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Monthly Archives: November 2009

Well, I survived the pitfall-laden holiday weekend.  I hope everyone had an enjoyable holiday and took some time to be thankful for all they have. 

The post-dinner phase of the Thanksgiving weekend is an interesting time in our house.  I had never pegged myself for one of the crazies that flocks to the Black Friday sales like a lemming.  However, a few years ago my wife decided to brave the crowds and see what all the fuss was about.  The deals, she found, were just too enticing to entirely pass up.

Thus, a tradition began.  After Thanksgiving festivities have been completed, my wife and I sally forth to find a newspaper box with the Thanksgiving paper and, more importantly, the Black Friday ads.  This is key to our Black Friday strategy.  We have not fallen so far that we need to go to each store.  We carefully evaluate the ads, weighing the quality or the deal, the desirability of the items, and the chances that the crowds at that particular location will induce blind violence resulting in Christmas funds becoming bail money.

It is a very scientific process.

In previous years, this has been the end of my involvement.  I have, until this year, been working a retail job while I either studied for my MCSE exams or worked my current job.  This meant that I was working during the Black Friday craziness.  This year, however, I was lucky enough to have the day off and was able to participate.

Our perusal of this year’s ads didn’t leave us overwhelmed with their quality.  In fact, we planned on hitting only three (and very possibly a fourth) store.  The most important of these was Best Buy for an item of particular importance.  So, at 11:30 PM we prepared to crash for the short while we had available before sallying forth for their 5:00 AM opening. 

It was at this moment that I saw the words “Tickets for door busters will be distributed up to 2 hours before opening” on the Best Buy ad.  This meant that the item in question, as not only a door buster but also a limited quantity item, would require us to be there by 3:00 AM not 5:00 as planned.  And, of course, getting there at 3:00 would be a recipe for failure, we would need to arrive by 2:00 maybe 2:30.

So much for sleep.

So, we threw in a “Lost” DVD, watched an episode or two and prepared to sally forth into the chill, damp night.  We arrived at Best Buy at about 2:20 AM.  We, apparently, were late.

Tents were pitched on the sidewalk in front of the store.  One group had rented a trailer and cooked out on a gas grill, followed by video games powered by a generator.  There was even someone who had pulled their car into the line for shelter, heat, and entertainment.  As we followed the trail of humanity to its end we were flabbergasted.  The end of the line was behind the building. 

These nutjobs had been out here since 9:00 PM and some even earlier. 

Luckily, we got our item after much grumpiness brought on by sleep deprivation, crowds, and cold rain.  We did make the mistake of going for breakfast once the ticket was in hand resulting in a line wait that easily lasted 2 1/2 further hours once in the building.  I did learn two things, however.

A) ‘Tis better to work Black Friday than shop it. 

&

B) I may be a little off, but people are crazy.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year.  Yes, we all stuff ourselves with a spectacular feast of tasty treats that we often don’t prepare any other time of the year.  Yes, there is always some good football to plop down in front of after doing said stuffing.  But, it’s always been about more than that to me.  To me, Thanksgiving is almost like the cleansing penance that prepares us to be worthy of the coming joy of the winter holidays, whether that mean Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, or another holiday to you.

Now, I know that I’m a day early on Thanksgiving, but with the craziness of the actual holiday I’m not sure I’ll be able to post tomorrow.  Even Friday may be a bit sketchy.  And, I know that the view of Thanksgiving I described above may seem a bit somber, but stay with me.

It is very easy for us to take for granted all that we have in this life.  We see and interact with friends and family on a daily basis.  Our paycheck appears in our account each payday.  We hear the rain drumming on our roofs as we sleep.  After awhile, all of these gifts start to seem like just part of the flow of our lives.  Thanksgiving is a time that most people step back and recognize that these things are in fact the gifts that they really are.

But, beyond that, as our vision clears a bit, we begin to see the places where we have scorned some of the gifts we were given during the past year.  Perhaps we paid more attention to the TV or video game than our family occasionally.  Perhaps we turned down that opportunity to go out with a good friend because we were just too tired.  Our lives are filled with these missed opportunities, most of them minute little smudges on an otherwise well-lived life.

