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Monthly Archives: June 2010

I have been struggling with a post for today.  My mind doesn’t seem to want to focus, and every time an idea begins to coalesce it shatters and spins out of my reach. 

I’ve written a lot of angry posts recently and I desperately want to break that trend.  I want to be funny again.  I want the Jungle Gym to be a safe place, a place of solace and peace.  Lately it has been a place of stress and anxiety.

I’m sorry about that.

The truth is my life is a little scary at the moment.  The puzzle pieces that I have so meticulously tries to put back in place don’t seem to be fitting very well anymore, and I’m afraid the whole thing is going to fall apart.  But, I’m not going to outpour all my personal issues here.  That’s not what the Jungle Gym is for.

Besides, you guys have caught enough of my angst lately.

Today is a day of transition for me.  I have hope, but like any major change it scares the hell out of me at the same time.  It is because of this that I am unable to organize my thought properly to write anything witty.

The Jungle Gym will be back to normal tomorrow with my weekly MovieDruid post.  After that I may take the a long weekend and start again on Tuesday.  I’m sorry to leave you guys for that long, but I need to get my head on straight before I can play again.

And play time is what I really desperately need to have here again.

Most of us, as we have progressed in our lives, have had the opportunity to be granted additional responsibility and the power that went along with it.  One of the parts of growing up and becoming a functioning member of society is learning to deal with these situations without allowing them to take us over.  Some people, of course never learn.  Power is like a drug to them, and they forget the responsibility that goes along with it.

Personally, I have tried to live by the words of Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben most of my life: “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Now, most people know that I tend to be cynical about other people.  I have, over the course of my life, been amazed by just how few people demonstrate the basic common intelligence that should be the birthright of every human being.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t walk through the world with some sort of superiority complex, it’s really more of a frustration in the inability to get things accomplished.  Just dealing with your day work can become agonizing when you run into people who either can’t, or, in more case, won’t apply the sense God gave them.

Now, I know it feels like I’ve taken up two different subjects here, but they do intersect.  And that intersection can be among the most frightening and frustrating experiences in the world.  When you see ignorant (or just plain stupid) people given a small modicum of power the results can be stroke-inducing.  They suddenly feel the rush of having a little authority (real or, often, imagined), but they don’t know how to wield it properly.  They are, in some ways, more dangerous than the power-hungry.

More akin to a child with a loaded handgun.

I, unfortunately, have been confronted with these situations in growing volume over the last few months.  The experience has, in truth, just reinforced my cynicism and apathy.  It is a terrible feeling to feel the apathetic clouds drifting across our mind, our psyches weren’t built to simply not care.

That is where my wife, my family, my friends all come in.  They give me a solid anchor.  They remind me that the entire world hasn’t given itself over to ignorance.  I still don’t understand how so much of our society has decided to allow their intellect to decline rather than feeding it, but knowing that there are those who have not gives me that small spark of hope that keeps me going.

I just hope that we can find a way to get out of the downward spiral.  The human mind is a gift, but it is also a responsibility that must be maintained.  If you are doing nothing to feed it then ignorance is just the first symptom of your decay to mindlessness.

Birthday gifts between my wife and I are a bit different from the norm.  We generally eschew the traditional material gifts and arrange for some sort of experience that we can enjoy together.  This has, in the past, been everything from concerts to day trips.  We try to make the rule that it has to be something we have never done before.  That makes the search for a birthday gift a bit of a challenge at times. 

The other problem it presents is timing.  Often an event will take place well before or well after the actual date of the recipients birthday.  And, because we are looking for unique events, these dates are not often repeated at a later time.  Thus, sometimes we have to seize an opportunity and do a miniature birthday celebration weeks, or even months, off the actual date.  This was the case this past weekend as my wife took me on a mystery trip that was an early birthday gift. 

The trip was revealed en route to be to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for a special event:  Breakfast with the Penguins.  Now, many who know me know that I love penguins.  I have a collection of penguin paraphernalia.  I have watched “March of the Penguins” several times.  I can identify most species by sight.  I am a true admirer of the penguin.

Thus, when I learned as we neared Baltimore what it was we were doing, excitement abounded.

It was a wonderful morning.  We got to talk to the keepers and handlers of the Maryland Zoo’s African Black-Footed Penguin colony.  We learned that the colony is the largest in North America and the most successful breeder of the endangered species in the country.  I learned all about the cute, little critters.

