Archive for July, 2011

11 Most Influential Cinematographers of All Time

Jul 31st, 2011

Acting is easy to appreciate in movies because the performers are right there in front of you. The same goes for special effects, sound, set design: all the stuff that’s easy to see and hear and instantly understand. But cinematography is trickier. The way a movie is filmed has everything to do with its tone and purpose, but that tone is communicated subconsciously to the viewer through clever uses of lighting, focus, framing, and a dozen other things that go into making up just one frame of thouands. Cinematography is vital to how a film will feel, but it’s also practically invisible. The best cinematographers have been able to compose images that work on viewers emotionally without calling overt attention to themselves, which makes their films feel like real experiences and not dry technical experiments. These cinematographers have earned their influential reputation not for the number of movies they’ve made but for the way they’ve made them, impacting everything from how we make genre films (sci-fi, gangster stories, whatever) to what we think movies should look like.

  1. Janusz Kaminski

    Born in Poland, Jaunsz Kaminski studied at the AFI Conservatory in the late 1980s before beginning his professional career. Some of his earlier titles are, well, a little embarrassing — Cool as Ice, anyone? — but that’s always the way it goes when you’re cutting your teeth. His break came when he shot Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List in 1993, bringing a stark beauty to the horror of World War II death camps. Spielberg also opted to limit his photographic options for the film, eschewing crane shots and Steadicams in favor of handheld immediacy. Kaminski’s work with depth of field, and the clash between light and dark, made the film visually dazzling. He’s since served as cinematographer for all of Spielberg’s films, and has won Oscars for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.

  2. Wally Pfister

    Another AFI grad, Wally Pfister landed a nice gig early on as a second-unit cameraman for Robert Altman’s Tanner ’88. For most of the 1990s he worked on a variety of horror and softcore porn titles that went straight to video (it’s probably safe to assume the four-volume Inside Out series from Playboy is not high on Pfister’s resume), but a meeting with Christopher Nolan at the Sundance Film Festival led to Pfister working with Nolan on the director’s 2000 hit Memento. Since then he’s worked on all of Nolan’s films, earning multiple Academy Award nominations and taking home the Oscar for Inception. He’s made standout use of color and shadow in his films, but each one’s got a different look: The Prestige has the soft edges and sepia tones of old photos, while Inception slams the viewer into disorientation with new lighting schemes around every turn.

  3. Conrad L. Hall

    The late Conrad Hall won two Oscars in his life, three decades apart: the first for 1969′s Butch Cassidy in the Sundance Kid, the second for 1999′s American Beauty. A USC grad, Hall worked in TV before transitioning to movies in the 1960s, and his gritty style perfectly encapsulated the fuzzy-around-the-edges aesthetic of a new generation of films and filmmakers. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a marvel of genuinely dirty filmmaking in the real sense of the word: Hall isn’t afraid to focus on dust in the light or let grime into the image. As he progressed, he grew more formal, still able to paint with light but now equally willing to work with cleaner palettes. His final Academy Award was a posthumous one for Road to Perdition.

  4. Jordan Cronenweth

    Jordan Cronenweth shot a number of revered films over the course of his career before his death in 1996, including Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud and Ken Russell’s Altered States. But he’s probably most known for the gorgeous noir look he brought to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The sci-fi classic is masterful in its depiction of a broken-down dystopian world that doesn’t look like our own, and it’s photographed with an emphasis on dim venues and oppressive shadows to evoke the noir era of the 1940s. Cronenweth’s work on this film contributed to a look that would pervade sci-fi and influence filmmakers for decades. (Dark City is in many ways a direct descendant of Blade Runner.)

  5. Haskell Wexler

    Haskell Wexler’s been working since the 1950s, and his credits include some of the most popular movies of the second half of the century: In the Heat of the Night, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and more. But it was his own directorial outing, Medium Cool, which he also photographed, that put his name in the history books. He shot it cinema verite style, like a boots-on-the-ground documentary, and he blended narrative footage with nonfiction images to create a new feel for movies. He would continue to switch between fictional features and documentaries for the rest of his career, earning Oscars for Virginia Woolf and Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory.

  6. Charles Rosher

    Charles Rosher is a name from another era — he was born in London in 1885 — but his work still matters today. In 1929, he won the first Oscar for cinematography, which he shared with Karl Struss for F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise. His work was, simply, revolutionary. The film featured a number of tracking shots that changed people’s ideas of what movies could do, including a four-minute, one-take tracking shot that was the longest ever made at that point. Rosher gave us the basic building blocks of camera work, and everything that’s come after owes a debt to him.