But, every opportunity missed has the potential to be important.  I’ve become something of an expert on missed opportunities over the last year or so.  I’ve made bad decisions that weren’t the minute little smudges, and paid the consequences.  I have shed a lot of tears, and will carry the weight of the holes left in my soul forever.  But, I know that these losses are lessons as well.  And those are mistakes I can never make again.

So, remember to be thankful.  But, also be mindful of the small things that have slipped through the cracks in the past year.  Learn the lessons that those small twinges may have given you and be a more complete and happier person because of it.

I have been blessed with a loving wife who sees me through eyes that paint even my foibles as assets.  I have been blessed with a loving family that has given me forgiveness of which I am undeserving.  And, I have been blessed with good friends who accept me and make me feel as though I have a place where I fit in despite all of my flaws.

This Thanksgiving, I will feel the sting of lessons learned the hard way.  But they will be assuaged by the many gifts that I have been blessed with.

Hello, everyone.

As stated last Thursday, the MovieDruid is coming a few days early this week?  Why, you ask?  Quite simply because Hollywood traditionally releases its films on Wednesday rather than Friday during Thanksgiving week.  And, here we are just a few days before turkey day!

Unfortunately, the Weinstein Company, in their eternal wisdom (note my extreme sarcasm) has decided to change the already delayed release of the adaptation of Cormac McCarty’s Pulititzer-Prize winning novel “The Road” a limited release rather than a wide release at the last minute.  This was the film I intended to make the holiday Pick of the Week, so if you are in one of the 31 markets listed here check it out.

Otherwise, without further ado, I give you this year’s Thanksgiving week releases…

Old Dogs

Trailer

Synopsis: Two best friends — one unlucky-in-love divorcee and the other a fun-loving bachelor — have their lives turned upside down when they’re unexpectedly charged with the care of seven-year-old twins while on the verge of the biggest business deal of their lives. The not-so-kid-savvy bachelors stumble in their efforts to take care of the twins, leading to one debacle after another, and perhaps to a new-found understanding of what’s really important in life.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Family friendly comedy is almost a necessity on Thanksgiving weekend.  Unfortunately, in most cases it is more of a necessary evil.  It is amazing to me that Hollywood can continue to see family films with a bit of intelligence succeed, but continue to produce films which resort to ridiculous humor of the lowest common denominator in their family fare.  Disney is the worst offender in this, in my opinion, and the real problem is they wave cash in front of A-list talent like John Travolta and Robin Williams and drag them down with them.

Ninja Assassin

Trailer

Synopsis: Raizo is one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them and vanishes. Now, he waits, preparing to exact his revenge. In Berlin, Europol agent Mika Coretti has stumbled upon a money trail linking several political murders to an underground network of untraceable assassins from the Far East. Defying the orders of her superior, Ryan Maslow, Mika digs into top secret agency files to learn the truth behind the murders. Her investigation makes her a target, and the Ozunu Clan sends a team of killers, led by the lethal Takeshi, to silence her forever. Raizo saves Mika from her attackers, but he knows that the Clan will not rest until they are both eliminated. Now, entangled in a deadly game of cat and mouse through the streets of Europe, Raizo and Mika must trust one another if they hope to survive and finally bring down the elusive Ozunu Clan.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This film is definitely not for everyone.  But, for anyone who enjoys the old-school kung fu films and the more recent martial arts heavy films like “The Matrix” or “Unleashed” this seems to be a faithful melding of the two.  The film has definite roots in the old kung fu films of the 70’s, but has all of the modern special effects technology available to enhance it and give it the modern sheen that will draw in a new legion of fans.  If action films, particularly the martial arts of films, are your thing, then “Ninja Assassin” looks like a stunning new entry in the genre. 

