Friday, June 29, 2007

Star Wars fan of the day: Smiling Sith

OK, there's just something wrong about seeing Darth Maul smile.

You know...for kids!

There is an interesting quote in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly from Brad Bird, director of "The Incredibles" and Pixar's newest "Ratatouille." Speaking about animation he says:

"I can't think of one other art form that has its audience so narrowly defined. If you work in animation, people are like, Oh, it must be wonderful to entertain children. Yes, but that's 10 percent of the audience I'm going for."

Of course, I can think of one...puppetry.

Kids love animation, and many times it's good to use that art form with kids in mind. Same with puppets. But one of the things that is great about both art forms is that they can be used to create a type of entertainment (and education for that matter) which is appealing to both young and old. That's what Henson did and I believe Pixar is doing the same.

It's an interesting challenge when thinking about children's ministry. Most of the resources out there focus on how to communicate lessons to the kids, and rightfully so. But perhaps sometimes we should look for opportunities to minister in a way that reaches kids and parents at the same time.

One of our puppet builders at One Way Street recently attended the Orange conference put on by Northpoint Church. There he got to experience the family services they do. It's a part of the children's ministry, but it's a kids service that the kids experience with their parents. It seems to be a similar concept to what we've seen from the likes of Pixar and Muppets...creating a great experience for kids and parents together.

Back to the Future Part II - Antiques

Here's some more movie trivia! Check out this scene from "Back to the Future Part II." Michael J. Fox is looking through the window of an antique store of the future which features a Roger Rabbit doll. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was directed by the director of the Back to the Future films, Robert Zemeckis. Over on the right side you can also spot a "Jaws" video game. Of course, the movie "Jaws" was directed by Back to the Future executive producer Steven Spielberg.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Squonk Simpson

Probably the movie I am most looking forward to this summer is "The Simpsons Movie." I've always enjoyed The Simpsons, it's great satire. There is a cool new feature on the website for the upcoming movie where you can design your own Simpsons character. I tried to do myself as a I might appear on the streets of Springfield. Unfortunately, eyes with glasses was not an option, so it's not a close as it could be.

Go Topes!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Charlie's Angels & E.T.

Here's another one of those quick bits of movie trivia that goes by too fast to notice. This is scene from "Charlie's Angles" where Drew Barrymore ends surprising two young video gamers after escaping from the bad guys. It seems that Drew has been to this house before, though. Barrymore's first big film role was in "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial." According to the DVD commentary, this scene was shot at the house used for E.T. A poster for E.T. can be seen behind the TV set.


In several books I've been reading and podcasts I've been listening to the subject of change has come up a lot lately. Change can be a scary word, especially in ministry circles. Many of us in churches try to avoid change at all costs. One church I was a part of years ago just about went crazy when the offering was moved to the end of the service. I mean, great googily moogily we're talking the end of the service! The ushers won't be able to sit out the sermon to count money. What's next?

We often look at change as being a negative, but it doesn't have to be that way. In John Maxwell's latest book Talent is Never Enough, he quotes former major league baseball manager Alvin Dark as saying, "There's no such thing as taking a pitcher out. There's only bringing another pitcher in." Maxwell elaborates further by pointing out that when you focus on taking one pitcher out you are focusing on the runs allowed and walks given, but that doesn't help you win the game. You should focus on what the new pitcher can do to help you win game.

Not only is change a good thing, but it's something we should seek out. In a recent episode of Pastor Rick Warren's podcast guest pastor Ed Young said, "If it ain't broke, break it." I think I need to be constantly changing the way I do children's ministry. Even though the kids and the ways they are taught may change, the message stays the same. In the same podcast, Warren points out that we may change the way we minister, but that we need to always focus on the things we know never change: God's word, God's truth, God's Promise, God's Character, God's Love.

This year has been a year of big changes for me, the latest being the challenge of finding a new church home. I can't say I was happy that the church plant we had worked with for 5 years was needing to close it's doors, but I am excited by the new possibilities God has in store.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Flushed Away Costume Fun

I haven't blogged about movie trivia for awhile. I love looking for those quick little jokes in movies and I spotted two fun ones in "Flushed Away."

When the main character chooses his outfit for the day he quickly holds up several choices. Some go by so quickly you can barely see them, but two are worth hitting the pause button for. The one above shows the character holding the costume usually worn by the character Wallace from the Wallace & Gromit series of animated films. Those films were produced by the same folks that made "Flushed Away," Aardman Animation.

