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Monthly Archives: January 2010

As I’ve said before here I usually do not broach what are controversial topics here at the Jungle Gym.  The reason for this isn’t that I’m wishy-washy, but that I want this to be a place where my readers can come for a break from the world around them, which is already overfull of controversy. 

However, this is one time I need to step up once again. 

I receive regular e-mails from a group who champion a variety of causes involving wildlife and conservation.  They seek for monetary support occasionally, but usually are simply looking for signatures for petitions on issues regarding everything from the habitat of beluga whales to the poisoning od lions in Africa.  

As a matter of full disclosure, I sign pretty much every single one. 

The issues they bring up are usually heartbreaking to me as an animal lover, and are often infuriating.  But the one that came across my mail today has me seeing red on a whole new level.  

The issue is what are termed “Predator Derbies” which are sponsored by an organization called Sportsmen for Wildlife.  When I read the information the e-mail provided me, I was sick to my stomach, but I decided to check it out myself.  What I found is, quite frankly, disgusting. 

The organizations apparently holds three of these derbies annually.  They are two day events during which hunters go out into the wilds to kill as many predators as they can.  This is, for me, sick enough, but I know that some hunters may see this as simply a hunting season. 

It’s not that simple. 

I tracked down the website for the 2009 Idaho Predator Derby and perused it to be sure that I was not just going off the deep end.  It was when I looked at the “Rules & Regulations” that I was realized what I hoped was mere exaggeration was in fact true.  I think the first two rules of this contest say it all: 

1. All legally harvested coyotes are worth two (2) points; fox and bobcat 

are (2) points each. Wolves are worth (3) points. (see rule #7) 

2. Team with most points wins. Heaviest weight will break all ties. 

Now, I know that some of my readers are hunters, but this is beyond the pale no matter what you’re opinion on hunting.  This is flat out turning killing into a game.  When we start placing point values on life, no matter what sort of life, we are taking a very dangerous step.  The fact that this is happening, that someone actually dreamed this up is incredible to me.

The fact that they have major corporate sponsorship just makes it worse.

Two of the larger outdoors retailers, Cabela’s and Sportsman’s Warehouse are corporate sponsors of these events.  I, for one, have decided that my dollars will no longer be going to either of these companies unless they change this policy.  I urge anyone who agrees with me on this matter to do the same.

I would also ask anyone who would also like to see a stop put to these types of events sign the online petition that is being directed to these two companies in an effort to get them to change their sponsorship standards.  The petition can be found by clicking here.  And, please, get the word out to anyone else who cares about wildlife.

As always, I welcome any and all comments, regardless of whether they agree with me or not. So if you think I’m wrong, please, explain to me where my thinking has gone astray.

Hello, everyone, and welcome back.

A light week this week, which may be a good thing.  There has been so much cinematic goodness lately it’s been impossible to keep up.  I still have a fairly full slate of films I want to attend, and a lighter week may buy me a little breathing room. 

As a programming note, I will begin posting MovieDruid Reviews on Wednesdays each week.  If for some reason I miss a week it will usually be because I didn’t make it to the cinema that week, but on those weeks I’ll try to at least throw up a DVD review.

Alright, now that the business is out of the way, on to the fun…

“When In Rome”

Trailer

Synopsis: An ambitious young New Yorker, disillusioned with romance, takes a whirlwind trip to Rome where she defiantly plucks magic coins from a fountain of love, inexplicably igniting the passion of those who threw them in: a sausage magnate, a street magician, an adoring painter and a self-admiring model. But, when a charming reporter pursues her with equal zest, how will she know if his love is the real thing?

