Wednesday, April 20, 2011

YouTube Scavenger Hunt, Volume 1

Well, this is a simple social experiment: taking on the contention that you can find anything on YouTube. That's certainly an exaggeration, but among the millions of videos on the website you're sure to find most of the things you're looking for. So I decided to launch this feature as a semi-regular look at the bizarre world of online multimedia, thinking up 10 random phrases or images, seeing if it's available in video form, and checking to see how many views and comments it has (reflected by whenever I got around to viewing the thing, given that it takes awhile to draft these entries). Some are fairly common, some are a little bizarre. Let's see what we can get.

A computer mouse used as a lasso

Incredibly enough, there actually is a video matching these terms. In this 30-second clip uploaded on Jan. 10 2010, animator and "unemployed/starving artist" someynguy depicts a battle between a cordless mouse and a mouse with a cord. The cord mouse's first trick is to use the cord like a lasso, and it later employs it like a whip.

Views: 148
Comments: 0

A hit for the phrase "dumbass kid" and the word "snake"

Apparently even dumbass kids know not to mess with snakes. The one video listed as a match for no apparent reason is this one, of a kid doing a front flip off a swing set into deep snow. It was uploaded by MrPATRIOT64 on Feb. 6 2010.

There's no mention of the word "snake" in the description of tags, so it's unclear how snakes are involved in this. Maybe the town name, who knows.

Views: 762
Comments: 2

A crab fishing clip that isn't from The Deadliest Catch

The hit Discovery Channel show The Deadliest Catch, following a handful of vessels on their hazardous journeys into the Bering Sea to hunt crab, has plenty of clips and candid shots of Sig Hansen, Phil Harris, and the rest of the affable guys that man these boats. The show also frequently uses home videos, though, and crab fishing has obviously been going on long before the show started airing. There are loads of amateur videos to reflect that.

In this three-minute video, described only as red king crab fishing on the Bering Sea, a deckhand takes a break to film the process of reeling in and sorting a pot. It all seems very quiet after what is aired on the show. It was posted on Dec. 5 2006 by dpcatala.

Views: 119,099
Comments: 63

A video showing someone's tongue being detached from a frozen flagpole

Well, it doesn't quite show the process, but apparently it's not something that happens too often after the cautionary tale of A Christmas Story. In this short Associated Press clip, a girl looks quite chipper despite the fact that her tongue seems to be bleeding, and some firefighters mill about as a reporter discusses how she got her tongue there in the first place and how rescuers got her detached.

Views: 107,351
Comments: 306

Someone scuba diving in a cave in the Caribbean

I thought of this one since a local theater had a talk by a diver who had been exploring underwater caves in the Caribbean. National Geographic was involved in this talk and several associated lecturers, so of course a search readily brings up a clip from a National Geographic show, Wild Chronicles. It looks at an exploration of an underwater cave in Cuba. The video was posted by oceancontent, an official channel with a ton of ocean videos, on September 10, 2008.

Views: 15,228
Comments: 0

A Frisbee hitting a camera

This short video was uploaded by kljacobson, an Oregon resident who has posted several videos of her dog, on July 10, 2010.

Views: 89
Comments: 2

A humpback whale breaching

Sorry for those of you who absolutely hate Coldplay, but hopefully you can stomach a 30-second clip of one of their songs for this rather amazing video from near Husavik, Iceland. As someone who went on a whale watch in elementary school and saw little more than a couple of blowholes spouting off, I imagine this was well worth the ticket price for passengers.

This was uploaded on Nov. 1 2008 by fdjunk, a Dutch guy whose videos include a BASE jump into a Norwegian fjord, a laughing baby, and a rather popular one of a marathon runner who has become completely exhausted in the final 200 meters of a marathon as dozens of people cruise past him.

Views: 16,870
Comments: 12

Elmo and some celebrity

Famous actors love them some Sesame Street, so I figured this one wouldn't be too hard. This video is actually geared more to celebrities in general, as Ricky Gervais sings Elmo a "celebrity lullaby." Elmo certainly doesn't seem overly bothered that Gervais is in his house for no apparent reason and that the letter N is watching him when he sleeps.

This video was uploaded by the official Sesame Street channel on YouTube on December 18, 2009.

Views: 2,252,616
Comments: 1,381

Some average Joe on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, is apparently the easiest continental high peak to summit since it's a more gradual climb. Here's a short video from a couple of guys who did the hike to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation and Wounded Warrior Project.

