Movies about the after life with a Mormon tie-in

1. Defending Your Life (1991)- Written, directed, and starring Albert Brooks, this is a kind of funny take on the afterlife. Brooks plays Daniel Miller, a fairly successful, but average sort of guy who spends his birthday taking a drive by himself. During that drive, his car is hit by a bus and he is sent into the next world.

In the next world, the dead take a tram to a hotel where they can rest after the ordeal of dying, having the best sleep of their life. The experience is not unlike being a tourist, but this time it's in Judgment City. In the morning, the dead meet their defenders (kind of like lawyers) that try to get the dead to move on by proving they have overcome fears, otherwise the dead return to earth for another go around. Moving on also means learning to use more of their brain since the earth-bound human uses only about 3%, while those who've moved on, like the lawyers who use around 50%. Then comes the judgment: the dead are on trial for several days where their defenders spar with a prosecutor in front of two judges to decide if they are to move on. (Although they are assured that this isn't like court.)

Albert is full of fears, and each moment of his life (shown by film) that the lawyers analyze essentially show what a coward he is. This greatly contrasts the confident and fearless Julia, played by Meryl Streep. Julia and Albert meet the evening of their first full day in Judgment City and quickly hit it off. A kind of romantic-comedy ensues wherein they spend the next few days spending their extra time together. Julia is guaranteed to go to the next life (she gets to stay in a fancier hotel), but Albert is full of doubts--will they make it to the next world together?

As crazy as the premise is, the fun dialogue and the combination of a witty Albert Brooks and a radiant Meryl Streep are enough to keep it on track and amusing. Having the point of life being about overcoming fears also makes it a descent message movie; it goes down easy with all the humorous dialogue.

Plus, since I watched it with other Mormons, many doctrinal connections were made: proving yourself through life experiences, progressing to the next world, becoming infinitely smarter. The idea that life has a purpose is appealing, in that it give a reason to do the things you do. In Defending Your Life, it's overcoming fear. In Mormonism, it's becoming more like Christ, and that usually translates to being "righteous" and following the commandments. In both cases, this leads to becoming more than you already are and becoming more god-like.

2. After Life (1998)- After Life is a lovely Japanese film that unfolds slowly. It starts on a Monday where the newly dead are introduced to their situation by workers in a well-worn facility with several small rooms with tables separating the dead and the workers. Much of the film is shot in these rooms as the dead recollect their lives. Their one task before they move on from this place is to choose one memory they'd like to carry with them to the next life; they will forget everything else. At the end of the week, the workers will assist in filming this memory for the dead to show on their last day in the facility, after which they'll move on.

Much of the film shows the dead telling their best memories: going to Disneyland, the night with their best customer as a prostitute, flying through clouds in a military plane. Some of the memories change, some can't think of a memory, and others simply refuse to choose. My favorite character chose a memory with her brother. She had just finished a dance recital, and her brother and friends told her they'd give her food if she'd dance for them. The telling by her, and later her helping a little girl on set film her story is sweet and lovely.

The most interesting characters are the workers at the facility. We slowly learn that they are also dead and why they are there. The climax of film comes after we learn why certain workers are still at the facility. It's interesting to note that these dead can feel and make relationships with each other and the newly dead, but it doesn't really add on to their actual life experiences.

This reveals the big difference between this afterlife and the Mormon after life: they keep one happy memory forever, without experiencing more. Mormons believe that people keep living life after death. Relationships are intact and strenghtened, and new experiences are created. Having life be over would be a relief, but having relationships and experiences continue would give you the chance to make yourself better and improve on the last life. Mormon doctrine is deeply rooted in hard-working protestantism and hopeful Americanism: you can always do better and improve if you work hard. The more you can do the better. Although, After Life's afterlife has more appeal: there is not heaven or hell, just eternity with your happiest memory, and that would be great, since you can't know there's more happiness if you've never experienced it. This would be your happiest forever.


Movies about Dancers

So I'm taking a beginning Latin Ballroom class this semester. So far I've learned a rumba routine, but have yet to learn correct hip action. Anyway, Latin is the most interesting ballroom for me to watch (oh, the passion), and movies are a big reason why I find it so attractive. So here are some movies that have inspired my love of (at least watching) ballroom dance.

1. Dance With Me--Probably the only Vanessa Williams movie I've ever enjoyed watching. She plays a struggling competitive ballroom dancer. Some adorable guy named Rafael (played by Chayanne) comes to the United States from Cuba to find his father. His father happens to own a dance studio where Vanessa Williams teaches. They meet, Rafael's fascinated, they go to a club, she's embarrassed, blah, blah, blah, adorable interaction with Vanessa's child, Rafael teaches her how to feel the music, Vanessa gets back together with old partner, daddy issues, dance competition, reconciliation. The point is, Rafael is adorable and smiley and really hot. I would like to dance with him.

