Monday, March 31, 2008

Horton Hears A Who!

On the 29th of March, on a square called Pullman
People exited the theater in throng.

"What does it mean?" she asked her Dad
He gave a smile instead of an answer,
For fear his answer would be wrong.

"I think it's the apocalypse," someone said,
"It's about faith," said another.

"I thought it was just about an elephant,"
a woman said, with a smile.
"That loved the Who like a brother."

Each could be right, I suppose
Only the good Dr. knows all.

Despite the opinions that each of us have
There's one single truth to be heard.
"A person's a person, no matter how small."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Into The Wild

How many times in my life have I thought it?

Dozens, perhaps, maybe more. During times I'm fed up with the rigors of work, or the common stresses of life. When I've felt overwhelmed as a father, and inept as a husband. I've even thought it when things were going well; when I simply needed the creative energy it produced, or the brief mental respite the fantasy created.

"I'm gonna drop out of this rat race, move to [insert name of remote, faraway place here] and live off the land."

It's a terrific fantasy, and I generally dwell on it for a little while before I recognize the flaws in my thinking. (1) I know very little about living off the land, (2) I rather like things like cable TV, DVD's, the Internet and piped-in heat, (3) While growing up on the semi-functional farm of my youth, slaughtering animals for food was my least favorite activity and something I'd be no good at as an adult, and (4) Social awkwardness aside, I generally like people and enjoy the company of others.

For these reasons (and others), at the end of the day I know my fantasy is just that: a day dream that gets me through whatever-it-is-that's-nagging-me, and helps me to relax until the next existential crisis comes a-knockin'.

But for Chris McCandless, the dream was real.

Into The Wild tells the true story of McCandless, a kid who grew up with material privilege and within a family of dysfunction. The son of emotionally distant and abusive parents who led him to believe lies about their relationship and his heritage, McCandless graduated from Emory University and then decided to follow his dream. In order to get off the grid, he donates his college fund dollars to charity, destroys all forms of his identification, abandons his car and burns his remaining cash. Working his way West, McCandless lives off the land or earns money from small odd jobs in order to survive, and to save money for his ultimate goal: to spend time, alone and living off the land, in remote Alaska.

Sean Penn, who wrote the script and directed the film, stayed fairly true to many of the important accounts of McCandless' travels and adventures. One of the main themes of Into The Wild is the importance of living more in the moment. Planning and worrying about tomorrow or fretting about yesterday causes unhappiness; staying in the present--enjoying the beauty of the moment--allows one to appreciate life more fully and with a greater sense of contentment. The second theme is about the importance of having a social connection. This is a profound revelation for McCandless near the end of the film. He reaches his goal, finds it unsatisfying, and concludes (and I'm paraphrasing): "True happiness is reached only through sharing with others."

His is a classic example of: "Be careful what you wish for, 'cause you just might get it."

There is a debate about whether the real-life McCandless was heroic or stupid to hike into Alaska unprepared, and there is even some substantial evidence he may have had a mental illness. While those debates are interesting, they take nothing away from the enjoyment of this movie. Penn's film is shot beautifully, takes it's time revealing who McCandless is as a person and boasts a kick-ass soundtrack.

Into The Wild may romanticize his adventure, perhaps, more than the real-life version. But it makes for a wonderful story you can't afford to miss.

Friday, March 28, 2008

My Serenity Prayer

I just realized: this post must start out with what is, undoubtedly, a cliche:

I value diversity.

Now I recognize that using this cliche immediately brings my comments under suspicion. Just as comments that start with: "I have lots of friends who are..." and then continue with labels that designate a particular ethnicity, race or difference makes my left eyebrow arch, I know my use of the phrase will cause others to view me as suspect. But it's true. And I'll say it a lot.

I value diversity.

Especially religious diversity. I hold beliefs about spirituality that are dramatically different than the average American, I'd guess. I know they're incredibly different than the average West Virginian. I want my beliefs--which have, on occasion, caused significant problems in the relationship I have with my parents--to be accepted and respected for what they are. Mine. And for that to happen, I must accept and respect those beliefs that are different than mine. It took me a long time to recognize that.

But I learned to value diversity.

When I was a young kid--5, maybe, or 6--an elderly lady at the church I attended would become so enthused about the good news of Jesus that she would jump from her seat, sprint outside and run laps around the church. I always sat beside the single window on the right side of the small church, knowing I'd get a glimpse of the woman as she ran past, yelling "Praise Jesus" or something similar during each of her multiple laps. She worshipped in an extreme way, for sure, but I never viewed her as more or less pious than my grandfather, for example, who sat quietly on his pew and muttered a quiet "amen" only now and again. How one worships is an individual decision, and should be respected as such. We should be embracing our differences.

