Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Glad to be Me

I'm feeling very grateful today.  Thankful for my friends and family, humbled by my good fortune in having a job that I enjoy and a life that I love.

In general I am dimly aware of this gratitude, but on Monday, with the Ferguson non-decision decision handed down, I have been resoundingly reminded to not to take these blessings for granted.

I am beyond grateful for my values and clarity of mind that allow me to see things for what they are and not simply what I want them to be.  The facts, the evidence in this case are fairly plain as these things go.  It is not a good thing that a young man was killed, but any objective look at the situation reveals that the outcome, while tragic, can be primarily blamed on Michael Brown.  Circumstance also played a role, but it was not the deciding factor.

I am perfectly comfortable with the grand jury's decision, and I have no problem supporting officer Wilson and his decisions.  If I'm a cop, or even a private citizen,  and someone grabs for my gun, all bets are off.  If they get away and come at me a second time, I'm putting them down.  Period.

So that's it for me.  No doubt, no drama.  And for that I am filled with gratitude.  I am so, so, SO happy that I am a conservative, and that my brain is not clouded by the kind of emotion driven dogma that grips both the elites and the poor who have been duped into a lifetime of dependence on the state.

I am content to recognize that I am not the one with the problem.  The citizens of Ferguson (and make no mistake it IS people that live there) have decided they would rather burn their city to the ground, that is - mostly businesses that are minority owned - rather than face up to the uncomfortable truth.

And so, I have no beef.  No axe to grind.  Good luck with that folks.

I am staying off of racebook this week, I have seen far too much fall out with other people being de-friended by liberal antagonists, who let emotion take over and lash out.  I'm staying out of it because I love my friends and I really don't care too much about this case; but I'm grateful for this blog which allows me in no uncertain terms to state my opinion on the matter, plainly and truthfully.

It is sadly and with no joy that I say, Michael Brown got exactly what he deserved.


Well I spoke too soon and broke down, after the 10th or so post I read that someone was "de-friending" someone else for being "racist".  I posted this to everyone... hopefully it is respectful enough that I won't get the ol' de-friend myself.

I refuse to de-friend any of you, regardless of your opinion on this Ferguson thing.
Opinions are just opinions, and clearly there are a lot of them here on all sides of a very complicated situation. No matter what you think or feel, you are entitled to express your views and you won't get any shaming or name calling from me.
With that said, truthfully, I am reluctant to share my views here - because of all the vitriol that I've read from both sides. It makes me sad that people can't speak their minds without being called racist, a very hurtful term that is more often than not overused these days to the point where it ceases to have any real meaning and greatly diminishes actual incidents of it.
I would hope that everyone, regardless of where they come down on this matter - can step back and understand that different life experiences result in different perspectives and thus different opinions. It doesn't mean they are off to join the KKK or the Black Panther Party, it just means that this is how they see it.
Be at peace this Thanksgiving day and be grateful that we can have these discussions in this, the greatest country on God's green earth. I know I am.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Time to Marvel

The world is on fire.  Evil is inflamed overseas, partisan discord and demagoguery divides on our own shores.  And yet I can't seem to shake a pesky and persistent feeling of hope.  As bad as things want to be - I've been around on this earth long enough to know that things have been a lot worse, both in my lifetime and well before and beyond it as well.

I have been somewhat neglectful of this blog - but I'm happy to say I'm not going anywhere and don't plan to stop writing any time soon, though it may be farther and fewer between as the years pass.  I have two other blogs, both related to poker, and lately I've been writing on them more frequently.  I'm less inspired to write here because this is where I typically air my grievances, especially the political ones.

Maybe it's part of getting older; I just don't feel as passionate about dissecting all the different ways to a similar end that most Americans want.  I'm not inclined to dissect and delineate the intellectual failings of infantile liberals. I've realized that ultimately it's not so much stupidity, but upbringing that has taken them down the easy path of child-like emotions and knee jerk instinct in dealing with weighty matters of the world.  I also recognize that it's a heavy burden to always be right and be one of the few who can separate facts from fantasy.  It's also tiresome to be so smart all of the time.

But on a serious note - I am and always will be a hopeless political junkie, and I'm thinking that the real reason for my reluctance to engage in a battle of wits with unarmed opponents is that more than ever I really feel like I have nothing to prove, and that trying to convince a died in the wool liberal, who thinks that poor people should be perpetually attached to the government tit, that maybe a life of dependence on a massive bureaucracy isn't the way to go - is ultimately futile.