We also had the opportunity to see one of them up close as they brought one of their Animal Ambassadors out to meet the attendees.  He was an outgoing little fella names Tails.  After hobnobbing with Tails for a bit we participated in the day’s first feeding of the colony.

It was definitely an experience I will always remember.

My wife gave me, with this gift, something better than anything she could pull off a shelf or order online to be shipped in a box.  She gave me a memory that I can pull out and remember.  All the sights and sounds of the early morning zoo.  Watching the penguins play in the water.  Eating breakfast while gazing at the Rock Island habitat and hearing the keepers tell us about life there for the penguins.  Memories are much more durable and lasting, especially when shared with loved ones.

And besides, I got to feed the penguins.

Hello, everyone.

It looks like I got a little addled by my mid-week time off this week.  I sat down to write yesterday and was sure it was Wednesday.  I was, of course, wrong and the MovieDruid ends up a day late on his weekly arrival at the Jungle Gym. 

But, fear not, MovieDruid fans!  I have arrived, but late than never, and will give you a normal dose of insight.  (How large a dose that is, I leave for you to decide.)  And, I do know I am also late on the review.  To make it up to you, I will post a double feature review this week sometime today.

So, with all that being said, let’s take a look….

“Knight and Day”

Trailer

Synopsis: A wholesome, Midwestern woman accidentally gets involved with an international super spy and is forced to flee the country with him while he protects a dangerous new piece of technology.

MovieDruid’s Comments:  In recent years my reaction to any film starring Tom Cruise was mild derision.  The man seemed to have gone off the deep end in his personal life, and it was having a definite impact on his professional projects as well.  His performance in “Tropic Thunder” did manage to give us a peek at the talent that we knew from back in the day.  Thus, I approach a Cruise film that looks to be equal parts comedy and action with caution.  Are we going to get crazy, couch-jumping Cruise or talented, professional Cruise?  I have much less concern about Cameron Diaz.  She has proven to be able to handle pretty much anything thrown her way, and I have no doubt this will be no different.  The director, James Mangold (“Identity” & “3:10 To Yuma”), does give me some hope, but the premise combined with Cruise’s relative instability steals most of it away.  I think I’d wait for second run or even DVD.

“Grown Ups” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: “Grown Ups” is about five men who were best friends when they were young kids and now are getting together for the Fourth of July weekend to meet each others’ families for the first time. Picking up where they left off, they discover why growing older doesn’t mean growing up.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This is actually a comedy that looks like fun to me.  The main reason being that the four stars, Adam Sandler (“Billy Madison” & “The Waterboy”), Chris Rock (“New Jack City” & “Death at a Funeral”), Kevin James (“Hitch” & “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), and Rob Schneider (“Big Daddy” & “50 First Dates”); are all men whose comedy I enjoy.  On top of that, director Dennis Dugan has worked with Sandler in particular several times to great results.  It looks like a solid summer comedy that should be a fun ride.

I talk a lot on this blog about getting out there and experiencing life.  I have encouraged my readers time and again to throw off the shackles of a life lived in a rut and get out there to see what the community at large has to offer.  This is something I truly believe in and I try to practice what I preach where I can.

A few months ago, while making my usual cycle through various on-line news sources, I came across a review of an event that was being held in Charlotte.  The event was a touring show called “Cavalia” that the reviewer likened to “Cirque du Soleil with horses.”  My interest was immediately piqued.  I had become enamored with Cirque du Soleil many years ago when I first saw a special they had put together for HBO.  I was enraptured by the spectacle of the incredible feats of acrobatics, strength, or agility that these people demonstrated.

And then there was the concept of the horses being added to the mix.

My wife loves horses.  Any chance we get to attend events dedicated to, interacting with, or benefitting horses is immediately snapped up.  We have driven hours to Assateague Island to see the wild horses there.  We have sat enraptured by the horses in the various events during the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show.  We even had the opportunity, through a friend, to meet the Budweiser Clydesdales.

This event was an absolute slam dunk for us. 

I had tried to plan for us to attend the Charlotte shows since I have family in the area and we could visit them at the same time.  No such luck, it just never seemed to come together.  But, when they announced their next destination new hope kindled in my heart.  They were bound for New Jersey.  That was close enough to be very doable.