“The Fantastic Mr. Fox” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: Mr. and Mrs. Fox live an idyllic home life with their son Ash and visiting young nephew Kristopherson. But after 12 years, the bucolic existence proves too much for Mr Fox’s wild animal instincts. Soon he slips back into his old ways as a sneaky chicken thief and in doing so, endangers not only his beloved family, but the whole animal community. Trapped underground and with not enough food to go around, the animals band together to fight against the evil Farmers — Boggis, Bunce and Bean — who are determined to capture the audacious, fantastic Mr. Fox at any cost.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Roald Dahl is best known for his novel Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, in no small part because of the turns of Gene Wilder (and later Johnny Depp) as the eccentric Willy Wonka.  However, he also wrote many other children’s books, many of them actually more entertaining.  Occasionally, a new one makes it to the screen, and thankfully we now have “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” as one of those.  This time, like “James and the Giant Peach” the studio has elected stop-motion animation, a good choice for Roald Dahl.  But, in this case the animation is stylized in a way that has a uniqueness to the look that should make for some interesting visuals.  Director Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tannenbaums” & “Rushmore”) seems to have a good grasp of the medium he is working with, and so we put our trust in his vision.  To help him, though, he has assembled a slate of voice talent that is second to none including George Clooney (“Syriana” & “Ocean’s Eleven”), Meryl Streep (“Julie & Julia” & “The Devil Wears Prada”), Bill Murray (“Ghostbusters” & “Stripes”), and Jason Schwartzman (“Funny People” & “Bewitched”).  Overall, they appear to have assembled the a very talent group to create a film that should be a charming holiday treat for the family.

The holiday season is now upon us with Thanksgiving mere days away.  And, as the holidays approach I, like many people, find myself reminiscing about holidays past and the traditions that were part of the holidays growing up.  And, as I’ve been thinking about it I suddenly remembered one thing in particular.

Holiday specials.

This was the time of year when we, as kids, would gather around the TV on an almost weekly basis to see the holiday shenanigans of a colorful cast of characters ranging from Charlie Brown and Snoopy to Rudolph and the Winter Warlock.  Our eyes were wide with the wonder of the Peanuts characters we saw in the newspaper funnies suddenly brought to life or the incredible stop motion world that Rankin/Bass brought into our living rooms.

Heck, CBS (who showed most of these back then) even had a special intro to tell us they were coming.

Unfortunately, many of these specials have disappeared from the airwaves.  And with the busy lives we lead as adults it is often very difficult to be in front of our TV’s at the correct time to catch up with Santa and the Misfit Toys to see how they’re doing.

My wife and I have invested in DVDs of many of the old specials, and can enjoy them at our leisure.  And, I’m sure that many out there probably DVR a few of them for nostalgia’s sake or to share them with their kids the way their parents once did with them. 

If you haven’t seen them in a while, though, make a point of taking a look again this year.  No, they will never have the same magic they did when seen through a child’s eyes, but the magic of the season is still in those songs Burl Ives sings, Bumbles still bounce, and Snoopy still serves a mean feast on a ping-pong table.

Last evening, my wife and I finally completed the celebration of our fifth anniversary.  You see, we have been following the traditional anniversary model more or less.  Though, our ideas, like they tend to be with much of the rest of our personalities, are a little outside of the norm.  For example, last year for “fruit of flowers,” she gave me an Apple iPhone and I gave her a Rosewood jewelry box and Rose Quartz pendant. 

The traditional gift for year five of marriage is wood, which gave us both fits.  We decided close to the cruise to put off gift exchange for a month (a time buying measure for us both).  Even with the extra month we were both coming up empty until we remembered that we had at one time said we wanted to try some sort of woodworking class.  Bingo!

So, last night, at a local woodworking shop, we were learning about using a scroll saw, cutting out Scottie dogs and birds, and having a blast.  As we were leaving, I began thinking about all the little classes, lectures, and similar events the two of us have attended together and I realized something.

I just love to learn.

It doesn’t matter what it is, anything else that I can jam into my brain, any new skill I can develop, any new piece of history I can learn about, I am so there.  And, luckily, I am blessed with a wife that feels the same way.  The result is we have more hobbies than you can shake a stick at.  We’ve taken classes on cake decorating and scroll sawing.  We’ve attended lectures on the history of the circus and the historical connections between New England and Canada. 

