guy."


Adventures In Engagement Photos

Chimes Opinion Article
Zachary Newcott

Although I thought Jennifer Lopez prepared me well with her instructional film The Wedding Planner, it turns out I thought wrong. J Lo knows nothing of my life. So when my fiance told me that we needed to take engagement photos I was at a disadvantage even before I suggested using her imac photobooth to do the job.

Now, I can't claim to be a doctor. Lord knows I've tried, but I can't. What I can claim to be is a college student intern. This places my price-range for wedding photographers a tier below insta-matics and a tier above talking about how great our wedding photos would have been had I a budget that didn't require me to save 7-Eleven cups for cheaper refills. This is bad news if you want to hire a professional (or a "pro" as the professionals call them), as they like to be paid in valid currency and not the unspecified favors I usually offer.

What's frustrating is that my fiance is a rather great photographer. I know this because she doesn't have to use the same amount of lense-flare and blur that I usually do, or insist on using MS Paint to edit in embarrassing photos of celebrities. She's a real classy lady, unlike me, who is a semi-trashy not-lady.

Sadly, first-person wedding photos would make for a terrifying prospect considering that they would mostly involve me coming towards the camera with my mouth opened incredibly wide and drooling (as is the way I expect our wedding kiss to be). If we were going to do engagement photos soon we would need another option. After thinking about all I had learned, I proposed we could make money snake hunting, but was once again convinced that was a bad idea after learning that I had mistakenly watched Anaconda instead of the Wedding Planner, which also starred Jennifer Lopez. Beth had a better solution.

The answer came in the way of the automatic timer on her camera, who works for practically nothing provided that it has enough battery power. Harnessing this resource we found an excellent location atop a pleasant mound of dirt. Problem was, in order to photograph a mound of dirt the camera itself needed to be several yards away. This resulted in me, a Chimes opinions-writer/part-time-videogame-player, setting an eight second timer and then running as fast as I could. This made the modest pile of dirt, to my physique, virtually Everest.

Having no knowledge as to how legs should function apart from sitting, I took whatever lessons I could gather from Discovery channel videos and hunkered down, assuming that if I stayed low I could practically pounce my way to the top of the hill in one swift movement. Somehow, I managed to make it literally at the last second, and although that means many of our photos feature me sweating and plastered with an expression of fear and confusion, that might just be exactly who I am deep down inside.

In this way we have captured a truly authentic moment in our relationship with a minimal budget of nothing. Even still, we fear that a similar, somewhat-complicated system of various cameras set to timers might have to be implemented in the actual wedding to come. We're dedicated to finding a better option. I think Jennifer Lopez said it best in the film Gigli when she noted, "Life, will find a way..." And although I never saw Gigli and actually stole that quote from Jurassic Park, I think we all learned something very special. Although saving money is important, if it takes making an investment to capture a memory, then it's worth the cost.

Good News Everyone!

Shooting Blind has been selected to be shown at IndieFest '09!

It's showing along with the Student Documentary Program on Wed. Oct 21, 2009 at 10:00am.

But I'm afraid I have to tell you that the festival will be in Celebration, Florida. So I think it might just be more economically viable for all of us to look at this image of the theater interior that the movie is going to be shown in and imagine my face on the big screen.




How I Survived the LA County Fair

Chimes Opinion Article
Zachary newcott

If there's one thing I learned from going to the LA County fair, it's that death is all around you. It's sitting next to you on the creaky ferris wheel. It's standing at your side as you pet an angered goat in the petting zoo. It's hiding inside of the deep-fried Snickers bar which is wrapped inside another layer of deep-fried bacon and zucchini. Yes, it might taste good, but if you wonder what's at the core of that Candy Apple, the answer is fear. I on the other hand had something else on my mind – was getting my hand on a delicious frozen banana.

Maybe I just don't do well in crowds. Swarming people often provoke me to close my eyes and frantically rotate my arms with closed fists as I run straight ahead screaming. It's a self defense mechanism that has proven useful time and time again. Unfortunately it was foiled by the sheer number of people surrounding me and I found myself protecting my life by delivering a constant barrage of small karate chops, which were in reality as effective as giving a stranger a pleasant back massage. After unintentionally messaging a clown, an elderly woman, and a runaway pony from the petting zoo, I found myself exhausted before I was even able to consume a single frozen banana. The fair has a way of draining all the energy one may possess.

Yes, Mr Moneypants, I could have saved myself some leg work had I dished out the extra five bucks for "premium parking" and not walked the half-mile from the car, but some of us don't have texting covered by our cell-phone service and sure as darned aren't going to call our fiance's to pick us up from work. This is America.

To me, the fair will always be a disappointment. My problem is that I always envision a day at the fair from Charlotte's Web, except without the thousands of hatching spiders at the end. I see myself and Templeton the Rat gathering a veritable smorgasbord orgasbord of discarded banana treats and sharing them with our other animal friends.


Of course, the fair isn't much fun without other people to join you. In fact, had I not someone else to tether the other end of my child leash onto I'm fairly certain I would have wandered into a circus trailer and never been heard from again. Luckily, I had Beth at my side and together we were able to shove our way through the miniature train tour until we found the holy grail: the frozen banana stand. With a banana in hand, we realized we had to head back the way we came. Luckily, we managed to bypass much of the traffic by taking the fair's glorious flying machine, which Beth informed me was a ski lift minus snow or skis.

There was a catch, however, in order to ride. I had to get rid of the one thing I loved the most, namely, my newly aquired frozen banana. I knew this was exactly what myself and Templeton had always trained for – eating a frozen banana as fast as possible. Having mentally prepared myself, I downed a bite of it before collapsing with a horrible case of brain-freeze. Beth meanwhile managed to complete the task for me.

Little did I know that it was riding above the fair itself that my limits would be tested. As the flimsy ski lift rocked back and forth, Beth and I questioned our ability to escape in case of an emergency. Instead we realized we would just have to resign ourselves to the terrors of the LA County Fair. Yes, if a wire snapped we would all face certain doom (unless we managed to land on a palm tree or an over-weight child), but as we slowly drifted over the hundreds of deep-fry stations we were just glad that we could share that terror together, and maybe that's what the fair is really all about.