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Monthly Archives: December 2010

Today is a very special day for poetry lovers.  For it was on this date in 1830 that Emily Dickinson was born.

Now, I, myself, am not a big poetry fan.  There are exceptions of course, like Edgar Allan Poe’s work and the sonnets of William Shakespeare, but overall I am not a poetry guy.  I much prefer prose.  However, Emily Dickinson falls squarely into the realm of poetry I enjoy.

The obvious question is: Why Emily Dickinson?  Her style is completely outside the norm for the poetry that I enjoy.  Hers is of a more classical style which tends to get a bit flowery for my taste.  The reason can be summed up quite simply.

“The Yellow Rose of Texas”

I’m sure some of you are now quite confused, though I suspect there are some out there who know exactly what I mean.  Those scratching their heads are probably trying to come up with a connection between a Massachusetts born poet and a classic folk song from Texas.

The connection is quite simple.  Emily Dickinson’s poetry, almost without fail, can be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”  I say “almost” because I have not checked every poem she has written, but I have checked a large portion and it never fails.  The poetry falls easily into the song without any real need to force it.

Give it a try with this excerpt:

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

A friend of mine introduced me to this little quirk in high school.  Back then it was the source of much laughter, but today it is simply another piece of useless trivia bouncing around in my head.

It did make Dickinson much easier to swallow, though.

(P.S.  The trick of meter in her poetry that makes this possible also works for the theme for “Gilligan’s Island”)

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Hello, again, everyone.

I don’t know how it is where everyone else is, but it has gotten colder than Hoth around here.  We just need snow and tuantuans.  And, wintry weather like this is perfect for indoor activities that take place in climate-controlled buildings.

So, bring on the movies.

We’re starting to tick down the last few weeks of Oscar eligibility for the year, and that, combined with the holidays approaching, is producing a fairly steady crop of fine cinema. It’s harder to keep up these days than it was during the summer!

That being said, let’s take a peek so we can get to it….

“The Tourist”

Trailer

Synopsis: “The Tourist” revolves around Frank, an American tourist visiting Italy to mend a broken heart. Elise is an extraordinary woman who deliberately crosses his path. Against the breathtaking backdrop of Venice, Frank pursues a potential romance but soon finds himself the pursued as he and Elise are caught in a whirlwind of intrigue and danger.

MovieDruid’s Comments: The pairing of Johnny Depp (“Sleepy Hollow” & “The Ninth Gate”) with Angelina Jolie (“Changeling” & “Original Sin”) is one that I wouldn’t have imagined, especially in this sort of film.  But, given the talent both possess they seem to have established some decent chemistry.  The film is going to hinge on that.  That and the ability of both to find a way to utilize their specific talents, Jolie for distraction and Depp for humor, to their greatest extent.  Normally, I would lean on the director for more insight, but Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is relatively new in the States.  In point of fact this will be only his second foray into feature-length.  The film looks smart and well-paced, but these are easy to portray in the trailer (see: “The American”).  Talent in the cast is a definite asset, but the trailer is vague enough to hide a weak script and the director is an unknown quantity.  This one is a definite wait and see.

 

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: Return to the magic and wonder of C.S. Lewis’ beloved world — via the fantastic Narnian ship, the Dawn Treader. In this new installment of the blockbuster “The Chronicles of Narnia” motion picture franchise, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, along with their cousin Eustace, their royal friend King Caspian and a warrior mouse named Reepicheep, find themselves swallowed into a painting and onto the Dawn Treader. Their mission — on which rests the fate of Narnia itself — takes the courageous voyagers to mysterious islands and a river that turns to gold, to fateful confrontations with magical creatures and sinister enemies and to a reunion with their friend and protector, the “Great Lion” Aslan.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Recently my sister tagged me on Facebook with a request to list 15 authors who I will always remember.  The idea was to do this quickly, within 15 minutes, to capture the ones who truly made an impact.  The first name on my list wasn’t even a question, it was C.S. Lewis.  Much of the reason for that is his “Chronicles of Narnia,” which were such a huge part of my childhood.  As I got older I also read his many non-fiction works on spirituality only to find that much of what he communicated in these books had been taught to me as a child in Narnia.  I have truly loved the first film adaptations, and the second was even better than the first.  This third installment looks to keep that trend going.  I have been looking forward to this film ever since I walked out of “Prince Caspian” and have been chomping at the bit since the introduction of the first teaser posters and trailers.  This is probably my one must-see family oriented film of the holiday season.