Particularly if one respects diversity.

My near lifelong perspective is one of the reasons I'm distraught over the story I read recently, about 11-year-old Madeline Neumann, of Wisconsin, who died from a highly treatable form of undiagnosed diabetes. Although ill for about a month, her parents chose to cure her through prayer rather than medicine.

If there is a god, please grant me the ability to remain respectful of diversity.

Believe if you will that the Earth is 6,000 years or so old, and that God made man and woman in his own image. That's not what I believe, but I respect and appreciate your faith.

Believe that societal morality can come only from God, and that those of us who don't believe are immoral--or worse, amoral--heathens. I don't buy that, but think what you will and let's live together as peacefully as possible.

Laugh at the theory of evolution, and talk about the concept of Intelligent Design to me all you want. I welcome the discussion, really, even though I think differently. It's a fun debate.

But have a sick kid and refuse her the basic medical care that will save her life?

I just can't respect that.

As much as I'd like to...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I'm Doug...

One of my favorite characters on one of my favorite comedy sketch shows--Doug, on The State--used the tag line "I'm Doug...and I'm outtaaa heeeerrreeee!" when he wasn't sure what else to say. Since I really enjoy humor that beats a dead horse, I laughed and laughed each time Doug goofed on his Dad or tried to outsmart his teacher.

Today, I sort of feel like Doug.

It's a bit pretentious to say it, but I'm starting to feel something less than relevant. (And that's pretentious, of course, because the response to the question that feeling raises is: "As if.") Aside from my rants on Oprah, what I write here isn't important, or life-altering. But I do enjoy telling stories, writing about insights and describing how movies and current events affect my perspective.

But recently, I just got nothing to say.

So, I'm outtaaa heeeerrreeee for a while. It might be a couple of weeks, I don't know, but I need a respite. I'm certain I'll be back, though, when I have something to say.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bolstering The Enemy

You know it and I know it:

Giving Bigfoot
the time table and plans for our expedition only strenthens his ability to evade us.

I mean, that's commonly understood, isn't it?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

TV Shows I Wish Would Be Made Into Movies

The movie version of Bewitched sucked, and The Brady Bunch Movie was only moderately funny (although, truth be told, it was funnier than most episodes of the actual sitcom).

And don't get me started on My Favorite Martian!

It seems I'm often disappointed in the TV shows from my youth (or shows that aired before I was born, which I learned to love from reruns on cable) that are made into feature films. Either the movies are poorly conceived (read: I Spy) or just plain awful. (Didya see S.W.A.T.?)

Here are some TV shows I wish were turned into movies. And an extra wish goes out in the hopes each would be done well:

The Greatest American Hero: Played out semi-serious, this movie has has real potential. The comedic recipe of a flawed hero, romance, mystery, super-powers and nostalgia is a can't miss.

The Green Hornet: Same as above, minus the comedy. Play down the super-hero bit and ramp up the mystery aspect, and this movie works. (Oops, I see The Green Hornet movie is being written and produced by Seth Rogen. There goes my hope it won't be a comedy. Damn...)

Hill Street Blues: It was a remarkable TV show, and could make a wonderful movie. I doubt it would translate to film as well as it did the episodic style of television, but I can hope. I'd be first in line for a ticket.

Baretta: Please! Please, make a Baretta movie. But leave out that damn bird.

Alias Smith And Jones: My favorite TV western ever (followed closely by The Big Valley), this show never took itself too seriosuly and always delivered on the entertainment. I think it works well as a movie.

What's on your list?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Top 5: Movies That Are Overrated

We love 'em and gush over them at the time. Years later--after some wear and tear, and after watching some flicks we might like a bit more--we realize maybe that movie wasn't so special after all.

Here is My Top 5: Movies That Are Overrated:

Field Of Dreams (1989): Corn, baseball and Kevin Costner--how much more boring could a premise be? I get the sentimental part, and I liked the acting of James Earl Jones. But this movie reached a status and has a following that I just don't get.

Easy Rider (1969): C'mon, you know it's true. Take out the drugs and the counterculture experience, and you got Wild Hogs.

The Piano (1993): I have no memory of this flick after that scene of Harvey Keitel's bare ass. I think it gave me a migraine.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): This flick and NyQuil helped me sleep through a week of the flu.