I tried to find a good clip to exemplify this film, but the trailer does the best job at displaying the formulaic fantasticness that is Dance With Me:

2. Strictly Ballroom--Australia in 1992 combined with the kitsch of the ballroom world with a heavy sprinkling of Baz Luhrmann craziness = a fun and extremely theatrical movie. With accents. Paul Mercurio plays Scott Hastings, the son of ballroom champions who never got the title. Let's just say he has nice body and at one point angry dances in a wifebeater*. Fran is a frumpy girl taking beginning courses at the dance studio that Scott's controlling mother owns. Scott wants to do his own moves, but scandal ensues in the dance world and with his family. Eventually, Fran and Scott become partners. A makeover and several dance montages later (involving Fran's very Spanish family), they've started falling in love, but will the championship get in the way?

This scene is just deliciously romantic. Fran and Scott are dancing behind the scenes of a dance competition, only to be discovered by everyone:

3. Mad Hot Ballroom--This is a sweet documentary about elementary school kids learning ballroom dance. It follows a few different public schools preparing for a city-wide competition. This takes place in New York, which is, yes I will say this, a goldmine of comedy in teaching children ballroom. The location also means one of the kids, with a great New Yorker accent, actually said "mad hot ballroom". I find that fun. And you end up really rooting for the kids, even when they're punks.

This scene is the beginning of the competition and the first event: merengue. It doesn't have any of the kids saying crazy things, but I love a dance competition of any kind.

4. Shall We Dansu?--This film follows Mr. Sugiyama as he decides to take a ballroom class because he sees a woman forlornly looking out the window from the train. He keeps his lessons a secret since, as introduced in the beginning of the film, Japanese society rarely displays affection let alone embraces in dance with a stranger. But as Sugiyama gets more involved in dance, his wife gets concerned about his time away from home and hires a private investigator to look after him. Friendship with the office weirdy who also dances ensues. More than anything, this movie displays the innocence, honesty, and vulnerability that comes out when dancing. The supporting cast is a fun group of misfits and gives the film most of the comedic relief. This movie is simple and absolutely lovely.

This was one of the few clips on YouTube, but it's one of the funniest scenes. Mr. Sugiyama discovers the office weirdy doing an insane rumba at the dance studio:

Ridiculous mentions: Below are two movies that I saw when I was about 14. In my vague memory, I recall they are ridiculous. And that I loved them.

Mad About Mambo--It's about an Irish footballer who's convinced he needs to learn the Latin dance to play like his favorite player from some country in South American (Brazil, maybe?) and he wants to learn how to use fancy footwork**. Mostly, I just remember the guy was cute and Kerri Russel was sweet and there were Irish accents.

The Way She Moves--This is was a 2001 VH1 original movie. Starring Agent Reyes, um Annabeth Gish, and some Hispanic guy who's on soap operas. There's a dance studio involved, Agent Reyes takes lessons and gets tangled up with Soap Opera guy, they fall in love, family tension, she's really white, they probably end up married. Made for TV.

*Check it out at about minute 7.
**I will attest to the fact that I got owned playing a pick-up soccer game or two against a group of Hispanic guys because their footwork was so insane.


The Greatest Podcast of Our Generation: Word of Mouth

I work at the BYU Writing Center. This summer, we worked on a podcast and it's finally online. The first show is about fiction writers on BYU campus and it's really entertaining--kind of This American Life-like.

You should check it out: Word of Mouth.

When you love it, join the facebook group.

Medley of the Day: I really like classic rock Edition

I keep thinking I should write some posts about...something interesting and/or significant, but I'm sleepy and have really bad cramps and sucked at my speech anatomy test today. So here's some pretty awesome songs instead.

"Crystal Ball" by Styx. Great chorus and, as always, great synthesizer. Also, the lyrics are magical: "Tell me, tell me, won't you tell me? Then tell me again."

"Hitch a Ride" by Boston. It's now on Rock Band, which is a great choice. And as lame as playing a fake guitar keyboard-style is, it's a pretty fun game. Also, how can you not feel better listening to 70s rock? Seriously.

"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen. Ultimate feel-good song. Maybe tomorrow won't suck!


Palin vs. The Women

This is why I love Pajiba so much:
Dustin Rowles's review of The Women

Goal: Become a legit Led Zeppelin Fan: Led Zeppelin IV/Zoso/Four Symbols/The Fourth Album

In case you missed it, here's my take on Led Zeppelin I, Led Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III.