  7. Gordon Willis

    Gordon Willis worked on a string of ridiculously good movies in the 1970s but didn’t take home a single Academy Award for his work. (He finally nabbed a lifetime achievement trophy in 2009.) When you look at his c.v., you realize he owned the decade: The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, The Paper Chase, and many of Woody Allen’s best films (including Annie Hall, Interiors, and Manhattan). Willis, in other words, is responsible for the burned-out look of some of the decade’s most memorable and challenging films, from the shadowy recesses of the Corleone mansion to the dull light banks of the Washington Post newsroom. His movies were landmarks in using dramatic photography to convey complex moods, and his work on Godfather alone redefined what viewers expect in mob movies.

  8. Vilmos Zsigmond

    Born in Hungary, Vilmos Zsigmond worked on some truly forgettable films in the 1960s that let him build the skills he’d use later. A big fan of naturalistic lighting and strong colors, Zsigmond stepped it up a notch on Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller and The Long Goodbye, after which he went on to shoot some of the biggest films of the 1970s. He worked on Deliverance, bringing a stark realism to the horrific events of the film, and also collaborated with Steven Spielberg on The Sugarland Express and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which won an Oscar). He partnered with Michael Cimino on The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, too. Zsigmond was also a fan of a photographic known as "flashing," in which the film is exposed to a low level of light before processing, which keeps mid-level tones the same but brings out detail in the shadows.

  9. Gregg Toland

    Gregg Toland didn’t live long — he died in 1948 at the age of 44 — but he worked on an impressive roster of films in his brief career, including Wuthering Heights, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Best Years of Our Lives. Yet one title towers above the rest: Citizen Kane. Orson Welles’ dynamic first film was a milestone in movie production thanks in large part to its inventive and arresting camera work. Toland deserves just as much credit as Welles for the film. Although Toland wasn’t the first photographer to work on deep-focus issues, he took the field in new directions with Citizen Kane, composing frames that allowed for crisp images that extended much farther from the lens than viewers were used to seeing. He also made dazzling use of oblique angles and deep shadows to create a very specific style for the film. Trivia: Toland’s only Technicolor film was the last one he ever shot, Disney’s 1946 Song of the South.

  10. Sven Nykvist

    Praised for his minimalism, Sven Nykvist spent his life and career crafting simple film set-ups that rely on light and beauty to capture realistic images and natural flesh tones. He’s best remembered for his work with Ingmar Bergman, with whom Nykvist worked for more than two decades. He won Academy Awards for photographing the director’s Fanny and Alexander and Cries and Whispers, and he was nominated again for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Yet he was also able to bring his down-to-earth approach to more mainstream films, most notably 1993′s Sleepless in Seattle, which is gorgeous and natural compared with the over-produced sheen of latter-day romantic comedies.

  11. Kazuo Miyagawa

    Regarded as one of the best cinematographers in the history of Japanese film, Kazuo Miyagawa worked on several films with the legendary Akira Kurosawa, including the wildly influential Rashomon. For that film, Miyagawa made great advances in tracking shots to convey a new filmic experience, and he also played bravely with blunt lighting and multiple camera angles to highlight the film’s inherently rocky ride and shifting perspectives. He also pioneered a film technique known as "bleach bypassing," which involves eliminating certain bleaching steps in the development process that leaves a layer of silver on the film emulsion. What this means for the viewer is a black and white image layed on top of a color one, resulting in grainy and slightly washed-out images. (A great modern example of this is Saving Private Ryan.) Miyagawa died in 1999, but the work he did to change film photography will always be around.

10 Fascinating Projections About Education in the U.S.

Jul 25th, 2011

When we think of school, most of us imagine classrooms filled with desks, single-file lines to go to the water fountain, and playgrounds teeming with kids trying to get all their energy out before they have to go back to class and sit still. But our ideas of traditional education could change, some as early as the next five or 10 years, according to education experts. We may not be sending our kids off to school in a spaceship just yet, but some of the projections for education don’t seem too far off of an episode of The Jetsons. Here are 10 predictions that may surprise you.

  1. No more paper textbooks

    As e-books become increasingly popular and physical books seem more and more inconvenient, it’s only logical that the bulkiest and most expensive of books, the textbook, would be replaced by technology. Many colleges already offer electronic options for cash-strapped students, and with education budget cuts in effect, more K-12 schools are bound to adopt the technology. Some already have; various high schools and even elementary schools across the country are having their students use Kindles or iPads in the classroom rather than books. South Korea has plans to get rid of all textbooks and convert to digital by 2015. U.S. adoption of e-textbooks is predicted to be much slower; by 2014, digital textbooks are expected to make up just under 19% of higher education textbook sales.