MovieDruid’s Comments: Anytime a new romantic comedy comes out I eye it with a certain level of suspicion.  Very few films in this genre really bring anything new to the table, and the formulaic nature of them is burden enough.  But, on top of that, they bear the burden of almost immediately being labeled “chick flicks” and dismissed by most males.  My first impressions of this one were that it looked cute enough to be entertaining. But, I worry that the four comic pursuers of our heroine will bring a zaniness to the film that may be out of place.  However, I must say that my biggest reservation for this film is the director, Mark Steven Johnson, who is responsible for foisting upon an unknowing public the horrific big screen adaptations of “Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider.”  I would proceed with caution here.

“Edge of Darkness” -MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: Thomas Craven is a veteran homicide detective for the Boston Police Department and a single father. When his only child, 24-year-old Emma, is murdered on the steps of his home, everyone assumes that he was the target. But, he soon suspects otherwise, and embarks on a mission to find out about his daughter’s secret life and her murder. His investigation leads him into a dangerous looking-glass world of corporate cover-ups, government collusion and murder — and to CIA operative Darius Jedburgh, who has been sent in to clean up the evidence. Craven’s solitary search for answers about his daughter’s death transforms into an odyssey of emotional discovery and redemption.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I am actually approaching this one with a slight bit of trepidation.  Thrillers of this type have become cookie-cutter affairs in Hollywood in recent years, and this one has a few of the earmarks of that same syndrome.  Add to that the fact that Gibson hasn’t really given us anything of real substance since 2002’s “We Were Soldiers,” and I have worries.  However, hope springs eternal in the soul of the MovieDruid.  I remember Gibson in “Ransom” and “Braveheart,” and am hopeful for a return to form.  The real question here, then, becomes whether a script has been delivered that is a twisted enough plot to keep the tension high and the secrets hidden until the end or do we have another thriller where the good guys might as well wear white and the bad guys shoud be evilly twisting their mustaches?  I hope for the former, but fear we will get the latter.

I often listen to talk radio.  And one commercial that is a frequent one on talk radio is for one of several different companies which specialize in precious metal investing.  They often even have the various talk radio personalities themselves talking about how they have diversified their holdings by buying gold.  The claims seem reasonable I suppose.  Gold has seen a steady rise in prices in recent years.  And, as they have said over and over “gold has never been worth zero.”

This is where they lose me.

Maybe its because I’m a child of the cold war, a geek, or an aficionado of the horror genre, but this last claim seems a bit out there.  Gold never worth zero?  Perhaps not in the past, but that may not hold in the future.  You see, these commercials are selling gold as the ultimate hedge against disaster.  The idea being that if everything goes to hell then your gold will still have value that your currency will not.

OK, I get that.  But, and again this may be me, most of the disasters I envision in the modern age that would cause currency to become worthless would do the same to anything like gold.  In the disasters I see its not gold that is the ultimate commodity.  It’s things like food, gasoline, heating oil, and maybe guns and ammunition.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Here he goes calling for a zombie outbreak or similar apocalyptic event.  But, while I don’t think those things are beyond the scope of imagination, something as comparatively mundane as a world economic collapse applies as well.  If international markets experience a total collapse how long do you think the “gold has never been worth zero” truism will hold out?  In those conditions do you think someone with a stockpile of food is going to trade even a loaf of bread for a pile of gold?  I know I wouldn’t.

I know this sounds like I’m a bit of a whack-job nut, some shotgun toting hick sitting on a pile of canned goods and warning IRS agents to get their government asses off my property.  Please understand I am not saying some catastrophe that will devalue everything is right around the corner.  But, I think that the selling od precious metals as a hedge against catastrophe is a bit of a stretch.

Gold is just another form of currency, and if everything starts down the highway to hell I’d rather be riding in the rusty old trailer with a full larder than the gold-plated Cadillac with my tummy-rumbling.

I’ve talked in a few posts about the fact that my wife and I choose one or two movies a year to invest in IMAX viewings.  And, for those who have never had the experience, I would certainly recommend catching an IMAX show at some point.  As is obvious from my posts regarding “Avatar,” I consider IMAX a staple of the true movie watcher’s diet.  A rare treat, but one that is indulged in with a certain regularity.

