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Monthly Archives: March 2010

There are times in your life when events seem to conspire in such a way as to take you back to moments in your youth.  It was easy when we were kids to believe that we would handle a situation differently than our parents or that we would never do what our parents did.  It’s easy because when we are young we are ignorant.  We don’t have all of the relevant data, and even if we did we would not understand all of it.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.

One of the parts of my youth that has been playing back through my head recently is our relationship with my maternal grandparents.  I have a lot of strangely vivid memories of them and their house. 

I remember their bulldog Basil who went after my sister when she was still very small.  I remember the fish tank that sat on the shelf between the dining and living rooms.  I remember the strange feel of the finished basement and the pool table down there.  I remember he piano and the odd divider in the master bedroom.  I remember the long narrow kitchen with the low counter table.  I remember the black, cast-iron door knocker in the shape of a disembodied hand holding a heavy ball.

I also remember that things were not always peaches-n-cream when we stayed with them.  I remember that my father and grandfather would often clash.  I was too young to really pick up on the reasons for this, but I knew it was there.  And, I know that at some point, whatever those issues were, they were pushed too far and we departed the house and my father never returned.  My mom would take us kids over when we visited the area sometimes.  Those visits were always vaguely awkward and uncomfortable.

I also remember the way things ended with my mother and her family.  How my grandfather and her siblings betrayed her when making decisions about my grandmother’s care.  I remember the pain they caused my mother.  For that, I will never forgive nor forget. 

I see much of my father in me lately.  I love my father.  And, I respect him more than any man in the world.  He is a great man, and he is an example to be emulated.  I find myself at a crossroads right now, and I don’t know which way to turn.  If I believed myself to be a man of even half the character of my father I would simply trust my instincts. 

But, I don’t believe that of myself.  I am flawed in ways he has never been and never will be.

And so I struggle with the issues swirling in my head and don’t know what to do.  I only hope, when I do start down a path it is one that I chose for the right reasons and not for expedience.

I was out at a restaurant the other night with my wonderful wife.  The place was one where we had dined many times before and had always been pleased with the food.  Unfortunately, that evening it was not necessarily the case as one of our entrees came out severely overcooked. 

Nothing all that exciting, right?  I mean, restaurants make mistakes every day, big deal.  And, really, it wasn’t a big deal.

What got me thinking about it, though, was the fact that our first reaction was to simply sigh and deal with the problem.  But, I came to my senses and we ended up sending it back and getting a properly cooked entrée that didn’t taste like charcoal.

The reason this struck me is that the political correctness of society has become so infectious that we have gotten to a point where we often won’t speak up on our own behalf for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings.  It has become a major social faux pas, in many cases, to register a complaint about the products, services, and such that we pay our hard-earned dollars for.

But, this type of attitude doesn’t really serve anyone’s best interests, does it?  If we had simply dealt with the burnt meal what would have been the result?

In the end we would have been wholly unsatisfied with our experience at the restaurant.  This would have colored any future decision on where to dine, casting this particular place in a negative light.  The waitress who was serving us may have suffered from a lesser tip because of overall experience was negative*, despite the pretty good service she provided.  The manager and owner of the restaurant would suffer from the loss of repeat business and potential negative word of mouth that resulted.

Everyone loses, because we didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.

Now this is an extreme examination, but I think you get my point.  We need to find a way to push past the programmed political correctness and begin speaking up for ourselves.  More and more often, especially with the economy in the state it is in, we find ourselves in situations where service or products presented to us are substandard.  We need to begin feeling comfortable saying that something is unacceptable, and if we are going to expected to pay for something it needs to be right.

I have been a strong opponent of the political correctness movement for a long time.  We as a people need to unserstand that life is not all wine and roses, and protecting ourselves from the harsh realties of the world at large by making sure no one’s feelings get hurt is not a sustainable way of running a society.

So, get out there.  Speak your mind.  Defend your right to expect a certain level of quality for the price you are paying for the goods and services you consume.  Being polite doesn’t mean you have to be politically correct.

(* As a side note, before I get flamed, my wife and I would never actually short waitstaff.  My wife waited tables, and I have been throughly educated on the economics of being a waitress/waiter.  We don’t want anyone losing money because they had to wait on us.)

I’m not the type that keeps up with Hollywood gossip.  I, frankly, just don’t care.  Unfortunately, even I end up knowing more than I want from simply being within earshot of media on a regular basis.  This morning I got a brush with one of the “big stories” and was a little surprised for a moment when the news turned to the drama surrounding Sandra Bullock and Jesse James.

