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I was reading Facebook last week and I saw a post from a friend of mine mourning the loss of the album within the music industry.  The comment struck me because, as most of my readers know, music plays an important role in my life.  Music provides much cherished lifelines back to important memories throughout my life, and many songs will forever make my memory stir and stretch in my soul.

He has a point, though.

The technological explosions that we have seen over the years has offered us many wonderful things. Digital media can be a wonderful thing, but we have become a different sort of consumer, particularly in the realm of media.  The trend in music has caused many of us to be more micro consumers, grabbing individual songs, rather than macro consumers who used to purchase full albums.

In some ways this is nice.  When I hear that one song by an artist that I hate which actually appeals to me I can purchase it without all the surrounding drek.  But, this transition back to a single based music industry, like the one in the early days of rock n’ roll, does have its share of consequences.

One of the reasons that the album standard in music was so successful was the ability to make groups of songs that flowed together.  Many albums had a continuity to them in theme or tone that allowed one to have an experience that the single can never really deliver.  A well crafted album is a true work of art.  Part of that flow is that many of the best songs by some artists are never heard on the radio, as they never get released as singles.  These gems are hidden away on the album, waiting to snare us with their beauty and eloquence (and, yes, I think those terms can apply to any kind of music from classical to heavy metal).

Perhaps the biggest loss that is resulting from the death of the album is the death of the concept album.  The ability of a true talented artist to tell a tale through music is one of the most rewarding listening experiences out there.  Without albums being the standard we may never see another “Dark Side of the Moon” or “2112.”  The concept album becomes legendary in itself when it works, and the quiet death knell of the album in general will certainly seem to be a death sentence for this, its most distilled and visceral form.

So, I’ll continue to seek albums out personally.  My luck in that area has been good the last few years.  I have discovered The Rescues “Let Loose the Horses” and  I’ve even recently added a new concept album, Within Temptation’s haunting new “The Unforgiving,” to my library.

I, for one, am not going to let the album go quietly into that night.  I will continue to support the format.  I will do so because the best music, the most artistic and telling expressions of the human state, cannot be summed up in a single song.  They must be explored much more deeply than that, and the album gives a more complete voice to the artist.

Besides, single-centric music gave us ridiculousness like “Friday.”

Living in Chocolatetown U.S.A. can be an interesting experience.  An outsider comes to town and sees the streetlights shaped like Hershey Kisses and all the other little touches and thinks to themselves that this must be a great place to live.  And, while it is a nice enough area, it does have its issues.

I’ve complained before about the wonderful world of tourist season in a tourist town without the infrastructure to really handle it.  But, it goes beyond that.  This may be the town that chocolate built, but it is the tourist czars at Hershey Entertainment and Resorts that truly hold sway in these parts.  The real problem with having a company like that with so much influence and power around town is that they end to throw their weight around.

For example….

At the corner of Chocolate and Coca there was a small professional building/strip mall.  There were only a few businesses there.  A bank.  A real estate agent.  A dentist.  A marketing firm.  A pizza joint.  Simple enough.  But, when HERCO renovated the Hershey Press building a block up Chocolate and planted two higher end restaurants in it then followed up with a new Hershey museum next door, the geography must have gotten them thinking.

Suddenly, the light at Chocolate and Coca was simply too hazardous, and tourists were getting lost and confused by the streets in the area.  Wouldn’t it make much more sense if we did a little shifting around so that Cocoa could flow right across Chocolate and down to the many exciting and inviting attractions available in our fair town?

Of course it would.

Thus, the project to change-up the corner of Chocolate and Cocoa has begun.  Of course, sacrifices have been necessary.  In order for the road to flow where they want it the corner needs to be moved down about a block.  And, we can’t just tear everything up, we need to beautify things in the process.  What could we do to make things more attractive?

I know, a park!

Of course, in order to do that we are going to need to tear down that pesky building and dislocate all of the tenets.  And, of course we don’t really have a place for them to be in downtown Hershey at this point.  Sorry guys, but progress is progress.