Thus, on Tuesday afternoon, we began the journey from our central Pennsylvania home to East Rutherford, New Jersey.  Road tripping is one of our favorite things to do, but driving in New Jersey, especially that close to New York City, can try even the calmest of tempers.  We were definitely road weary by the time we rolled onto the grounds of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, but the sight of that white tent soaring into the sky erased it all.

Yes, that’s right….tent.  Cavalia performs under what is touted as the largest touring big top in North America.  And the sight of those soaring spires of white canvas is truly breathtaking.

And the show itself was simply, indescribable.  A beautiful mingling of music, human agility, equine grace, and the friendship between the beautiful horses of the Cavalia stables and their human companions.  It was truly a sight that will remain ingrained in my imagination forever.  It is easy to see why wo many philosophers have spoken about the nobility of these beautiful animals.  The power that is incarnate in them is belied by their grace.  And mingled with them were woven demonstrations of human agility that, in its way, matched that of the horses.

I have rarely had the opportunity to witness such true synergy in the grace that comes from pure affection and respect between nature’s creations.  Cavalia reminded me of that, and for that I am grateful.

It’s no secret that I love movies.  Anyone who knows me, anyone who reads this blog knows this to be a well-established fact.  However, there was one piece missing from my movie-going resume that was a glaring omission.

I had never been to a drive-in.

When we moved here to Pennsylvania, I soon learned that there was, in fact, an old drive-in theater in the area.  Haar’s.  I was excited because I knew that soon, very soon, this missing star in my movie sky would light up brightly. 

But, alas, such was not to be the case.  Whenever we made plans to make the trek to the drive-in something went wrong.  Once, we actually paid our way and made it onto the grounds, only to find that we had come a wee bit late and that the only spots left were behind vehicles whose stature was of entirely unreasonable dimensions.  And while hearing a movie at the drive-in is appealing, staring at the tailgate of a vehicle better suited to troop transport instead of the movie was much less so.  We left irritated and disappointed.

And, thus, I remained unfulfilled in my chasing of the drive-in experience.  That is until this weekend came around and the planets aligned.

My wife had tasked me with finding something to do for the weekend.  It was a rare weekend when we had nothing scheduled, and the typical activities just didn’t appeal very much.  We were in a bit of a rut, and desperately needed to get out somehow.  I browsed the web searching for interesting bands at local clubs or special exhibitions or interesting movies when it hit me.

The drive-in.

Quickly, I jumped to their page.  My hopes refused to be raised.  “Don’t get excited,” they said, “they’ll be playing something you’ve seen or are just plain uninterested in.”  I gave them a scowl, after all hopes are supposed to help you not sit there complaining like bitter old women.

Then I beheld the aligning of the fates.  Two films playing, neither of them were ones we had previously seen, both were MovieDruid Picks of the Week: “Toy Story 3” and “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.”  I sat and stared for several minutes in wonder at the perfection of these two films for drive-in viewing.  Now, finally, was my time.

And, thus, on Saturday night we grabbed a cheap boombox at Wal-Mart and headed for the drive-in.  We sat and chatted in the heat of the fading day as the sun slowly set, and as dusk set in we grabbed popcorn and ice cream sandwiches from the snack bar.  As we ate the final light faded, we turned up the boombox as the hopping lam crossed the screen on the Pixar logo and the magic began.

It was a wholly enjoyable experience.  One I will always treasure because it was, as I have expressed before, one I shared with my soulmate and wife.  Even the heat and humidity seemed to hardly be there as I lost myself in the films.  It was, in short, a wonderful night.

Sometimes the simplest of things can be important memories.  Those two films will always remind me of that first night at the drive-in that I shared with my wife.  The memory will always make me smile, and who can ask or anything more than that.

One of the few times I really pay any real attention to what is going on in the world of soccer is every four years during the month-long World Cup tournament.  Even then, it is a passing interest, but I do read the coverage fairly religiously each day to one extent or another.  This year there has been an interesting little “tempest in a teapot” type controversy that has surfaced as the tournament opened up in South Africa.

It all centers around the vuvuzela.

I had never even heard the word “vuvuzela” before I began reading the South African World Cup coverage, but apparently the items are a big deal.  They are basically two foot long plastic (or sometimes metal) horns that are a big part of South African soccer fandom.

