Four Movie Special!

Toshiro Mifune in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Illustration: Andy Orin

One of the best habits I developed during the pandemic was what I call “four movie special.” Time for four movie special! I say, in my head, every Friday night.

Four movie special IS the weekend. Four movie special is an attainable goal. Four movie special is what separates the weekend from the same-but-drearier weekdays.

Can you guess what four movie special is? Have you unraveled the mystery?

Four movie special is this: watching four movies every weekend. This is how you do it: you watch four movies over the weekend.

It started as a game to see how many movies I could watch every weekend, trying to get the high score. But four became the standard goal — an exceptional amount of movie-watching in normal times but a normal amount in exceptional times.

Obviously — and this should be excruciatingly obvious — I’m speaking from a place of privilege in which my primary concern during the strictest lockdown of the pandemic was simply to stay put, indoors. I work on the internet, I’ve no kids, and all I had to do was not go outside. That involved the challenge of killing time. Whittling time down like a hunk of spare wood into a spoon, sliver by sliver. Time spoon!

You know takes a lot of time? Movies! You know what I love? Movies! Take your timespoon and have a dollop of film!

Weekdays just aren’t conducive to movie-watching, in my experience, because my attention span during the week is generally shot from the workday. I can’t stare at something for a solid two hours without checking the news to see if the planet exploded, and that kind of ruins the movie for me. So I only watch movies on the weekend. Four of them!

Quattro film speciali! Fantastico!

I count Friday night as the weekend. A movie on Friday, a movie on Saturday afternoon, a movie on Saturday night, and then a movie on Sunday.

Feels like something has been accomplished when you accomplish the four movie special.

Sometimes only one on Saturday, sometimes two on Sunday; four movie special is a goal, not a mandate. Now that the pandemic in New York is less awful than it was (though the viral trends are not moving in a good direction) I do in fact leave my apartment on the weekends to look at trees and buildings various things you can see outside — which can inhibit the four movie special. But any number of movies is good. Occasionally I achieve five movie special. Cinco peliculas, mis amigos!

All manner of movies are fair game, but I just happened to subscribe to Criterion Channel in February this year just before the virus really took over the world. It’s such a reprieve from contemporaneous reality and I highly recommend it. I watch plenty of new stuff too, on Netflix and HBO (Maximum) and Amazon and Hulu, but usually at least two of my weekly four movie special selections are on Criterion. Even if you aren’t versed in ‘classic’ films you can just check out what’s recommended and curated and spend a couple of hours in 1970s France or wherever. I’ve been going through all the Akira Kurosawa movies I never heard of. In October there was a glut of 70s horror movies. (Movies come and go like any streaming service, so it might not have a specific title if you’re looking for something famous.) So many movies!

Feels great when you can spend time watching them. Four of them! Even three is a lot of movies. That’s my whole life hack here: watch some movies. Movies!

I have watched a lot of movies.

WALL-E and Me

Let’s talk about WALL-E for a minute. The widely-praised Pixar film was released in 2008, and stars a little trash-compacting robot who is seemingly the last “living” thing on earth. The bot toils away at his job, collecting trash into towers of cubes in some futile effort to clean the planet for future generations, though humans are nowhere to be found. And then he meets the girl.

That’s it, really, a little robot love story, and then other things happen. A lot people focused on the environmental allegory and its comment on consumerism, and that’s all there, but really it’s a small, sweet romance story more than anything. If anyone is the target audience of a Pixar robot romance adventure, it’s me. It me.

I’m sort of a quiet, stubborn, perhaps nebbish loner by nature, and I’m also preoccupied with being industrious. So it’s little surprise that WALL-E, all alone on his planet (plus a friendly roach) and continuing his dutiful work was so appealing. I practically am WALL-E! Cube with tank treads is my beach bod.