  2. No more middle school

    The idea behind K-8 schools is that moving middle-school-age children to a new environment is disruptive to their learning, backed up with statistics showing that a kid’s performance in school declines once he reaches middle school. The transition to middle school is thought to have a negative effect on pubescent tweens. Rather than shuttling kids between three, sometimes four, different schools by the time they graduate, the K-8 option allows them to go to only two: the lower school through eighth grade and high school for the rest. Across the country, more schools are turning to this model, leaving behind the idea of junior high and integrating older children with younger ones. Many education experts believe this could be becoming the standard model for grade structure. And a few think that grade-based learning will be left behind altogether in favor of a school organized by interest groups and capabilities.

  3. Robot teachers

    Robot teachers may seem decades out of reach, but they, or at least robot teaching assistants, aren’t too far from being a realistic addition to our classrooms, according to some education scholars. In fact, robots have already been added to some classrooms in South Korea and Japan in the past couple of years. In South Korea, the egg-shaped robot with an LCD screen that shows a human face teaches elementary students English, reducing the need for thousands of foreign English teachers. In Japan, the robot teaching assistant helps with basic classroom tasks, like taking roll and scolding misbehaving students. Using this technology as a springboard, the U.S. could be following in the footsteps of these innovative nations in fewer than 10 years, according to some experts.Though the robots may not be ready to teach full lessons and interact with students at length, they’re expected to be quickly advanced enough to provide teachers with user-friendly aid.

  4. Online classes will replace traditional schools

    Online learning is on the rise, in college settings and in K-12 schools. The number of students receiving higher education through the Internet is astonishing; in 2009, 30% of all college students were enrolled in at least one online course. The demand is still growing, and 75% of public colleges say online education is a component of their long-term strategies. And online course work is becoming more accepted in primary and secondary school, as well. Thirty states have a virtual school program, and half the districts in the U.S. offer online courses. Though the trend right now is to have a blended learning approach, using both online and face-to-face classes, some in the education field predict that all learning in the U.S. will someday be done on the Internet.

  5. User-generated content will become an essential education tool

    Instead of learning from textbooks created by corporations or from teachers with limited ways of explaining ideas, students will begin to learn from peers and other users of a service, according to some scholars. Borrowing from the ideas of YouTube, where you can find tutorials for thousands of skills, and the Khan Academy, which offers free videos explaining math and science concepts, education in the future will provide students with lessons from people who talk and think like them and allow them to share their own explanations with others. Whether this will be a service offered through a traditional classroom or part of an online-only strategy is to be decided, but education authorities say user-generated content is going to rise in popularity. This also means Wikipedia — despised by teachers in the past — could finally become an acceptable learning tool.

  6. Colleges will go bankrupt and close

    Even during the worst of the recession, traditional college tuitions were rising to new highs. Since 2005, private four-year universities have hiked tuition 5.6%. Many experts say they’ve gotten away with it this long because people affected by layoffs or pay cuts have turned to higher education as the solution to their worries. But after graduating, those same people are finding they can’t land jobs even after shelling out thousands of dollars for a degree. Now, more and more students are turning to online colleges, which are less expensive and often suit their needs better. Others are forgoing higher education altogether, hoping that work experience right out of high school will give them an advantage. Without the income, many brick-and-mortar universities are losing money and eventually will have to find a way to provide education more efficiently or close their doors for good. This first steps will likely include layoffs of staff and even tenured professors and less money spent on new, unnecessary facilities that don’t contribute to education.

  7. The average age of higher-ed students will rise drastically

    As the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age and the number of younger students entering college grows at a slower pace, it is expected that adult education will become prevalent. Though students under 25 are still enrolling in larger numbers every year, the rate is slowing and is expected to drop in the next few years. Between 1997 and 2007, enrollment for those 25 and older had only grown by 13% while the younger students saw an increase of 33%. But by 2017, the trend is likely going to shift, with the older group growing at a rate of 19% and the under-25 group slowing to 10%. As time goes on, education probably won’t be dominated by retired people, but lifelong learning is going to catch on, according to predictions, and the average age of the students is going to keep increasing.

  8. No more homework

    Teachers will probably miss hearing the creative excuses from students for why they can’t turn their homework in on time, but authorities on the subject say that getting rid of homework will benefit everyone in the education system. Some schools have already implemented the no-homework policy and found that it makes kids like going to school more, causes them to watch less TV at home and decreases conflicts with their parents. Proponents of the movement say that if teaching is done effectively, all the learning will take place at school and there will be no need to send work home with students. The brain will retain information better if classes go over the things they learned in the morning once again in the afternoon. Other scholars who predict that homework will soon be a thing of the past believe it’s due more to the changing role of technology. The boundaries between school and home may become blurred with the rise of online education, so students will manage their own time and work at their own pace, eliminating the need for traditional homework. But then, what will your dog eat?

