Film Essent Archive for July, 2011

Social Satire, Dolls and a Magic Vibrator? I’m In.

Okay, people, I know I’ve been busy with weddings and whatnot, but why is it that up until now, NO ONE TOLD ME ABOUT THE WEB SERIES ABOUT THE BARBIE DOLLS AND THE MAGIC VIBRATOR? You had to know I would be all over this. Social satire, dolls and vibrators are totally my thing. And if you toss magic spells and power objects into the mix, that’s even better.

In case your friends, like mine, were keeping all the magical vibrators to themselves, here’s the scoop: There’s this web series called The Power Object, in which three custom-designed dolls/Berkeley grads in their early 30s whose lives are not going quite the way they planned stumble upon a spell that turns a vibrator into a power object that makes wishes come true. And of course, like in any good wish fulfillment story, things don’t quite work out the way our girls planned, because they never do in wish fulfillment stories.
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Check This Out: hitRECord at the Movies in SF

If I lived in San Francisco, I so know where I would be on Wednesday, August 24 — at the hitRECord at the Movies event at The Regency Ballroom.

I’ve written here before about hitRECord, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (aka “RegularJoe)’s collaborative arts effort wherein people upload things and merge and meld things, and play around with some other things to create some very intriguing projects. Since I last wrote about hitRECord, they even have a Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, which started out as a collaboration, and which has led to a series of Tiny Stories books that are set to be published by ItBooks and HarperCollins.

If you’re an artist, a storyteller, or just an all-around creative person, hitRECord is a cool place to collaborate with other brilliant-minded types. Artists upload illustrations, papercuts, songs, what have you, and other artists pull various bits and pieces together in creating something nifty. So check it out. If you missed this the last time I posted about hitRECord, here’s Morgan and Destiny’s Eleventeenth Date — The Zeppelin Zoo, which played at SXSW. It’s a little cutesy-cute … but in a cool way, promise.

And if you’re in San Francisco, here’s where you can get the scoop on the upcoming hitRECord event.

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Damned If You Do …

Over on indieWIRE, Anthony Kaufman has a most interesting piece about what’s been going on with Sundance out-of-competition entry The Convincer, which in addition to now having a new title (Thin Ice), has lost its Oscar-winning editor, Stephen Mirrione, its composers, Alex Wurman (Emmy winner) and Bela Fleck (Grammy winner) AND its filmmakers, sister team writer-director Jill Sprecher and co-writer Karen Sprecher.

So, the good news is, the film is getting a release by ATO, albeit with a new cut and a new score. The bad news for the filmmaker here — and the important lesson for all you indie filmmakers out there who dream of getting someone to finance and then someone else to buy your movie — is that she didn’t have final cut, and apparently does not support what’s been done to her baby. (Her cut, according to the iW piece, will be included in the DVD release.)

Look, I saw The Convincer at Sundance. I was among those who liked it. Actually, I liked it quite a lot, although I did agree with some of my critical colleagues that the closing montage, which spelled everything out for the audience, really needed to go, and that there were places where it could have been tightened up. And it’s entirely possible that this new cut, by a new editor, improved the film and made it better. Unlocking a picture like that to do a new cut and a new score is not a small undertaking, it’s a huge one, and presumably one that was not made lightly. But still.

There’s an object lesson in here somewhere for indie filmmakers. I’m not even sure quite what it is, other than this: Getting someone to finance your movie is a huge, exciting deal, but make sure you know what’s most important to you and who you’re working with before you make that deal. If you’re aiming to write and direct a film, presumably you are doing so because you have a vision of what you want that film to be, right? I mean, I’ve seen a lot of mediocre films, even at major fests, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that most people who set out to make an indie film are not aiming to make a crap movie. For some films, one might even say, a lot of films, somewhere along the way, the vision of a spectacularly awesome film that was in the director’s head did not make it onto the screen. Why?

