Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Journey To The Center Of The Earth

As a kid, I was fascinated by Jules Verne's novel. When I wasn't reading books by Verne and author Ray Bradbury, I was fantasizing about discovering, or living in, new and exciting worlds.

Just behind the house I grew up in was a deep creek. The creek's banks separated our yard from woodlands, and both sides were very steep. During one summer in my pre-teen years, I spent days digging into the side of the highest bank, believing fully that before Autumn I would reach the Earth's center. With one end of the rope tied securely to a tree and the other end tied tight around my waist, I dangled over that embankment day after day after day.


I think I dug into the bank about three feet in that Summer. I didn't dig far enough to see giant mushrooms, much less prehistoric animals. But inside my head, I sure had me some adventure. I was journeying to the center of the earth.

Even without the 3-D gimmick this movie had in its theatrical release, Journey To The Center Of The Earth is a fun, family oriented movie. Sure, the flick is cheesy. The plot is well known and predictable, the acting is average at best. The action seems designed to facilitate the 3-D effect, which sometimes takes away from the fantasy.

So it's not perfect. Like I said, it's cheesy.

But it's fun cheesy, if you just let yourself go with it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Bank Job

It's no Dog Day Afternoon, or Inside Man. Hell, it's not even Take The Money And Run.


The Bank Job, starring Jason Statham, tells a good story based on complicated and semi-true events surrounding the Baker Street Robbery. Statham, probably best known for his Transporter flicks, leads a group of neophyte criminals trying to get rich with one quick strike.

What they don't know is: British Military Intelligence is manipulating their actions from behind the scene, and getting the robbers to do carry out the government's bidding.

Although complicated, The Bank Job is predictable. The ending satisfies, though, because Statham and his costars are able to connect with the audience and get us to root for them.

It's always fun to beat The Man.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hotel For Dogs

Griffyn asked it, with full confidence. The way one asks a question when one already know the answer, and understand the only thing left is to figure out the details.

"We can go see Hotel For Dogs sometimes this weekend, right?"

Lots of different thoughts swirled through my head when she asked. It made me happy she felt comfortable to ask, and I was thrilled to know my 8-year-old enjoys movies, like me.

But I was envious.

During my own childhood, I rarely--maybe, never--considered asking my dad to take me to the movies. I recall wanting to, but can't think of a time that I did. We went as a family to a handful of flicks, but each trip was planned by my mother. A Disney movie here, a drive-in show there; until I was 15, I'd have given anything to go to alone to a movie with my dad. But I never asked. He worked hard, and worked often. And when he wasn't working, he was tired.

The one time I invited him to a movie was to see Billy Crystal's 1991 flick City Slickers. I thought the combination of comedy and a western theme would suite him. I remember he didn't laugh nearly as much as I did. After the movie, he didn't seem interested in talking about the expereince. That made me feel awkward, and sort of embarrassed. I love to talk about movies after I watch them with someone.

"Sure," I replied to Griffyn. "I'm glad you asked, it's been too long since we went to the movies together."

The popcorn was stale and the movie was average. But what a great time we had.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Stepford Husband

Settling in for the night, we began having one of those discussions. You've had them. The sort of talks where the point is more to purge information from your head than to exchange information, or to really have a meaningful dialogue. I sort of caught her in mid-topic.

"So, she said she'd like to give us the tickets. She didn't want the season tickets to be wasted, and she thought we'd enjoy the play."

While sorting out my own thoughts soon after my head hit the pillow, I'd obviously missed some important aspects of the discussion. Being the good
detective I am, however, I was able to piece together "she," season," tickets," and "play" into a completed puzzle that read: "Our friend Sandy can't use her season tickets to a playhouse in Cincinnati, and wants to give them to us."


"Sounds like fun, let's go" I said. Rescuing myself from the disaster of not listening to intimate pillow talk is hard work. I was ready for some sleep.

"But, the play is on February 1st."

She said it as though February 1st was an important date, but I couldn't recall anything we had scheduled that day.

That's not the day I'm doing the Polar Plunge in Charleston. That's February 7th."

She chuckled. "I know, you've been talking about that for weeks. I just didn't think you'd want to go on the 1st because it's the Super Bowl."

From my middle-teens through most of my adult life, I've been that guy.

Big game Saturdays in front of the TV.

Big game Sundays in front of the TV.

Big game Mondays in front of the TV.

