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Conversations by the water cooler at work usually tend to revolve around the previous night’s tv line-up or the latest headlines – depending on where you work.  Even at my office, those are formidable topics at any given moment.  But, one afternoon last week the topic up for discussion was memorable Family Guy one-liners which some how evolved into sound effects used in television shows and movies.  Interestingly enough, we were all on the same page before the first example was even thrown out – we all were about to reference those crazy sound effects that you think you hear in just about every single thing you’ve ever seen.  The one I’d noticed and triggered the next phase of conversation with was that female voice you hear on a police radio as the squad car pulls up to scene X.  Then someone mentioned the Star Wars scream (as he referenced) it, so out of curiosity, we turned to Google so that we could bring what we were referencing to life (and also just to confirm that we weren’t a. crazy and b. hearing things).

Turns out, that Star Wars scream is actually called the Wilhelm scream and sure enough – we weren’t crazy.  The search revealed that not only was it used multiple times; it was used so often that people have enough material to compile two and a half to four minute long montages!  Films like Sin City, Batman, Lord of the Rings, Team America, Toy Story, Kill Bill and to bring it full circle, even Family Guy has paid tribute to the Wilhelm scream.

So where did the name come from?  To find out, you need to go back to the 1950’s.  The first film, of the now 140 which use the effect, was made in 1951 and was called Distant Drums, which eventually saw a number of soldiers get attacked by an alligator slinking around in the murky everglade waters.  A total of six screams were recorded after the scene to be cut in later, under the recording title “man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.”  Ultimately, it would be the fifth of the six recorded that would be used in that part, though takes four and six, along with a repeat of five were used earlier in the same movie.

The Wilhelm’s fame came along with Ben Burtt who was the sound designer for the Star Wars films.  Burtt re-discovered the sound effect mislabelled as, “Man being eaten by alligator,” and decided it was perfect for how a Stormtrooper would sound falling off a ledge in Star Wars IV: A New Hope.  For the sake of reference, it was renamed the Wilhelm scream after Private Wilhelm, who was a character in 1953’s The Charge at Feather River.  But that still doesn’t answer who’s voice it is.

Burtt took it a step further to find out and after going through papers at Warner Brothers, was able to determine that it likely belonged to singer/actor Sheb Wooley who had an uncredited role in Distant Drums but was also called back in a small group of actors to record a series of vocal additions during post-production.

Bird's Nest Soup

Bird's Nest Soup

Later this same day, over some celebratory cake for a colleague, the conversation turned to rare delicacies that were really ‘bizarre’ (not the disgusting delicacies – everyone talks about those).  One of the folks in our office happens to have an Asian background being originally from Hong Kong and a long time ago, enlightened me about Bird’s Nest soup.  So, this is what I decided to offer up to the group during this conversation.  This soup has been made for 400 years and what’s a bit bizarre about it, besides its name?  The fact that it’s actually made from a bird’s nest!  The swiftlet to be exact.  They’re mostly collected throughout Thailand from White-nest and Black-nest swiftlets who live in caves and can generate a nest in 35 days.  The highest destination markets for these nests are Hong Kong and the United States where a kilogram of the white nest would go for about $2,000.00 USD and the red-blood nest would be about $10,000.00 USD.  Per serving, that translates to $30.00 – $100.00 a bowl!

Swiftlet Nesting House, Thailand

Swiftlet Nesting House, Thailand

The industry has become so huge that concrete nesting houses have been built to give more venues for the birds to make the valuable nests in.  While it’s appearance looks somewhat like a prison, investigating the species of bird revealed that they’re not the least bit endangered.  The soup is said to have health benefits as well that include aiding digestion, raising libido, improving voice, alleviating asthma, and improving overall focus and immune support.

From screams to soup, there’s a lot more that you can talk about with your coworkers now around the water cooler besides the most recent episode of your favourite primetime show.

But, if these two items aren’t good enough conversation starters, you could combine them.  How does that make sense?  Check out this bird that has the vocal range to mimic everything around it.  It’s called the Lyre Bird, and this clip was around the office following the swiftlet / bird’s nest soup discussion as another ‘interesting bird’.  The debate is still continuing at work as to whether or not the chainsaw stretches the truth too far beyond belief, but I think this bird’s legit and awesome either way!

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The (unfortunate) news came down today from the Malawian judge handling Madonna’s adoption request for a young girl named Chifundo James (which translates to Mercy in English) who is only 4 years old.  Ultimately the decision was chalked up to being due to the residency requirement and the fact that the judge felt the child was being “well taken care of” in the orphanage – this according to Zione Ntaba who is the spokesperson for the Malawi Justice Department.