Wait, what was that?  You’re concerned about this project being a bit self-serving?  Why?  Well, yes,  the new road will take the traffic that comes through Chocolate and Cocoa right past the Press Building and out two high-end trendy restaurants.  Just a coincidence, I assure you.  I admit, we could see an upswing in their traffic.  But, again, just a coincidence.  After all, we are doing this for the good of the community.  Don’t worry, we would never do anything to hurt the community in favor of self-interest.

I mean, what would Mr. Hershey think?

Hello, everyone.

Well, looking at the weeks ahead it looks like Hollywood is ready to shake off its post-Oscar hangover and get back to some serious work.  There is a serious amount of good cinema coming at us over the next few weeks.

Of course, how good it actually will be is speculation.  I have learned in recent years to expect disappointment (see “Public Enemies” & “The American,” among many others).

Still, hope springs eternal in the light of the coming Spring weather.  So, in that spirit let’s take a look at this week’s national releases…

“Paul”

Trailer

Synopsis: For the past 60 years, an alien named Paul has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town — a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings. Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And, as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Every time I see the trailer for this one I change my mind about it.  One minute I’m rolling my eyes about how ridiculous it looks, the next I’m chuckling over the semi-inane humor of it all.  I guess the best I can say is that if this is your sort of thing, go for it.  They have put together a good team for these types of shenanigans.  Greg Mottola (“Superbad” & “Adventureland”) is behind the camera with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (of “Shaun of the Dead” & “Hot Fuzz” fame) teaming up again for this one.  I don’t know you can go wrong with this one, provided you enjoy this type of film.

“The Lincoln Lawyer”

Trailer

Synopsis: Michael “Mick” Haller is a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Continental sedan. Having spent most of his career defending petty, gutter-variety criminals, Mick unexpectedly lands the case of a lifetime: defending a rich Beverly Hills playboy who is accused of attempted murder. However, what initially appears to be a straightforward case with a big money pay-off swiftly develops into a deadly match between two masters of manipulation and a crisis of conscience for Haller.

MovieDruid’s Comments: Matthew McConaughey (“A Time To Kill” & “Reign of Fire”) has, over the last few years, turned into Mr. Romantic Comedy.  And, while a well-conceived romantic comedy can be a very entertaining film, his talents are in many ways wasted on such films.  It is nice to see him returning to meatier dramatic roles.  The film looks solid and is an adaptation of a novel by Michael Connelly, one of the more respected writers in the genre these days.  The film also has a pretty solid supporting cast including Ryan Phillipe (“Cruel Intentions” & “Breach”), William H. Macy (“The Cooler” & “Air Force One”), John Leguizamo (“Land of the Dead” & “The Miracle at St. Anna”), and Marisa Tomei (“My Cousin Vinnie” & “Only You”) among others.  I think this will prove to be one of McConaughy’s better roles and hopefully will show a return to dramatic roles for him.

“Limitless” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: Aspiring author Eddie Morra suffers from chronic writer’s block, but his life changes instantly when an old friend introduces him to NZT, a new pharmaceutical that allows him to tap his full potential. With every synapse crackling, Eddie can recall everything he has ever read, seen or heard, learn any language in a day, comprehend complex equations and beguile anyone he meets. Soon Eddie takes Wall Street by storm, parlaying a small stake into millions. But, his accomplishments catch the attention of people willing to do anything to get their hands on his stash of NZT. With his life in jeopardy and the drug’s brutal side effects taking their toll, Eddie attempts to hang on to his dwindling supply of NZT long enough to outwit his enemies.

