Saturday, May 26, 2007

A movie review I did for a class way back in November

I'm not sure why I'm posting this now. I guess it's about time. We had to do some reviews for a class I took in the Fall 'o6 semester. I reviewed Nacho Libre because I thought it had some funny parts, and I figured I could write a funny review on it. The best part is that the teacher loved it and I got 30/30 points. The previous paper I had gotten kind of a disappointing grade.

My world had come crashing down.

Okay, it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was nice to get the good grade on this one.

Without further ado:

Uncle Sam’s Movie Review

Nacho packs plenty of cheese

Director Jared Hess, known for his cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” now has a more impressive film to add to his résumé: “Nacho Libre.”
But the man who really makes the movie is Jack Black.

Black stars as Ignacio, aka Nacho, a Mexican friar who works at a Catholic monastery, but secretly moonlights as a “luchador.” Nacho’s duties consist of preparing meals for orphan children and clergymen. Nacho is frustrated with his lack of ministerial duties, but you quickly understand why he rarely receives such assignments when he gives a eulogy for a supposed dead man who is, in fact, still alive.

Although he works at the monastery, Nacho develops a crush for the new (and only) woman at work – the lovely Sister Encarnación (Ana de la Reguera). Nacho goes so far as to make her an extra special salad, filled with lettuce, tomato, crushed chips and a veritable lake of ranch dressing. He also professes his love by sliding multiple slices of rock-hard toast under the bedroom door of the object of his affection.

The film has more conflict than what you see on the surface or in the previews. In fact, this is one of the movie’s ongoing themes, as Nacho’s devout Christianity clashes with wrestling partner Esqueleto’s (Hector Jimenez – his character’s name is Spanish for skeleton) ironically strict belief in science. Besides, the scrawny, brief-rocking, savage Esqueleto hates orphans, and Nacho works in an orphanage. Now that’s drama, folks!

Nacho’s inspiration to wrestle emerges when he sees a poster claiming a handsome cash reward for the winner of a wrestling tournament. Our hero and Esqueleto take their share of lumps in the ring from a gamut of unusual characters, including a tag team of ferocious midgets who wear masks of an unusual horned lion-like beast.

As much as I push the idea that this movie features romance, action and everything between, the fact remains that “Nacho Libre” is a comedy – a comedy with better wrestling scenes than you can find on cable television.

All the while, Nacho and Esqueleto form a beatable – yes, you read that correctly – wrestling duo, that, despite a sketchy win-loss record, earns enough money to provide field trips and better food for the orphans, while buying themselves some fancy duds. Nacho even tries to impress Sister Encarnación with his uber-tight “leisure clothes” one night.

On the other hand, if you don’t like seeing portly guys in pale blue stretchy pants with red underoos on the outside, maybe you should skip this movie. Better yet, just cover your eyes during those parts. As crazy as this movie is, if you’re a fan of slapstick, “Nacho” is your cup of salsa.

“Nacho” tries a little too hard to force laughter upon its audience. With Black’s cut-up singing and wacky lyrics/dialogue, the humor – similar to his performance in “School of Rock” – is a bit juvenile and overdone. For example, at one point Nacho sings a song about Sister Encarnación and his dedication to the ministry. He sweetly croons about the possibility of breaking his vows of celibacy: “No, no, no way, José! … Unless you want to. Then we’d break our vows together!”

(Maybe you like this version of the song!)

The basis of this somewhat flimsy plot: live a dream by becoming a wrestler, get the cash that comes with that, and help the orphans have a better life. Although the film is actually based loosely – we’re talking street corner-lady loose – on the life of a Mexican minister/wrestler who taught about God according to his manner, the content is a bit farfetched.

Additionally, the film falls well short of “Napoleon” in terms of quotability.

But now I’m just getting too picky. The truth is, this film is enjoyable if and when you are in the mood for some lighthearted viewing. Before you watch “Nacho,” just make sure you expect it to be stupid. That’s what I expected, and fortunately, the movie far exceeded my expectations. I even went back for a second helping of Nacho at the theater (bad pun intended).

As Nacho would say in that well-mimicked Mexican accent, “it’s fantastic!”

Rated PG for some violence and mature themes.
Uncle Sam’s grade: B+

For comments, e-mail Uncle Sam at

Friday, May 18, 2007

The work of photographer Heather Shimmin

There are many reasons why people become interested in hobbies. Some folks take on a leisure pursuit that their friends enjoy as a way to have fun together. Others develop likes and dislikes similar to those of their parents. Furthermore, some individuals look to go on their own and find their own unique interests.

Our experiences help shape who we are. The things we do and the things we discover lead to further action that may arouse our curiosity in new activities.

For Heather Shimmin, many interests have led her into her work as a photographer. Originally studying design, but wanting to work in a commercially viable art without spending all day in front of a computer, Shimmin eventually changed gears and earned her degree in photography from Utah Valley State.

The range of activities Shimmin has participated in is broad. She enjoys traveling, playing guitar, cycling, hiking and spending time outdoors. In her youth, Shimmin only dabbled in photography. However, all of her activities have, as she said, “bled” into her life of photography. Her love of outdoors and travel fit in perfectly with her love of art, particularly the art of taking pictures. Among her favorite subjects are cityscapes, travel photography and shots that portray lifestyle, preferring these to pictures of nature.

Now, with seven years of photographic experience under her belt, Shimmin shoots weddings and family activities, and takes product shots and business portraits. Though Shimmin said she views weddings as a photography staple within the state of Utah, she said she would rather take on a new assignment. For example, shooting a Jewish Bar Mitzvah would be fun, she said.

Despite some distaste for sitting in front of a computer, the new age of digital photography has required that she still spend many hours on a computer in order to do her work.

One benefit of digital photography, as opposed to film photography, is saving money. Digital cameras make it possible to delete photos that don’t turn out exactly as planned, rather than spending money to develop the film of every picture taken. The digital pictures are also easy to manipulate and store on computers. This allows the photographer to delete the pictures from the camera’s memory stick, creating room for new pictures to be taken.

“I like photography because it’s neat, not like a painting that takes so long,” Shimmin said, adding she enjoys the ability to immediately see and correct her photography, thanks to digital cameras. “Perhaps it’s the ADD coming through,” she joked.
Digital photography, however, is not without its disadvantages, at least as far as the professionals are concerned. It is now easier for everyone to become a photographer, Shimmin said.

“If there’s a family event, someone might say ‘Uncle Joe has camera. He can do it,’ so it makes it harder for professionals to find work,” Shimmin said.

Shimmin has found that certain elements are crucial to make her photography more than just ordinary. It’s important to notice what is interesting about a scene and to make that subject the focus of a given shot. Sometimes it is necessary to get closer to a subject to ensure it is adequately emphasized. Additionally, the location of the photographer is important, as some subjects will require unusually high or low camera angles.

Creativity is a vital part of good photography, Shimmin said. Many amateurs take pictures of the same cliché objects. For example, although a sunset may look nice, it does not stand out in the world of photography because most people have already seen and taken similar pictures, she said. For good photo ideas, Shimmin suggested looking at others’ work in magazines.

Proper lighting is essential to highlight a subject in a photo. Overcast skies are ideal for taking portraits because they create a giant softbox. In other words, you will only see soft shadows around a subject if you take the picture while the weather is overcast.

Being patient, taking time and taking many shots are other ways photographers can get the image quality they desire.

Just remember: patience is a virtue—and so is lighting, when it comes to photography.