Now, I’m not so far under a rock that I hadn’t heard about the issue.  What shocked me wasn’t the news of the affair that has all the gossip columnists all atwitter, it was the name of the mistress.  “Bombshell” McGee.  I simply shook my head and sighed.  Yet another child destined to a life of pain and heartache because of careless parents.  Luckily, in this case I was wrong.  The woman in question was given the reasonable name Michelle by her parents, she selected the moniker “Bombshell.” 

But, despite the fact that this instance is one where the ridiculous name was not bestowed upon parents, it did get me thinking about all the ridiculous names I have seen over the years.  My dad has an old friend named Harry Ballsey.   My mom taught a young girl named Candy Hooker.  There is a player on the Seattle Mariners named Milton Bradley.  And that’s just three off the top of my head.  It makes me sigh in sympathy for these kids.

And, then there’s the people who like creative spellings.  What possesses people to take a perfectly reasonable name like Christina and turn it into Chrystyna?  How does Joshua become Jawschwa?  This does not help your child.  It doesn’t make them a unique and interesting individual, they do that themselves.  All it does is ensure that they have to correct the spelling of their name all their life.  Thank you for an irritating issue to deal with all my life, mom and dad.

Parents really need to make a solid decision on the name for their child well ahead of time, and set it in stone.  Decisions made in the heat of labor and delivery are never good ones.  Also, they need to be sure that the decision is made in a time when no one is drinking, getting high, or feeling a particularly creative streak.  And the decision should be reviewed a few weeks later by not only you, but someone you trust to be a level-headed and reasonable person who will tell you the truth.  If parents can’t control themselves, perhaps we need to give those responsible for the filing of birth certificates limited veto powers.

Something has to stop the madness.  Think of the life poor little Formica Dinette will have to deal with.  (And, no, I didn’t make that one up.)

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pattering outside. 

I love mornings like that.  The whole world is wrapped in a blanket of sheer mist that seems to mute the sounds of life.  And yet, you can hear the life-giving patter of the rain like a tiny little feet running across your roof.

There’s something about rainy days that just makes me smile.  Even though today has a chill in the air, the rain still feels welcome.  Somehow the world just seems new after it has been washed in a cleansing rain.  Even an urban landscape of parking lots and cars can smell fresh and clean.

So often we take the little things around us for granted.  Simple things go unnoticed.  I am as guilty, maybe even more so, than most.  It’s easy to fall into that rut where we drive so hard to get the things we want or need that we forget to appreciate the world and people around us.  I hope that I can fend off becoming that jaded for at least a bit longer.

For today, at least, I listened to the rain.  And I was grateful for it.

Hello, everyone!

This is a very special day here a the MovieDruid.  I would like to send my love and admiration out to my beautiful wife on her birthday.  She is the most important part of my life, the rock that provides me a solid foundation.  Nothing I accomplish in this world would be possible without her by my side.

Happy Birthday, my love!

But, my wife, like many of you, is always interested to see what shenanigans I spout off with each week, and so here we go with this week’s releases.

“Hot Tub Time Machine”

Trailer

Synopsis: “Hot Tub Time Machine” follows a group of best friends who’ve become bored with their adult lives: Adam has been dumped by his girlfriend; Lou is a party guy who can’t find the party; Nick’s wife controls his every move; and video game-obsessed Jacob won’t leave his basement. After, a crazy night of drinking in a ski resort hot tub, the men wake up, heads’ pounding, in the year 1986. This is their chance to kick some past and change their futures – one will find a new love life, one will learn to stand up for himself with the ladies, one will find his mojo, and one will make sure he still exists!

MovieDruid’s Comments:  I would have loved to be out drinking with the guy who thought this one up the night the idea hit him.  I guarantee you it happened during or after a bender.  The concept here is so far out there that this movie will either be absolutely fantastic or so bad you can’t stand it.  There is no room for middle ground when you’ve combined “hot tub” with “time machine.”  I do have to applaud them for at least one thing, though.  They cast an ’80’s movie icon in a film about going back in time to the ’80’s when they cast John Cusack (“Say Anything,” “Better Off Dead,” & “One Crazy Summer).

“How To Train Your Dragon” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and based on the book by Cressida Cowell, this action comedy tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t exactly fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. Hiccup’s world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.