They are also loud.  Very loud apparently.  They have been known to emit up to 127 decibels.  By way of comparison a drum is usually around 122 and a referee’s whistle is usually 121.8.  They have been connected to noise-induced hearing loss as well.  Newer models claim do have drastically reduced this, down to 20 decibels in fact.

Critics don’t seem to care.

The horns have been described as everything from the sound of a swarm of angry locusts to a goat on the way to the slaughter.  The word “satanic” has even been invoked in some cases.  Players, coaches, broadcasters, and fans have complained that the horns make it impossible to hear what is going on in the stadium.  The BBC reported over 500 complaints from viewers about the fact that the could not hear the game commentary over the horns.  A few coaches have said the constant presence of the horns has made it impossible for their players to get proper rest, resulting in less than top performance on the field.

The arguments of the South African fans and organizers who say that the vuvuzela is a major part of the South African game.  Their argument is that the point of an African World Cup would be lost if the rules sought to “Europinize” the game.  They ask how European nations would feel if their soccer traditions were banned while they hosted the Cup.

All of these arguments have been presented to FIFA, and FIFA decided to allow the horns to remain.

I haven’t had the opportunity to see a game this year, so I can’t say one way or another how bad the noise is from first hand experience.  But, it seems to me that FIFA and the organizers have a point.  I can understand they are disruptive and annoying.  But, FIFA has placed certain limits on their use, particularly on the size of the horns which can affect their volume.  Unless they start using them as weapons or they end up being thrown on the field by angry fans, they are part of the host nation’s culture.  And, after all, isn’t a big part of the World Cup celebrating the shared love of a sport by all the cultures of the world? 

Part of being an athlete at this level is blocking out distractions and focusing on your game.  If you play in South Africa the vuvuzela is part of the deal.

Get over it.

I’m back.  Sorry for the quiet at the Jungle Gym yesterday, I had some things come up that kept me away from the blog.  But I’m back and it’s MovieDruid day!

Let’s take a look…..

“Jonah Hex”

Trailer

Synopsis: Jonah Hex is a scarred drifter and bounty hunter of last resort, a tough and stoic gunslinger who can track down anyone and anything. Having survived death, Jonah’s violent history is steeped in myth and legend, and has left him with one foot in the natural world and one on the “other side.” His only human connection is with Leila, whose life in a brothel has left her with scars of her own. But Jonah’s past is about to catch up with him when the U.S. military makes him an offer he can’t refuse.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Jonah Hex was always one of the more esoteric characters in the DC universe.  His stories were always solidly in the Western genre, but there was always a hint of the supernatural flowing around him.  The cast here seems fairly solid with Josh Brolin (“No Country For Old Men” & “Hollow Man”), Megan Fox (“Transformers” & “Jennifer’s Body”), and the inimitable John Malkovich (“Rounders” & “The Man In The Iron Mask”) in the villain role.  The worry I have is in director Jimmy Hayward.  This is only his second feature as a director, following up “Horton Hears A Who.”  Previously he did a stint as an animator at Pixar (which seems almost ironic considering the other film this week).  I’m hoping that, at the very least, he is able to harness some of the talent Megan Fox has rather than simply seeing how many angles we can give you views of her cleavage as Michael Bay did in “Transformers: Rise of the Fallen.”  I have high hopes for this one, and in another week it would be Pick of the Week.  But, then again, how do you bet against Pixar?

“Toy Story 3” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: “Toy Story 3” welcomes Woody, Buzz and the whole gang back to the big screen as Andy prepares to depart for college and his loyal toys find themselves in… daycare! These untamed tots with their sticky little fingers do not play nice, so it’s all for one and one for all as plans for the great escape get underway. A few new faces-some plastic, some plush-join the adventure, including iconic swinging bachelor and Barbie’s counterpart Ken, a thespian hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants and a pink, strawberry-scented teddy bear called Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Well, the cast of characters that started the Pixar phenomenon are back.  I have been a Pixar fan from the original “Toy Story” and the studio rarely, if ever, misfires.  I don’t necessarily agree with the general populace on a few (I was not a huge “Wall-E” fan, for instance), but the one thing I have learned over he years is Pixar creates product that is more likely to be incredible than not.  The one concern, if there is one, is that John Lasseter is not directing this one.  He did participate in the writing, but the reins of the third installment have been handed to the co-director of “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.,” and “Finding Nemo”: Lee Unkrich.  With it being kept so solidly in the family I doubt this is a point of real worry.  And, of course, like I said above: how do you bet against Pixar?