I have seen many films on IMAX, but my love for the format can be traced to two particular films that cemented my joy in the experience of seeing films on four-story screens.

The first of these was the film that made me a fan of the IMAX experience from what can generally be referred to as an “educational” medium.  There are several of these films put out yearly about everything from space exploration to undersea life to dinosaurs.  In 1988 a film was released that eventually made its way to the IMAX theater at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  In 1990, for my sixteenth birthday, I had seen advertisements for the IMAX film in the newspaper and, for whatever reason, latched onto it.  Thus, when it came to deciding what to do for my birthday that year, it was an easy choice: “Beavers” on IMAX. 

The film was a fascinating look at fascinating creatures and was beautifully shot.  The presentation wowed me to such an extent that I was, from that day forward, looking to see if anything interesting was at IMAX on a regular basis.  I even had a “Beavers” poster hanging on the back of my bedroom door all through high school.  (And, for those who are having dirty thoughts here, shame on you.)

Fast forward many years.  IMAX has begun showing feature films along with their traditional educational content.  One of the first to be released on IMAX is Disney’s “The Lion King.”  The movie has been circulating for several years when my wife and I, feeling like a road trip one weekend happen across in playing at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.  The magic of one of Disney’s finest films was amplified by the IMAX in such a way that we have now seen everything from “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” to “Watchmen” at various IMAX theaters. 

It was these two experiences, two among many since, that truly created my love for the IMAX format.  No other format delivers the fullness of immersion and experience that IMAX does.  And when a film truly utilizes the formats potential, as “Avatar” and many others have, the experience is nothing short of breathtaking.  I would urge all of my readers who have never experienced IMAX, or who have not been to an IMAX theater in years to check it out.

It’s worth the cost of admission.

This weekend I had the chance to sit down and watch a movie I had missed in the theater: “The Hurt Locker.”  It was a very interesting film, and I liked it.  I hesitate to say it was a “good movie,” though because the subject matter seems a little too close.  It’s hard to consider a movie about the Iraq war a “good movie” when one of my best friends and my brother-in-law are both only recently back from that hell, and so many other soldiers remain in the line of fire.  But, it was an interesting film with a compelling story that was well-told.

But, I’ve gotten away from where I was going with this a bit.

Near the end of the movie one of the characters is shown in a scene back home with his son, talking to the baby before putting him down.  The point he makes in the scene is that when we are young it is easy to love everything we see in the world around us from the simplest of toys to the most important people in out lives.  But, as we grow older we begin to realize things that make us stop loving certain things causing us to love fewer and fewer until there are only one or two things left that we love.  He made the example of a jack-in-the-box and growing up to realize that it is just “tin and a stuffed animal.”

Of all the scenes in the movie that were heart-wrenching, and there were a few, this one got to me.  It got to me because this character, someone I thought I had come to at least begin to understand, was saying something that felt so alien to me that I cringed a bit.  I was more upset by that moment than by any of the violence and death that had been portrayed.

The reason is it communicated a certain loss of hope to me.

I don’t believe we have to stop loving the things of our younger lives.  Does that love change as we mature?  Of course.  But, that doesn’t mean it has to go away.  We can continue to embrace all the things that surround us as being worthy of love and admiration without stalling in our growth and maturity.

Love is not a static emotion that once felt is immutable for its object.  It is a living part of us.  No, we will not love that jack-in-the-box as an amazing device of wonder housing a friend always happy to jump out and see us when we grow older.  We will see that it is tin and a stuffed animal.  But, we can remember the joy it brought us.  We can remember the contentment of hearing the tinny music and the thrill of the sudden pop.  We can remember and keep that love and joy in our hearts.

I think that our ability to do such things is one of the things that makes us uniquely human.  We can keep the memory of all those feelings with us and have those remembrances that bring that love and joy back to us.  It is that capacity that makes a parent buy a bike for their child.  They remember the joy of the wind in their hair and the world speeding by.  It is that remembrance that makes you curl up with a favorite movie that your significant other has never seen.  It is dear to you and you want them to share that experience.  And above all, it is that storehouse of remembered love that we lean on when times are dark and all seems lost.

