Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm Sorry, Mrs. Nichols

Despite being Jewish and a long way from his home in New Jersey, my 6th grade teacher Jed Castlebaum was really into the Christmas season. The big city teacher just out of college struggled a bit with connecting to us rural, poor, Christian kids, so Mr. Castlebaum tried hard and often to act like he was one of us.

He never really succeeded, but we appreciated the effort.

While planning the Christmas party for our 6th grade class (this in the years before such parties became known as "holiday parties," to remove a religious bent, although the modern ones still maintain that Christ-is-the-reason-for-the-season aroma) Mr. Castlebaum asked if anyone would volunteer to donate a Christmas tree.

I raised my hand.

It didn't occur to me, when I raised my hand, just where I was gonna get that Christmas tree. I just knew it sounded like a job I'd have fun with, so I volunteered. I arrived at home that afternoon and announced I'd volunteered to chop down and donate a tree from our farm for school, and my parents smiled at my responsible demeanor.

Their son was growing up; let's give him an ax.

After exploring the farm for a couple of hours, I couldn't find a suitable tree. Most were too high, and some were too wide. None, it seemed, were just right.

It was then I recalled the large pine trees on the property of our nearest neighbor, the Nichols family. Mrs. Nichols had a grove of pine trees I used to play in with her daughter.

I knew those trees, and knew they would be the perfect size.

I--with a friend--walked the quarter mile or so with my ax, arriving just after dusk. We slipped into the middle of the grove, where we knew a missing tree would not be easily noticed, and worked quickly to cut a tree down. It took a long while to drag that tree back to the house, but we did it. We loaded into my dad's truck, and he agreed to take it to the school the following morning.

They didn't ask, and I didn't tell.

I always felt bad about stealing Mrs. Nichols' tree. I never apologized. She's passed on now, so that's impossible. But I always felt as if I owed her something for the tree. So this Christmas, I'm dedicating our tree to Mary Nichols.

And to memories of life lessons.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Drag Me To Hell

Somewhere in between
Horror and a comedy.
I was dragged to Hell.

While Sam Raimi should be commended for creating a flick that uses humor to tell a frightening story, the combination just didn't work for me in this film. The effects were average, the story was predictable and the acting just okay.

The result: a movie that was neither scary or funny.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Top 5: Movies With A Message

It's that time of year, folks. The time of the year when messages wiggle their way into movies so that we, the audience, may be provided insight, inspiration and a healthy dose of holiday goodness.

Message flicks. Love 'em or hate'em, the next six weeks is gonna be full of them. So to start the season, here is:

My Top 5: Movies With A Message

The Big Chill: When I first watched Chill in the early 80s, I thought it was a movie about swingers. Tom Berenger's mustache was the reason: when you see that 'stache, you automatically hum a few bars of some cheap porn soundtrack out loud.

Or is that just me?

Regardless, I had to watch The Big Chill a couple of times to get the message: the community that comes with true, intimate, long-lasting friendship is important to vitality and happiness.

Citizen Kane: This classic film is beautiful in its simplicity. The truth is, what makes my stroke different than yours can be the smallest of things.

Go figure.

Edward Scissorhands: This Tim Burton flick was the movie Mrs. Film Geek and I saw on our first date. The date was at a local drive-in, and we watched the movie comfortably from the hatchback of her car. I was so obsessed with the message of Scissorhands--a beauty and the beast story line that celebrates individuality--that I forgot to make out.

Yet still, she went out with me again...

Crash: The 2004 movie--not the earlier James Spader fetish-flick of the same name--moved me with its message of how everyday, common folks affect the life quality of others without even realizing it.

For good and for bad.

Borat: You doubt my belief that Borat is a message movie? Watch it again, my friend, and see if you can find yourself in the cliches.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ken Ober

(1957 - 2009)

Although Ober was a successful actor, writer and producer, it's with MTV's Remote Control that I'll always associate him.

MTV had really cool programming at one time, kids. Ober and his show set the bar.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Reflecting On Sacrifice

While surfing through status updates of people I know on Facebook this morning, a Thanksgiving meme caught my eye. The meme asked: "What are you most thankful for?" and my friend answered: "Parents who sacrificed selflessly for their children."