Today is a very important day in history.  Oh, it floats by every year and most people don’t take any notice, but that doesn’t change the importance.  It should be a day that is especially honored by those of us who are geeks of the stripe that love our electronics and other devices.  Why is it so important, you ask?

Today, in the year 1752, Benjamin Franklin took a kite out in a rainstorm and made a major step forward in the human understanding of electricity.

Benjamin Franklin is a man I hold in the highest of esteem.  I respect him for his undying loyalty and unquestioning patriotism.  I respect him for his great courage in the face of threats of death and worse to those who stood up to the establishment of his time.  And, of course, I respect his great intellect and the many inventions he gifted us with from the lighting rod to bifocal glasses.

But, that stormy June day in 1752 is a special one.  It is a day when Franklin took the first halting steps in man’s harnessing of electricity for his greater good.  Without that day inventors that came later from Edison with his light bulb, to Tesla (yes, Tesla not Marconi) with his radio, to Jobs and their early forays in computing would have been moot.  They would have had nothing to power their inventions.

Without that rainy day, you couldn’t TiVo the latest “Survivor” or Google the latest celebrity gossip.  Any work on batteries to power devices like out iPhones and Nintendo DS’s would have been light years behind because our understanding of the primal force of electricity wasn’t there.

So, everyone in geekdom, take a moment.  Raise a beer (or a Red Bull or Bawls Guarana, depending on your taste) to one of the first of our kind.  A true geek that started us down the path that led us to our journeys on the light fantastic, whether we go there via video game, music, film, or TV. 

Give a toast to one of the greatest of Americans and greatest of geeks, one of my personal heroes: Benjamin Franklin.

Back in late May I heard about this story.  Apparently the Centers for Disease Control are telling us that the nation’s public swimming pools are festering sores waiting to unleash a plague upon an unsuspecting populace.  The CDC even went as far as recommending that parents buy a testing kit of their own and test the water at their local pool before allowing their family to swim.

I can just see that now.

“Sorry Johnny and Susie, but we’re going to have  to pack up the towels, flip-flops, and sunscreen and head home.  The water here is just not safe.” 

“But, what about Randy and Jane, mommy?  They’re swimming.”

“Well, their mother is just a monster who apparently can’t read a testing kit!”

And, of course, no tears, tantrums, or attitudes will ensue when the kids are told that they can’t swim.  They will face it like small adults and go home for a nice safe……

You know, come to think of it what can little Johnny and Susie do?

I understand that the CDC is trying to work in the public’s best interest.  And, given their excellent scientific credentials, I am quite sure their data is accurate.  My question is not the accuracy of the data, but how anomalous is it?  Did we see a sudden shift last year in the quality of the water of our public swimming pools?  Or have they always been that way, and we are just noticing it now in a society that has become more and more litigious and apt to reactions similar to those of a fussy new parent?

When I was a kid we rode our bikes and skated without helmets, we ran through the sprinklers on our neighbors front yard, and we found muddy creeks absolutely fascinating.  Were my friends and I victims of absent parents who cared not at all for our safety?  Of course, not.  We were products of good families and caring parents. 

The difference is our parents let kids be kids.  We skinned a lot of knees, learned that getting shot by a BB gun is not much fun, and that when smashing things with a rock having someone hold them still (and thus depending on their reflexes to move in time) can sometimes result in unintended consequences.  These days if a kid skins a knee most parents immediately run for a first aid kit the size of a briefcase and stocked to handle an Ebola outbreak.  Evry scrape, bruise, and cut must be immediately sanitized, disinfected, and tightly bound.

When I was a kid we made do with our mom’s kissing our war wounds and sending us on our way with a loose-fitting Scooby-Doo Band-Aid that was gone before we crossed the street.

I understand the dangers that we are protecting our kids, and even adults in some cases, from.  I understand that the world is full of real and true danger that can cause tragedy to slink into our lives without a moment’s warning.  But we have to ask ourselves, at what point have we wrapped ourselves in so many protective layers that we can’t really see the world clearly through the shatter-proof plexiglass anymore?  Is it worth reducing our risk by a few percentage points to pack ourselves away in safety?  There is a beauty to the lessons we learn through pain.  Those scraped elbows and broken arms of our youth are remembrances that will guide us in life.

And scars make great conversation starters.

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