To me, it is that very thing that defines hope.

I was listening to Brad Paisley sing “Welcome to the Future” this morning and the song got me thinking about how much things really have changed over the course of my lifetime.  And the changes just seem to be accelerating as technology begins to meld with changing social norms to create new phenomenon that no one could have predicted.

It’s a strange concoction.

And the effects can easily be seen just by looking at the combination of a few of these.  Last year a reality show that allowed the public to vote on the talent of contestants in Britain saw a nervous and awkward woman named Susan Boyle walk onto stage.  The judges seemed to roll their eyes at her thinking what they had was yet another person who thought they had talent they did not.  She then proceeded to shock everyone with one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking performances of “I Dreamed A Dream” from “Les Miserables” that I have ever heard. 

Within hours the video of the performance had gone from broadcast television and onto the internet at popular video sites such as YouTube where it quickly gained a cult following.  The video caused a sensation worldwide and before long this unassuming woman has a CD released to rave reviews and incredible sales.

Fash forward a little less than a year to january 2010 and a 62 year old veteran with personality and confidence walks into the auditions for a similar show in Atlanta, GA.  He proceeds to perform a ridiculous, but exceptionally funny song of his creation.  Like Susan Boyle before him he is shortly all over the internet quickly racking up what has become known as the magic million pair: a million hits on YouTube and a million fans on Facebook.  Heck, even Bret Favre is chanting “Pants on the Ground” in the Viking locker room after Minnesota’s playoff victory against Dallas.

And thus, we get our first viral of 2010: “Pants on the Ground.”

In both these cases, the individuals involved would never have gotten the national, and even international, attention they are enjoying 20 years ago.  It is the advent of the reality show as an interactive medium, the internet as a content delivery system, and social networking online that have made such things possible.

And that’s just a small taste of the effect of differences in technology and societal changes have had on the rapidly accelerating landscape of every aspect of our lives from media to food.  In some ways the rapid changes are a scary thing, but the opportunities for the betterment of oneself and for participation in global communities can have positive repercussions for the future of our species. But, as I consider all the advances I find myself wondering one thing that was addresses by actor Avery Brooks in his ads for IBM.

“Where are the flying cars.  I was promised flying cars.”

Hello, everyone.

It’s been a busy week here at the Jungle Gym.  Beyond our regular posts, a new Review has gone up.  And, this week saw the launch of the “Victuals & Hootch” and “Mixed Media” pages as well.  And, now we find ourselves back to MovieDruid day!  I hope everyone takes some time to check out any and all of the new content that interests them.

But, in the meantime, I present this week’s national releases….

“The Tooth Fairy”

Trailer

Synopsis: Derek Thompson is a hard-charging hockey player whose nickname comes from his habit of separating opposing players from their bicuspids. When Derek discourages a youngster’s dreams, he’s sentenced to one week’s hard labor as a real tooth fairy, complete with the requisite wings and magic wand. At first, Derek “can’t handle the tooth” — bumbling and stumbling as he furtively tries to wing his way through strangers’ homes — doing what tooth fairies do. But, as Derek slowly adapts to his new position, he begins to rediscover his own forgotten dreams.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Dwayne Johnson, The Rock of the WWE.  As a Hockey Player turned Tooth Fairy.  OK, I’ll give you a few moments to wipe the tears from your eyes after the hilarity.  Now, don’t get me wrong, The Rock has actually showed some acting prowess since he started taking to the big screen.  He was incredibly good in “Gridiron Gang” and “Race to Witch Mountain” was a surprisingly entertaining piece of filmmaking.  But this is just ridiculous.  My mind really rebels against the very concept.  The thing that really gets to me is that the legendary Julie Andrews (“The Sound of Music” & “Mary Poppins”) allowed herself to become involved in this train wreck.  At least the concept is good for a laugh.