One thing I’ve observed a lot in the years I’ve been covering independent films is that there are an awful lot of films where it’s pretty obvious the director needed to back out of the editing process, where a little distance maybe would have been a good thing. I’m not saying the director shouldn’t be involved in the editing at all, but I do think that writer-directors in particular can be so close to the details that they reach the point of perhaps not being able to see the bigger picture as well as they think they are seeing it. And that perhaps backing off and letting an experienced editor help find the flow of the story isn’t always necessarily a bad thing. Not saying that’s the case here, but I think it’s the case a lot of the time.

The other issue here is one of control, and the reality is when you are asking other people to give you a lot of money to make your movie, you’re going to lose some of the control you’d like to have. There are things about getting someone to put up a few million to make your indie project that are Good Things: the kind of talent you can afford — both cast and crew; the money you can spend on a good publicist, the possibility that, as a writer-director, you might get to actually get paid a little for the months or years of your life you spend on this project.

But any time someone else is giving you money, you are beholden to some degree or another to the people holding the purse strings, and there’s just no way to get around that, that I know of, other than to try to work with specific producers who have a reputation for being the kind of person you would want to work with, to develop your baby with people you feel you can trust, who have your back, who are there to help you as the director get that vision in your head on that screen.

Or to just go the other route, and make it as cheap as you can and as good as you can on your own, and hope that you get into a big fest and get noticed … so that you can get financing for your next project and deal with all those issues anyhow.

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Trailer Park: Do You Eat Fresh Produce? Watch This.

Over on Edible Manhattan, Jessie Cacciola has a nice piece up on the documentary The Harvest, which plays in NYC Friday and Saturday. If you eat produce, watch this trailer, and if you eat produce AND live in NYC? Go see the movie, will you?

The Harvest Trailer 2010 from Media Voices on Vimeo.

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The Geektastic Wedding of Epic Awesomeness

I’ve been blessed with many happy days in my life. One of them was October 2, 1985 when my daughter Meg was born. Another was July 23, when before their family and closest friends, Meg and her fiance Dick exchanged rings at their “Geektastic Wedding of Epic Awesomenesss.” And it was indeed an epically awesome affair.

After a taking a couple days to recover from all things wedding, I’m finally feeling rested enough to get back to writing. And I could tell you all about the months of planning and the hectic several weeks of “we’re getting close to W-Day” craziness and punchlists and getting everything in order for Wedding Weekend, but that stuff is all just boring project-managing type stuff, the scaffolding on which a wedding is built.

We could talk about Meg’s epic bachelorette party, which started with everyone drinking a couple rounds of wickedly strong “Black Opals” and culminated with a burlesque show and Meg being dragged on stage to get a Burlesque 101 lesson. Or I could tell you about the rehearsal dinner at our house the next evening, at which most of the wedding party, families, and friends who helped in countless ways with the wedding came together to celebrate and get to know each other and consume heaps of Tex-Mex and a not inconsiderable quantity of margaritas.

And then there was Saturday, the Big Day, which kicked off early in the morning at my best friend Donna’s house, where hot tea, mimosas and a lovely breakfast spread awaited us, so we could do our wedding makeup and hair before heading off to set up the venue for the event.

I could tell you the little things about the wedding itself, all the things people always want to know about weddings when they hear your daughter is getting married. I could describe for you in detail the sweet, historic venue near the Kirkland waterfront, which all the folks in the wedding party worked together to decorate, turning it into a splendor of white and black tablecloths with sheer silver overlays and mirrors and red roses. I could describe for you the amazing pulled pork and baked beans and such that our friend Texanna prepared, catered, set up and cleaned up as a gift to the bride, or about the fabulous cake and cupcakes, made by Meg’s bridesmaid Kim and her mom. Or I could tell you about the beer for the bash, brewed by Meg and Dick’s friend Ricardo, who owns a fledgling brewery, which flowed all evening along with countless bottles of wine and endless iced tea and lemonade.

Or I could tell you about the beautiful bride, stunning in her wedding dress, altered to perfection (also by Donna, who was dubbed the “fairy godmother” of the wedding), or about the photo booth we set up outside the venue, where family and friends could capture the joy they shared with us on that most wonderful of days.