The importance of the hobbies has become that it gives us something new to experience together.  We learn, see, and do something we’ve never done before and we do it together, which just reinforces the bond between us by giving us even more shared experiences. 

So, I would encourage anyone out there.  If you ever wanted to learn about something, get out there and do it, preferably with someone you care about.  Share the experiences, learn new skills, tap into the creative energy we all have and find new ways to channel it.  Yeah, you’ll make a lot of mistakes as you learn, but that’s what learning is!

And it gives you some great stories.

Hello again, everyone!

It is I, your friendly neighborhood MovieDruid, returned to give hid wholly unprofessional, and somewhat uppity, opinions on this week’s national releases.  It’s an interesting week as we move toward the teeth of the holiday release season.  The studios are beginning to pull out a few of their big guns.

Before we take a peek, a quick programming note.  As is traditional, Hollywood doing its Thanksgiving week releases on Wednesday rather than Friday.  As such, my few loyal readers should look for the next addition of the MovieDruid on Tuesday, November 24 rather than Thursday, November 26.

That being said, on with the show….

“The Twilight Saga: New Moon”

Trailer

Synopsis: Following Bella’s ill-fated 18th birthday party, Edward Cullen and his family abandon the town of Forks, Washington, in an effort to protect her from the dangers inherent in their world. As the heartbroken Bella sleepwalks through her senior year of high school, numb and alone, she discovers Edward’s image comes to her whenever she puts herself in jeopardy. Her desire to be with him at any cost leads her to take greater and greater risks. With the help of her childhood friend Jacob Black, Bella refurbishes an old motorbike to carry her on her adventures. Bella’s frozen heart is gradually thawed by her budding relationship with Jacob, a member of the mysterious Quileute tribe, who has a supernatural secret of his own. When a chance encounter brings Bella face to face with a former nemesis, only the intervention of a pack of supernaturally large wolves saves her from a grisly fate, and the encounter makes it frighteningly clear that Bella is still in grave danger. In a race against the clock, Bella learns the secret of the Quileutes and Edward’s true motivation for leaving her. She also faces the prospect of a potentially deadly reunion with her beloved that is a far cry from the one she’d hoped for.

MovieDruid: I do not get the appeal of these movies.  They have taken all of the danger and mystery around vampire mythology and yanked out its fangs.  Then they made them sparkle.  What the hell is that?  Vampires do not sparkle.  If they did, Van Helsing, Blade, and Buffy would have a much easier job.  These films may be great for adolescent girls (and don’t call me sexist, I worked at Waldenbooks and saw who was buying these novels), but for most of the rest of us not so much.  I just don’t understand the appeal of turning vampires and werewolves into an after school special.

“Planet 51”

Trailer

Synopsis: Planet 51 is a galactic-sized animated alien adventure comedy revolving around American astronaut Captain Charles “Chuck” Baker, who lands on Planet 51 thinking he’s the first person to step foot on it. To his surprise, he finds that this planet is inhabited by little green people who are happily living in a white picket fence world reminiscent of a cheerfully innocent 1950s America, and whose only fear is that it will be overrun by alien invaders…like Chuck! With the help of his robot companion “Rover” and his new friend Lem, Chuck must navigate his way through the dazzling, but bewildering, landscape of Planet 51 in order to escape becoming a permanent part of the Planet 51 Alien Invaders Space Museum.

MovieDruid’s Comments: The family friendly fare always kicks in again around this time of year.  Usually it is a bit more holiday themed than this one, though.  This one just doesn’t look like it has all that much promise to me.  The director, Jorge Blanco, is directing for the first time.  The cast, while including talent like Dwayne Johnson (“Race to Witch Mountain” & “The Scorpion King”) & Jessica Biel (“The Illusionist” & “Stealth”) doesn’t really have any veteran voice actors, which is something of a worry.  To be quite honest, if you’re looking for family friendly cinema I would personally look at “A Christmas Carol” from earlier in the month or next week’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” rather than here.