Pretending to enjoy shopping with my family on weekends at the mall, but always manipulating my way to the electronics sections of the super-stores in order to catch up on the latest scores. I can do a helluva impersonation of Hank Williams, Jr.'s Monday Night Football theme song, perfected by season after season of practice.

Some of my life highlights are remembered through football prompts; Mrs. Film Geek and I started dating the year Jeff Hostetler lead the New York Giants to the Super Bowl.

"I don't care about watching the Super Bowl," I said. And I didn't. At that moment, spending time with my wife in Cincinnati sounded much more interesting than sitting at home watching The Big Game.

"Let's do it, let's go. It will be fun."

We stopped talking and, [ahem] went to sleep.

Something about that moment has made me reflect on maturity ever since. Did the fact that I preferred spending time with my wife rather than watching sports mean I was suddenly an adult? A grown man, with a grown man-type perspective? Had I reached the ultimate degree of selflessness, a goal I've hoped to achieve my entire life?

Or, was I simply complacent in the fact that technology will allow me to get out of the Lazy Boy and still watch or keep current with the game? The thought did cross my mind.

Besides, Steelers vs. Cardinals will be a blow out, anyway.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Growing up orphans in the slums of Mumbai, brothers Salim and Jamal barely eek out an existence. Living on a trash heap , the brothers and their young female friend, Latika, are taken in by criminals and turned out as beggars. This starts the threesome on a path of day-to-day survival that lasts into adulthood.

Used and mistreated by adults, Jamal, Salim and Latika learn hard lessons about life and about the art of survival. The most important of those lessons: destiny isn't something one simply allows to happen; even though "it is written," one can influence the outcome. Jamal's strong will and love for Latika helps him control his personal destiny.

Slumdog Millionaire is visually stunning and intricately written. While the entire cast delivers, it's Dav Patel as Jamal who is the heart of this film. The audience quickly comes to love this character for his determination and his sincerity. Patel gives a performance that demonstrates at once strength and vulnerability. His performance is, simply, brilliant.

A British flick directed by Danny Boyle, Slumdog tells Jamal's story through a series of flashbacks he experiences while a contestant on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The technique is incredibly interesting, and allows the story to unfold at a satisfying pace. It's a great, great story told in an interesting style that stays with the viewer after the closing credits.

Slumdog is food for the soul. And the sort of movie I wish Hollywood would make.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Incredible Hulk

The green-skinned Hulk will


And growl more

But not entertain.

Friday, January 16, 2009

High School Quotes I Remember: Quote #10

(I make no judgements about content. I'm simply purging some of the clutter that's been inside my head since 1983.)

On her last day of student teaching, the woman from Glenville State College asked me to step to the front of the room. She'd taught our 11th grade Human Physiology class for several weeks and we seemed to hit it off swell, so I thought she was going to hug me goodbye.

She handed another student a camera, gave be a side-hug and smiled as the flash went off. Then, she said:

"I'd like to thank Marc, publicly, for helping me understand I really don't want to be a teacher."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Liam Neeson always makes me believe him. Even in some of his poorer works --remember Darkman, anyone?--Neeson has the ability to suck me into the world of his character, and make me think, even for a short time, that this world is real.

Taken is the story of Bryan Mills, played by Neeson, whose daughter, Kim, is abducted while on a trip to Europe, and sold into the sex slave trade. It's a simple, basic story told in a straightforward manner: there are no montages, extensive flashbacks or minutes wasted in this flick. Taken is rather like watching an episode of 24; at an hour-and-a-half, the film is tight, with little excess, and the main plot is always in focus.

Mills is searching, frantically, for his daughter, and the audience feels the urgency along with him.

Taken succeeds despite its flaws. The first 20 minutes sets up Mills as a misunderstood father and retired government operative, desperate to re-connect with his 17-year-old daughter. He's paranoid and overly cautious, and too controlling when it comes to Kim's safety.

There's a lot of information to cram into that 20 minutes, and Taken suffers a little in character development.

Neeson also doesn't look like a bad-ass early in the film. He's a bit reticent, and dweeb-ish. A plot device used in the first act to establish his ruthless physical skills is effective, though, and I didn't doubt Mills for the rest of the flick.

The final 70 minutes is a rush of action played out with intensity and high drama. At the end of Taken, I found myself almost celebrating the ending out loud. "Hell, yes!" I cared about Mills and Kim, and wanted everything to work out for them.