  9. Standardized test scores won’t keep you from getting into college

    For decades, getting a low SAT or ACT score in the mail meant that you were destined for community college or trade school, even if you had your heart set on a four-year university. These tests have roots dating back to 1901, and they are starting to show their age. Hundreds of schools across the country have dropped the tests as requirements for admission after studies revealed that the test favors wealthier students and that the scores don’t reflect whether a student will be successful in college. Others still require the SAT or ACT as one component of admission, but it won’t be long before the tests have disappeared completely. One potential replacement for test scores in admission decisions is a digital portfolio where students showcase their best work from high school.

  10. A new "Manhattan Project" will save education

    The original Manhattan Project was a research project during the 1940s that pooled all the great minds and essential resources from the U.S. and its allies in order to win World War II. It resulted in the creation of the atomic bomb. The new Manhattan Project, being championed by many education supporters, would bring together the great thinkers of our time to solve the problems with education today. Some believe it should focus on closing the racial achievement gap that has plagued our system; others think it should address the weaknesses in our systems in general, the most pressing of which are the cuts being made in school funding across the country. As teachers continue to get fired and schools remain short on staff and equipment, there’s no doubt that educators and parents across the country will demand that our education system receive the resources and attention given to winning a war.

10 Car Rental Tips That Will Save You Money

Jul 19th, 2011

There are some things that you should splurge on when you go on a trip. Dinner at a restaurant where your favorite celebrity is known to eat? Yes. A carriage ride through the park? Maybe, depending on your relationship status and the weather. A rental car? Not if you can help it. While renting a car may be a necessary part of your travel plans, it shouldn’t empty your wallet. Even if you think you have a good deal on the daily rate of your rental, there’s always the chance that you’ll get nailed with unexpected fees at the end of your trip, which may make you regret that pricey souvenir snow globe you bought. These tips will help you minimize the cost and shock of your next rental bill.

  1. Don’t get your car at the airport

    Many rental car agencies located at an airport are required (or just really love) to charge fees associated with the airport. Airports normally charge the rental company a percentage of each rented car, so the companies take it from you and then pay the airport. The rates vary based on the airport and rental company, but these fees can total 10% or more of the cost of your car rental. If you can pick up and drop off your rental at a location away from the airport, you could save some money. But think about whether the inconvenience and cost of transportation to the non-airport location would be worth saving the extra cash. The same kind of concession fee may also be applied if you arrange to pick up a rental car at your hotel.

  2. Check your insurance

    Your existing auto insurance might cover your rental, so buying the extra insurance that the rental company will try to push on you could be a waste of money. You might also receive coverage through your credit card if you use it to pay for the rental. Auto policies often have conditions when it comes to renting a car, so make sure you know what is covered on your personal policy before getting to the rental counter. The workers at rental companies aren’t required to know anything about your insurance or credit card, so they won’t be able to tell you what’s best for you. In fact, they’ll probably pressure you to buy their insurance regardless of what they know, so it’s in your best interest to find out before talking to them. Some possible holes in your personal coverage include business trips, international travel and long-term rentals.

  3. Know the age penalties

    Turning 21 has other perks besides the most celebrated one (you know, the one that you should never combine with driving, especially a rental car). For instance, many companies will allow you to rent a car at 21. The bad news is that most of those same companies will tack on daily surcharges if you’re under 25. The insurance will likely be higher for under-25-ers, as well. If possible, have someone 25 or older rent the car and don’t add anyone under 25 as an additional driver (additional drivers normally cost extra, anyway). If you’re under 25 and have to rent a car, make sure to shop around for the best rates for your age group. Consider the base rates, whether you’ll be purchasing insurance and the surcharges that might come with being young.

  4. Know how much mileage you’re allowed

    Unlimited mileage is a fairly common allowance these days, but many smaller companies may give you a free daily amount of miles and charge you for each mile over the limit. Depending on the company, you could pay 15 cents or 50 cents per mile, which could add up to a big surprise when you pay the bill. If you’re planning a long drive, you could be better off going with a major rental company with a higher base rate but unlimited mileage. Another time to double-check mileage allowances is if you’re about to use a special offer. Some special offers don’t include unlimited mileage, even if the company’s normal rentals do.

  5. Reserve in advance

    Just like airlines and hotels, car rental agencies tend to use a strategy where they charge more money as inventory decreases, so if you wait until the day or two before your trip to find a rental car, you’ll likely pay for it. You should book at least a week in advance, and if you’re smart, you’ll do it as soon as you make firm travel plans in order to get the best deals. Not only do you have the benefit of shopping around, some agencies offer discounts if you pay in advance on their sites. When reserving a car, it’s sometimes a good idea to choose the cheapest option, especially at smaller facilities, because there’s a good chance you’ll get a free upgrade. Agencies often overbook cars, so when they run out of the lower priced cars, they are obligated to provide a free upgrade. If you’re picky and the company has the cheap car you reserved, you should be able to pay an upgrade fee at the counter for the nicer car you were hoping for.