“The Blind Side” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: Teenager Michael Oher is surviving on his own, virtually homeless, when he is spotted on the street by Leigh Anne Tuohy. Learning that the young man is one of her daughter’s classmates, Leigh Anne insists that Michael — wearing shorts and a t-shirt in the dead of winter — come out of the cold. Without a moment’s hesitation, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night. What starts out as a gesture of kindness turns into something more as Michael becomes part of the Tuohy family despite the differences in their backgrounds. Living in his new environment, the teen faces a completely different set of challenges to overcome. And, as the family helps Michael fulfill his potential, both on and off the football field, Michael’s presence in the Tuohys’ lives leads them to some insightful self-discoveries of their own.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This is the kind of film I love to see come out around the holidays.  A film that tells an uplifting story that makes us remember that there is good in this world after all.  And it seems to have all the pieces to get it right.  The director, John Lee Hancock, has shown a gift in previous efforts such as “The Rookie’ and “The Alamo” for telling a story with dramatic effect without overdoing it.  And, he has been gifted with a talented cast that includes Sandra Bullock (“28 Days” & Speed”) and country star Tim McGraw who proved he could act as well in “Friday Night Lights” and “Flicka.”  There is even a little Oscar buzz surrounding Bullock’s performance as a long shot nomination for Best Actress.  All in all, this one just seems to have all the pieces you need for a solid holiday film.

The world today has become a very serious and somber place.  Many of us move through our days waiting for the news that our job has been eliminated or wondering where we’re going to come up with the rent, food money, and a way to pay for Jimmy’s braces.  Beyond the economic woes, there is plenty of misery in the world that the media seems to be more than willing to serve up to us on a silver platter.  It makes for a gloomy and depressing way of life, sometimes.  Just keeping your sanity these days may seem to be a difficult task. 

However, by letting ourselves marinate in the world’s ills aren’t we just exacerbating them?  Isn’t the very act of participating in the ongoing gloom and doom simply magnifying it even more?  Perhaps with my somewhat cynical nature, I am not the best to preach this, but I think we all need to take a step back and remember some lessons from when we were kids.

We need to remember how to be silly.

When the misery of the world begins to knock at your door, don’t open it up and invite it in.  Grab a Johnny Depp movie.  Read a Shel Silverstein poem out loud.  Grab a They Might Be Giants CD and sing along.  Dance around your house in your underwear like Tom Cruise in “Risky Business.”  Grab the funnies from the newspaper and let yourself laugh out loud at them for a change.  Embrace your inner silliness for a while, let the warmth of its joy sweep through you.

The world will always have a heaping bowl of woe ready and waiting for anyone willing to take it.  Choose to eat the Cocoa Puffs instead.

And, don’t forget to drink the milk.

During a recent gathering of friends, we began swapping tales of some of our biggest accomplishments from our youths.  The people around that table are a fairly intelligent bunch, and thus the stories were often rather impressive.  It was quite an enlightening evening.

However, it got me thinking later, especially since I held my peace during the discussions, as to where my accomplishments lie.  What achievements can I put in the trophy case of my life and step back to admire.  I was heartened to see that there were a few shiny baubles there shining back at me: the story I wrote in elementary school that was chosen to be performed by the children’s theater group Child’s Play, the science fair project that went on to compete at a state air at Vanderbilt University, or the receiving of the Tennessee Outstanding Achievement Award for the performance of our team in the National Science Olympiad.

The flashes of memory that I had thinking back on these things brought a bittersweet smile to my face.  I remember those moments well.  Looking at them now, the accomplishment may seem small, but at the time they gave an incredible feeling that I had done something worth celebrating.

As I’ve grown older, such things have become fewer and farther between.  I suppose this is true of everyone as the standards get tighter and what it takes to be recognized as worthy of celebration is a much higher bar.  Still, the small moments, or intimately personal ones, shine in our memories. 

We all want to feel like we are worthy of praise and celebration from time to time.  We all need to feel that rush of pride that accompanies that recognition.  The trap I too often fall into lies in my competitive nature and the environment of achievement in which I was raised.  It is all too easy to look at others and see that I am not competitive with them.  It is far too simple to draw comparisons that feed into a spiral of inferiority.