Neeson made me believe.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gran Torino

I don't know dick about cars. Truth is, I had to wikipedia-up the Gran Torino to find something out about the 1972 Ford for which the movie, Gran Torino, is named.

But I do know a thing or two about Clint Eastwood flicks: I know there hasn't been an Eastwood movie in the past 20 years I've not liked, and I know that many of Eastwood's recent movies have subtle themes that transcend the obvious plot of the movie.

Gran Torino is no exception.

Classic muscle cars are nice to look at, but are mostly useless if left to simply sit in a garage. They get dusty, and stale. To reach their full potential, they have to be cared for; loved by someone, and given the chance to perform for that person. Driving the Gran Torino up and down the strip once a week helps shake off the dust and rust, and keep the timing fluid.

The same can be said for humans. Especially when we become older, and more limited. Without having people to care for us, we too easily box ourselves into simple routines, and small ways of thinking. Without having people to love, we forget the power of intimacy and the satisfaction that comes from providing for others. And without people to love, we never experience the selfless joy that comes from sacrifice.

Eastwood reminds of of those things in this movie. Gran Torino is a great story and terrific movie with very good--although not great--acting. This may not be Eastwood's best work, but considering the times it may be his most relevant.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lie, Film Geek, Lie

It was an unusually warm day in early December, and Bryan and I were with a couple of girls on a double date. We'd just gotten our driver permits that summer, and we'd staked out all the best places to go parking. The abandoned road behind Mt. Nebo elementary school was occupied, as were our favorite spots along Muddlety. We decided to drive to Mountain Manor Campground, which was closed for the season.

We'd have the whole place to ourselves, we reasoned. We might even build a fire.

Arriving at the campground, we found the entrance closed off by a large gate, locked up tight. Feeling desperate, we ...well, we found a way to solve the problem, get through the gate and get closer to the making out we all knew was inevitable. Bryan stayed with his date near the car; my date and I took a long walk, down over a hill.

Ten minutes or so passed, and I heard shouting near the car.

"I'll ask you again, son. What are you doing here? The campground is closed" The guy dressed like a Park Ranger looked pissed. I walked a little faster to where he was standing. Before Bryan could answer further, I said loudly:

"We can't find him anywhere, Bryan."

The Park Ranger turned to look at me, perplexed. "What are you talking about?"

"We're here looking for our dog, Joe. A couple weeks ago, before the campground closed, we lost him in this area. Every couple of days we stop in, to see if we can find him. He's a great dog, really a part of our family."

The Park Ranger looked at Bryan, then the two girls with us. Bryan nodded.

"Listen" I said, "Since you're here all the time, how about we leave his description with you."

"Sure," the Park Ranger said. I knew at that moment we had him, and we were safely outta trouble. Suddenly, the opening theme narration of Run, Joe, Run popped into my head.

"Male German Shepard. Black and tan. Answers to the name of Joe."

The Park Ranger was scribbling fast, trying to keep up.

"He's a great dog, and although some people think he's vicious, he's not. Not at all. In fact, he likes to help people."

Still a little suspicious, the Park Ranger asked what he thought was the key question. The question that would allow him to get us later, if it turned out we were just punks telling a lie: "If I find the dog, who should I call?"

The list of friends I didn't mind saddling with this dilemma ran through my head.

"My name's Kevin Duffy, and you can call me." I then gave him Kevin's telephone number and street address. He wrote it all down, shook my hand and promised to call as soon as my dog Joe was found. We drove out of the campground quick-like, and headed to I-19. Somewhere along the way I had to explain the TV show to the other three in the car, but I don't think they ever really got it.

Muddlety wasn't that far a drive, after all.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Another Watchmen Update

Watch a way cool video journal on the Minutemen at this link, from Ain't It Cool News.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

My Top 5: Movies That Made Me A Better Person

What with all the resolutin', ball-droppin' and promises-not-yet-broken, I'm in the mood for My Top 5: Movies That Made Me A Better Person

In no particular order.

The Last Temptation Of Christ - Watching an almost-human Jesus struggle with his destiny and decisions helped me in my personal evolution regarding spirituality. It was an important step in my letting go of the need to have a supernatural deity monitoring my every move.

Roots - The TV mini-series taught this tweener, from a 98.8% all-White West Virginia county, a lot about history and a lot about life.

To Kill A Mockingbird - Want a lesson in in integrity? Pop in the DVD.

12 Angry Men - The original flick helped me recognize the most obvious answer isn't always the correct answer. Add to that the idea that if a human life is at stake, you put in the time.