The next one shows the character with the classic yellow Wolverine costume from the X-Men comics. Hugh Jackman, who plays Wolverine in the X-Men films, provides the voice for this rat character.

I had heard some bad reviews of "Flushed Away," but I enjoyed it. However, I wish they had done it as a stop motion animated film, like Aardman's previous films, rather than going digital.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Star Wars Fans of the Day - Fetts

The first rule of Fett Club - Do not talk about Fett Club

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Udders and the concept of Noise

I never used to fall asleep during movies. To a big movie fan, like myself, it was like a sin. But something changes when you grow up, have kids, and end up with an extremely busy existence. You end up falling asleep during movies sometimes and last night I fell asleep during the computer animated movie "Barnyard."

I got about half way through the movie, hadn't laughed much, and started to drift off. I was expecting the movie to be funnier, I must admit. It was written and directed by comedian Steve Oedekerk, who was responsible for one of my favorite cinematic guilty pleasures of recent years, "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist." My wife groans every time I watch that movie, but there are some movies that women just will never appreciate.

I have to wonder if one of my problems with "Barnyard" was that I was never able to get my simple brain past one big hang up. Ok, the main character of the movie is a cow, a male cow, and he has a udder! In fact, all the male cows in the movie have udders! My wife and I thought, "do they not know?" "Is Hollywood that out of touch with reality?" Turns out Mr. Oedekerk knows perfectly well that bulls don't have udders, but he thinks that udders are funny.

Well funny maybe, but I just found them distracting. It seems I'm not the only one as I found many postings on internet discussion boards from people who felt the same way. This is a great example of the concept of noise, which I remember studying when I was a communications major back in my college days. "Noise" is not necessarily audible, but it's anything that distracts the audience from the message. Here the noise is that there are male cows with female parts which distracts the audience from the enjoying the humor of the movie.

Noise is an important thing to keep in mind when planning a puppet program or children's church program. Kids, and for that matter adults, are distracted easily. A puppet who's moves are too wild and hyper is usually a puppet with a noise issue. The audience will stop paying attention to what the puppet is saying, the message, and start paying too much attention to the weird movements.

I think everybody has something they do that causes noise. My family is in the process of looking for a new church home, so we are visiting new churches. A few weeks ago we attended a church where the preacher had a quirk that to me came across as noise. He was a good preacher, but he had a habit of every so often tacking the phrase "yes or no" to the end of his statements. I found myself starting to focus too much on how many times he said "yes or no" than the important points of the message. For those of us in puppet ministry and children's ministry, we should also try to tune in to what things we may do that cause noise. Things that distract from the real message.

I've done a lot of blacklight puppetry, it's a lot fun, but there are some cases where the blacklight effect may take away from the message rather than enhance it. That would be noise. My previous church met in a high school and I had to lead children's church in the library. I think that sometimes that fact that we were surrounded by book shelves rather than kid-friendly visuals could have been considered noise. It didn't set the tone for the exciting things that went on in class.

So here's the challenge, whether we're putting together a puppet show or planning out a children's church set or, I suppose, making a multi-million dollar movie about cows who walk upright, we need to think about if we're being noisy.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Star Wars Fans of the Day - Endor Rebels

Originally uploaded by laserlightcollectibles
"Aren't You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?"

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Land of Gorch

For almost 32 years, Saturday Night Live has been a staple of late night TV. Every few years NBC will do an anniversary special. They run bits of classic sketches and highlight the various performers and classic characters, but on those specials you will never see even a hint that the Muppets were once regulars on SNL. It's something Lorne Michaels and company tend to sweep under the rug, even more so than the 1985-86 season...remember Anthony Michael Hall folks? During the show's first season "The Land of Gorch" was a recurring series of sketches featuring some Muppet characters that were created with adults in mind. The sketches barely lasted the season, and rarely showed up in sydication in the years that followed. With the release of the complete first season of SNL on DVD, many Muppet fans have their first chance to take a look at this unique chapter in Muppet history.