Madonna and Lourdes in Malawi

Madonna and Lourdes in Malawi

Madonna, 50, filed for the adoption following the suggestion from many of her family’s Malawian friends who felt that David Banda would do well to have a sibling from the same place, combined with her own desire to help further.  Madonna faced fierce criticism throughout the adoption process in round one when David, who was adopted in 2006, first joined the family as Lourdes (12) and Rocco’s (8) new brother.  David, at only 13 months, had been placed into an orphanage by his father after the infant’s mother had died.  The same issues were at play back then as well, mostly regarding the fact that the country requires permanent residency of a future adoptive parent for 18 – 24 months.  Madonna and her lawyer, Alan Chinula have had to handle cross-fire from those that accuse her of using her fame, power and money to bend the laws of the country but Chinula believes there’s no reason to lose sleep this time around either, according to an NBC report.  Some public opinion stabs harder suggesting foreign adoption proves ignorance to children in need on home soil for a good home to stomach-turning disgusting allegations of “buying” children as accessories.

As for the argument that there are ‘plenty’ of children on this side of the Atlantic to adopt, there are many – this is true.  But the number’s pale in comparison to the dozens of countries that have hundreds of thousands in need – arguably in much worse conditions that are significantly more life threatening.  This is especially the case when considering a country like Malawi where the average life expectancy is 47 in a country where the entire population is 13.9 million, according to UNICEF.  Not to mention the fact that a million of those people are living with HIV/AIDS and are aware of it, not withstanding the segment of the population that is unaware of it based on information from the United States Agency for International Development’s papers on Malawi.  Some more startling numbers – 91,000 of those with HIV/AIDS are children and more then 500,000 children have been orphaned because of HIV/AIDS.

Madonna and David in Malawi, 2009

Madonna and David in Malawi, 2009

There was a media circus surrounding the adoption of David and it’s happening all over again.  Those that argue Madonna’s fame helped her swoop down and pluck up third-world children are obviously not seeing the other side of the coin and how incredibly difficult it must make it.  Adoption is a very rightfully deeply scrutinized process, but add on the international microscope over a celebrity and its that much worse.  Essentially, this adoption (and presumably any others similar to it) is being stopped because of a residency requirement.  Something very few third world countries have as part of their adoption laws – because its an act that should be encouraged not made more difficult.  Yes, the correct investigative measures must be taken to ensure permanent safety in placement – but moving to Malawi for up to 2 years makes any adoption exceptionally difficult.

It’s not like this is just a ‘hobby’ to her, she’s also invested an abundance of time and money in her effort to spotlight the country and its needs in her documentary I Am Because We Are, which was produced and promoted through the Raising Malawi organization as well as shown on select screens in North America.

Raising Malawi

Raising Malawi

When this case is considered especially with the fact that Madonna has established an international agency (Raising Malawai) to aggressively work for the protection, health, education and welfare of children in a country obviously chosen based on need – along with the fact that she’s invested personal finances in building educational institutions and infrastructure, the denial becomes even more difficult to accept so easily.  And this is not a point made in light of “she did this so she deserves that,” it’s a perfect example of the fact that Madonna is putting her money where her mouth is.

When millionaires, celebrity or not, are publically ‘owned’ there is always criticism of chartable contributions – mainly due to a lack thereof.

No less, the public opinion within the country, of its people is one of support for the adoption.  Capital FM which broadcasts in 5 cities throughout Malawi, including the capital, Lilongwe, said 99% of the callers to the station on Thursday wanted the adoption approved.

Frankly, it’s all a bit foolish.  Whatever way you cut it, if there is a family – any family – that is financially and morally stable to raise an orphaned child … and that family has the desire to invest time, love (and yes, money) into raising that child with every facet of a good life (as a private citizen or at varying levels of ‘fame’) then that adoption should be fully considered to the very finest point before just saying no.  The point is, famous or not and rich and powerful or not, Madonna’s desire to adopt has no right to be so heavily and openly criticized.

In any event, whether or not the timing was strategic, YouTube’s Screening Room feature section is now broadcasting the entire documentary on demand from the website and the 1h29min clip is included in this entry.

Documentaries are made to tell stories, to make a point or at least get some thoughts going about one.  What moved Barbara Doran to write and direct her most recent film was the story of a woman named Susan.  At only 31 years old, Susan took her own life and left only a note.  The note wasn’t written to her loved ones, it was written to a video lottery terminal, telling it she had to let it go.  Doran described reading the note as “chilling” when she eventually got the opportunity.  “I knew nothing, I’d seen [VLT’s] in bars and they seemed innocent.  I had no idea of how many tragic stories there were until starting this project.”