Schindler's List - The movie that reminded me that sticking my head in the sand doesn't make the odds against me any better.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Please, Make It Stop: Part 17

Oprah has decided she has more insight to share.

"I wanted to disappear," Oprah Winfrey said on her show today, explaining her 40-pound weigh gain, which has led to her tip the scale at 200. "All the money and all the fame and all of the attention and the glamorous life and the success doesn't mean one thing if you can't control your own being. It doesn't mean anything if you can't fit into your clothes. I am mad at myself. I am embarrassed. I can't believe I'm still talking about weight!"

Neither can I.

Listen, O. There are a lot of folks who struggle to fit into their own clothes who still lead lives filled with happiness. They aren't angry, or embarrassed. They don't live in despair. They are confident, and they don't buy into your belief that success "doesn't mean anything if you can't fit into your clothes."

Oprah's advice to those who see life like O?

"I'm on my To Do list. You gotta put yourself on the list."

Like I said, Oprah's got some insight.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Jenna's life just got worse.

Married to an abusive, controlling husband in a small rural town with little opportunity was bad. That little in life made Jenna happy, save for her ability to make unique, delicious pies at the diner where she worked as a waitress was pretty bad, too. Even at her young age, Jenna's life was fixed and limited, and suffocating.

Then she got pregnant with her jerk-of-a-husband's kid, and life got a whole lot more complicated.

Keri Russell is wonderful in the lead role of Jenna, the pie artist stuck in a rut from which she can't get out. She's given a brief respite from her misery after meeting Dr. Pommater, played with some comic flair by Nathan Fillion, but their relationship is simply a bridge she uses to find her own inner strength. Which is, of course, the plot of Waitress.

I think I just saw one of the Top 10 movies of 2007, during the first week of January, 2009.

Read about the tragic events that happened to Waitress writer, director and co-star Adrienne Shelly here. Shelly was a very good writer, and her turn as Jenna's best friend Dawn is well done in this movie.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Buttons

Random thoughts as I watched The Curious Case Of Benjamin Buttons, my favorite Brad Pitt flick since A River Runs Through It:

  • Life isn't determined by fate, or kismet or some all-knowing-guy with a white beard. Instead, life is about recognizing and seizing opportunity;
  • Hope I'm as hot looking at 70 as Pitt is in this flick;
  • Cate Blanchett at 23 is selfish, arrogant and whimsical. What does Benjamin see in her?
  • Note to self: Live more in the moment in 2009;
  • Ah, we're supposed to be selfish, arrogant and whimsical in our youth;
  • Damn, Brad Pitt at 40 is much hotter than I was at 30;
  • Note to self: Figure out quickly why I'm obsessed with how hot Brad Pitt is in this movie!
  • This is a great story, told brilliantly with incredible effects and remarkable acting;
  • Sacrifice for those you love is a noble thing to do.
  • Mrs. Film Geek cries hard at movies, but she doesn't make fun of me when I do, too.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Boy A

Most folks, I'd hazard to guess, wish once in a while for a do-over. The chance to remedy a mistake and re-set back to the default life path, off which we somehow ventured. A Life-Mulligan, available to help get us out of the rough we accidentally sliced ourselves into. Those opportunities rarely happen, of course. That's just not the way life works.

Boy A is the perfect example of why.

Boy A is the story of twenty-something man attempting to assimilate back into society after spending most of his childhood in a juvenile prison. Given a new identity, Jack struggles with the re-adjustment: he doesn't know how to socialize and isn't sure who to trust. He craves acceptance and love, but doesn't recognize those qualities easily. Jack's biggest challenge, though, is overcoming the feeling that he is being dishonest about who he really is to those friends and acquaintances he's made since being released.

The do-over was nice, but the emotional turmoil that results may be too difficult to overcome.

Andrew Garfield is brilliant in the role of Jack. Garfield succeeds in creating a character the audience can connect with and root for, despite the horrific act Jack was involved with earlier in his life. Jack is at once innocent, naive, curious, heroic and flawed. Deeply, deeply flawed. Garfield conveys those qualities to the audience in this movie as well as--or better than--any young actor working today.

With the new year upon us, Boy A is an appropriate reminder: we are a culmination of our life experience. Perhaps we should embrace and use those experiences to better ourselves, rather than attempt to change the very fabric of what makes up our identity.

Life-Mulligans are, all too often, simply McGuffins anyway.