“Extraordinary Measures”

Trailer

Synopsis: From his working class roots, John Crowley has finally begun to taste success in corporate America. Supported by his beautiful wife Aileen and their three children, John is on the fast track. But just as his career is taking off, Crowley walks away from it all when his two youngest children, Megan and Patrick, are diagnosed with a fatal disease. With Aileen by his side, harnessing all of his skill and determination, Crowley teams up with a brilliant, but unappreciated and unconventional scientist, Dr. Robert Stonehill. Together they form a bio-tech company focused on developing a life-saving drug. One driven to prove himself and his theories, the other by a chance to save his children, this unlikely alliance eventually develops into mutual respect as they battle the medical and business establishments in a fight against the system — and time. But, at the last minute, when it appears that a solution has been found, the relationship between the two men faces a final test — the outcome of which will affect the fate of John’s children.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Good dramas seem to be a rarity these days.  Hollywood seems to be focused on the comedies and big budget films because they rake in so much money.  But, it is always good to see a solid drama come out.  That is especially the case when you can pair two actors like Harrison Ford (“Regarding Henry” & “The Mosquito Coast”) and Brendan Fraser (“School Ties” & “The Quiet American”).  If you’re exposure to Ford is all Indiana Jones and your exposure to Fraser is all his silly comedic work or chasing mummies, then I urge you to give this one a shot.  Both are extremely talented dramatic actors who should gel well on screen.

“Legion” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race. When God loses faith in Mankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse. Humanity’s only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner and the Archangel Michael.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Few things in all the religious texts of all the world are quite as fascinating as the concepts of angels.  They are portrayed as messengers, guardians, and warriors throughout history.  One of the most powerful things I ever heard said about angels was in the film “The Prophecy” when Elias Koteas uttered the classic line “A whole existence spent praising your God, but always with one wing dipped in blood. Would you ever really want to see an angel?”  This film looks to be a spiritual successor of sorts to “The Prophecy,” giving us a vision of what it might be like if God turned his legions against mankind because of our failures.  The film has been called blasphemous and sacrilegious in the press.  And, if that is an opinion you share, my apologies for causing greater offense.  But one must be able to separate the reality of our existence from the fictions told on the silver screen.  And this film clearly lies in the latter.  As a story, this looks to be a unique look at a fascinating question.  What happens when we as a species push things too far for the spiritual powers that be?

It seems like every time you turn around these days there is another story about some famous couple breaking up.  The media will revel in the he said/she said of the whole thing and absolutely gush over every tawdry detail that comes to light.  After a while it begins to be a bit of overload and you begin to wonder if the word “marriage” means something else when you’re famous.  It really can get a bit disturbing, but on the other hand it has become so commonplace that we just shrug and wonder why it took so long.

The problem I see here, though, is the image of marriage that is being portrayed to coming generations.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should be promoting the Donna Reed/Ozzie & Harriet approach so much either.  The days of  wives in the kitchen while the husbands go off to work as a social norm are over.  In these days marriage is a much healthier relationship, a partnership between two people on every level.

At least that’s what it should be.

Too often I hear from friends and colleagues that they need time in the house on their own, or they can’t wait until their spouse has to go out of town for a few days, or other such comments.  Many people make it clear that their spouse can drive them up a wall.  And, yes, every relationship is going to have a bit of that.  But, on the other hand, if we truly understand what marriage is perhaps those types of comments seem a little off.

Marriage is a societal standard.  It is what we are told all our lives should be our goal.  Grow up, get married, have kids, etc., etc., etc.  We are indoctrinated from an early age that this is what is normal, what is expected of us.  And, thus, we go about the search for a mate with a certain amount of pressure behind us to become a part of society.