So I feel good - good about my world view, borne of months at a time abroad in the third world, borne of building a home and family from the sweat of my brow and my brain.  And I feel optimistic, upbeat, hopeful.  Hopeful about my country, my family and friends, my career and this amazing information age.

Lately I've been thinking about miracles; not the big heavy duty biblical ones, not even the daily ones I read about in the news relating to matters of life and death - the little girl whose cancer disappears, the hopelessly lost hikers who miraculously turn up a week later dehydrated and exhausted but alive.  No, lately I've been thinking about the smaller miracles of the first world that are in my face, all of the time.  I guess miracle is the wrong word - but I can't help but be in awe of these little marvels.  They are silly, they are trivial I guess - but they provoke a strong response in me.

The produce section in Ralph's is a marvel.  All I get is blackberries and grapes for my little girl, apples and bananas for the wife and myself.  Sometimes a tray of veggies for poker.  I have a friend who has told me more than once that I really shouldn't bother with Ralph's for produce - "It's overpriced and the fruit is so much better in the farmer's market."  Um, okay.  Try the market in Nairobi or Cairo my friend.  For that matter, try getting fresh produce on the island of Key West where I grew up.  My dad, who lived on that island for most of his life would come visit me in Los Angeles and stand in awe of the fruit at Ralph's.  Ralph's is a marvel.


About six months ago I got my first smart phone.  I had resisted a long time.  In fact, I had resisted texting for a much longer time.  I broke down about 2 years ago, and just recently a doe eyed 20 something sales girl at the Verizon store got me to take the plunge.

My i-phone is a marvel.  It's no longer the latest and greatest, but it's incredible.  I don't have to text anymore, I can talk into the phone and it will write down what I'm saying.  I can find the quickest route through LA traffic to get where I'm going faster.  Recently I was in Las Vegas and needed a haircut.  I asked my phone, and these were my exact words - "Where can I get a haircut?"  Bam.  Instant directions in my car, she talked me straight to a Supercuts 5 minutes away.  What's the score of the A's game?  Bam.  Yep, they're losing again.  What did Allen say on Facebook 30 seconds ago?  Bam.  Yep, his grandpa is dong good.  When does the World Series of Poker start airing again?  Bam.  What song is that playing?  Shazam.  Bam.  I'm bored. Let's play Minion Rush.  Bam.  What did that dopey guy in the White House say today?  Bam.


Bam, bam.

The i-phone is a freaking marvel.


My television is a marvel.  It's huge.  Going by screen size it was way cheaper than the last standard def tv I bought.  It's GORGEOUS.  Over a year later I still can't get over how good Megan Kelly looks.  And I'm not just saying that because she's super smart and pretty - she just looks AMAZING. The lighting, the color, the contrast.  BAM.   Yeah right about now I'd like to watch Captain America: Winter Soldier with PERFECT sound and an INCREDIBLE picture.  BAM.


Speaking of Captain America -  comic book movies are right up my alley and are GD marvels. (And not just the ones by Marvel, but the DC ones too.)

I have more than a friend or two who are my age and are weary of comic books coming to life on a weekly basis in the multi-plex.  To that I say, are you KIDDING ME?  First of all, what kind of movies did you think people our age would be making?  Secondly - do you have any idea just how good the vast majority of them are?   And thirdly - do you seriously think this will last?

The first question I think should be answered with a time machine.  It is my fondest wish that every  geek over 40 who is whining about too many comic book movies could be visited by their 13 year old selves and be wheel-house bitch slapped for complaining.  This is a GD GOLDEN AGE PEOPLE!

Relating to this -the second question.  Even the "crap" super hero movies are pretty darn cool.  Sure, Green Lantern "sucks" - but only because it came out a couple of years ago.  If it had come out ten years ago - it would have been hailed up and down.  Well maybe not, but it wouldn't have bombed.  Structurally, it is indeed a mess of a film, but only because in Hollywood today (and thanks in no small part to PIXAR) story is KING.  I confess my wife and I have found ourselves stopping to watch it on television more than a few times.  It's Green Lantern for crying out loud!  I do the same thing with the two Fantastic Four movies as well - BECAUSE IT'S THE GD FANTASTIC FOUR!   Helloooo.... is this thing on?