  6. Fill up the tank

    There’s no doubt that gas prices are high, but if you return your rental car without filling it back up, you could be paying the rental agency $9 per gallon for them to fill it. Most companies will let you pay ahead for gas and will provide you with a full tank that you don’t have to refill. Depending on the location, this could cost you more or less than what you would pay for a tank of gas at the average gas station in the area. The catch with this service is that you pay for the full tank, whether you use all of it, half of it or barely any. If you know you won’t be using a full tank of gas on your trip, your best bet is to choose to not pay ahead and remember to make a stop by a gas station before dropping your car off.

  7. Don’t return your car late

    This may seem like a no-brainer, but a little slip-up with your time management may cost you. Rental companies have a limited number of vehicles to rent out at any given time, so they may need yours back to inspect and give to another customer within a small time frame. Because of this, agencies charge steep hourly late fees. It’s important to know what the rental agency considers to be a "day." Many companies use 24-hour-day pricing; if you picked up your car at noon Wednesday, you would have to return it before noon on Thursday to avoid being charged. Some offer a 59-minute grace period after the return time stated on your contract, but you won’t always be so lucky. You may have the option to pay for an extra day if you’re late enough that the hourly charge would cost you more, but either way, you’re not going to leave happy.

  8. Don’t return your car too early

    In terms of car rentals, you might think that returning a car a couple of days early would give the company the opportunity to rent it out again, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, getting your car back on the lot early could end up doubling your rental bill. Not only could you pay a fee for each day you were supposed to have the car but didn’t, your entire rate could be recalculated. If you had a weekly rate, which is typically lower than what you would pay with a daily rate, but you return the car before the full week is over, you could be charged the daily rates instead. Or it could be treated as a different reservation and you may be charged the same amount as a walk-up who hadn’t reserved a car. Read your contract carefully to make sure you know if there are any penalties for returning the car too soon.

  9. Pick a driver

    You and your road-trip buddy may both be excellent drivers, but taking turns at the wheel could be a financial mistake. Many rental companies make you pay a daily fee for each additional person you want to authorize to drive the car. The fees and exact policies differ between states, companies, and even offices in some cases. Many companies will allow spouses to be an additional driver for free; some will also allow business associates to sign on at no charge. You may even find some more lenient agencies that will allow significant others or life companions to drive. The only way to know for certain who can drive for free is to ask ahead of time and read the contract carefully. Those who are left out can always be the ever-helpful backseat drivers.

  10. Bring your own child safety seat

    Having kids is expensive. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but you should figure this annoying fact into renting a car when you’ve got your children in tow. Car rental agencies will require you to have a child safety seat if it’s mandatory by law in the state or country where you are renting the car. The rental agency will have seats available for you, but these can cost $10 or $15 a day to rent. And many companies don’t offer weekly or maximum rates, so you could be stuck paying the pricey daily rate for the length of your rental. If you already have a safety seat for your child at home, you’d save some money by bringing it along. Rental companies don’t generally install the seats for you in order to avoid liability, so renting is no more convenient in that sense. Though it may be more trouble to take the seat with you on your trip, it’s probably easier to carry than a squirming kid, and you’re used to that.

8 Films That Made Terrible Musicals

Jul 17th, 2011

Broadway’s had its share of success turning major motion pictures into winning musical extravaganzas, like Hairspray or Little Shop of Horrors. But there have also been some really bad choices when it comes to adaptations, so many that it’s clear that it takes a lot more than a popular movie character to create a good musical. (Did anyone honestly need a Spider-Man musical? No.) Some of these shows ran for a while, but others were promptly slammed by audiences; some are fantasies, others are dramas. But they all have one thing in common: they never should have been made.

  1. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark:

    Leaving aside for a moment the fact that "turn off the dark" is a bogus and totally nonsensical phrase, Julie Taymor’s stage adaptation of the Marvel Comics character is one of the most notorious musicals in Broadway history. At the time it was produced, it was the most expensive Broadway show ever made, as well as the one with most previews (182). The bloated production left five people injured during the rehearsal process, and Natalie Mendoza, one of the stars of the show, eventually left after suffering a concussion. It got so bad that Taymor left the production, which was retooled before its official opening.