Even Jim Henson and his crew admitted that the sketches just didn't quite work. However, these segments are certainly worth looking at, especially since the puppets themselves really represent one of Henson's first steps toward the type of puppets that would be created in his Creature Shop years later. There is some very skillful manipulation going on in Jim Henson's portrayal of Ploobis and Jerry Nelson's performance of Scred. Perhaps the finest puppetry displayed is Frank Oz's character, The Mighty Favog. Favog is a stone idol of sorts, so it has limited movement. The mouth opens, there is some slight head movement, and one of the hands can make small gestures. But Oz being Oz hits upon a great character trait, he makes the puppet sneer when it talks. Imagine a stone version of Billy Idol. This simple piece of manipulation partnered with a wonderful voice makes for the most interesting character in the sketches...and he can't even move!

So there was some great puppetry, but where did things go wrong? I think a lot of it has to do with the sketches themselves. The sketches were written by the SNL writers rather than Jerry Juhl and the rest of the Muppet crew. Writing for puppets is not the same as writing for humans. It seems that perhaps the writers got a bit caught up in the notion of seeing puppets, which many people associate as being for kids, doing things that are most definately not appropriate for family viewing. We see the characters getting drunk, doing drugs, having affairs, reading The Joy of Sex, and so on. It seems as if the writers were trying too hard to have the puppets doing adult humor.

The thing is "adult humor" and "humor that appeals to adults" are not necessarily the same thing. A year later, Henson, Juhl and the rest proved this when "The Muppet Show" premiered. Much of the material on "The Muppet Show" appealed to the adults in the audience just as much as it did the kids. In fact, there was a level of humor that ran throughout "The Muppet Show" that was aimed squarely at the adults in the audience. I would even say the same was true of "Sesame Street."

I believe classic Muppet sketches such as "Mahna Mahna" and Marvin Suggs' rendition of "Lady of Spain" would have been right at home with the Samurai, the Bees, and the Coneheads. These pieces are funny, no matter how old you are. But, truth be told, I'm glad the Muppets ended up having the chance to create their own comedy TV classic.

Star Wars Fan of the Day: Aayla Secura

DSC01499 - Aayla Secura
Originally uploaded by Anime Nut
One of my favorite aspects of the Star Wars prequels was getting to see a bunch of different Jedi in action. I thought they came up with a bunch of great looks for the characters. Aayla Secura was probably my favorite. Apparently I'm not the only one.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Star Wars Fan of the Day

Earwax Dude
Originally uploaded by Tarik Trad
It's Lando's buddy Lobot! And dig that simple, yet stylish, Cloud City "Staff Only" signage.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Star Wars Fan of the Day

I've gotten a real kick out of browsing through photos on flickr from the recent Star Wars Celebration. I love the expression on this Yoda! He doesn't even realize he could take this Jawa with one blink.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Smoking, The Muppet Movie and Truth in Advertising

Friday night I was watching TV and ended up landing on MTV of all places. I can't say there is much that appeals to me on MTV these days, but they were showing "Shaun of the Dead," and I just can't resist that scene where the two guys are debating which Prince albums they are going to hurl at the heads of the approaching zombies (goodbye "Batman" soundtrack). During a commercial break, an anti-smoking ad came on.

I tried to embed the ad but when I copied the code I got a weird karate video you'll have to go to the website for whuda*xup to check it out. Click on videos and then look for the video called "Puppet TV."

The ad makes claims about tobacco companies marketing to kids and uses as an example that some unnamed company paid to place their products in "The Muppet Movie." Being a puppeteer and a huge Muppet fan, the ad caught my attention. First I had to stop and think where there was smoking in "The Muppet Movie." Perhaps in the El Sleazo Cafe scene, maybe the frog hunter character, and I think Orson Welles smokes a cigar in his cameo at the end. That's all I could come up with (I didn't actually check my copy of the movie yet). Of course, the Muppets don't do any smoking.

I don't like smoking. I think it's disgusting. I'm all for trying to discourage people from smoking, but this ad is just plain misleading. These folks are really going out of their way to try and make their point...I mean "The Muppet Movie" came out in 1979! 28 years ago! Are they actually suggesting that a generation of cigar smokers was birthed because they saw Orson Welles sucking on a stogie while he chats with Kermit?!? It's becoming the view that the mere sight of a cigarette encourages people to smoke. I guess I must have incredible will power because God only knows how many times I've watched "The Muppet Movie."

And by the way, WhudaHXup with calling the website for this organization Whuda*xup? That's just plain vulgar and unnecessary.