I would argue that the best marriages are rooted in something different.  They result from two people finding each other who truly feel like two halves of the same whole.  But, at the same time they are not blinded by the emotions that swept them into a relationship in the first place.  They know each other inside and out.  They have learned each others hopes, dreams, wants, and hates.  They know the idiosyncracies and don’t love in spite of them, but because of them.  They find in each other deep compatibility.

Earlier this week I wrote about experiencing things together.  A true married couple hates experiencing new things apart.  The glory and glamor of the new experience is dulled by the absence of their other half. 

Now, I know many think I am an idealist, that such things do not exist.  That couples like that don;t stay that way after years of marriage.  I would argue that this is certainly not the case.  I have witnessed it first hand and have tried to model my attitudes toward marriage on it.  These couples do exist.

I saw it every day growing up in my own mother and father.

I’ve false started today’s post about seven times now.  My mind is unsettled on some level today, and the upshot of that is that I have thoughts scattering in a hundred different directions.  I reach out to grab one to use as a focus, but it simply wiggles out of my grasp, laughs a little as it dances a little circle around me, and then dashes off to play with its friends.

That first paragraph alone should explain how out there I am today.

I guess the lack of concentration comes from a feeling.  A simple feeling I get every once and a while that something is very slightly and quietly wrong.  I can’t tell you what it is that is wrong, only that something is, in fact, wrong.  The feeling hits me every once and a while and I spend a day or two feeling completely out of sync with the rest of the world.  It’s like I’m a half a second out of phase with the rest of the universe.

A large part of the problem is that I have a very difficult problem connecting with other people.  The fact that I’m socially awkward has been documented in this space before, but it is something a little more than that.  I feel like an outsider much of the time, even among those who are my friends.

It’s days like this that I thank God that I managed to find someone who loves me and gives me an anchor in the craziness that this mess of a mind turns into so often.  Without my wife I don’t know that these days of listlessness and feeling off would ever have an end.  And, so I’ll bob along through the wrong-ness of the day, knowing that when I get home I’ll be able to be in a place that is right.

I just wish I could make the rest of my life work so well.

My wife and I will hear from our friends and colleagues that they think we’re a little nuts with some of the things we do or that we do such interesting things.  Usually these comments follow us talking about driving out to Reading to see “Avatar” in IMAX, or taking a weekend trip to Cleveland to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The truth is my wife and I like to see and experience new things, and we find that the experience is much more enriching when we go together.  Shared experiences are always so much more memorable and special.

What I don’t understand is the attitude that so many people have that they can’t do these things.  Not experiencing life is a choice, not a sentence.  People seem to come up with every excuse in the book as to why they can’t do anything.  I understand the mindset to a degree.  The demands of our daily lives can be such a drain on our reserves, both energy and financial, that we just can’t get ourselves motivated to do anything else.

But, I would argue that these things don’t have to be big expensive endeavors.  Everywhere around us there are things happening everyday that take little to no time or money to get a new experience.  Just in Central Pennsylvania alone you can take in any number of free factory tours (particularly in York Co.), there are many farms that welcome visitors to come and see what happens on a dairy farm, there are museums from the State Museum in Harrisburg to The Hershey Story in Hershey that have little to no entrance fees.  None of these strike your fancy check out the community calendars, like the one maintained by WHP.  They are treasure troves of quirky little events and the like in the area.

Feeling a bit more adventurous?  Check out the books “1000 Places To See Before You Die” or “1000 Places To See Before You Die – U.S. & Canada Edition” for ideas on everything from Polar Bear Safaris to checking out the various parts of the Smithsonian. 

The bulk of the people who read this blog are my friends and family, people I care very deeply about.  I urge all of you, and anyone else who stumbles upon the Jungle Gym, to make 2010 a year where you make an effort to experience new things.  It can be as simple as trying a new cuisine you’ve never experienced or as difficult as going to the other side of the globe. 

No one should get to the point where they are walking up to the pearly gates, gazing down at the Earth below regretting never seeing more of it.  Don’t just trudge through your life, live it.

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