MovieDruid’s Comments: This is the type of film I wait for.  An idea that seeps with originality and attracts talent to fulfill its promise.  First, they entrusted the film to Neil Burger, director of “The Illusionist,” one of the best films that came out in 2006.  Then they entrust the lead role to an actor, Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover” & “Yes Man”), who made his name in comedies.  By giving an actor who thriller fans may not be familiar with a shot at exploring his dark side they lend the film a bit of an edge that might not be there with an actor seasoned in these films.  For the love interest they brought in Abbie Cornish (“Bright Star” & “Legend of the Guardians”), and actress who has worked primarily in smaller budget and independent film.  Again, the unfamiliarity breeds additional mystery within the film.  But, to anchor us they give us the inimitable Robert DeNiro (“GoodFellas” & “Raging Bull”) as our villain.  DeNiro can carry a film all by himself when he has to, but this doesn’t look like it required that much heavy lifting from him.  All in all, this one looks like it has everything going for it.

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I’m sure everyone expects me to expound upon the virtues of driving snakes from a country, the fundamental holiness of Guinness Stout, and the fact that the Irish did, in fact, save the world during the Dark Ages.

But, I figure every other blog and site will be covering St. Patty’s Day so I’ll do something different.  I want to talk, yet again, about books.

Hey, there.  Stop rolling your eyes.

Last night I managed to get one step closer to clearing the incredible backlog of unread books I have collected over Christmases and birthdays the last year or two.  The last few chapters of Bearers of the Black Staff seemed to fly by as Brooks turned up the tension, and I swear I was gripping the novel with a white-knuckled grip.  The interesting thing about it was I noticed something I had felt before but never really noted.

I’ve decided to call it Literary Euphoria.

It’s that high or rush you get when you finish that last paragraph and close the book.  It’s a great feeling, a feeling that is one part accomplishment and one part excitement.  You have this new book that is now entirely under your belt and you just want to tell someone, anyone, about it.  You feel the opinions and the interpretations just flooding through your brain waiting to be shared with anyone who will listen.

Preferably that person will give a shit, but that doesn’t necessarily matter.

Books are like tiny treasure troves to me.  Each one brings its own knowledge and perspective.  Each one shapes the way you think and perceive things around you.  There is simply something about the written word that no other medium can truly touch.  And, when you manage to finish a book, when you have devoured the contents of those pages and added them to the catalog of your mind, there is a moment of pure euphoria from the experience.  Sometimes more than a moment.

I spent a little time combing through the backlog and selecting my next endeavor last evening, still feeling that high.  The great thing about it is that now I can start again and relive that moment with another book, and another after that.Somehow the world just seems richer when you’ve known that high.

Or, maybe, it’s just me.

I, like many red-blooded Americans, am a football fan.  And, while I enjoy the college game, I was raised on a steady diet of NFL on Sundays.  I learned the rules of the game from my father and grandfather as we watched Joe Gibbs coach the likes of Joe Theismann and John Riggins for the Washington Redskins.  I sang along with the Chicago Bears on the “Super Bowl Shuffle” during my years in Chicago, and then swore I would never cheer for them again after the team was practically dismantled after that Super Bowl.  And, I joined the supporters of the fledgling Carolina Panthers, a place my loyalties continue to lie despite their recent slide.

In short, I’m an NFL fan.

As an NFL fan I have dealt with my share of headaches.  I suffered through Dennis Miller doing color commentary.  I gritted my teeth and swallowed it when Disney moved Monday Night Football off of ABC and on to ESPN despite the fact that I don’t, and won’t, pay for cable.  I suffered through the shenanigans of players being stupid (Plaxico Burress) and the outrage of players being violent (Michael Vick and Rae Carruth).  I have dealt with these things and still support the game.

But, this current “crisis.”  It’s trying my patience.

The owners and players all go running to the media extolling their own virtues and demonizing the other side.  Everyone wants you to think the other side is looking to take terrible advantage of them.  I even saw a quote from Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson calling NFL players “modern day slaves.”  Really?  Somehow I don’t think the slaves were making millions of dollars and living La Vida Loca.  And the owners are no better.  Do men who, in most cases, made a fortune elsewhere and own NFL teams as a hobby or sorts really expect sympathy from the rank and file of the American public?