Forrest Gump (1994): Gump lost me when he became a ping-pong professional. And when he met JFK. And then again when he went on that cross-country run. Hell, I just realized I hated the whole box of chocolate.

Agree, disagree or tell me your list.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Whatever Happened To...Josh Saviano

Paul Pfeiffer was my favorite character on one of my all-time favorite TV shows, The Wonder Years. Best friend and sidekick to lead Kevin Arnold, Paul evolved from a nerdy stereotype to a complex character of intelligence, resolve and loyalty.

Originally a peripheral character created to enhance the ain't-he-adorable factor of Kevin Arnold, Paul eventually developed the confidence to go his own way. Josh Saviano played the role perfectly, and then did what most child stars with lots of TV money should--but almost never--do:

He got the hell out!

Contrary to rumors, Saviano did not grow up to be Marilyn Manson. He did, however, graduate from Yale with a degree in Political Science.

After working for a few years as a paralegal in New York, Saviano graduated from law school and was admitted to the New York state bar.

I don't know any former TV stars who make public
their contact information. Due to the nature of his work, I suppose Saviano must. (Careful: Your home page gets X's out when you click on the link. It's a safe link, though.)

I bet he gets slammed with questions about Winnie Cooper all the time.

Tell him The Film Geek thinks he was terrific.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Brave One

You and the person you love most in the world are beaten in a act of random, senseless violence. Hurt badly, you go into a coma for several weeks, and your loved one is killed during the attack. You awaken to discover the authorities are of little help in solving the case, and you have severe stress and fear that you may be attacked again.

In the words of that famous philosopher, Keanu Reeves (from Speed):

"What do you do? What do you do?"

(Dear gawd, just remembering Reeves recite that line from the 1994 flick gives me the creeps. Where's my Flashback! file?!?)

Me? I'd probably go to bed and close the door on the world for the next 10 years or so, living on pain pills and relying on smokes to get me through the day.

Jodi Foster's character, Erica Bain? She buys a gun and goes on a Bernie Goetz-type vigilante-spree, becoming an anti-hero who eventually seeks out the thugs who killed her fiance.

The Brave One looks at how Bain overcomes her fear through violence. The performances of Foster and Terrance Howard, who plays the cop searching for the vigilante, are good. But it's the ending that makes this movie. It doesn't sell out to the audience, even though I feared that it would.

The flick makes a powerful statement about how powerless we humans tend to be, and how few option we actually have in life to feel the power that we sometimes need.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Oh My God Do I Try

Yeah, I know it's poppy and the band's considered a one-hit-wonder.

I don't care.

In my late 20s, this song helped me through some really difficult, challenging times. I'm still not sure why it helped, but I no longer dwell too much on that question.

It just did.

Sometimes I still need to hear it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Vantage Point

Vantage Point, directed by Pete Travis, is an old-school whodunit suspense flick told with new-school style and technique.

Visiting Spain, the American President is warned there will be an attempt on his life during an appearance in a crowded public square by a terrorist group. Although efforts are put in place to protect him, the complex plan of the terrorists is carried out over the course of less than thirty minutes in real time, and the President is compromised. Efforts to save him and solve the mystery of how the plot was carried out are put into place, and carried out in urgent, break-neck speed.

If told in regular movie format, Vantage Point would be simply another movie with a less than average plot relying on action alone to make it interesting. But, the flick is told in a unique style: each of the main characters witness the events from various perspectives, and each has a clue to who the terrorists are, and how they carried out their plot. Vantage Point tells each person's story in 10 to 15 minutes segments until the conclusion is wrapped up neatly from all the clues collected.

The movie plays out one perspective scenario then, literally, rewinds that scene and begins a new one involving another character. It's such an unusual technique that at first it's annoying. During the first two or three times it's done, the audience I saw the movie with complained out loud.

But the clues being fed to the audience come quickly and are obviously important in trying to figure out the conclusion, so folks began to accept the technique soon. The acting takes a backseat to the action in Vantage Point--the flick has one of the better car chase scenes I've seen in a while--but again, this isn't a movie you'd watch in order to enjoy good acting.

It's the technique that's important, and it works pretty well here.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Five Things I Know For Sure: Part 2

With almost sincere apologies to my spiritual advisor, Oprah.

1.Ear-rings on men are no longer statements of protest. Now they've become accessories, designed to get a guy laid. And that's why I'll stop wearing mine.