Yes, all those details are the things that make a wedding, and every wedding has them. But the most important thing about the day was something more intangible; it was the love and energy of everyone who came together to witness the love of Meg and Dick surrounded by their family and friends, and the little moments that made the day truly special. And for me, the most important things about my daughter’s wedding day had less to do with things and details and punchlists and more to do with special moments that filled hearts to overflowing with the bittersweet joy of a daughter stepping fully into her adult life, hand in hand with the man she loves.

One of those moments was zipping my daughter into her wedding dress, holding back tears at how the happiness that filled her heart radiated from her face. If you’re a parent, and you’ve raised a daughter from cuddly infancy to sweet little girlhood, through tumultuous teen years that you weren’t sure either of you were going to make it through, and finally into adulthood, then you can perhaps understand a bit how profoundly joyous it is when that daughter grows up to become a steady, responsible young woman and mother and finally meets and then marries the kind of partner you hoped and prayed she would one day find. Yes, you might understand that.

Another was the ceremony itself, which was non-traditional and unique to Meg and Dick in every way. The families processed down to our seats to David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Then the bride came down the aisle to the Beatles “Something,” first with Jay, my ex-husband, who helped raise Meg from the time she was an awkward nine-year-old, and who has as much a hand as her father and I in the wonderful young woman she is today. And then halfway down Jay handed her off to Jeff, her dad, who escorted her to her waiting, beaming bridegroom.

I’m betting you’ve never been to a wedding where the officiant dramatically walked to his place holding aloft a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and where the ceremony made geeky references to comic books and Battlestar Galactica. Or at which, preceding the cake cutting, a friend with an amazing voice sang “Seasons of Love” from Rent, and the entire crowd spontaneously joined in (hey, Meg and Dick and our family have a ton of theater friends, what do you expect?). Or where the bride and groom’s first dance together as husband and wife was to “Origins of Love” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch — in part a statement the bride and groom wanted to make about love and marriage and equality and the right of all people to marry the partner they love.

There were so many touching moments throughout the day, moments that will stand out in my memory as the most memorable of the day. One of the sweetest moments was when the wedding party walked down to the waterfront for photos and for Meg and Dick to complete a salt ceremony signifying the joining of their lives. My brother Lance blessed the salt, and Meg’s dad captured the moment in this photo, in which salt, sunlight and wedding day magic converged in creating a stunning prismatic aura.

Perhaps the most sweetest moment of a day filled with great moments was when Dick, in front of this smaller circle of family and very close friends, knelt to the ground, took my grandson Brandon (pictured at right, riding tall on his Papa Jeff’s shoulders) upon his knee, and vowed to always love him with all his heart. I’m not sure that Brandon, at age five, really understands Dick’s love for him, but I know that some day, when he is a man himself, he will come to fully appreciate the love and support and constant, fatherly presence of Dick in his life, and I hope that when he is a father himself some day, his own role as father will be informed, at least in part, by the love, warmth, compassion and good humor which Dick brings to parenting Brandon every day.

And then there were the many moments when I locked teary eyes with Meg’s dad Jeff, and my ex Jay, and my husband, Mike, acknowledging our love of this precious daughter of ours and our shared joy in this day. Jeff is my oldest and dearest friend, the one person in my life besides my parents who’s known me since I was a recalcitrant 15-year-old. There were times when he wasn’t around as much in Meg’s life as I know he wishes now he had been, but I’m so grateful that he and Meg share a close bond now, and as we danced at our daughter’s wedding to ’80s dance tunes that we last danced to before Meg was even conceived, we smiled at each other and shared many moments of joy and gratitude at where the intertwined paths of our lives have led us.