As I may or may not have mentioned in this space, Christmas and I are having a hard time connecting this year.  I’m not sure why, but my head just can’t seem to snap itself into Yule mode.  This might seem like a minor issue to some people, but to me it is close to catastrophe.  You see, I was raised in a home that was always filled to bursting with Christmas spirit and joy.  Christmas was a joyous time.  And, even as kids, it wasn’t all about receiving gifts.  We were taught at an early age to treasure the look on the face of someone opening a gift that you agonized over the selection of.  We also learned to love every other aspect of the season, and to keep our faith and remember the real reason for it.

All of these things have continued into my adulthood, and my wife is every bit as big a Christmas enthusiast as any in my family growing up.  This usually means that I dive in with both feet and immerse myself in the holiday.

But, not this year.  I am trying, but a light layer of melancholy seems to inform my every action these days.  And, I am beginning to think that I may not be alone in this.

One of the traditions that my wife and I have is taking a drive on one or two chilly December nights to see all of the Christmas lights.  We drive from neighborhood to neighborhood playing our own game of rating them and declaring a winner each year.  It’s all in good fun, and is always something that lightens the spirit to see all the displays.  Heck, we even tune the radio to the local Christmas station in sing along to the carols.

We’ve gone out a time or two this season, and the results have been a little grim.  Of course there are displays out there, and some magnificent ones.  And, there are the places you can always depend on to do displays of particular beauty or flamboyance.  But, what we also saw on our drives was more dark streets than I have ever seen.  Somehow the dark of a December night feels even…well, darker when you look down a street and see no decorations.  None.  Zero.

I have to wonder if we as a community are feeling that same melancholy that has been haunting me.  I have to wonder if perhaps people are simply not feeling celebratory this year.  And that just makes me sad.

I am working hard to recapture that Christmas spirit.  And, while it still eludes me to a certain extent, I am starting to feel it beginning to roil my blood.  This is a time of peace, faith, compassion, and belief.  We, as a notion, sorely need it this year.  Perhaps times aren’t so great these days and the melancholy is easy to wrap around yourself.  But, there is always hope.  A new year lays out before us soon, perhaps we all need to consider it a time of rebirth.

So, have a cup of egg nog on me and remember the joy that the season brings.  Let’s put the melancholy aside for a time and be of great joy.

December 7.  It is a day that should, at least in my opinion, be a day of reflection and memorial.  I would be willing to wager that most people in this country couldn’t tell you what happened on December 7 anymore.  But I believe, as Winston Churchill did, that “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  And, so, though I know that the few readers of this blog are certainly of the mentality, intellect, and education to remember, I will pay tribute here at the Jungle Gym.

For on this day in 1941, the Empire of Japan staged a massive sneak attack on our Pacific fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Pearl Harbor may seem like a distant memory to some, but in many ways it was a wake up call for America.  War had been raging in Europe for two years already and the British were on their heels as one of the last remaining forces standing against the Third Reich.  A year earlier in 1940 Japan had officially signed a treaty joining the Axis powers, but they had already been violently consolidating their own power in China and other Asian states.  But, until Pearl Harbor the popular opinion of most Americans was to stay out of it.

Many voices were raised both for (Charles Lindbergh) and against (Dr. Seuss) this policy of isolationism.  For two years America watched as the Axis powers stormed practically unchecked around the world.  The America First Committee was a powerful voice.  What happened in Europe and Asia was on the other side of the world.  It was not America’s place to become involved.

Isolationism can only be viable for so long, however.

Eventually, Imperial Japan decided they couldn’t risk us entering the war and took advantage of an opportunity to strike our fleet while much of it was away from the safety of the ports in San Diego.  And thus, just before 8:00 AM on a December Sunday nearly 360 Japanese planes swarmed over the military port of Pearl Harbor.

