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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Hello, everyone.

Here we are, nearing the close of yet another week.  My head hasn’t exactly been on straight this week.  I apologize for the lack of ancillary content here at the Jungle Gym this week.

I blame Disney.

OK, hear me out.  Disney owns ABC.  ABC airs the only TV show I am even close to religious about, “Lost.”  “Lost” is in a final season where questions are finally being answered.  This week….RERUN.  I got so dicombobulated by the lack of new “Lost” that I forgot about my Jungle Gym responsibilities.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at this week’s releases.

“Furry Vengeance”

Trailer

Synopsis: A real estate developer moves his family from Chicago to Oregon when his job calls for him to oversee the building of a major housing development. But, when his latest project threatens the homes of the local forest creatures, the animals seek revenge by turning a peaceful cul-de-sac under construction into a battlefield of epic proportions. It’s man versus nature and the fur is gonna fly!

MovieDruid’s Comments:  When I first heard the title of this film I had a frightening image of people in animal costumes rioting in some city in a scene that just went downhill from there.  Thus, my first reaction to seeing the actual marketing campaign for this one was relief.  That didn’t last long.  Relief quickly gave way to confusion.  Who, in the name of all that’s holy, is giving Brendan Fraser career advice?  How does a performer capable of performances as nuanced as “School Ties” & “The Quiet American” continue to make schlock like “Dudley Do-Right” and this?  His project choices have been improving the last few years, but someone really needs to get this guy some decent advisors.

“A Nightmare On Elm Street” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: A group of suburban teenagers share one common bond: they are all being stalked by Freddy Krueger, a horribly disfigured killer who hunts them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they can protect one another, but when they sleep, there is no escape.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I have come out strongly against remakes of the “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th” franchises at one time or another.  I voiced strong opinions that these films did not need to be remade, they stood the test of time.  Well, the third leg of the ’80’s horror triumvirate didn’t fare quite as well.  My wife and I got the “Nightmare on Elm Street” collection for Christmas a few years back, and, while the early ones are still entertaining, they did not age well at all.  The main problem here was finding your villain.  Jason and Michael Meyers are both silent engines of destruction.  Freddy Krueger is a villain that taunts and teases, constantly jabbering to keep his prey off-balance.  And Robert Englund created a classic when he was the original Freddy.  I would denounce this film entirely if it wasn’t for the fact that they found someone who, I think, can handle walking in those shoes. Jackie Earle Haley.  The former “Bad News Bears” star has turned into an actor that can handle the creepy parts quite well.  Don’t believe me check out his turn as Rorshach in “Watchmen” or his short, but haunting, turn as George Noyce in “Shutter Island.”  This is a man who can give us a Freddy for a new generation and make him stalk our dreams once again.  I, for one, can’t wait.

Next week my wife will be taking a short trip to Atlantic City with her mother as a Mother’s Day gift.  They will be staying a night or two.  I will not be joining them because of a combination of scheduling issues and fewer vacation days available. 

I can’t say I’m entirely disappointed.

I’ve been on these Atlantic City trips, along with trips to the more recently opened casinos closer to home many times.  I walk into these places and they overwhelm the senses.  The air is filled with noises from electronic beeps to cries of triumph or defeat.  There is a hanging pall of smoke over many areas, and the smell of cigarettes permeates even the no smoking sections of the casino floor.  The entire place is decorated with garish colors, outlandish images, or some combination thereof. 

And the people.

The place is awash in a sea of humanity that ebbs and flows through the rows upon rows of flashing slot machines.  Senior citizens who seem to struggle to move as the navigate the ramps and escalators from the parking garage suddenly move like Jesse Owens in Berlin circa 1936 in the mad rush to get the best and newest machines.  But, even as they flitter from place to place they quickly descend into a zombie-like stupor of pressing a single button over and over. FOR HOURS.

I wander the casino floor in a daze most of the time I step into these places.  There is a palpable aura about me that is soporific.  And while the siren song of the flashing machines calls to everyone around me, I feel like Valentine Michael Smith taking his first steps onto Earth.

Still, it is an interesting experience for a time.  I’ve never been a gambler.  I don’t see the point in gambling.  One would think that, as a gamer, I would be attracted to games of chance, especially the newer slot machines that practically are video games.  But, I’m not in the least.  The only interests to me are in observation and the occasional pursuit off the casino floor such as a concert or travelling exhibit.  I bore quickly.