It was a long path for all of us, getting to this day. Meg was born when I was just 17, and because I was focused during her early years on studying my ass off and getting through college in three years so I could support her, I wasn’t always as emotionally present in her life as I wish I’d been. Then when she was nine I moved her first to New Jersey, then to upstate New York, then across the country to Seattle, where she settled in and found the fabulous friends who stood with her on her wedding day. During Meg’s teen years, I was often so busy and overwhelmed raising her four younger siblings that she didn’t get as much of my time and attention as she needed, and my patience for dealing with her normal teenage angst was, well, somewhat limited. We saw her through her pregnancy with Brandon and a rocky relationship with his father and the end of that relationship, and through all that we hoped and prayed that some day, the right man would enter her life.

Meg told me after her first date with Dick that she thought he might be “the one.” We were skeptical at first, coming as we all were off the very rough ending of her relationship with Brandon’s dad, but Dick stuck around, and through his kind and gentle ways, his constant patience in dealing with my daughter’s sometimes fiery temperament, his ever-present sense of humor, we began to see that Dick was, indeed, “the one.” He is the ice to Meg’s fire, her port of calm in stormy days; they complement each other perfectly, and the love between them, witnessed by the family and friends who love them both on their wedding day, is as clear to me as ever a thing could be.

They are soul mates, made for each other, and as they exchanged their rings and their vows, their hearts and ours overflowed with happiness. Meg and Dick, may your marriage live long and prosper, your love be ever be as true and pure as it was on your wedding day. So say we all, with much love to you both.

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Rules of the Playground

So my kids are going to daycamp for the first time, at a Boys and Girls Club camp in downtown Bellevue. Not a rough part of town by any means, average group of kids such as you might find on the playground of most any public or private elementary school. They’re being pretty game about it, but I can surmise from the things they say about their day when I pick them up that they’re both fascinated and a bit intimidated by these kids whose social behavior has been molded by a completely different system than what they’ve grown up around.
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Is Google Plus Really Doubleplusgood?

My social life is getting too complicated. Or perhaps it’s more correct to say, my online social life has too many channels, and I don’t want to spend half or more of what remains of my existence in this lifetime shuttling back and forth between Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus and whatever idea some other tech brain comes up with next to take up more of my time and make him/her super-rich. (I already jettisoned MySpace long ago. Sorry MySpace, it was good while it lasted.)

So all of a sudden in the last couple days I’ve been flooded with inbox announcements letting me know that this or that person is now “following” me on Google Plus. And do I want to add them to my Circles? Er, sure, I guess, but first I have to figure out what Circles are and how they work, and where the hell do I go to keep track of what everyone’s doing — what if someone eats a doughnut or gets a haircut or has a thought and I’m NOT in the know?! — and where do I put that guy who thinks he’s my BFF but really I have to read his nametag at Toronto and Sundance every year to remember who he is? No, I’m not talking about you. Of course not.
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Apocalypse … Eventually

I was perusing the Costco website for something or other to do with my daughter’s wedding this afternoon, when I noticed they had a link for emergency preparedness supplies. It’s tucked away under “grocery and floral,” which is maybe not the most intuitive location for such things. Hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t design or run usability studies on the site.

Now, I’ve been thinking for a while now (like, roughly 12 years) about the need for our family to have some serious emergency supplies beyond our typically full pantry and a few pathetic bottles of water in the garage. We are seriously under-prepared around here. My mom was here today and told me a story about this crazy lady in her apartment building who told her the other day that Jesus and Mother Mary are here because The Big One is coming, and I thought, The Big One? Holy crap!
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Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two

My four younger children cannot remember a world without Harry Potter in it. I started reading the series to my now-14-year-old, Neve, shortly after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone came out in the US in 1998, and her older sister brought it home and persuaded me to read it. I confess that I was not entirely enamored of the first book, which struck me at the time more as having potential than having actually achieved it, but Neve loved it, and there was enough there to keep me interested in reading more.
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Go See This: Crime After Crime

In between last minute hectic tasks surrounding my daughter’s wedding, I finally managed to squeeze in watching the screener of Sundance doc Crime After Crime that came in the mail the other day. The film is playing LA and NY through July 14 before expanding to a city near you.