Listening to multi-millionaires argue with each other over who is going to get how big a slice of a multi-billion dollar pie is enough to make my head explode.

But, there is another side to this that is one of the real reasons this irks me.  All the owners, agents, players, and various other hangers-on sit and beat each other to death over this enormous pool of money.  I look at all that money flowing through the NFL and I have to wonder a few things.  I wonder why ticket prices are so high that I can’t afford to go to a game.  I wonder why any kind of merchandise with any kind of NFL logo has a markup on it that defies description.  I wonder why these people think any of us care about their precious salaries when many of us are out of work.

The NFL has managed to price their product beyond the reach of most fans.  A trip to an NFL game will end up costing a couple hundred dollars by the end of the day once tickets, refreshments, programs, and parking are paid for.  And, the NFL isn’t the only culprit here.  Ball games, regardless of what kind of ball, are no longer an accessible means of entertainment for many people.  And that isn’t just because of the current economic woes.

I really think that it’s time for all of the major sports to take a step back.  They need to remember that if they don’t have the fans, they don’t have a sport.  And yes, I can watch the games on television.  Heck, in many ways that is a superior experience.  But, some of us remember with fondness the feel of a live game.

Unfortunately, that feeling may never be experienced by future generations because the quibbling billionaires want to price the riffraff wight out of the stadiums.

We use the word “power” a lot these days.  We talk about what party is in power, who is seeking power, who is grabbing power, and so on and so forth.  In fact, the word has become such a part of the communications and media of everyday life that in some ways it has lost much of its meaning.  We have almost trivialized the concept of “power.”

I think we all got a lesson in real power recently.

I look at the pictures, listen to the reports, and watch the video of the devastation that came about from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and it really makes me wonder.  All of our petty little struggles to get one up on one another pale in comparison to the raw, unbridled fury that nature can visit upon us.

And it often comes with no warning or sign telling us to get the hell out of the way.

The last few years I have become more and more cognizant of the power of the world we live in to knock us off our pedestal.  Natural disasters show us just how small we really are in this world.  Yes, we may have invented ways to measure and even predict some of them, but there is nothing we can do to prevent them.  We are at the mercy of the natural world around us in so many ways.

Perhaps Darth Vader said it best.

“The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

We have created many means with which to destroy a planet, whether you are speaking ecologically or literally.  And, perhaps, we need to be reminded every once in a while how insignificant that power is next to the power of nature.

I grieve for those who died in this latest disaster.  My heart reaches out to those left behind to deal with the destruction and the loss.  And, I know that there will be lessons taken away from this.  We will learn something, whether it be how to build earthquake and flood resistant structures or new ways to deal with nuclear emergency.

I just think we also need to take a few moments to stand in awe and realize that our petty definition of power falls well short of the real thing.  One thing we should certainly take away from this is perspective.

Happy Pi Day everyone!  Or should that be Π Day?

Yes, we geeks need to have holidays that everyone else can roll their eyes at.  But, come on. Pi Day can be fun.

For those who have forgotten their early math classes Pi is defined as the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter.  For any true circle this number is a mathematical constant that is an eternal, non-repeating decimal with the first three digits being 3.14.

Thus, 3/14 is Pi Day.

Now, I know most of you are rolling your eyes at me for explaining basic mathematics, and others are rolling their eyes because they think I’ve crossed the threshold from my cherished Geek state and entered firmly into much-maligned Nerd territory.

I disagree.

Things like Pi Day can be very important tools for getting kids interested in math, science, and other academic disciplines.  Our educational system is on the ropes in many ways.  Children are not achieving the academic excellence that they once did in this country.  We can argue the causation of this situation from now until we are all blue in the face, but the truth of the matter is that things are what they are.  And, personally, I think that something as simple as a day where we tout the wonders of the natural and mathematical world can do nothing but make things seem a but more interesting to students.