I’ve watched the casinos change quite a bit over the last several years.  You can’t even drop a coin in a machine as you walk by anymore.  Winnings are paid in tickets which then have to be cashed in at a machine.  Everything is done to encourage and ensure that as much of every dollar brought into the casino stays there.  The deck is so thoroughly stacked against you I wonder that people bother.

Perhaps I just don’t have the wiring in me for the love of the casino floor.  I prefer my games reward my abilities and skill, games of pure chance can’t really be won.  Especially when the casino sets the odds.

There have been a lot of stories regarding violence in the news recently.  Violence always seems to grab our attention and rivet us.  Violence, it seems, sells almost as well as sex these days.

However, whenever the analysts begin coming out of the woodwork and throwing their expert opinions around the same blame game begins.  We, as human beings, need it to be someone’s or something’s fault when things go awry.  And, in the case of violence, the experts point their accusing finger at media in general, and often video games in particular.  The cried against violent movies and television programming ring out loud, but against video games the discourse can become the equivalent of an oratory riot.

I have heard invective slung by the likes of Jack Thompson calling video games everything, up to and including “murder simulators.”  But, every time he, and other rabid anti-game advocates, speaks out it amounts to wanting to lay blame.  Columbine?  Well, didn’t they play Quake. 9/11?  Weren’t they using Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice?  Every time there is a tragedy involving violence a segment of society immediately rushes to find a video game connection.

Is there a problem with violence in our society?  I would argue there is.  For evidence you need look no further than Chicago considering calling in the National Guard to help with an escalating murder rate.  Have we become desensitized to violence?  A good argument could be made for this fact.  When something like this can happen, man’s inhumanity to man has definitely clicked up another notch.  But where can we lay the blame?  I am not so naive as to believe that violence in games, movie, and TV have no impact.  Of course they do.  But, I think the real crisis we have at this point stems from two sources.

First, I believe that many parents have abdicated their responsibilities to parent.  Can exposure to violent media of any type be harmful?  Absolutely, if the mind being exposed is not mature enough to distinguish reality and fantasy with enough granularity.  I have seen on many occasions parents giving to their children games clearly marked for Mature audiences, movies rated R, and the like.  The rating systems in place are there for a reason.  They are there to help parents determine what is appropriate.  They can’t do that if ignored.  Parents should know what their kids are watching and playing.  Better yet, they should be watching and playing with them.  Parenting, in many, many cases, needs to be taken much more seriously.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the fact that we are creating generations who never really learn to think.  They become drones who will do what their told and never question why.  This may make schools easier to control, bt it has a glaring side-effect.  Those who cannot think critically for themselves are subject to suggestion.  And, if Billy is doing it, or that celebrity is doing it, or that politician is doing it, it must be right.  We need to get back to teaching our children to think.  We need to stop trying to fit everyone into nice neat boxes.  People are not nice and neat, we are messy and unpredictable.  These are good traits because it means we have enough intellect and cognizance to apply the principles we are taught rather than being turned into sheep who do what we are told without question.

Violence is a complex problem.  It needs a complex solution.  There isn’t any single source to blame, we are all guilty to some degree.

My wife and I broke out an old favorite this weekend: “The Breakfast Club.”  It was fun to go back and watch the old Brat Packers in one of the many films John Hughes gifted my generation with.  It was actually kind of amazing how well the film aged and how young Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy looked.

After the film my wife asked which character I most related to.  Without hesitation I pointed to Ally Sheedy’s Allison.  She seemed surprised, but I stick by my claim.

I’ve never been a social butterfly, to put it mildly.  My friendships have, for the most part, been small in number.  But, I think the thing that I relate to the most is her quiet, especially at the beginning of the film.

Anyone who knows me in real life will tell you I am not really a talker.  I never have been.  And, that quiet disturbs people.  People get uncomfortable in silence.  The quiet makes them nervous, and many have t fill it with endless babble in order to stave off that nervousness.

I am perfectly comfortable in those silences.  In fact, I often prefer them.  This fact makes me one of the “odd” people in the minds of many.  I am seen as one of the fringe elements of society.

But, to quote Christian Slater from “Pump Up The Volume:

I woke up one day and realized I wasn’t ever going to be normal.  So I said &*@& it.  I said so be it.

The people I choose to spend my time with are a motley lot.  The are a collection of strange and broken personalities that see normality through much the same lens I do.  They are a beautiful bunch, and much more well-adjusted and stable than those who judge them without ever knowing them.  I would go to the ends of the earth to help any of them, and I truly believe they would do the same.  We are a community of oddballs.