Aside from the character traits, it’s also such a wonderful design:

It actually makes sense as an autonomous trash-compactor, with its thick industrial metal painted yellow like a tractor, worn and faded at the edges from heavy labor. (Of course the hard-angled, brute force aspect of WALL-E acts a visual contrast to Eve’s more sophisticated and mysterious curved form–a blunt portrayal of masculinity and femininity.) And what makes it really work–what makes us care–are the large, expressive eyes.

If I recall correctly, Stanton said it was a stroke of luck when he was watching one of this children play with binoculars at a baseball game. He noticed how expressive the center-pivot folding motion of binoculars can be. The first teaser (which was very inventive itself!) had me at hello. I mean, at “WaaaAAALL-E”. It’s just so charming, instantly.

After the movie was released I wrote on my blogspot (lol) that it should be nominated for best picture. Not best animated picture, just plain ol’ best picture. It knocked the wind out of me at the time.

But I needed something more than simply rewatching it. I needed a WALL-E to call my own. Luckily, Disney was quick to enterprise upon a movie that’s critical of consumption and there were a range of wonderful toys available when the film was released. At first I just indulged in a small 2-inch figure, but I soon returned to the toy store for something more substantial: a talking, animated toy.

That particular WALL-E toy had rudimentary voice-activation; you could yell “HEY WALL-E!” and the little bot would frantically look around and wave his arms. There were even higher end models that could roam around on working treads, but I was sensible enough to obtain a more humble option. However! Seven years after the film’s release, there’s a new WALL-E on the block.

More like… made of blocks.

Angus MacLane is a LEGO aficionado who happens to also have been the directing animator on the movie. He tinkered with designing the robot in LEGO before the actual computer models were even finalized, and now almost a decade later, the LEGO kit has been made available through LEGO Ideas. Of course I bought one.

It’s remarkably faithful to the actual design for something made entirely of LEGO bricks, complete with articulated arms and eyes, working plastic tank treads, and WALL-E’s front opening door. It’s a delight.

I’ve never been a huge collector of LEGO, but I like the appeal of an adorable blocky thing constructed from an adorable blocky medium. There’s a refined, tactile quality that is more satisfying than a mass-produced plastic toy that’s soft around the edges. And assembling it was relaxing for its own reasons.

Maybe when I’m a little older and crazier I’ll aim to recreate a “life-size” WALL-E like some industrious hobbyists have been making for years. Disney has one too–but they’re a little afraid of running over children’s toes with it, apparently. Until then, I’ll continue to populate my desk with toy robot knickknacks and occasionally use WALL-E as an online avatar. Because I am literally a small garbage tank with roaches for friends!

Cross post from Kinja. Images by Disney Pixar and The Art of WALL-E.


A loving tribute to Fitzcarraldo in cardboard. But wait! There’s more.

A an additional tribute to Les Blank’s documentary, Burden of Dreams, which is essential to the Fitzcarraldo story:

via Laughing Squid.

Of course, I am also planning a Fitzcarraldo tribute in the form of a ship in a bottle, midway up the hill. I’m fairly happy with my ship that I designed in Autodesk 123D Design, but I haven’t considered the disassembly/reassembly aspect of getting in the bottle once printed.

I’m considering making a tiny version in a Bulleit bourbon bottle, which has quite a nice shape (and taste, if you’re into that). Bulleit Fitzcarraldo would just be the miniscule Micro Machine version though, with the ship being maybe 2in long and less than 1in tall.

Tales of the Gold Monkey

Tales of the Gold Monkey is a pulp television series with the sensibility of a Saturday morning cartoon, following a cargo pilot’s adventures set in the 1930s South Pacific. If this sounds like the Disney show TaleSpin, that’s because Gold Monkey was a major influence upon the creator of TaleSpin, Jymn Magon.