  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s:

    Great novel. Classic movie. Awful musical. In 1966, producers tried to mount a stage version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s with a book by Edward Albee and music and lyrics by Bob Merrill, but the numerous rewrites and hitches meant the show was an out-of-control mess. It played a measly four preview performances before shutting down entirely, meaning it never officially opened. The preview shows often ran between three and four hours, too. The verdict was swift, and the show was gone.

  3. Urban Cowboy:

    The 1980 film Urban Cowboy was an unlikely pop culture hit that spawned a host of ill-advised mechanical-bull riding. The problem was that the movie was totally tied to its era. The 2003 musical version took an originally gritty premise and made it slick and commercial, the equivalent of a super-size honky-tonky instead of a road house. The stage version ran for a couple dozen previews and 60 performances before shuttering in the face of withering reviews and lackluster audiences. So much for the dream of seeing "Boot Scootin’ Boogie" on Broadway.

  4. Young Frankenstein:

    Mel Brooks has had a tricky history with Broadway. His 1968 film The Producers was turned into a smash musical in 2001, so it only made sense that a few years later he’d try to put lightning back in the bottle by adapting his classic 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein. Yet what sounded great on paper turned out to be less than stellar on stage. Critics and audiences were generally less thrilled with this one, as evidenced by the performance history: Producers ran for more than 2,500 performances, while Young Frankenstein went for only 484. This is one that no one really wanted to see.

  5. Shrek: The Musical:

    Shrek was a modestly entertaining family hit in 2001, though the series wore out its welcome after three sequels and countless product tie-ins. The musical hit Broadway with previews in November 2008 and an opening in December, after which it ran for just over a year and 441 performances before closing. It’s not that the musical was the worst ever made, or even the worst adaptation; it’s that it was an overcooked theme park attraction masquerading as musical entertainment. It’s just boring. You’re better off with the DVD.

  6. Cry-Baby:

    Based on John Waters’ 1990 film that parodied old-school teen musicals like Grease, Cry-Baby was a mixed bag. What made the translation of Waters’ Hairspray a success was a commitment to big, brassy production numbers and characters you could totally root for; Cry-Baby, unfortunately, had neither. The music was frantic but not energetic, and the show’s bittersweet center was a tougher sell than Hairspray‘s candy-colored activism. It was one of the worst things a show can be: mediocre. It closed in spring 2008 after 45 previews and just 68 performances.

  7. Tarzan:

    Disney’s Tarzan was already a middle-of-the-road movie: big enough to be a financial success, but the last animated hit or quality picture Disney would release until they bought Pixar. The music and lyrics from Phil Collins were, well, pretty Phil Collinsy, and the story was equally forgettable. (Name a character besides Tarzan. It’s not possible.) Yet Disney had found Broadway success with The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, so Tarzan took its turn on the stage. It opened on Broadway in 2006 but closed in July 2007 after 486 performances and anemic ticket sales.

  8. Carrie:

    Bad, bad, bad idea. Awful. Stephen King’s rickety novel Carrie was turned into a pulpy film horror classic by Brian DePalma in 1976. There was no need to turn it into a Broadway musical. The stage version was plagued with production issues from the outset — songs were rewritten or deleted entirely — and the final show was met with what could charitably be called derision from critics and audiences. A story that started out rooted in horror and psychotic excess morphed into something cheesy and sad. The show opened on Broadway in May 1988 and closed three days later after only 5 official performances and 16 previews. It inspired a book, for crying out loud! It was that bad.

10 Natural Ways to Avoid Mosquitoes This Summer

Jul 12th, 2011

With summer in full swing, mosquitoes are the last thing you want ruining all the fun. Before you run to the store and load up on expensive bug sprays that contain harsh chemicals, why not consider using a natural mosquito repellent that’s backed by science to avoid these pesky insects? Go ahead and give these 10 natural ways to avoid mosquitoes a try and see for yourself!

  1. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

    Oil of lemon eucalyptus is said to be one of the most effective natural mosquito repellents on the market and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. The active ingredient in oil of lemon eucalyptus is cineole, which has several antiseptic and insect repellent properties when applied to the skin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus also provides comparable protection to low concentrations of DEET.

  2. Wear Light-Colored and Tightly-Woven Clothing

    In the heat of summer, wearing light-colored clothing not only keeps you cooler, but it also repels mosquitoes. These bloodsucking insects are attracted to dark colors, and they can easily find you if you don’t dress accordingly. In addition to dressing lightly, be sure to pay attention to how much of your skin is exposed. If you’re going to be outdoors for a long period of time, you’ll want to wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, shoes and socks that cover your skin. Another tip for blocking mosquitoes is to wear clothes made of tightly woven materials.