Hell, normal people are boring anyway.

Last weekend, my wife and I took a lazy Sunday afternoon and decided to do something we hadn’t done in quite some time.  We went to Color Me Mine.

Now, I know some of the male readers out there are probably working on circulating a petition to revoke my Man Card right now, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. 

My wife and I have always prided ourselves on our willingness to try new things.  If something looks even mildly interesting you can bet that at some point we are going to be checking it out.  Color Me Mine was one we decided to try a few years ago.  We don’t go often.  Just a few times a year.  But, the thing about the experience is the multifaceted benefits you reap.

First, for those of us with a creative streak but little to no actual artistic talent with which to back it up, it gives us an outlet.  I may not be able to paint a portrait, draw a cartoon, or even know where to begin with some art supplies, but I can create a reasonable looking piece of painted pottery as long as I don’t try to get too fancy.  I even get to feel a small (and wholly undeserved) burst of artistic pride when I pick my piece up.

Second, as long as you pick your time carefully it can be a very relaxing experience.  As you zone in on your piece and the people at the table with you, the rest of the world falls away a bit and you have a small zone of serenity drop around you.  Now, as I said this is dependant on choosing the time of your visit carefully.  Going on kids day, not relaxing.  Nothing shatters the zen of a zone of serenity quite as effectively as uncontrolled children in a small, crowded space.

And, finally, there’s the relationship factor.  The experience of sitting down and being creative together with your significant other is just plain awesome.  All the worries and stress melt away and you can be a couple for a while, talking and enjoying each other’s company like you rarely have a chance to do otherwise.  There is a reason this place regularly wins awards in local magazines for “Best Date Night.”

After all, no matter how “manly” we guys want to be, we know that the thing that really makes a “man” is knowing how to take care of our families.  And having some quality time with the wife or girlfriend is always a good thing.

Hello everyone, and welcome back yet again.

The summer movie season is slowly creeping up on us, and the studios are beginning to roll out the early trailers for their summer offerings.  This summer could prove interesting, but I am only cautiously optimistic.  The last few years have either been disappointing overall or have had films that should have been incredible that ended up fizzling.

But, we don’t have to face the heat of summer just yet, let’s enjoy spring while we still can.  And, if April brings showers your way this weekend, here’s what will be new in the cinemas for a rainy afternoon.

“The Back-Up Plan”

Trailer

Synopsis: After years of dating, Zoe has decided waiting for the right one is taking too long. Determined to become a mother, she commits to a plan, makes an appointment and decides to go it alone. That same day, Zoe meets Stan – a man with real possibilities. Trying to nurture a budding relationship and hiding the early signs of pregnancy becomes a comedy of errors for Zoe and creates confusing signals for Stan. When Zoe nervously reveals the reason for her unpredictable behavior, Stan commits fully and says he’s in. But with the nine month clock ticking, both begin to experience cold feet. Anyone can fall in love, get married and have a baby but doing it backwards in hyper-drive could be proof positive that they were made for each other.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This feels like yet another movie I have seen before.  The romantic comedy genre just seems to be in recycle mode the last year or so.  What Hollywood needs to get through its head is the same thing is going to return diminishing returns, originality pays dividends.  The cast and crew is mostly from the small screen.  That is except for Jennifer Lopez.  The real question mark is J-Lo an asset or a liability.  Her work is inconsistent to say the least.  However, where she seems to shine (“An Unfinished Life” & “The Cell”) seem to be more serious roles versus her comedic outings (“Gigli” & “Maid In Manhattan”) which can be train wrecks.  Can she pull this one off?  I have my doubts.

“The Losers” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: “The Losers” centers upon the members of an elite U.S. Special Forces unit sent into the Bolivian jungle on a search and destroy mission. The team-Clay, Jensen, Roque, Pooch and Cougar find themselves the target of a lethal betrayal instigated from inside by a powerful enemy known only as Max. Presumed dead, the group makes plans to even the score when they’re joined by the mysterious Aisha, a beautiful operative with her own agenda. Working together, they must remain deep undercover while tracking the heavily guarded Max, a ruthless man bent on embroiling the world in a new high-tech global war.