Back when I pierced my left ear, I did it to demonstrate a personal evolution. Once in a while I'd wear a small hoop ring, but almost all the time I wore a simple stud. It wasn't the jewelry that was important anyway; the bling mattered much, much less than the meaning the piercing held for me.

2. The West Virginia state legislature is working on amendments to the Human Rights and Fair Housing Acts that would prohibit employment and housing discrimination against homosexuals. Many citizens and some state politicians cite religious belief as the basis for their aggressive stance
against the proposal.

If Jesus was the manager of the Cracker Barrel, I doubt strongly that he'd ask an applicant if he or she was gay prior to making a decision about hiring that individual (which is currently a possible and legal scenario in this state). Although it's presumptuous to attempt to speak for any deity--real, or otherwise-- I can't help but expect Jesus would look mostly for honesty, dependability and job skills during the interview.

3. Chuck Taylor's rock!

The John Lennon Peace Chuck Taylor's, which I get to wear too rarely but have on today, rock even more!

4. Scheduled days off aren't really that when you have to go into the office for a couple of hours.

5. Brett Favre, the newly retired football player, was never as good as his reputation. A handful of terrific seasons during a 17-year career gets him in the "Top 10 QB's Of All Time" debate, for sure. But the best ever?

Nope. Too inconsistent, and too reckless with the pass.

Monday, March 03, 2008

The King Of Kong

Sometime while I was in junior high school a couple of arcades opened up in my hometown. The Electronic Circus and Lunar Landing were polar opposites in atmosphere, and each attracted kids with their distinctive look and vibe. While the Electronic Circus was shiny and bright with lots of bells, whistles and pool tables, Lunar Landing was dark, smoky and mysterious.

I really dug Lunar Landing!

Lunar Landing had a moon-type motif, and dozens of stand-up arcade games. I was partial to Galaga; allowing my spaceship to be captured only to steal it back and use the double-barrel whammy on the bad guys during the challenge round was more than cool. It caught the eyes of girls, too. Girls who seemed attracted to kids with supple wrists and the ability to score lots of points with the first character of each game.

I sometimes played Donkey Kong, too. That game was a killer, though, in that there didn't seem any real way to beat it. Sometimes even if you had the hammer, the flames or the barrels would somehow get through and kill your Mario. Donkey Kong was the ultimate game:

Scoring high caused the chicks to stick around.

Scoring low brought ultimate buzz-kill.

The King Of Kong is a fascinating peek inside the lives of old-school gamers from the 80s who guard their arcade accomplishments with obsessive passion, and who are threatened by a newcomer who brings mad skills and determination to arcade tournaments.

Billy Mitchell set the high score for Donkey Kong back in 1982. He's built a reputation and a lifestyle around that accomplishment, and leads a syndicate of geeks, freaks and nerds bent on protecting Mitchell's record score.

Steve Wiebe, a former Boeing employee turned science teacher, finds focus in the Donkey Kong game after being laid off from his job. He sets his sights on Mitchell's thought-to-be impossible to reach high score.

The result is a compelling, complex documentary that entertains as well as allows the viewer to connect with the people on-screen. Wiebe is impossible not to cheer for. Mitchell is easy to hate.

The King Of Kong (sometimes referred to as The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters) is a must-see for anyone who played arcade games in the 80s and early 90s.

But it'll entertain everyone else as well.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Please, Make It Stop: Part 14

Across America, men and women are making a difference in the lives of total strangers as part of volunteer activities or paid employment. They work quietly behind the scenes one individual or family at a time.

The work's done for low pay (for those employed to do good works) or through the sacrifice of personal time and resources for volunteers.

Several years ago I received a call from a Catholic nun in rural southwestern West Virginia who needed my help with a family she was supporting. I spent a day with the Sister and the family; I was impressed by her selflessness, and the way she made the family's needs the most important aspect of our get-together that day. She didn't seem to need recognition, praise or gratitude. She simply wanted the quality of life for the family we were visiting to improve.

Of course, the Sister's name wasn't Oprah.

Oprah's Big Give premiers tonight on ABC. By one account (a review in USA Today), the show "is a throwback to a time when the poor were expected to be grateful for whatever they were given.

It so often ignores the needs of those getting the give that the reviewer adds: "Seldom has the drive to do good works been as alarmingly, offensively presumptuous."

Gee, that review sounds familiar.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

My Initial Thought, Most Weekends

C'mon, seriously: who hasn't awakened on a Saturday, realized he had no place to be over the weekend and smiled because he didn't have to shower?

For the whole weekend!

I mean...

It isn't just me, is it?