The third question - it won't always be like this.  I am very grateful that the dreams of my childhood have come to life on the big screen; and more-so, that these dreams apparently were shared with millions of people because these movies are the biggest money makers ever.  But I understand that within a decade this fad will pass, and we will very likely see far fewer super heroes in action on the big screen.  So I'm going to enjoy this trend thoroughly while I can.

But back to the second point.  Okay, we all know the super hero movies that 'sucked'.  Green Lantern, The Fantastic Four, the new Spiderman movies (and the old third one).  That's what I can think of off the top of my head.  Let me attempt to list ones that I thought were top notch AWESOME and are must haves.  In no particular order...

Spider Man 2  The Sam Raimi version.
The Dark Knight
The Avengers
Iron Man
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America WS
XMen 2
The Incredibles

Now let me list those I thought were thoroughly enjoyable - and that I've purchased.

Iron Man 3
Thor 2
Captain America 1st Avenger
XMen 1st Class
Spiderman 1 Sam Raimi
Batman Begins
Superman MOS

That is 17 flicks off the top of my head that I absolutely love and will watch again and again over the years.  They are magnificent.  They are everything that I loved about comic books, come to life before my eyes - outrageous and righteous morality plays with bigger than life good guys and bad guys.  They are, all of them, FAR better than the paltry few superhero movies of my childhood.

And I loved the Chris Reeve Superman movies, and still do.  And I loved the first three Batman movies, and still do.

And again, there are plenty of less than great superhero movies that I dig.  I actually enjoyed the recent Spiderman 2 very much, it had some great gags and great emotion - and they absolutely nailed Peter Parker and the Spiderman character way better than Raimi did.  Now the story was bloated and problematic - it was  90 minute movie trapped in a 130 minute bloat of self indulgence.  Worse than that - we've seen this whole thing before and we've seen it done better.  Raimi is a true auteur and his first two Spiderman movies are superb.

Anyway - there are plenty of 'mediocre' superhero movies that I like just fine;

Thor 1 - Thor is a bit of a bore, but the movie works more than it doesn't.

Both Hulk movies.  Ang Lee's troubled film still has the second best Hulk sequence ever captured, after the Avengers, of hulk rampaging through the desert.  The other movie is much tighter enterprise - and has some great gags.

Every other XMen movie, including the 'awful' X3 and the first Wolverine.  All of them have great moments and ultimately work in their universe.  I especially dug the 2nd Wolverine movie; as ridiculous as it was at times.

Bryan Singer's Superman movie; yeah, it's boring a lot of the time; but there's some great moments - and the spirit of the original is captured beautifully.

The weakest of the modern Marvel movies - Iron Man 2, is still a blast.  Watched it recently and it held my interest; also love Scar Jo.

The one somewhat recent superhero movie that I can't really bear to watch again, because it breaks my heart because it is so bad - is Daredevil.  Man, yes, that movie is indeed crap.  It doesn't help either that DD was always my favorite comic book.  The good news is, Netflix is taking Daredevil and turning it into a tv series.  Sweet.  Can't wait to binge on that!

Anyways, I didn't mean to get so sidetracked on superhero movies.  I guess that's the main topic in this post.  I will also mention in passing that there are many other kinds of geek movies out these days that are also marvels.  Especially animated movies, as I've gone on and on about in this blog before; but also other great genre films like Avatar, the Hobbit movies, Pacific Rim - just to randomly name a few; that are absolutely incredible to watch, especially in light of how thin the field of sci-fi and fantasy used to be in movie theaters.  True, there were some awesome ones; Terminator 1 and 2, The Road Warrior, Alien and Aliens - and others, but the quantity and quality of the last decade, I'm sorry to say - simply blows away what we had when we were young.

I guess superhero films are on the surface, like all modern marvels that we live with here in the greatest country on God's green earth - are silly and superficial, but to me it is what they represent that wields the real power in my life.  We all know that yes, evil exists - and our faith tells us that there will always be a light to shine on the darkness; but nowhere in todays world is this more dramatically illustrated than in comic book movies.  These are our modern day fairy tales, bigger and better than ever - that serve to lift us up, to elevate our spirits above the chaos and fear.  To share with our loved ones, with our children; to enjoy and to be inspired by.