This was put up by Joshua Goldstein (JoshuaGoldstein23) on July 24, 2008. In addition to an outtake video from the summit, he's uploaded his best man speech, a couple of concert videos, and a short video of the 2010 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Views: 1,382
Comments: 5

A chess set on fire

Well, right now no one has uploaded a video where they've set a chessboard on fire. However, there is this:

This is taken from Marostica, Italy, a city known for a human chess game that has taken place every other years since 1923. This is apparently how they start the festivities.

Views: 509
Comments: 0

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Double Feature Review: 127 Hours and Unstoppable

127 Hours

Synopsis: A dramatization of a 2003 incident in which hiker Aron Ralston becomes trapped under a boulder in a Utah canyon and desperately tries to figure out how to escape.

The bad news first: Thankfully, director Danny Boyle realized that the alternate ending available on the DVD was about 20 minutes too long. So the main complaints I would have had were with the conclusion that wasn't used.

Though I didn't mind it, some viewers might not like the semi-frequent cuts to flashbacks from Ralston's life. It might seem like there's only so much you can do with a story about being trapped in one place, but there's quite a bit that does take place there and it's certainly the meatiest part of the story. The flashbacks mostly serve to put Ralston's character in a little more context, especially as he reflects on his life from the dire situation. At times they can be a little too distracting, but most of the time they work.

The good stuff: For all the brief flashbacks and Ralston's brief encounters with a couple of hikers early in the film, this is essentially a one-man show featuring James Franco. It's a huge burden to carry, and he does a tremendous job. From Ralston's fun-loving if reckless demeanor early in the film to his mood shifts and delirium throughout his entrapment, you believe every moment of it and truly sympathize with the character.

I've also become a big fan of Danny Boyle, given that I really liked 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire. He really pinpoints the sense of claustrophobia and panic, but also the resolve and ultimate triumph of human determination. Come to think of it, that's mostly how the three aforementioned films ultimately work as well: unease, fear, and claustrophobia (in 28 Days Later, managing to turn the entire English isle into a boxed-in environment) with audacity winning out in the end. It might be a bit of a niche style, then, but it's obviously very flexible and he does it very well.

Carrying on that theme, 127 Hours is the first movie in awhile that has honestly creeped me out. Portraying an event that actually happened is much scarier than anything a horror movie can hope to achieve. The scene immediately following Ralston's entrapment, in which he screams for help at the top of his lungs, is accompanied by a slow zoom-out of the canyon, with the screams diminishing to a whisper by the time the shot is at the surface and to silence when it shows the landscape as a whole. That, along with the graphic portrayals of Ralston's efforts to free himself, are enough to send chills down your spine.

Verdict: You won't be disappointed.


Synopsis: Also based on a true story (albeit more loosely), a veteran engineer and rookie conductor race to stop a runaway train loaded with hazardous materials.

The bad news first: The movie's director, Tony Scott, has way too much love for the swivel cam. The shots of railroad destruction and antics on moving vehicles generally avoid this, but Scott apparently thinks that when these aren't taking place the camera needs to be orbiting a locomotive, person's face, etc. It's enough to make you dizzy.

Most of the later shots of the runaway train are accompanied by at least one helicopter, usually a colorful news chopper bobbing and weaving seemingly three feet off the ground. On the one hand, this means the action scenes get some pretty unique shots. On the other hand, the helicopters more often than not are competing for the viewer's attention.

Finally, it suffers from ending about five minutes too late. Everyone literally stands around grinning and there's an Animal House-esque "where are they now" conclusion that's too goofy to really fit.

The good stuff: The movie takes a rather simple plot and makes it work. When I first heard of this movie, I thought of Atomic Train, a TV movie that came out some time ago. I caught a few trailers and the the second half or so during some lazy movie night, and it seemed to have a similar story. The key difference is that Atomic Train languishes about in a meandering story based more on the special effects of Denver getting nuked than anything: train wrecks, the Russian bomb it's carrying for some reason goes off, and the characters dick about in the ruins for the rest of the movie. Unstoppable, meanwhile, just keeps with the runaway train aspect, and it turns out you can actually spin a pretty good yarn out of that.

Though it takes awhile for our heroes to start chasing down the speeding locomotive and its deadly cargo, we're kept entertained by some pretty good characters, namely the two numbnuts who let the train get away in the first place, a no-nonsense communications center chief, and a welder who takes an especially active role in the chase. The pursuit of the train lasts a good long time and every minute is worth it, thanks in part to the heightened realism due to a minimal use of CGI. The actual runaway was much less dramatic, but the artistic license is reasonable enough.

And finally, two last points: first, I enjoyed the newscasts folded into the narrative. Second, one nice part of the characterization was the fact that it didn't follow the cliche of the two main characters hating each others' guts and warming up due to the crisis. Rather, it feels like a genuine relationship between a more seasoned worker and a rookie, alternating between the bonding that comes with a humdrum journey and the aggravating nuisances that also occur along the way.