By the time it was over 12 of our warships were destroyed or severely damaged, over 200 aircraft were destroyed, and almost 3000 Americans were either killed or wounded in a brave, but ultimately failed, effort to repulse the attack.  The Japanese lost fewer than 100 men in the assault.

History shows that many mistakes were made leading up to Pearl Harbor.  But, hindsight is 20/20.  We can second guess the men and women who were there or who had reason to believe an attack could be imminent.  We can question decisions made leading up to the attack.  But, the truth of the matter is we were taught a costly lesson.

Turning your back on the world simply leaves you vulnerable to be stabbed in the back.

Isolationism is not a valid policy in this world.  We can’t simply pretend that the suffering or tyranny of others does not have an impact on the rest of the world.  And we ignore the threat and violence done against other nations at our peril.

Do not ignore history.  Do not let all those men and women, whether American or Japanese, who died at Pearl Harbor have died in vain.  Learn from our mistakes.  Remember.  Maybe we can’t protect everyone, everywhere.  But we can certainly be aware, be vigilant, and be true to the high standard set by the men and women who founded, built, and protected this country.

Remember Pearl Harbor.  Learn it’s lessons.  Don’t doom yourself to repeat them.

A big part of our experiences as we grow up and become adults is the process of finding out what we are.  All of us feel like we were meant to do something during our time riding around the sun, but the search for what that something is can be among the most frustrating parts of the human existence.

As a result, we’ve made little cubbies for ourselves.

It was a natural reaction to the problem of sentience and search for self.  We needed some way to define ourselves, and so the easiest way was to make the little holes we fit into based on what it is we do as we interact with the world around us.  Thus, our vocational calling becomes our defining characteristic.  After all, isn’t among the first questions you ask when you meet someone new: What do you do?

We may as well ask: What are you?

This person is a doctor.  That one an actor.  Still another, a sanitation engineer.  What they do defines them and allows us to put them in their proper place in our memory banks.  And, in truth it really has very little to do with value judgment.  That comes later.  We simply recall one another better when we can put a what to a who.

Thus, it follows that when that identity gets stripped from us we begin to feel separated from that world.  And that is a dangerous trap.  It becomes very easy to seek “safe places” where the world can be closed out for a little while.  I’m guilty of that myself.  When you’ve lost that label we all put on ourselves you begin to feel a sense of declining value.  These are the feelings that I, and I am sure many like me fight everyday.

It’s maddening.  I just want to work.  I just want that part of my identity back.

Today is a day a star was born.  I know that sounds like so much hyperbole, but in many ways it is true.  It was 63 years ago today that Broadway saw the opening of what is arguably Tennessee Williams’ greatest work, “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

And it was that opening that truly introduced the world to the powerful talent that was Marlon Brando.

As anyone who reads this blog is aware, I am a fan of the theatrical experience on both stage and screen.  And, while I love attending the cinema these days, I truly believe that the talent on display now (with a few very notable exceptions) pales in comparison to the Hollywood of the ’30’s and ’40’s.  When I am asked my favorite film of all time it is often assumed I will name one of the classics of my generation.  But, for me, nothing will ever top Humphrey Bogart’s turn as Rick in “Casablanca.”

It is this appreciation of old films that drew me to Brando initially.  Seeing such classic performances as “On The Waterfront” and his reprisal of the his Broadway role in “A Streetcar Named Desire” laid the foundation for grabbing everything from his Oscar-winning turn as Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” to the disturbing portrayal of H.G. Wells’ titular character in the forgettable “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

The stage production of “Streetcar” made Brando.  The shocking brutality and sexuality of the play was unheard of in the ’40’s.  But, the power of Williams’ script performed by a young Brando made the play an incredible success, winning awards for nearly everyone involved including a Pulitzer for Williams.

“Streetcar” has had a rippling effect ever since that first performance.  It changed the theatrical landscape and raised the bar for those that followed.  Careers were established or strengthened.  Expectations and boundaries were shattered.  And Marlon Brando led the charge into a new era of theatrical greatness on both stage and screen.

No wonder the applause that first night went on for 30 minutes.