I guess all I've really done here, is do what I've done before.  Stated firmly and fairly that NOW is the time of greatness and great stuff.  We are in the midst of the age of Marvel and marvels.  And I absolutely love it and I'm so thankful I get to nourish my soul with what is on the surface fairly frivolous and somewhat mindless entertainment.  I wouldn't want to live in any other time and place than where I am.  I am utterly grateful for all the joy that little marvels bring into my life - they sustain me through the rough stuff - and they bolster my love, joy and hope for what really matters most - my family and my faith.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Hey Blue

"I've heard it said,
                                                                        That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are lead to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today.
Because I knew you."

                                   - Stephen Schwartz 
                                               (From the musical "Wicked")

In my almost 44 years on this earth I have been privileged to know a small group of remarkable people who have had a profound and positive influence on my life and on my character. Besides my dad, there have been 2 other major father figures - the first was Bill Cain, a remarkable man who was a major positive influence through my adolescence. He was the man who introduced me to and mentored me through the world of baseball umpiring. We probably umpired over 100 games together - from the youngest levels of Little League, to regional tournaments across the state.

One of my fondest memories of Bill, is when we traveled to San Bernardino together to attend the regional Little League umpire seminar. It was great to be with him amongst 50 other umpires and really get at the heart of what sports officiating was all about.

Bill passed away just yesterday, very suddenly from what I can tell. My heart breaks for his two sons Mike and Tom, whom I've known since they were little. And I am deeply saddened myself, mostly because I never specifically told Bill how much he meant to me and how much he had helped make me who I am, especially when it comes to dealing with stressed out people.

As a baseball umpire, Bill was always calm and cool - matter of fact, but firm and unwavering, with a deep commitment to fair play and justice on the field. Though I have long ago left the game behind, I carry his principles with me in my daily life. Keeping a level head in the face of unbalanced people on the baseball field can be very tough, but the real world can be much more dire. I am so glad that I had the game in my youth to work through confrontations, and I'll be forever grateful that Bill was there to show me the right way to do it. I am a much happier and balanced person than I was at age 13 when I met Bill, in large part because he gave me the tools to deal with emotional dysfunction being thrown in my face.

And I know, that even though I never specifically thanked you Bill, and oh how I regret not messaging you on facebook or even shooting you a text to tell you this - I know, as with all men who are genuine - men who are indeed 100% "real men" as you are; that the words didn't need to be said.

But I'll say them here, for his boys Mike and Tom. I want to make sure to add my voice to the chorus of praise for this remarkable man who undoubtedly has touched many many more lives in ways as profound as mine -

Thank you Bill Cain, you changed my life for the better when I needed it the most and you will be missed terribly.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two Worlds, One Cup

I did love the recent world cup game with the US and Portugal, to a point.  Hear me out.

Soccer's got 99 problems, but being boring ain't one.

That the game can be boring is way down the list of why American's don't care for soccer. We (and I) love baseball and that's the most boring sport there is.  Being boring has little to do with why this sport hasn't caught on in the US, though it's what every non-soccer fan will tell you.

The real reason Americans don't dig "futbol" is flopping.  Flopping is why I don't watch soccer.  Players fake injuries, ALL the time.  It's systematic, it's inherent in the strategy of the game.  Soccer players pretend to be hurt even more than NBA players which is saying something.  It is un-sportsman like behavior of the most craven kind.  It's really hard to stomach, professional athletes, incredibly skilled - rolling around like little babies until they get the call they want.  Then, back in the game with no consequences.

The lack of a replay rule to deal with these theatrics at this level of play is absurd. Also, that there is no replay rule for the easily reviewable but often controversial offside decisions is just flat out stupid.  Also also, that the game clock is unofficial and that it goes into extra time that the referee adds in his head is ridiculous, and is a lightning rod for controversy where there should be none.

And then there are problems with the antiquated World Cup format itself.  My dear Berkeley brethren, they of the soccer love, sent me this chart to help answer my questions regarding team USA's fate in advancing, after the Portugal game ended abruptly with the score tied.  (Apparently, this is also common, like hockey, they let the game end undecided.  Dumb, yes, even in the most crucial of games like say, oh I don't know, the biggest sporting tournament on the planet.)

First of all, I'm not really enough of a math genius to comprehend this absurdly intricate graphic - so there's that.  But look closely, yes, those are yellow boxes with the words "coin toss" in them.  So if the score of the Portugal/Ghana and US/Germany games fall in some random fashion, the fate of the potential champions of the world will be determined by a coin toss?  Really?

As a former youth sports official, I have twice actually run across rules that involve a coin toss to determine a winner.  One was a single day baseball round robin that had an odd number of teams.  The coin toss determined who would get a bye in the first round.  The players in this tournament were 12 years old.  It was a pre-season fun one day event.  Nothing but bragging rights at stake.