And I immediately wondered if my children, when they become adults, will say the same for me.

I'm quick to recall the dozens of hours each month that I drive my kids to and from sporting events and school functions. And I'm good at counting the time and money spent on family vacations. I'm a concerned and active parent when my children are ill, and miss work now and again when necessary to care for them during times of sickness. It's true that our family enjoys a lot of time together, and the amount of time can be taxing--for them and for me. But the question remains:

Do I sacrifice selflessly for my children?

I'm notoriously good at finding time to be alone. I squirrel away opportunities for isolation often, enjoying the calm and quiet I need to rejuvenate after the stresses of work and life have overwhelmed me. I'm easily frustrated when that time is shortened, and can become angry when it's impossible to obtain. And to be honest, most times that access to quiet time is blocked is because of something I need to do for my kids.

Sacrifice has to be more than just doing for someone else. To sacrifice selflessly suggests to me a loving desire to do without for someone, simply because my doing without will enhance their quality of life in some manner.

Perhaps I don't act in a manner that is "selfless" toward my children, after all.

That has to change.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kick-Ass Movie Trailer

Thanks to my friend Bill for pointing out the trailer for the new comic book movie Kick-Ass is out. The comic is really a Gen Z take on hero-dom, and is a terrific read. The movie looks like it's gonna rock, too.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Food, Inc.

A significant responsibility for those living on a functional farm is caring for, then slaughtering and butchering, livestock. At least it was for me, during my teen years. Especially during my early teens, my family lived off the harvest and livestock as a primary source of food. At 13, it wasn't unusual to hear "Go catch a chicken for dinner."

I did. And it was.

Once during late summer I saw my father preparing to kill a bull. Shooting guns was fun for me at that age, so I asked if I could do it. My dad paused:

"No, you can't," he said.
"Killing isn't something anyone should ever do for fun. Even killing animals for food. The animal and act should be respected."

Food, Inc., a documentary by Robert Kenner, illustrates well how the respect for that process has been lost in the modern-day industrialization of our food processing system.

Keener describes how a handful of companies in the United States has monopolized the business of food processing, causing economic, environmental and biological catastrophe along the way. Food, Inc. isn't hyperbolic, and isn't propaganda used by the likes of PETA to get folks to stop eating meat.

Food, Inc. focuses more on removing the veil that prevents consumers from knowing how large, powerful conglomerates mass produce food in a manner that may well be harmful to our society. The documentary is well done, and highly thought provoking.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Since seeing Michael Moore's recent documentary on capitalism, I've been hyper observant regarding news stories that demonstrate the growing gap between economic classes.

Here's one that really caught my attention:

Half of the children in the United States will rely on food stamps at some point in their lives before the age of 20, USA Today reports, based on a study in the most recent Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Call Michael Moore's flick leftist drivel if you choose. People continue to suffer.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Taking Of Pelham 123

Since his "Up your nose with a rubber hose" days as a Sweathog, I've been something-less-than-a-fan of John Travolta.

I was more an Epstein guy during the Kotter years, and the white suit in Saturday Night Fever was too tight for my comfort. My girlfriend enjoyed Grease, and my kids enjoyed Looks Who's Talking. I tolerated him in Pulp Fiction, despite the dance scene with Uma Thurman that was a total send-up of his career.

It's his voice, I think. It's a nasal, high pitch tone that doesn't go with his body, and it's delivered with a strange rhythm and unusual inflection that makes me tilt my head sideways and whine.

Simply put, too much Travolta in any given flick drive me bonkers.

I picked up The Taking Of Pelham 123 based solely on my admiration for Denzel Washington. I knew Travolta was the villain in this hostages-for-cash-smoke-'n-mirrors remake of the 1970s thriller. I didn't expect to like Travolta in the role, or even appreciate his acting.

...But I did. God help me, I liked the movie and I liked Travolta in his role.

Just don't ask me to watch Look Who's Talking Now.