Today's album in review is the unofficially named Led Zeppelin IV.

1. "Black Dog"--One of the most recognizable Led Zeppelin songs. It uses an almost call-and-response pattern between Robert Plant's vocals and Jimmy Page's guitar riffs which gives it a very raw and emotional feel. Mostly, the guitar riffs and percussion use an insane off-beat rhythm that's just...gorgeous.

2. "Rock and Roll"--A hardcore rockabilly song. Not a favorite of mine, but a solid Zeppelin song.

3. "The Battle of Evermore"--This one is acoustically pretty and features the vocals of folk singer* Sandy Denny. Plant is the main vocalist with Denny as the "town crier". Apparently this is based on Scottish lore, but seriously, Lord of the Rings, anyone? Ring wraiths are mentioned.

4. "Stairway to Heaven"--The quintessential rock song. The length, variety of instruments, and quickening tempo all make it an epic. I'll be honest though, it takes about 4 minutes (halfway through) to really warm up for me with the addition of drums. Then at about 5:30, it gets into the section that's most enjoyable for me: Page's guitar solo, harder percussion, a new melody, and roaring Plant vocals make it the most exciting part of the song.

5. "Misty Mountain Hop"--Pretty sure it's about smoking pot in a park. Pretty cool harmony combining vocals, guitar, and electric piano. Very cool riff throughout.

6."Four Sticks"--A raw, aboriginal sound. The drums are hard and continuous (played with 4 sticks by John Bonham), the guitar riff keeps you on edge, and the rhythm is complex and erratic, kind of like a harder "Misty Mountain Hop". Also, Plant's vocals sound like they're distorted to a higher pitch in this song, which adds to the sense of crazy.

7. "Going to California"--This is one of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs. It's soft and acoustic, featuring several plucked string instruments (courtesy of Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones). The bridge has more passionate and forced vocals from Robert Plant, which is really the only edge in this song. I describe a lot of songs this way, but this is definitely a driving around with the windows down kind of song.

8. "When the Levee Breaks"--Based on a 1929 song of the same name, this is a soulful and powerful blues song. The guitar riff and drums keep it rock and roll, as does a key change into a major key signature a few times throughout. For how instrumental the song is, it's surprisingly engaging. The melody, key changes, and harmonica keep things melodic, which always hold my interest.

Overall Assessment: What a random mix of songs: hard rock, folk, rockabilly, acoustic, blues. As an overall album, it's probably a work of contrast rather than a cohesive idea, but it somehow works. Maybe not my favorite album, but consistently good, with the last two songs being some of my favorite Led Zeppelin songs.

*I love the combination of Robert Plant and folk music: check out his work with Alison Krauss.


Almost feeling guilty about snacking, but not really

"I'm not hungry, but I feel like eating." My old roommate used to say that all the time. And that's exactly how I feel right now. I freaking voracious today.

Some choice snackage from today:

Wheat Thins, which I think are justifiably pretty healthy. You've got some fiber in there and it has the word "wheat" in the title. Also, I don't eat that many of them unlike some other crackers I know.

My box does not have Rachael Ray on it, although it is family size.

Tortilla Chips and Salsa are irresistible.

I usually don't buy them because I will eat them until they're gone. I usually buy Santita's brand because it's cheap. Also I buy the white corn because it's more delicious.

In terms of salsa, Tostito's "chunky" line of salsa is delicious. And since I'm a spice-wuss, I usually get mild. It's delicious and tastes like I'm getting real vegetable nutrients.

Last, but most delicious of all: Chips Ahoy!

This cookie was one of the many reasons I loved my Grandma: a constant supply of Chips Ahoy cookies (in addition to some home baked, of course). These are almost as addictive as Famous Amos, except they're bigger so you feel like you've eaten more**.

Anyway, this is just to say, I ate a lot of each of these today. And it was delicious.

*Ritz, I could eat you by the sleeve.
**Not exactly cookie vitamins.


The Everyman Candidate: William Henry Harrison's legacy still working after all these years*

One of the most disturbing things about living in Utah is how many people love the Republican party and George Bush. One of the biggest reasons: because he's like me! Do you want someone just like you in the White House? I always assumed that someone smart with an ability to clearly convey ideas was desirable, but apparently not. Apparently I'm elitist.

Judith Warner, in her op-ed yesterday, had this to say:

One of the worst poisons of the American political climate right now, the thing that time and again in recent years has led us to disaster, is the need people feel for leaders they can “relate” to. This need isn’t limited to women; it brought us after all, two terms of George W. Bush. And it isn’t new; Americans have always needed to feel that their leaders were, on some level, people like them.