MovieDruid’s Comments:  I first saw the trailer for this one, in 3D, when I attended “A Christmas Carol” last holiday season.  I was truly impressed with the animation, and with the fact that someone seemed to be making quality family entertainment again.  Disney has long ago fallen by the wayside.  The only things they release of value these days have the Pixar logo on them.  Dreamworks seems to have moved in to try to fill that void.  And, while they have become somewhat Shrek crazy the last few years, they do put out some breathtaking features in both traditional and CGI formats.  This one looks like it is going to be a worthy addition to that library.  The film is being released in traditional, 3D, and IMAX 3D formats.  I would certainly recommend the 3D format, but I’m not sure this one quite rises to the level of an IMAX purchase.  Overall, however, this looks like a truly delightful film from every angle.

Hello, everyone.

I wanted to apologize to everyone for the lack of postings over the last few days.  The illness that I had been fighting since the beginning of last week got the better of me over the weekend, and I wasn’t feeling well enough to post the last few days.  But, I am finally recovering and the show here at the Jungle Gym is going to get back under way.

As a programming note of sorts, I am going to be taking this week off the Victuals & Hootch, Mixed Media, and MovieDruid Reviews sections.  They will resume at their normally scheduled times next week.  I apologize to anyone who enjoys those pages and hope that such an interruption will not need to occur again anytime soon.

Being ill is never a fun experience.  And, admittedly, I am a poor patient.  However, despite my foibles during times of sickness, it is good to know that I have someone who truly cares about me looking out for my well-being even when I am being stubborn or neurotic about things.

I hope all of my readers are lucky enough to have someone in their lives that cares about them the way my wife cares about me.  Life is so much richer and more fulfilling when you have someone like that by your side.  I hope she knows how much I appreciate her and all the things she has done, and continues to do, for me.

So, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say “Thank You” to my wonderful wife, who, in a time when I was not exactly easy to deal with, treated me with a love and caring that I can only hope I will someday be worthy of.

I hate television commercials.

In fact, one of the many reasons I stopped watching television and turned to watching series that interested me on DVD was commercials.  If I had my way the only day they would be allowed to show commercials on TV would be Super Bowl Sunday.  (And, Go Daddy, you need a new schtick.  If all you have is a half-naked Danica Patrick or model you are banned.)

But, or course, I have waded back into commercial infested waters because I am unwilling to wait any longer than absolutely necessary to see the next episode of the last season of “Lost.”  And I am hating every time they cut to commercial.

The problem I have with commercials is they have no creativity left out there it seems.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  There are some creative minds creating commercials that leave you saying to yourself: What the hell was that?  It’s like there are two kinds of commercials:  the ones that are created from stock formulas that have been around for decades, and ads crafted by mad men (and I am not referring to the show “Mad Men,”  I most assuredly mean crazy.)

And then there’s commercial placement.  Who exactly determined that “Lost” and “Barbie in a Mermaid Tale” had similar demographics?

If what they are crafting is all it takes to sell a commercial to a client, perhaps I am in the wrong business.  I may not do the formula thing like they can, but I can certainly put on my crazy hat.

Picture this:

In an open field of green grass grazes a lone cow.  Above, white clouds race across a blue sky.  Slowly we zoom in on the cow, which raises it’s head and looks at the camera with an evil glare.  It is then we see the tag on its collar reads “Nero.”  Suddenly in the distance we hear the sound of a roaring fire and see black smoke as strains of violin music drift across the pasture.  Voiceover comes in:  “Don’t watch your barn burn while Nero fiddles.  Use Duracell batteries in your smoke detectors.”

Good, right?  Who wants to hire me?

Hello, again, everyone.

The first truly warm days came to central Pennsylvania this week, so I hope those of you in the area managed to enjoy the sunshine just a bit.  This weekend we officially make the transition from winter to spring on Saturday, so hopefully this long winter of snow and ice can be left behind as a mere memory.

However, beautiful weather is not excuse for not attending the cinema!  There are some good releases coming this spring as we gear up for yet another summer movie season.

So, kick back and prepare yourself for this week’s national releases…

“The Bounty Hunter”

Trailer

Synopsis: Milo Boyd, a down-on-his-luck bounty hunter, gets his dream job when he is assigned to track down his bail-jumping ex-wife, reporter Nicole Hurly. He thinks all that’s ahead is an easy payday, but when Nicole gives him the slip so she can chase a lead on a murder cover-up, Milo realizes that nothing ever goes simply with him and Nicole. The exes continually one-up each other — until they find themselves on the run for their lives. They thought their promise to love, honor and obey was tough — staying alive is going to be a whole lot tougher.