  3. Oil of Citronella

    The citronella oil that’s found in outdoor candles, torches and lanterns, and skin products provides a natural and fragrant way to keep skeeters away. Citronella oil is an essential oil that comes from citronella grass, which can be planted for extra mosquito-repelling power. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, oil of citronella poses little or no toxicity risks to humans, wildlife and the environment. However, there is a chance that citronella products can cause skin irritations in children and people with sensitive skin, especially if applied incorrectly.

  4. Soybean Oil

    Soybean oil is a vegetable oil that has been extracted from the seeds of a soybean. Although soybean oil is predominately used in cooking, it does have awesome mosquito-repelling powers. In a study conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine, soybean-oil-based repellents protected against mosquito bites for an average of 94.6 minutes, which was more than all other botanical repellents tested.

  5. Go Fragrance-Free

    Since mosquitoes are attracted to fragrances, it’s a good idea to avoid wearing perfumes and scented products while you’re outside. There’s nothing more natural than going fragrance-free and sporting your natural scent. Of course that doesn’t mean you can’t wear sunscreen, deodorant or use hair products – just make sure they are all fragrance-free. Also, be sure to watch your use of scented fabric softeners and dryer sheets, which can remain on your clothes well after laundering.

  6. Lavender Oil

    Not only does lavender oil smell simply wonderful, but this essential oil also provides effective mosquito-repelling power. Lavender oil can be found in a variety of products such as lotions, soaps, sprays and gels that are applied topically. Lavender oil can be mixed with other essential oils to boost its benefits or applied alone. After using this potent natural oil, you’ll never want to go back to the chemical stuff again.

  7. Garlic

    Garlic repels more than just vampires – it works on mosquitoes too! The pungent smell of garlic is the key to keeping mosquitoes away from you. It is believed that garlic is released through the pores and may change your scent, making it harder for mosquitoes to find you and less likely to stay on your skin if they do track you down. Test the mosquito-repelling power of mosquitoes by eating it regularly or rubbing raw garlic on your exposed skin.

  8. Reduce Standing Water In and Around Your Home

    The best way to avoid mosquitoes is not to attract them in the first place. This can be done by simply reducing the amount of standing water that they can use for breeding in and around your house. Be sure to repair failed septic systems, leaky water pipes and outside faucets, in addition to cutting your grass short and keeping drains, ditches and culverts free of debris so water can drain properly. Swimming pools should be cleaned and chlorinated regularly and change the water in bird baths, wading pools and any other water containers that might attract mosquitoes.

  9. Plant Mosquito-Repelling Plants

    An easy way to repel mosquitoes and spruce up your backyard is to plant bug-repelling plants. Tansies, marigolds, catnip, Thai lemon grass, citronella grass and garlic are excellent, natural mosquito repellents. These plants give off an odor that’s unpleasant to mosquitoes and will send them flying far away.

  10. Build a Bat House

    It might seem like you’re inviting more pests to your home by building a bat house, but it’s actually quite the contrary. Bats are natural predators to mosquitoes and they can eat up to 3,000 of the pesky insects every night. Building a bat house will attract bats to your backyard and hopefully keep your mosquito population down in the process.

10 Summer Movies That Didn’t Insult Our Intelligence

Jul 4th, 2011

Summer at the movies usually means turning off your brain for a couple hours while you watch things blow up in a variety of ways, usually while women in tank-tops run in slow-motion toward the camera. We live in the modern blockbuster era, and ever since the success of Jaws and Star Wars in the 1970s, Hollywood has come to depend more and more on spectacle pictures that are heavy on sizzle and light on substance. Yet every now and then, we get a breath of fresh air with a summer movie that’s actually got some brains, creativity, and style. They’re rare, yes, but always worth seeking out.

  1. Inception

    When Christopher Nolan was starting production on 2010′s Inception, all people knew about it was that it took place "within the architecture of the mind." From that vague and seemingly insane pitch came one of the smartest and most entertaining blockbusters in years. Nolan had already proven himself a master of brainy action with Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but this original story was something else entirely. It was unique and high-concept — how many movies are about dreaming about dreams? — but it was also perfectly executed. It was smart, but it didn’t make you feel dumb. Add in suspense and a killer score, and what more could you want?

  2. WALL-E

    How many kid-friendly blockbusters can get away with being message movies about the dangers of rampant consumerism and unhealthy eating? So far, one. Pixar’s WALL-E is a sweet, smart movie that relies on visuals more than language to tell its tale of a future Earth overrun by garbage and struggling to maintain life, and it earns its reputation for brilliance thanks to the care that went into all levels of its storytelling. The first act is almost entirely devoid of spoken dialogue, using precise character animation to tell the story, and the rest of the film relies on our willingness to cop to our bad habits. It’s well-intentioned but never preachy, and smart above all.