Verdict: Maybe not the most cerebral of thrillers, but a fun ride anyway.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Break Out The Sad Tissues: The Dragon In My Dreams

I don't link too many sites off this blog, and there are various reasons for that. First and foremost is the fact that I like to write blog posts but generally have to construct them in bits and pieces during periods of free time, and they're sporadic enough as it is that I don't spend too much time working with the layout. There's also the fact that I don't have a huge array of websites that I follow, and I find that the ones I do generally give me a laugh after a day of work. One of the ones that updates more infrequently but is well worth it when it does is Cinemassacre Productions, home of the Angry Video Game Nerd.

"It fucking sucks, it sucking fucks, it fucking blows, it's a piece of shit...and I don't like it."

Rolfe first launched the Angry Video Game Nerd in 2004. It's a character rather than his true personality, since he's rather polite and soft-spoken in interviews while the Nerd is constantly sarcastic, enraged, profane, and psychotic. Using what seems like every video game system in the world and the crummiest of their associated games and devices, Rolfe then proceeds to rip into the flaws of each one, usually with a good deal of obscenity and over-the-top antics (up to and including the destruction of the most flagrant games).The videos vary in length, usually 10 to 20 minutes. Between scripting, editing, special effects, and other components, it seems like Rolfe usually manages to get one episode of the Angry Video Game Nerd out a month, although he also does a lot of videos on other pop culture from the 80s and 90s. Like any good nerd, he shows particular affection for Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones, and horror flicks.

One might be forgiven for watching Rolfe's Angry Video Game Nerd installments and assuming he's a "failure to launch" despite being an Internet celebrity. After all, his videos are mostly shot from a futon in a basement festooned with Nintendo Power magazines and a plentiful supply of Rolling Rock. This doesn't seem to be the case, though. Rolfe is mostly a private person, but has done some professional video work for Spike TV as well as a small videography company in Philadelphia. Somewhere along the way, he even got married.

Rolfe has shared several of his earlier projects, and one or two videos about his evolution as a filmmaker. Still, it was a bit of a surprise when Rolfe released a video looking into how and why he got into the craft:

The summary of this video, for those of you who didn't care to watch the entire thing: Rolfe drives along in search of his "fountain of youth," commenting how he's about to turn 30 and has made over 300 movies. Recalling how he's been wielding a camera since he was a child, he wonders where his creative drive comes from. He traces it to a recurring nightmare where he is attacked by a dragon. Rolfe visits his mother, who remembers how a concrete dragon feature was part of a park near the hospital where he was born and Rolfe thought it was awesome. Sometimes we're just drawn to the things that terrify us, he muses as he gives a brief biography of how he got into making movies, spent time in college, and held a variety of the jobs in the video field.

"I owe it all to the dragon, and now it's time for a reunion," Rolfe says as he pulls up to his old playground. He is overcome with emotion as he arrives at the dragon, aged and flaking paint but still standing. The park is under renovation and by a stroke of luck he's visiting on the last day the dragon will be as he remembers it in his childhood. "It's time to say goodbye to the past, time to move forward and create those movies in my dreams," he says. "Because dreams are where it all started." Rolfe looks back sadly as a construction worker resumes jackhammering around the dragon, then composes himself and drives away. The film concludes with the park (dragon still visible) fading into the distance, a short montage of photos from Rolfe's childhood, and a thank you to his parents.

Some of the movie has a bit of a staged feel to it, such as when Rolfe first reacts to the dragon. In fact, as this "outtakes" video reveals, Rolfe did indeed stage part of the video. He admits that the actual first encounter with the dragon in a couple of decades was different than what appears in the video, but also notes how you can see that his feelings are the same as what he portrays. He thanks the workers for letting him film the scene, wistfully commenting on the sentimentalism of others.

Still, there's something about the video that's very touching. To a certain degree, Rolfe is living a warped version of his childhood. He's usually in front of an NES or similarly antiquated system and surrounded by materials left over from when he was younger. He's still cranking out the Angry Video Game Nerd videos, so he hasn't entirely given up on it. But his final reflection is essentially Rolfe saying farewell to his past, which the dragon represents as something you can never revisit in exactly the same way. It's easy to get sentimental about the places from our childhood, especially as we get older and those places change.

I'm only a few years shy of Rolfe's age, and there are a lot of things from my childhood that I've lost, ranging from the original building my elementary school occupied to my uncle. It's a reflection on life: it's always a little bittersweet, as we are saddened by the things we lost and hopeful for what lies ahead. It's optimistic, but it can still bring a tear to your eye, though.