There are Nazis! Volcanos! Spies! Samurais! A dog with an eye patch! It must have been an expensive show to produce, and indeed it’s quite striking how much show there is. There are real vintage airplanes, aerial dogfights, large sets, and much of the series appears to be shot in Hawaii. In terms of production scale, this is the Game of Thrones of 1982. The series is the brainchild of Magnum PI creator Donald P. Bellisario.vlcsnap-2013-05-10-20h30m58s209

Many television shows that lasted one season or less have come and gone, but the most similar show that comes to mind is The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Young Indy was undoubtedly better produced, directed, and written, but also ten years later. Contemporaneous to Gold Monkey was Bring ‘Em Back Alive, another WWII-era adventure series set in Singapore. Both were criticized as Raiders of the Lost Ark knockoffs, but it would be more accurate to say that the popularity of Raiders is what allowed Gold Monkey and Bring ‘Em Back Alive to be greenlit during that television season. Bellisario was apparently working on the idea before Raiders was released.

It’s great to see distributors like Netflix giving a second life to the many brief but wonderful television series that have hooked our sense of romance and adventure over the years. If you can still maintain your childlike sense of wonder, you’ll probably enjoy Tales of the Gold Monkey. It’s only available by disc over Netflix, or you can just buy whole the 21-episode run on Amazon for thirty bucks.

Studio Ghibli’s “Giant God Warrior Appears in Tokyo”

Well gee whiz. Apparently Evangelion-creator Hideaki Anno commissioned Studio Ghibli to make this live-action short, based upon creatures from Nausicaa. There are some conflicting reports concerning the exact details, and it doesn’t help that there aren’t any subtitles yet. Hopefully a kind soul will post translated Youtube captions soon before I have to bust out my old Japanese textbooks. Watashi no namae wa Andy desu.

shutterbug: A Short Experimental Film

A few years ago in film school, I had an assignment to make a movie using an old 16mm wind-up Bolex camera. I didn’t feel like making a normal narrative; instead, I lugged that clunky camera and a tripod around San Francisco and shot some timelapse footage. Mind you, I didn’t have any sort of automatic timer to control the old camera, so I literally stood in place while manually progressing the film, frame by frame. Most shots are about 15-20 minutes compressed into 15-20 seconds.

With one roll of film left, I needed to create a unifying theme for all the timelapse footage, so I asked a girl to walk around pretending to take pictures. She’s using a magic camera, I guess; I wasn’t too concerned with the story. She was an actress that I had directed before in a more traditional film project.

All of the film was pretty glitchy so of course I used glitchy music. Unfortunately the footage is literally just a mini-dv camera recording a projection of the film because professional telecine scans can be quite expensive. A lot of work for a small pay-off — my silent peers in the class were indifferent — but I like it.

Fitzcarraldo in a Bottle


I had a great idea. I’m going to create a model of the ship from Werner Herzog’s film, Fitzcarraldo, in a bottle filled with dirt.

Ships in bottles are such fascinating objects and I was really charmed by this exquisite recreation of a scene from Jaws in a bottle. Myself, I’ve never made a real ship in a bottle before, aside from this little toy. So I started by searching for a reasonable hobby kit facsimile of Fitz’s ship, but the closest I could find were paddle wheel steamboats. They might be adequate, with some modifications, but it would be more fun to have a one-of-a-kind model. So I’m thinking of creating a 3D model and ordering a plastic print from Shapeways. I could even have it printed in separate parts or bifurcate the hull or do whatever I have to do to get it inside the bottle for assembly. I’m considering one of those bulbous wine jugs so that I can make a steep dirt hill inside.

fitz doodle

Afternoon Update: I made a rough 3D model. It has to be pretty chunky if I order a small 3D print, because the miniscule details like the handrails would be too fragile for the manufacturing process, so I might just add the tiny bits to the physical model with toothpicks or something like that. But I haven’t considered the disassemble-reassemble-in-a-bottle factor. Even if I cut the hull into 2 or 3 main segments, the model will only be 3 or 4 inches long. So anyway, what did you do today?