And, I think that we, as a nation, should take a few moments this Pi Day to understand the importance of education on all levels to the future of this nation and this world.  We need to strive to instill a lifelong love of learning in the youth of today.  We should work to continue to learn every day of our lives, no matter how old we are. We need to experience new experiences, see the world through different eyes, and expand our knowledge in every way we can.

I for one am going to take this Pi Day to thank all the teachers who shaped my life, my parents who instilled a lifelong love of learning in me, my wife who enthusiastically joins me in adventures of new experience, and my siblings who continue to awe and inspire me with their gifts.

Learn something new today, start a new trend.

Welcome back, everyone.

I thought it would be appropriate to kick the Jungle Gym back into gear with the thing that started it all, the MovieDruid.  I guess for some, maybe even most, of my readers that seems odd.  But, those who have been in the know on the MovieDruid since its beginnings know there would be no Jungle Gym without the MovieDruid.

And, thus, I come full circle and kick-start the Jungle Gym back into full gear with the MovieDruid.

This week brings another disappointment of sorts.  It seems that the distributor who finally got the rights for U.S. distribution for Sean Bean’s turn as a knight in medieval England in “Black Death” elected a NY/LA/MN release.  If by some luck you happen to be in an area where it is being shown either in initial release or perhaps eventual arthouse/independent pickups I would say it definitely looks worthwhile.

So, with that film off the table, what do we have in store for national release this week?

“Mars Needs Moms”

Trailer

Synopsis: Take out the trash; eat your broccoli — who needs moms, anyway? Nine-year-old Milo finds out just how much he needs his mom when she’s nabbed by Martians who plan to steal her mom-ness for their own young. “Mars Needs Moms” showcases Milo’s quest to save his mom — a wild adventure that involves stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multi-level planet and taking on the alien nation and their leader. With the help of a tech-savvy, underground earthman named Gribble and a rebel Martian girl called Ki, Milo just might find his way back to his mom — in more ways than one.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I remember a time when seeing Cinderella’s castle and the Walt Disney logo was reason to expect something magical.  Those were wondrous days before we did all of our animation with computers.  Disney just doesn’t seem to it them out of the park anymore.  In fact, these days when I see the Disney logo, I wonder how bad it’s going to be this time.  This one does nothing at all to prove me wrong.  Disney was always a studio I could count on, and it was my hope that when John Lasseter of Pixar took over the animation studio following the merger that things would turn around.  John has yet to show me any real game, and this one looks like further proof of that fact.  However, if you disagree the film is also being released in 3D and 3D IMAX.

“Battle: Los Angeles”

Trailer

Synopsis: For years, there have been documented cases of UFO sightings around the world – Buenos Aires, Seoul, France, Germany, China. But in 2011, what were once just sightings will become a terrifying reality when Earth is attacked by unknown forces. As people everywhere watch the world’s great cities fall, Los Angeles becomes the last stand for mankind in a battle no one expected. It’s up to a Marine staff sergeant and his new platoon to draw a line in the sand as they take on an enemy unlike any they’ve ever encountered before.

MovieDruid’s Comments: I want to have high hopes for “Battle: Los Angeles.”  It’s my kind of movie.  But, I’m afraid.  I’m afraid that this project got green lit in the wake of “District 9” fever.  I’m afraid that this will turn into something as disappointing as “Cloverfield” or “Skyline.”  There have been too many giant alien/monster/invasion movies over the last few years, and the trend seems to be coming to the end of its life cycle.  The director, Jonathan Liebesman, is a bit of a mystery.  Yes, he did direct the creepily fantastic “Darkness Falls,” but he is also responsible for the abysmal “Texan Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.” They did manage to get him some decent talent, however, with Aaron Eckhart (“Rabbit Hole” & “Thank You For Smoking”), Michelle Rodriguez (TV’s “Lost” & “The Fast & The Furious”), and Bridget Moynahan (“Coyote Ugly” & “I, Robot”).  This one could easily go either way, approach with caution.