MovieDruid’s Comments: OK, first off, can anyone who ever had a bad breakup say they wouldn’t love a shot at having to drag their ex in for jumping bail?  The concept here is rife with not only comic potential, but a relatable feeling that most of us have had at one time or another.  And they found a good choice in director Andy Tennant (“Fools Rush In” & “Anna & The King”).  The real question here is whether Jennifer Aniston (“The Break-Up” & “Bruce Almighty”) can gel on-screen with Gerard Butler (“300” & “Timeline”).  This film will depend on that chemistry, and while the two are both gifted performers, they come from different worlds creatively.  It will be interesting to see how this one goes.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”

Trailer

Synopsis: Meet the kid who made “wimpy” cool, in a family comedy based on the best—selling illustrated novel Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, the first in a series that has thus far sold 24 million copies. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID chronicles the adventures of wise—cracking middle school student Greg Heffley, who must somehow survive the scariest time of anyone’s life: middle school.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This is the first non-animated family feature I have seen come out in some time that didn’t make me roll my eyes.  First off, it is based on a book that amounts to a hand-drawn graphic novel for kids laid out as the diary of a middle-schooler.  Second, it is a smart film, that doesn’t appear to treat kids as small, stupid adults, which far too many family films do in my opinion.  Hello, Hollywood?  The kids are actually smarter then us adults much of the time.  Finally, they have a good crew involved.  Director Thor Freudenthal, who directed the surprisingly enjoyable “Hotel for Dogs,”  has been given a talented bunch of kids to work with to bring the pencil drawings to life.  I have high hopes for this one.

“The Ghost Writer”

Trailer

Synopsis: When a successful British ghost writer, The Ghost, agrees to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, his agent assures him it’s the opportunity of a lifetime. But the project seems doomed from the start-not least because his predecessor on the project, Lang’s long-term aide, died in an unfortunate accident. As The Ghost works, he begins to uncover clues suggesting his predecessor may have stumbled on a dark secret linking Lang to the CIA-and that somehow this information is hidden in the manuscript he left behind. Was Lang in the service of the American intelligence agency while he was prime minister? And, was The Ghost’s predecessor murdered because of the appalling truth he uncovered?

MovieDruid’s Comments:  Som of my readers may have seen this one come out in their area in February when it was put out in limited release.  However, they are finally releasing it nationwide, and it looks like a solid film.  Now, I must admit, I am a little biased as it is based on a novel by one of my favorite authors, Robert Harris.  However, it has all the makings of a solid film.  The source material is solid.  The director is one of the greats: Roman Polanski (“Chinatown” & “The Pianist”).  And the cast includes names like Pierce Brosnan (“The Tailor of Panama” & “GoldenEye”), Ewan McGregor (“Angels & Demons” & “The Island”), Tom Wilkinson (“Valkyrie” & “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”), and Kim Cattrall (“15 Minutes” & “Bonfire of the Vanities”).  With these talents to work with, Polanski should be able to craft a solid,taut thriller out of Harris’s novel.

“Repo Men” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: In the futuristic action-thriller “Repo Men,” humans have extended and improved our lives through highly sophisticated and expensive mechanical organs created by a company called The Union. The dark side of these medical breakthroughs is that if you don’t pay your bill, The Union sends its highly skilled repo men to take back its property — with no concern for your comfort or survival. Remy is one of the best organ repo men in the business. But, when he suffers a cardiac failure on the job, he awakens to find himself fitted with the company’s top-of-the-line heart-replacement — as well as a hefty debt. When he can’t make the payments, The Union sends its toughest enforcer, Remy’s former partner Jake, to track him down.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This is a film full of potential.  It has potential to be a solid, fast-paced sci-fi thriller.  It has the potential to be a smart film making some pointed commentary on a variety of subjects.  It also has the potential to be a B-movie that depends on violence and gore to keep its audience’s attention.  And while I’m not sure it is going to slide into the realm of social commentary, it does look like it will be one hell of a ride.  Could it backfire and become a cheese-fest?  Absolutely.  But, with talent performers like Jude Law (“The Road to Perdition” & “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence”), Forest Whitaker (“Vantage Point” & “The Last King of Scotland”), and Liev Schreiber (“Ransom” & “Defiance”) I have every hope that this will be a good one.

