Homemade movies are (sometimes) fun

A few years ago, the notion seemed impossible: Real people -- just like you and me, only with more gumption and patience -- can make real movies, the kind shown in a real theater.

Now it's possible. The latest proof is "The End of Art," which will be shown four times over a seven-day span, at the Lansing Mall Cinema.

(For those reading this elsewhere, this blog is mainly about Lansing, Mich.; please skip down to the other blogs, which talk obsessively about "American  Idol.")

Before going to the movie, you must appreciate that:

1) Everything was filmed around Lansing, Williamston and such.

2) The budget was under $1,000. You could make the movie 150,000 times, for less than it cost to make "Titanic."

3) Unlike "Titanic," this film didn't have the money to make and sink a ship.  It couldn't even afford to shoot holes in a wall; that had to be done by special effect -- freezing a frame and pasting up a pseudo-hole. "The End of Art" does, however, give us a fun version of a flaming car.

4) Flaws and all, this has a good cast and some scattered, fun moments.

One of the flaws involves who is where. Bruce Bennett -- who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Jack Schaberg -- has always been wonderful at quick bursts of comic relief. Here, he's in the lead, playing hapless Art the artist; that becomes too much of a good thing. By comparison, Mark Boyd -- a master of deadpan, understated comedy -- is confined to a supporting role.

The plot is reasonably clever. Someone is hired to get rid of something -- but is he supposed to destroy art or Art? More confusion follows, when Art's wife seems to be endorsing a hit job.

 There are enough good ideas here for a short film. The trick is to spread it out to anything close to a feature-length 90 minutes.

Schaberg and Bennett try admirably. They make good use of drawings from Bennett (an artist in real life), excellent background music and even a fun song, which Jennifer Joan Joy (a fine singer) performs in a dream scene.

Many films have dream scenes, but this may be the only one that fully incorporates a man in a beaver disguise. Moments like that -- plus all the use of local actors and settings -- allow us to semi-forgive all flaws.

The movie is $5. It shows at Lansing Mall Cinema at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (March 11), 9 p.m. Thursday (March 12), 7 p.m. Monday (March 16) and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 17). Don't accidentally go to "Watchmen"; insist on the show with the the guy in a beaver disguise.

Let's meet the "Idol" 13


What are the "American Idol" finalists like? We may be able to get a glimpse from their phone interviews, the day after each was added to the final 13.

Please take a look at the two blogs that follow this one. They interview the four people who made the list Thursday, then the three who made it Wednesday.

Further down, you'll find interviews with the first and second batches of three. Let me know what you think of them so far.

Hey Dogg, they're messing with you

What's it like to have a TV show toy with your emotions?
"It was the pits, man," Anoop Desai said today (Friday). "It's the difference between having all your dreams dashed and seeing them (revived)."
For a moment Thursday, it appeared that Desai was out, failing to make the show's final 12. Then came the switch: There will be 13 this year and he's in.
That came on an emotional day for Desai. Thursday was the first anniversary of the slaying of Eve Carson, a friend who was the student body president at the University of North Carolina; Desai had watched an Internet feed of the memorial service and brought a memento with him onstage. "I carry that in my pocket, just to remind myself," he said.
Desai fits none of the hip-youth stereotypes one might expect from an "American Idol" contestant.
He grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., where his mom is a biochemist and his dad designs software. He graduated from the University of North Carolina with a double major (political science and American studies). Now he's in grad school studying folklore, which he calls "like cultural anthropology."
There are plenty of cultures for him to study. His dad is from India, his mom from South Africa, "where there's a large Indian community." His own interests are all-American, including basketball, barbecues (he wrote a 60-page thesis on the subject) and rhythm-and-blues, leading to his nickname of "Anoop Dogg."
Then again, none of these last four seem to fit any "Idol" stereotypes. The others are:
-- Jasmine Murray, who surprised judges. They thought Murray, only 17, would stick to light pop, but she let loose with a power ballad. "I thought it was age-appropriate ... It was in a Disney movie," she said. She's used to the spotlight, from competing in beauty pageants and even singing during a Miss American pageant.
-- Matt Giraud, who picked up the name White Chocolate when he sang with a Detroit-area gospel choir. Giraud grew up in Ypsilanti, Mich., where he used to sit down for free and play the piano at the Marriott Hotel. ("I never got any tips; I was just learning.") Now he lives in Kalamazoo, where he graduated from Western Michigan University and sang at piano bars.
-- Megan Joy Corkrey, who has colorful tattoos down one arm. It's a fairy-tale scene, she said, with her as the queen and her 2-year-old son as the prince. It's still a work in progress, after two years.
She has six other tattoos, including her middle name of "Joy," which is informally becoming her last name. "Corkrey is my ex-husband's name and I'm moving away from that."
Her off-center look and personality may conflict with some people's view that her home state of restrictive. "Utah is such a beautiful and friendly place," she said.