Well, I would like to apologize once again for my self-imposed two-week hiatus.  But, I am back and things should begin returning to what passes for normal around here.

I know secondary page updates didn’t happen this week, but they should kick back in starting Monday.  Things have been a little crazy with the beginning of the true holiday season and the continued work my wife does for the Hershey Area Playhouse.

But, I won’t bore you with excuses, instead let’s jump right in…

“The Nutcracker In 3D”

Trailer

Synopsis: Nine-year-old Mary’s dull Viennese Christmas is suddenly filled with excitement and adventure following the arrival of her beloved Uncle Albert and his gift of an enchanted nutcracker. On Christmas night, Mary’s new friend, The Nutcracker, or “NC,” comes to life and takes her on a wondrous journey into his magical world of fairies, sugarplums, and other Christmas toys which come to life.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I’m not sure how I feel on this one.  One one hand, director Andrey Konchalovskiy (“Tango & Cash” & TV’s mini-series “The Odyssey”) seems like a very odd choice to direct a new film version of “The Nutcracker.”  On the other hand, the previews seem to show a new vision on the classic story that is, quite frankly, intriguing.  On one hand the use of 3D for “The Nutcracker” seems like a real stretch.  One the other hand, the film is so effects-laden that the 3D might actually work if properly applied.  This one is a very difficult one to call, but with the acting talent present in Elle Fanning (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons” & “Babel”), Nathan Lane (“The Birdcage” & “The Producers”), and John Turturro (“Rounders” & “O Brother, Where Art Thou”) it has good odds for success.

“The Warrior’s Way” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: An Asian warrior assassin is forced to hide in a small town in the American Badlands.

MovieDruid’s Comments: It is fairly well known that I am a fan of martial arts films.  I have become especially fond of the newer generation of films that have begun to bring the stars of China, Hong Kong, and Korea to the States with the actors of Hollywood.  I’ve also been known to enjoy a good western.  In this one we get the best of both worlds.  “The Warrior’s Way” is at its heart a martial arts film in the same vein as films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Hero.”  But, it brings that almost comic book fantasy world to the old west and throws a crop of rough and tumble western outcasts into the mix.  And, just in case they brought in Geoffrey Rush (“Quills” & “Shine”), Kate Bosworth (“21” and “Remember the Titans”), Danny Huston (“30 Days of Night” & “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), and Korean superstar Dong-gun Jang.  This ought to be one hell of a ride.

Today marks the anniversary of a seminal event in this country’s history.  The funny thing is, it was never the intention of the individual involved to be part of “an event.”  At the time, she was simply a woman trying to go home after a hard day at work.  But, history will always remember her because she decided in one moment of her life to say “No.”

Her name was Rosa Parks.

I don’t think she was trying to make some grand statement that December evening in Alabama.  I don’t think she saw herself as striking a blow against the segregationist policies that our nation continued to cling to in the 1950’s.  I think that perhaps she was just a common person, like you or me, who had worked hard to put bread on her table all day and just wanted to go home.  But, what that single, seemingly small act of defiance did was help shake the status quo for just long enough to allow people to wake up and have the fire lit in them again.

Freedom, liberty, and equality are some of the most powerful forces in this world.  And it is my belief that these things are the God-given right of every man, woman, and child on this Earth.  They are things that are worth fighting for, worth suffering for, and worth dying for.  I say this because a life lived without these things is a life of servitude to others, and that’s not living.  The defense of these basic concepts is everyone’s responsibility, just as it is our responsibility to ensure that they apply to not only ourselves but also to all of our fellows everywhere.

Sometimes that defense takes the form of taking up arms and waging war against those who seek to destroy such things in the name of greed, power, and corruption.  But, sometimes, and more often than many people realize, those fights are fought when we decide to simply say “no.”  Those tiny little mundane moments that come and go in a heartbeat during which we either stand against oppression or bend to it in supplication.  And, believe me, every time we allow ourselves to bend or principles in the face of injustice we risk breaking them once and for all.

So, I say “thank you,” Rosa Parks, for showing me how a simple act can be as important as a grand gesture.

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