But in the past, it was possible to fill that need through empathetic connection. Few Depression-era voters could “relate” to Franklin Roosevelt’s patrician background, notes historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “It was his ability to connect to them that made them feel they could connect to him,” she told me in a phone interview.

The age of television, Goodwin believes, has made the demand for connection more immediate and intense. But never before George W. Bush did it quite reach the beer-drinking level of familiarity. “Now it’s all about being able to see your life story in the candidate, rather than the candidate, with empathy, being able to relate to you.”

How is that not completely disturbing? Is it too much to ask that the people in charge of my country are smarter than me? I hope they are, because--even if I do fancy myself pretty smart--I think I would kind of suck at governing.

Although, thinking through problems and coming up with the best solutions isn't why we should be voting for people. It's all about personality. Apparently really rural ones**:

It comes down to this: Americans want to believe in the American dream and rising to the top, but at the same time we want to feel like we're better than everyone else, whether through money, education, or just out-ignorancing everyone else. I don't understand "We're for freedom, but we'll always be better than you."

Anyway, because the West Wing applies to everything in modern politics, let's bring up the reelection from season 3. President Bartlet has always been smart, but he's running against a man who trying to relate to everyone else. This is the always-wise Toby's advice:
You don't want to lose as the smartest kid in class who's running against an everyman. But I'm telling you, be the smartest kid in your class...Make this an election about smart and stupid, about engaged and not, qualified and not.
And it looks like this is exactly the kind of election we're going to get this year. Except this time you add age and Obama looks like a precocious little kid. But I wanted the smartest kid in the class in office, and if I can't have a fictional Jeb Bartlet in office, I'll take Obama.

*Election of 1840
**Try to say out loud that without sounding like an idiot.


Happy Labor Day

In honor of graduating from college in a year and getting the day off work/school, I'd like to share some of my tender memories of high school jobs.

Job: Burgerville*
The first one I got when I was 16, the summer in between my Sophomore and Junior years of high school. I knew a couple of the people who worked there and they talked me up to get the job. Too bad I kind of sucked at it. In my 6 months there, I never got to move up the prestigious ranks from counter cashier/milkshake barista to drive-thru cashier. I was a little slow and never did manage to memorize the whole menu.

Also, half of the staff was pretty white trash and rude since they had worked there forever. Although, getting scolded by professional fast food workers for sucking takes the sting out of being an inefficient worker. I at least knew I'd get out of there someday.

Lesson learned: working fast food is kind of hard and it sucks. Also, be nice to fast food employees.

Job: Clark County Fair

I took a job at a booth at the Clark County Fair the summer I recovered from knee surgery. I wasn't able to work most of the summer since I had to gain back most of my leg muscles in rehab, so I worked a little bit over a week at a food booth at the fair. The foods I helped prepare and serve: bratwurst, hot dogs, corn dogs, french fries, and elephant ears. Basically, anything that, unless you're really really hungry, would probably make you throw up. I worked the closing shift 6pm-11pmish. I was always afraid I would get attacked by carnies or at least jumped by some of the classy folks you see at the fair.

My favorite memory is one night while driving home, my tire popped on the freeway. I had borrowed my dad's Subaru station wagon since it got better mileage than the Volvo I normally drove. Unfortunately, this meant I didn't know where the spare tire or tools were in the car**. Plus, I didn't have a cell phone. After searching the car and waiting for someone to stop for a while, I realized I was probably on my own on this one. I was probably about 5 miles from home, so I just decided to start walking. Fortunately, a woman and her daughter stopped to give me a ride. This seemed less sketchy than me walking all the way home by myself, and I took the offer and got home safely.

Lesson learned: Working late at night at a gross place is not fun. Also, cell phones are useful.

Job: Coldstone Creamery

I took this job the summer before I went to college. It wasn't bad. I usually worked closing, which
prevented me from seeing my friends, but And even though I had to listen to Fall Out Boy's "Grand Theft Autumn/Where is Your Boy Tonight" 23423 times a night thanks to my shift manager, I mostly liked who I worked with. Plus, ice cream is the least disgusting fast food there is: you smell like sugary goodness instead of ketchup when you get home.

My favorite part was making cakes: 1) it was something to do since our store wasn't very busy, and 2) I didn't have to talk to customers. It required me to cut circular layers from premade cakes combine them with ice cream/fixin' layers. I was actually quite fast at this, so I was assigned this job most of the time. Mostly, I didn't suck at this job.

Lesson learned: ice cream is delicious, but not delicious enough to get a "Gotta have it" size.

*Fast food done with local, Pacific NW goods = way expensive fast food. Although those milkshakes are delicious.
**Answer: under the hood and under the carpet in the back, respectively.