Idol "finalists" -- a mixed bunch

Don't expect a bunch of look-alike, sound-alike people in this year's "American Idol" final 12.
The differences are enormous. Just consider the three who advanced on Wednesday:
-- Jorge Nunez is a comparative-literature major who was hoping to be a lawyer. He's sung in choirs, he said today (Thursday), but that's about it. "This is the only big thing I've ever done with music."
-- Lil Rounds grew up amid the music of Memphis. Still, she's confined her singing mostly to church.
-- And Scott MacIntyre? Well, the list goes on and on.
At 23, MacIntyre has a degree from Arizona State University and a Master's from the Royal College of Music in London. He's also studied in Boston and Toronto and Salzburg, Austria. He's won competitions, soloed with orchestras, performed at the Kennedy Center. And he's cut six CD's.
Despite his blindness, he has also done a couple musicals and some dancing. "As long as I don't fall off the stage, I'm OK," he joked.
This show may be a jumble of opposites, but MacIntyre says one thing has linked them since the Hollywood round: "Where else can you find 150 people in one place who love music?"
Two of the finalists, Rounds and Alexis Grace, are from Memphis. "She's a great girl, so we clicked," Rounds said.
Still, they have dipped into different parts of the city. Grace grew up around the blues clubs and now sings in them with her father's band. Rounds is familiar with that music -- "I have a grandfather who played with B.B. King" -- but her own taste has been for gospel.
In case you're wondering, this is not "Lil" short for "Little." It's her full first name, she said, one that goes back in the family.
She had considering auditioning before, but didn't. "A couple of the years, I was with child."
This year, she made the move. "We just got up and went," she said. "I just felt it was time."
A former customer service representative, she was a stay-at-home mom before leaving for her long "Idol" stay. Her kids -- ages 5, 3 ad 2 -- understand, she said, and her husband is also into music. "I don't let him go too far with his singing, but he's a great writer."
Nunez had dropped his music hopes after auditioning unsuccessfully for a show in his native Puerto Rico, three years ago. He settled into academia, which is logical enough: His extended family includes doctors and an architect; he speaks Spanish, English and French.
Now the musical ambitions are back, especially since he received a text message today (Thursday) from Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. "That was the best thing that has ever happened to me," he said. "They told me that I brought them to tears."
For MacIntyre, the music is a given; he's been playing the piano since he was 3. What people seem most interested in are the complications for someone who has been virtually blind since birth.
Once, Ryan Seacrest even mistakenly tried to give him a high-five. "That's happened to me my whole life," MacIntyre said. "People try to wave to me, try to high-five me. I had one guy who tried to fist-bump me."

Now "Idol" is cast

"We've got to cast the rest of the season," Simon Cowell said tonight.

And that, of course, is what we figured they'd do. These final picks -- the judges' wild cards -- are all about filling out what's missing.

We'd predicted Wednesday that the judges would go with Jasmine Murray, Anoop Desai and Megan Joy Corkrey. They did; they also threw in a surprise with Matt Giraud, expanding the field to 13.

Until now, the show oddly had only one black among nine finalists. It needed Jasmine -- who also happens to be cute, 17 and talented -- to balance the field.

And it needed more teen-pop appeal. Megan -- the beauty with one arm gaudily tatooed -- fills that; so does "Anoop Dogg," a guy who can work an audience.

And Matt? Well, he's just different. The show needs different, too. Here are a few of my comments, please add yours:

1) Oops, wrong night. Jasmine and Tatiana Del Toro both had big-voice, big-finish songs. Those have a killer impact when viewers are voting; they rarely do much for the judges, though.

2) Talking about the ever-changing Tatiana after her song, one judge said, "At least, she's not crying." Cowell's response: "She will." She did.

3) I really wasn't that impressed with Corkrey's rendition of a song with a very narrow vocal range. The judges loved her, though.

4) For years, Paula Abdul simply repeated -- in (barely) different words -- what Randy Jackson had just said. In the new system, she can't do that. She's had a few rough spots, but mostly she's done a better job this year.

5) It was kind of cruel to toy with Anoop that way. The last time "Idol" did that, it made Jordin Sparks think she was out. Instead, she went on to win it all; that could happen again.

6) In fact, the eight guys are the best male contingent the show has ever had. The five women are pretty good. This is turning into an interesting season.