John Dunsworth in Playing The Machines

John Dunsworth in Playing The Machines

The film is called Playing The Machines and it tells a number of tragic stories about Canadians who become helpless to the addictions of VLT’s.  Another belongs to Sherry Rhino of Halifax, NS who was left behind after her husband set fire to their car with himself inside, unable to bare the pressure of addiction, despite counselling.  But the film does more then simply attempting to shock its viewers with heartbreaking tragedy.  Real research and commentary is fluid throughout the piece and what was jarring is the fact that in Alberta, the revenues generated from VLT’s actually outweighs those from the oil industry.

According to a publication called The Walrus, 8 of 10 provinces are still allowing 90,000 or so VLT’s to be operated throughout the county and Newfoundland and Labrador was amongst the first five provinces to let them in during the early 1990s.  In this province, $72 million a year is generated from VLT’s and lotto and 62% of people contributing to that are considered problem gamblers.

As for the ongoing public awareness campaigns, Doran says she’s “happy they’re doing it but the problem isn’t the player, it’s the machine.  You press the button and its all decided by a computer chip, what’s on the screen is just animation.  On average for every $30,000.00 pumped in there’s a $500.00 payout and you don’t even remember the money, you remember the win.”

There doesn’t seem to be consensus on what the addictive quality is, but the documentary actually slows down the animation that plays on a VLT’s screen to reveal how the jackpot icons closely align for split seconds to create what’s called a near-miss effect.  It would explain why engaging the machine is important to get the player.  In fact, the documentary features John Dunsworth from The Trailer Park Boys who is a reformed gambler himself and at one point where he is sharing a story in front of a VLT, he goes through the motions and does everything but push the button.

Dunsworth has become one of the country’s biggest advocates for the issue, being most vocal within his home province of Nova Scotia.  Doran came across his efforts in her research and called him up to see if he’d be interested in speaking to her for the film.  They’d initially considered him as host but opted instead to insert him more organically and he became part of the project’s team.

That team includes some other well established veterans such as Nigel Markham as the Director of Photography, Chris Darlington as the Editor, a score by Duane Andrews and producer Rob Blackie.  Harvey Hyslop was behind the sound along with Paul Steffler who did the mix.   The film opens with a brilliantly executed title graphic animation as well which is the work of Peter Evans.

Playing the Machines takes a deeply passionate look at a very compelling issue.  Doran’s work on this film is important and relevant, and perhaps efficiently direct.  The film will be broadcast nationally on CBC Newsworld’s The Lens, March 24th 2009 at 10:00pm ET or 11:30pm here in Newfoundland.

Where The Wild Things Are production still

Where The Wild Things Are production still

Spike Jones has one very interesting resume and it’s about to get one more gem. It’s mostly made up of music videos for everyone from The Chemical Brothers (Elektrobank) to Bjork (It’s Oh So Quiet) to Daft Punk’s signature Da Funk video which featured that famous but so misunderstood dog with his ghetto blaster. Jones made use of the ghetto blaster again when he directed the video for Fatboy Slim’s smash Praise You as well.

The resume doesn’t stop at music videos though. You can’t forget that Jones is also an Oscar nominated feature film director for 1999’s Being John Malkovitch, which was followed by 2002’s Adaptation. But, never before has Jones’ written and directed a full length feature film – that is, until now.

Where The Wild Things Are book illustration

Where The Wild Things Are book illustration

2009 will see a beloved children’s classic book blown up big screen style courtesy of Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers. Jones and his co-writer for the project, Dave Eggers have diligently worked on adapting Where The Wild Things Are since 2005 and have kept in close contact with the book’s original writer Maurice Sendak throughout the entire process. In fact, Sendak reportedly asked Jones personally to take on the project which he’d kept backburnered since the early 90’s because he’d been unable to find anyone “fitting” to take it on.

Where the Wild Things Are film poster

Where the Wild Things Are poster

The ‘monsters’ created for the film range from 6 to 8 feet tall and were designed and created by The Jim Henson Company. The heads for the costumes were said to be so strenuous to wear that the actors inside could only work for 30 minute period with 10 – 15 minute air conditioning breaks in between.

The cast includes Canadian Catherine O’Hara, Mark Ruffalo, Lauren Ambrows, James Gandolfini and Max Records as Max, the kid who is sent to bed without his supper and creates a world of his own to slip off into, where the wild things are. Currently the film is set to open October 16, 2009 after being set back from it’s original release date of May 2008, then October 2008.

The website for the film is not yet live but the link http://www.wherethewildthingsare.com has been reserved!

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makin’ sense of it all

keepin’ track of it all

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