“Red Riding Hood” – MovieDruid Pick of the Week

Trailer

Synopsis: In a story inspired by the famous fairytale, a teenage girl finds herself in extreme jeopardy when her village decides to hunt the werewolf that terrorizes it every full moon.

MovieDruid’s Comments: A new and stylized take on a story we all know is always a fascinating exercise.  Trying to breathe fresh life into stories that we have all heard since childhood and make them have some sort of suspense is a difficult task.  Thus, a film like “Red Riding Hood” sets out on an already difficult road.  But, they seem to have captured the essence of the tale while bringing the look and feel of the story to us in a way that is outside the norm enough to get us outside of that comfort zone.  Again, we have a tricky director situation with Catherine Hardwicke having both “The Nativity Story” and “Twilight” to her credit.  The real question mark for me is whether Amanda Seyfried (“Mean Girls” & “Mama Mia”) ca carry the lead in a movie like this.  She has some solid supporting talent in Gary Oldman (“Immortal Beloved” & “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”), but we’ll have to see. In trailer form the components seem to mesh well, hopefully that carries over to the big screen.

As my small cadre of daily readers have no doubt noticed, my posting schedule has been out of whack for weeks now.  I haven’t gotten any of the side pages done in a long while and am often lucky to get two or three posts up in a week instead of my usual five.  For that, I would like to apologize to everyone out there.

In addition, looking back over my recent posts I have noticed a disturbing number of posts that are just flat-out downers.  I didn’t create this blog to whine about my personal issues and depress people.  No one cares about my personal tribulations, they come here for a modicum of entertainment, because a modicum is all I got.

The truth of the matter is that I have begun a slide into a funk that is affecting my posting, and it’s not fair to subject you guys to it.  I’m in a rather dark place right now and that is not something people want to get out of the Jungle Gym.

Thus, I have decided to temporarily suspend the Jungle Gym.  I need to get my head right before I can keep things going.  I’ll be back soon, I promise, but for the next week or so the playground is closed for renovations and attitude adjustment.

Thanks for your understanding, I love you guys.

The other day as I was driving along the wonderfully maintained roads of Pennsylvania listening to the radio when the unmistakable growl of Trace Adkins started up on my radio.  For a long time I was among those who would answer “pretty much anything…except for country” when asked about my musical tastes, but times have changed and Trace is one reason for that.

The song was one I knew well, so, being the shower/car rock star that I am, I joined in.  Before long I was waxing nostalgic in a way that was necessarily a good thing.

You see, there’s a strangeness when it comes to me and music.  For some, the beat or the riffs are the thing they latch onto initially.  But, I tend to focus in on lyrics.  I like to hear what the artist has to say and how they say it.  What a song says is every bit as important to me as how it sounds in many ways.  As such, I can often let songs get to me, particularly if they either say something that has some kind of personal connection or they have a link to some moment or event in my life.

I suppose everyone has that to an extent.

In this case, as I joined with Trace in “You’re Gonna Miss This,” I suddenly very much did.  I suddenly felt the weight of all the years behind me all at once.

I missed my friends from high school.  Owen and Care and Brian and all the rest who had such a deep impact on who I became during those years.  I missed the friends that have drifted away over the years as I have changed jobs, not because the friendships were weak, but because I simply am not good at maintaining communication.

Above all, I suddenly, and deeply, missed my parents and siblings.  They were always there when I needed a hand up, and I never deserved as good as I got.

The point is, I looked backward for a quick moment and saw a road of regret and it scared me a little.  I’ve had a lot of good people in my life, many more than I could reasonably expect.  I have had good friends and loving family, and let so many of them slip through my fingers.

I guess I just want to say, I miss all of you.  I love all of you, whether you are my past or my present.  These days it can be very hard to find any love for myself inside.  Thank you for letting me know that someone out there thinks I’m worth something.

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