  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark

    Yes, it’s largely true that everything is a remix, and that Raiders of the Lost Ark was a skillful blend of dozens of old films, serials, and tropes for a new generation. But the movie was far from dumb, and it was even brilliant in the way it took the spirit of adventure from 1930s shorts and revived it for 1980s audiences. Raiders was about pure entertainment, totally devoid of the cynicism that would define the nostalgic filmmakers of the 1990s like Quentin Tarantino. Basically, Raiders was unironic, impassioned filmmaking that talked directly to the audience instead of treating them like part of some meta-joke. There’s a reason it’s still an iconic film 30 years after the fact.

  4. The Empire Strikes Back

    The first and third films in the original Star Wars trilogy were wonderful if a little juvenile, while the less said about the prequel trilogy, the better. But 1980′s The Empire Strikes Back was almost daringly dark, taking risks with story and visuals in ways that no other films in the series would do. No cute and cuddly sidekicks; no easy victories; no simple solutions. This was a tough movie for families expecting the same escapist sci-fi of the earlier installment, but that challenge is what’s given the film its edge and helped it maintain its reputation as the best movie in the bunch.

  5. Waitress

    Waitress isn’t your typical "summer movie:" no one gets superpowers or sent through time. The movie itself was mostly swallowed, opening as it did against Spider-Man 3. (Sam Raimi’s comic book movie made $336 million domestically; Waitress made $19 million.) But it’s a romantic dramedy worth seeking out, especially for anyone who’s given up on the idea of seeing anything with a human focus between May and September. Written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, the movie manages to be sweet without being stupid, which places it in the rare arena of romantic stories that deal honestly with things like love and heartache.

  6. District 9

    Directed and co-written by Neill Blomkamp, District 9 used a classic sci-fi trope — the examination of modern society through the lens of fantasy — with skill and intellect. Inspired by events from Blomkamp’s native South Africa, the film takes a graphic but moving look at the emotional and physical cost of segregation, casting aliens and humans as the players in a race-based morality tale. The film still had plenty of great action and effects, but one of its strengths was the way it used those effects in often casual ways, like the grainy old footage of the alien ship arriving or the way most people only barely glimpsed the creatures. The movie dealt with major issues and did so in a way that didn’t speak down to the viewer, which is why it earned an Oscar nomination for best picture.

  7. The Constant Gardener

    Summer movies tend to win awards for effects, not acting, but Rachel Weisz grabbed an Oscar for her role in this riveting drama that mixes mystery, action, and a humanitarian message. Based on the novel by John le Carre, the film follows a diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) investigating the murder of his wife (Weisz) in Kenya, skillfully cutting between past and present as he uncovers greater conspiracies tied to global health and economics. The movie is, at times, impossibly sad: as if a man haunted by his wife’s death weren’t enough, we’re also treated to bracing looks at third-world issues.

  8. The Matrix

    Despite its reputation as fodder for freshmen who didn’t quite understand their philosophy mid-term, The Matrix is still a wicked-smart, high-concept movie that blends action and sci-fi with a healthy dose of metaphysical wondering. Most summer blockbusters require a certain suspension of disbelief — you usually can’t see semi trucks transform into robots without copious chemical influences — but The Matrix played with the very nature of that disbelief, setting its story in a world populated by people unaware they were living in a simulation. The lamentable sequels leaned too heavily on effects, but the first film lives in that sweet spot between visual spectacle and brain teaser.

  9. Minority Report

    Steven Spielberg’s amibitious blend of neo-noir and sci-fi hit theaters in June 2002, and though much of it is a chase film, those chases are hung on a story that deals with the battle between fate and free will. The movie deals with some of the issues that crop up in most Spielberg films (absent fathers, etc.), but it does it with style to spare. As a testament to its intelligence, the film isn’t just working with a braint script, but a beautifully designed vision of the future inspired by talks with scientists and consultants who helped Spielberg figure out what the world might actually look like in 2054.

  10. Alien

    Ridley Scott’s horror movie in space hit theaters in May 1979, a mere two years after Star Wars, but it couldn’t have been more different from George Lucas’ space opera. It would have been so easy for the script to blast viewers with gore, or to play up the cheesy aspects of an alien life form, but Alien played it smart by keeping cool and letting the tension build. The cast felt normal and life-sized, and their situations felt completely real. The movie is that rare thriller that trusts the audience to do most of the work: you spend the whole movie scared of something you barely see, so when the alien does pop out, you’re terrified. The design was a master stroke, too, relying on grungy, lived-in sets that were the opposite of everything people had come to expect from sci-fi via things like Star Trek. The movie was the perfect summer storm, and one we’re still watching today.