MovieDruid’s Comments: It’s nice to have what is really a fairly pure action movie again.  The genre mixing of the last few years has made films like this a bit of a rarity.  Add to that the fact that the film is based on a great comic series published by DC under their more mature Vertigo imprint, and the anticipation is definitely high.  An interesting cast here as well with Jeffrey Dean Morgan (“Watchmen” & “The Accidental Husband”), Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek” & “Avatar”), Chris Evans (“Fantastic Four” & “Cellular”), and Jason Patric (“Sleepers” & “The Lost Boys”) among others.  It definitely looks like a solid ride here.

There are two things in this world that are guaranteed to begin arguments and cause bruised feelings and egos when brought up in conversation.  No matter how open and non-judgemental the lines of communication are between to people, if their ideas and beliefs don’t line up on these topics any discussion will end badly.

I speak, of course, about politics and religion.

I generally try to avoid both topics as often as I am able here at the Jungle Gym.  When I do have a need to venture into one of these territories I either do so at a high level and oblique angle or it is for an issue that I feel so strongly about I feel it must be communicated.  And the Jungle Gym isn’t the only place I avoid the topics.  I rarely discuss them with anyone.  Friend, family, or otherwise. 

In other words, I censor myself.  And, I suspect, a large portion of you do the same.

It’s truly amazing to me that two subjects can cause such dismay and gnashing of teeth.  I suppose that they are so problematic because they are so important in our lives.  Politics encompasses the issues that involve the power of government or other entities over our lives.  Religion can be a deeply defining facet of our lives.  When things that have such a direct impact upon us are discussed, feathers are bound to be ruffled.

But, doesn’t the importance of these issues make calm, logical, and clear discussion and debate all the more important?  Isn’t it all the more crucial that we have open communication on these matters given their impact? 

The true problem is the investment we gives these issues in our emotional lives. 

I can understand this in the context of religion.  The experience of faith, regardless of its source or object, is a deeply personal one.  It is inevitable that such a deeply personal experience should have such strong emotional connections.  Thus, someone who we view as making an attack upon our faith is seen as making an attack upon our very soul in some cases. 

But, politics I’m not sure I get.  Politics are by their very nature public.  And, while everyone is going to have their deeply held political beliefs, the application of these beliefs in a political and legal forum is by definition a public act.  Governance and politics should be able to divest itself from emotion to a point.  There should be a clean, clear intellectualism to political discourse.  Emotional involvement is inevitable, to a degree, but it should be controllable for the betterment of public discourse.

Instead we, and yes it is all of us not one side or the other, fling venom and invective at one another.  We resort to underhanded tactics, slanderous speech, and outright falsehood to achieve our goals.  And the goal is always the same.  Power.

I can understand such heated argument in matters of the soul.  But, in many ways, we damn ourselves with the tools we use to pursue power.

Perhaps, it is time to life the taboos and begin frank, open discussion of all matters before we end up having those discussions with weapons in our hands and civil war raging around us.

Art is a funny thing.

People like my brother-in-law and a few of my friends have what, to someone like me, seems like an almost preternatural ability to create with their own hands images of such startling quality that it can be a bit overwhelming at times.  It is a talent I truly envy, and I admire them for this reason, among many others.

However, I remember a time when we all felt like we were budding artists.  When everyone felt that their creations were priceless works of art fit for display in the Louvre right next to the Mona Lisa. 

Or, at the very least, on the refrigerator under a magnet shaped like a crocodile.

The more I consider this, the more I realize how sad it is that so many of us lose that artistic drive.  Now, I understand that for most it isn’t truly lost, just channeled into other creaive pursuits whether it be writing, scrapbooking, or some other activity through which we route our creative juices.  But the visual arts are something that it’s difficult for most of us to hold onto.  We just don;t have the talent, and that is soemthing that cannot be taught.

However, if we are willing to allow ourselves to become kids again for a time there are solutions.

I personally believe every household in America should have a 64 count box of Crayola crayons (with the sharpener in the back) ready and waiting.  You loved them as a kid, why not now?  Grab a coloring book and your crayons and let yourself drift back to the days when the fridge was a greater honor than any art museum.  Crayola helped define much of our childhood.  Thise crayons were as much a part of being an American youth as kickball with red rubber playground balls and zoo field trips on big yellow buses. 

There are other outlets from our youth, and many are still around.  Remember Lite Brite?  My siblings and I had whole cans full of those colored pegs.  What about Spirograph?  I even had a set when I was a kid that would let me make rubbings of mix-n-match monsters by combining plates with different heads, torsos, and legs. 

Good times.