If you happen to live in Rochester, NY, my former adopted hometown, you can catch it at one of my fave old haunts, the Little Theater, July 14 as a part of the Ames-Amzalak Rochester Jewish Film Festival, and if you’re in San Francisco, you can catch it July 24 at the Castro during the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. If you’re in neither of those places, there’s a nice list of limited release cities — including Seattle — where you’ll be able to catch it. And if you haven’t seen yet, even if you think docs about social justice are boring, trust me on this … get thee to a theater and see this film.

Crime After Crime follows the lengthy pro bono battle by a pair of attorneys who normally practice land use law to free Debbie Peagler, who in 1983 pled guilty to first degree murder in the death of her husband, Oliver Wilson, who, it was documented in legal papers, battered, harassed and threatened her and sexually abused her daughter. Director Yoav Potash unravels Debbie’s complex legal case with exemplary storytelling that tracks the eight year long battle undertaken by Josh Safran and Nadia Costa to gain justice and freedom for Debbie under a California law that allows the cases of battered women in prison for a crime related to their abuse to be reheard with that evidence taken into consideration.

The film is skillfully edited and scored, weaving eight years of events into a seamlessly told story that makes excellent use of suspense and emotion; if you don’t want to throttle everyone in the LA District Attorneys office — especially former DA Steve Cooley, who gave Safran and Costa a letter agreeing to lower the charges against Debbie to manslaughter (which carried a six-year maximum sentence in 1983) and set her free, only to renege on that promise shortly thereafter — well, I expect you’d be in the minority among those who see this film.

Crime After Crime‘s socio-political and racial implications are reminiscent of another doc that debuted at Sundance, Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s excellent Oscar-nommed Trouble the Water, about the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina and the breaking of the levee on poor African-American New Orlean’s residents.

I love docs about all kinds of subjects. Where narratives tell our stories, documentaries capture slices of our history and our humanity in all their moments of light and darkness. Crime After Crime reveals both the darker and lighter sides of human nature, but dwells most heavily on the light, through Safran and Costa, of course, for their tireless effort to free Debbie Peagler, a woman they didn’t even know when they agreed to take on her case, but most especially for Debbie herself, who personifies grace, dignity and humanity through trial and tribulation most of us couldn’t begin to imagine living through.

See this film. You can see when it’s coming to a city near you — or request that it screen in your town if it isn’t slated there yet — right here on the film’s website.

Here’s the film’s trailer:

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Things with Weddings

I’ve been a little swamped lately with last minute details for my daughter Meg’s wedding on July 23. Being financially strapped 20-somethings has forced Meg and her fiance Dick to plan their wedding creatively while still making it memorable. She’s gotten a lot of ideas off Offbeat Bride, and I’ve been really impressed with the ideas she’s incorporated to give the wedding a unique stamp.
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Judge Not, Continued

Over on his blog Carnal Thoughts, Angelo Muredda wrote a very thoughtful and articulate response to my post Judge Not. To recap, that post, via a winding and roundabout path that touched on both assisted suicide and the murders of autistic children by their parents, was related to the issue of how our society supports neither the raising of children — disabled or not — nor the adults who choose to take on the work of rearing the next generation.

Before I address Angelo’s otherwise excellent post, though, I do have to address this bit from his piece:
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Wake Me When It’s Over

God, I hate summer movie season.

Love summer for the downtime, going to the beach with the kids, 4th of July fireworks, cookouts. Hate summer for the summer tentpoles, most of which I have no interest in at all, and the boring news cycles.

I wrote on Facebook this afternoon:

I was just over on deadline.com and there is nothing — zero, zilch, nada — on that site that I even remotely care about reading. You can have a zillion headlines that start with TOLDJA and I still wouldn’t care. Ditto for any number of other movie sites right now. I’m sure I’ll get over my malaise around time for TIFF when the movies are more interesting, but for now? Pffffffft. Do. Not. Care. About 99% of what’s passing for “news” on movie sites.