Hello, all, and Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Or, as I like to think of it, the day the rest of the world celebrates the invention of Guinness, the only thing which keeps the Irish from ruling the world.

And on this fine day, I invite all of you to hoist a Stout and celebrate in the true Irish spirit, but do so responsibly.  I hate to encourage sobriety on any level on today of all days, but I don’t want to lose any readers.

In celebration of the Emerald Isle, I would like to share with my fellow readers a few of my favorite things that the Irish have gifted to the world:

1 ) The wonderful beers of the country such as the aforementioned Guinness Stout, Harp Lager, and Smithwick’s Irish Ale.  If you like beer at all and haven’t sampled the brews from Ireland you are doing yourself a major disservice.

2 ) The monasteries at Clomacnoise, among others, which provided places of learning and protected the knowledge of civilization during the depths of the Dark Ages.  Truly, the Irish helped save civilization through these places.

3 ) Men like Michael Collins.  Many may remember him as a terrorist, but he will always be a man who stood for what he felt was right and true and was willing to fight for it.  He is an inspiration for anyone who truly believes that ideals like freedom and liberty are worth the price they often demand.

4 ) Irish film directors like Jim Sheridan (“In The Name of the Father” & “Brothers”), Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game” & “Michael Collins”), and Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda” & “Some Mother’s Son”). 

5)  The authors of Ireland whose work reaches from Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” to James Joyces’ “Ulysseus” to Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes.”

6 ) Stephen, the crazy Irishman in the movie “Braveheart.”  The character, and much of the film, may be heavily fictionalized, but who can’t like a character like Stephen when he says things like: “The Lord says he can get me out of this, but he’s pretty sure you’re fooked.”

7 ) Ri Ra.  A chain of Irish pubs, 11 so far, in the US.  These pubs have all of their decor, bars, and such meticulously restored in Ireland and then shipped to the States.  I have had the pleasure of drinking in the Charlotte and Atlantic City locations, and must say my preference would be to not drink anywhere else.

8 ) Red hair, blue eyes, and fair skin.  Other countries might have them, but in Ireland they are an art form.

9 ) Irish music from the modern takes on classic Celtic themes in the works of Clannad to the haunting melodies woven by Loreena McKennitt to the more modern fare of Gaelic Storm and The Dropkick Murphys there is a something for every taste. (Yes, I know McKennitt is Canadian and Gaelic Storm and the Murphys are both American in origin, but they are definitely in the Celtic tradition.)

10 ) St. Patrick’s Day.  Leave it to the Irish to give the world a holiday based around a Catholic saint that is one of the year’s biggest excuses to tie one on!  Erin Go Bragh, indeed!

I’ve been under the weather the last few days, and, so, this may end up being a bit rambling and come across a bit punchy.  Hopefully my head will be clearer tomorrow and I can catch up this week’s secondary posts on Victuals & Hootch, Mixed Media, and MovieDruid Reviews.

In the meantime…..

My wife and I often end our day by throwing a disc in the DVD player and, depending on the time and mood, watching a movie or some TV on DVD.  Usually we watch one of the TV shows we have taken up on DVD, but last night, due mainly to the fact that w were both sick, we got to bed early enough to do a movie instead.  As we began to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick do battle for the life of Edward Furlong a scene came up that prompted an observation from my wife that she has made many, many times.

Why do they always have to hurt the dog?

It’s a valid question.  It isn’t like “Terminator 2” is the only film where there has been a scene of absolutely unnecessary animal cruelty.  They happen far too often. 

I know I have a soft spot for animals in general, and canines in particular.  My thoughts on the topic are well recorded here at the Jungle Gym.  But, I don’t think that I am out of line on this. 

I know it’s a movie.  I know I should be suspending disbelief.  But, this feels different.  When someone goes psycho in a movie and murders every human in sight, our minds process the horror of that almost automatically.  We are practically hard-wired to understand that killing another person is wrong.  But, society had turned animals into objects already and when we see an animal’s life snuffed out without even a casual thought on-screen it adds to the objectification of our fellow species.

In many ways, I am surprised that these scenes are even considered acceptable anymore.  We seem to have a supreme hypocrisy in our mindset of Michael Vick being bad but on-screen cruelty and murder of animals is acceptable.  I would argue that both are not only bad, but could even be considered sadistic acts of evil.  We, as a society, need to present a united and unequivocal front that states that murder and cruelty of anyone is unspeakable.

Regardless of species.

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