The point is, there is no reason we can’t continue to dabble in art.  I’ll never be my friend Meg who can just doodle absently and create something that is truly incredible, but I can let loose a bit and enjoy creating with a stick of colored wax.

And the sky can be purple if I want it to be.

Hello, children.  I hope you are all doing well.

I’ve been watching over you, as I always do, and you never cease to amaze me.  Of all my children you are certainly the one bearing the most watching.  You are creative, giving, and communal, but capable of such unabashed cruelty, hate, and violence.

Sometimes I wonder exactly where you went wrong, but I am really just a nanny so it isn’t really my place.  However, I do have certain responsibilities toward you, and I am deserving of respect.  I suppose that’s the real purpose of this note.

Now, please remember, I do truly love you, children, but you are so ill-behaved sometimes.  I overlook most of these outbursts because, as I said, it isn’t my place to discipline you on that level.  However, I do feel that you have a certain arrogance about you that must be occasionally addressed.

And, though it pains me to do so, one of those times has come yet again.

I’ve been fairly stern with you over the last decade or so.  I have used hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes to remind you.  And, true, for a time you seem to get the point.  And, yes, I understand I sent you a reminder note fairly recently in Haiti.  But, sometimes when it’s fresh in your mind is a good time to really drive home the point.   And, to be honest, after your tragedies in those mines you dig in West Virgina and China, I think perhaps a slightly different message is needed.

I love your little technological wonder.  I really do.  But they still don’t trump my authority.  And so, I’m going to make you all stay on the ground, at least in Europe for a little while.  That ash I’m sending you isn’t meant to hurt anyone, and if you just behave and stay on the ground everything will be fine.

I know how you love looking down from the skies.  And, I know how much you all love to travel very fast.  But, given the shape of things today, I really think you all need to slow down.  That’s why I’m turning on that volcano in Iceland.  I’m not sure when I will turn it off, but I will try to keep it brief. 

Please, be safe.  That ash can cause no end of problems with those planes of yours.  Enjoy the ground.  Spring is such a beautiful time, perhaps travel by car or rail will let you see more of that beauty.  And maybe, just maybe, this enforced slow down will encourage you all to take greater appreciation of all I do for you, make you “stop and smell the roses” as the old saying goes.

I do so love you all and wish you nothing but happiness.

-Mother Nature

Well, here we are again with another edition of the MovieDruid.

The releases are slowing a bit for the next few weeks as the studios ready their big guns for the beginning of summer movie season in May.  It’s just as well, it gives us a chance to breathe and maybe catch up on some we have missed. 

Periods that are thick with interesting releases are good times to remember the beauth of the second run theater.  Yes, the floors are stickier and the seats less comfortable, but you get to catch that one you wanted to see, and usually pretty cheap.

But, I digress.  Let’s turn our attention back to this week’s releases…

“Death At A Funeral”

Trailer

Synopsis: “Death at a Funeral” is a hilarious day in the life of an American family come together to put a beloved husband and father to rest. As mourners gather at the family home, shocking revelations, festering resentments, ugly threats, blackmail and a misdirected corpse unleash lethal and riotous mayhem.

MovieDruid’s Comments:  Comedy, not normally my thing.  There are exceptions, however, and this film has enough performers that make exceptions that I have to admit, it looks like a good one.  It definitely is hard to resist Chris Rock (“New Jack City” & “Lethal Weapon 4”), Martin Lawrence (“Bad Boys” & “Blue Streak”), and Danny Glover (“The Color Purple” & “Shooter”) all in the same place.  And that just scratches the surface of this cast.  There is enough comic talent on display with this one to make a genuinely funny and entertaining film.

“Kick-Ass” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: 

“How come nobody’s ever tried to be a superhero?” When Dave Lizewski — ordinary New York teenager and rabid comic-book geek– dons a green-and-yellow internet-bought wetsuit to become the no-nonsense vigilante, Kick-Ass, he soon finds an answer to his own question: because it hurts. But, overcoming all the odds, the eager, yet inexperienced, Dave quickly becomes a phenomenon, capturing the imagination of the public. However, he’s not the only superhero out there.

MovieDruiud’s Comments: As a bit of a comic book geek myself, the premise of this movie is fascinating.  Who hasn’t daydreamed about being the masked vigilante out there taking it to the criminal underworld?  The film looks like it takes itself just seriously enough to not fall into the realm of the entirely ridiculous, but has its tongue firmly planted in cheek.  It looks to be a fun ride.

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