Yes, I’m being a bit melodramatic. Yes, you personally are awesome. If you are one of my friends (and very likely, even if you aren’t, with a very few exceptions) everything you write is probably terrific. It’s just that it feels like so many movie sites are writing about the same stories, over and over again and everyone desperately trying to put a little spin on it to make it interesting.
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Independence Day

A while back over on the Hot Blog, David was asking folks to share summer movie memories, and since one of my clearest summer movie memories has to do with this holiday, I thought I’d share with the group.

July, 1996

Jay and I are living in Rochester, New York, having relocated from Fort Lee, New Jersey a few months earlier so he could be nearer to his family. My daughter Meg and my mom have gone to Oklahoma to visit my family for a month, so it is just the two of us there on the long Fourth of July weekend when I realize that maybe I’m pregnant.

We’d been kinda-sorta trying, with the “if it happens, great” attitude many young couples have. I do the pregnancy test in secret, not wanting to stress Jay out for no reason. It’s positive, and I have a brief moment of “Okay, people, this is not a drill!” before joy sets in. I tell Jay, and can tell by his expression that he’s feeling that same mixture of happiness and trepidation. We decide to go see Independence Day to celebrate.

We get there a little late and have to sit in the front; the theater is packed. The smell of popcorn and fake buttery topping is overwhelming and I excuse myself a couple times to heave in the bathroom, thankful we’re in the front row so I don’t have to keep stepping on people.

At some point in the movie, I become aware that Jay’s hand is resting on my belly, which already has that feeling of being with a child, even though I’m just two months or so along. I catch his eye in the dark of the theater, and we smile at each other. In a few weeks when Meg and my mom get home, we will tell them our news, but for now, we are the only people in the world who know that our baby is growing inside me.

Seven months later our daughter Neve is born. She was going to be named Aleishia, but a couple months before her birth Jay and I go to see Scream and both of us like the look of Neve Campbell’s name on the screen. We’re not enamored of the Dutch pronunciation “Nev,” but a little research reveals the Portugese version is pronounced “Neeve” and that both mean “snow.” We live in Rochester, which competes with Buffalo for most snow inches a year, so that seems appropriate. The day Neve is born there is heavy snowfall bordering on blizzard conditions, and that seals the deal. Neve she will be.

Happy Independence Day.

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In Other News, Shia LaBeouf is a Bad, Bad Boy

… at least, according to this lengthy interview over at Details. Parts of it, like this, are pretty awesome:

When one photographer aimed a long lens at the window of LaBeouf’s house, the actor burst outside, grabbed several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment from the shooter’s car, and held on to it until the cops showed up. “I’m a little territorial and defensive,” he says. “I don’t like having my space invaded. I’m a fucking human being who pays his taxes. And I don’t respond in a really sweetheart way. I mean, maybe I should develop that, but even as I say that, I have this cheerleader in the back of my head that’s like, ‘No, man, don’t conform!'”

Seriously, even if you think you’re not a fan, go read the full article. It gives you a very different view of Shia LaBeouf than the one you probably have. At least, it did me.

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Quote Unquotesee all »

“The purpose of film isn’t to present the kindness of the world.”
~ Isabelle Huppert

The Promised Land steers into the fact that the United States can mean whatever people want it to mean. You may not be able to be Elvis, but you can sure as shit impersonate him for a living. America, like its current President (at least as of this article’s publication), is so dangerous precisely because it’s a blank canvas on which anyone can project their dreams. Whatever it is that you see for yourself, there’s someone you can pay for the pleasure of believing that it’s possible. In his view, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate con, a delusion that prevents us from seeing our circumstances for what they are.

“Forget the Matrix, it’s the invention of happiness that blinded us to the truth. The rich got richer and the poor help them do it. Jarecki doesn’t argue that the American Dream is dead; he argues that it was never alive in the first place — that we were all lobsters in a pot full of water that was boiling too slowly for any of us to notice. And now it’s time for dinner. Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. Elvis has left the building.”
~ David Ehrlich