There is a lot of road ahead of me in this world.  And, while the past is what has been formative for me, I have to look to the future and try to keep moving forward. 

Hopefully I still have a few baubles to add to the trophy case.

I don’t make friends easily.  I tend to be on the socially awkward end of the geek spectrum.  As such, the few people I consider my friends are people whose presence in my life I truly treasure.  These are people who I feel truly blessed to have the privilege of knowing.

I was pondering on this fact the other day and it struck me how my friends are almost compartmentalized into neat little groups.  Then, I realized that many of these groups were just parts of larger groups, and I got a headache and decided to stop thinking for a little while.  But, when I returned to the concept I realized that all the way back to high school, and perhaps even prior to that, the community of people I surrounded myself with were really overlapping groups of people.

And that’s when I understood that much of life is a Venn Diagram.

I don’t know how many people learned about these things in early math classes, but the concept has always fascinated me.  The ability to take concepts, people, items, or anything else that exist on some strange proximity, and neatly map it into a diagram that shows their relationship, and lack thereof, to one another in a concise form is an amazing feat.

But, when applied to different areas of our lives, the concept is a little more interesting.  It’s especially interesting if you think about your relationships with people over time.  Try putting together a diagram of people from 5 or 10 years ago, then try it for today.  Who is still in your orbit?  Who has moved on?  How many people overlapped before compared to now?  I know that personally my diagram has come closer to individual circles with little or no overlap over the years, which seems odd.

I’m not sure what it says about me, but it’s probably a bit “off” which would seem wholly appropriate.

I think perhaps an even more fascinating look would be to link multiple diagrams and see how far apart we really are.  Is the idea of “Six Degrees of Separation” a reality, or is modern society moving us farther from one another?

Please, feel free to philosophize.

Those crazy guys down at the MPAA are at it again.

A few years ago they went before the Senate Judiciary Committee and asked them for help.  Their claim was that they were losing billions in revenue through the so-called “analog-hole.”  For those unfamiliar, the claim is that people can use the old analog inputs (those red/white/yellow wires in the back of video equipment) to stream digital content to another device in the name of piracy.  Congress was unconvinced.  In fact a man I am normally very critical of, my beloved Pennsylvania senator Arlen Specter, actually did something positive for a change.

The Congressional smackdown apparently didn’t deter them, though.  Since mommy (Congress) said no, the MPAA is running to daddy (the FCC) and asking again.  And what exactly is it that they want?  They want to be given the right to shut down the analog outputs on our equipment through a little known procedure called SOC, or Selectable Output Control.

This, my friends, (and pardon my language) is bullshit.

If they are given this power, which I highly doubt given the attitude of the new FCC chair, they will have power over the consumer electronics and media landscapes that no industrial organization should ever be granted.  They will decide under what circumstances we can receive digital content.  They will dictate certain aspects of design in new electronics.  But, more importantly, they will have the power to shut a large portion of Americans off.

How is this possible?  If they can kill the analog ports on TVs, then anyone using these ports will be in the dark if the MPAA says so.  That means anyone who is using one of the much touted converter boxes or many  pre=”many “>non-difital cable services can be left out in the rain.  Suddenly, the equipment you bougth expecting it to deliver entertainment, news, and the like to your home is a doorstop.

This is just plain un-American if you ask me.  Since when do we give that level of power to industry groups?

I understand that piracy is a problem.  I don’t argue that point.  And, I understand the need to take steps ti control it.  However, the MPAA and RIAA have both become thugs at this point, in my opinion.  They are demanding that the government enact laws and policies to protect them.  All the arguments about piracy, Digital Rights Management, Selectable Output Control, and other technologies has gotten to the point where we are skirting the edge of fascist controls.  In addition, given the amount of piracy that results from leaks from the studios or their contractors directly, perhaps they should clean their own house before pointing the finger at us.

The MPAA and RIAA both need to realize they are not arms of the government.  Their interests do not supercede the rights and interests of the American citizenry. 

In short, keep your hands off my outputs.

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