The other event was again, a pre-season event; a soccer tournament over a weekend, where they allowed ties in every game but the "championship" match.  If the teams were tied at the end of a game, the referee would toss a coin to determine who moved on.  These were 10 year old traveling teams, so they were All-Stars, but THEY WERE 10, and many of them were irritated at the random unfairness of this procedure.

Now we are on the world's biggest stage, with the very best players in competition for the most significant championship anywhere - and we're going to toss a coin.

And my friends wonder why this sport hasn't caught on in the States.

Bottom line, Americans like their play fair, and coin flips notwithstanding, the game of soccer itself is replete with antiquated rules and procedures which make it not so. Until the game rectifies these glaring problems, ie gets a uniform game clock, implements the replay rule at the highest levels and puts an end  to the acting shenanigans, soccer will continue to be a game for the rest of the world that just assumes that the system is inherently screwed up, while those of us in the land of opportunity know better.

Someone much more eloquent than me once said that the rest of the planet loves soccer because it is a sanctuary of serenity in a chaotic world, while Americans love football (our gridiron version) because it is a sanctuary of chaos in an otherwise peaceful and free country.  I know this is not entirely the truth, but it is pretty darn close to being correct.

To their credit, the American team has said they don't "flop" and that they don't include the concept in their strategy and approach to the game.  At least that's what they say.  I know the guy who got his face kicked in in game one wasn't faking. This makes it easier for me to root root root for the home team - though honestly, as a big a jingoist as I am, I wouldn't be too heart broken if the God forsaken country of Ghana had won.  I think they need it more than we do.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Billy Joel at the Hollywood Bowl, May 27

Okay - review time.

Billy is old, 65, and looks like he needs to take better care of himself. His voice, thankfully is about 90% of what it was - which is great for his age. He's also still an expert at the piano, though he bonks plenty of notes, it all works and seems effortless. He is a consummate professional musician and artist. He's also hilarious in between songs. He did a spot-on Elton John impersonation and sang a good chunk of "Your Song" before cutting himself off at the line "I don't have much money..." "Bullshit!" he exclaimed.

The band is as tight as I've ever heard at one of Billy's concerts, but theirin is part of the problem. Though technically far more perfect than the original line up, this bunch does not have the propulsion and energy, the emotion, wrought by drummer Liberty DeVitto and the other Long Island boys that Billy grew up with and played with until he got rid of them. I really miss those mooks and the passion that they brought. They were born and bred of Billy's music, and it really shone through. Don't get me wrong, the band now is very, very good - Mark Rivera and Crystal Talifero in particular have been with Billy a long time (the former since Nylon Curtain and the latter since Storm Front) and bring some of the old spirit. The two guitarists and the bass player are all tremendous vocalists, which really makes for a fat clean sound. Still, I pine for the immediacy and the energy of Billy's old gang. A smaller group, no horn section, but somehow more urgent than the polished veneer of the 2014 crew. Search YouTube for Billy Joel: Live from Long Island and you'll see what I mean.

Over the three shows at Hollywood Bowl I think the setlist on our night might have been the best. You can click on the "Related Concert Setlists" links for the 17th and the 22nd to compare and contrast. Yes, the shows were all very similar, but we got We Didn't Start the Fire and Uptown Girl, the other two nights did not. Uptown Girl was truly amazing - the vocals were phat! It was also great to see Billy strap on the old guitar for that old dentist drill of a song "We Didn't Start the Fire" - never one of my favorites, but it works very well live with 17000 people singing along word for word.

Songs we missed out on: "Pressure", "And So It Goes" and "Sometimes a Fantasy". I've seen Pressure live many times, ASIG is one of my favorites that I didn't get on the Storm Front tour. I've also seen "Sometimes a Fantasy" (on the Bridge tour) and I agree with the description of it as the least sexy song about phone sex ever. We also didn't get "The Ballad of Billy the Kid." or "Summer Highland Falls" both of which I still have yet to see live. No one got to hear "Goodnight Saigon" - which is fine, or "Angry Young Man" which is sad. It was the only song I really missed, even though I've seen it live more than a few times.

All for Leyna, Zanzibar, Where's the Orchestra, Everybody Loves You Know and Say Goodbye to Hollywood, all blew my mind as songs that I absolutely did not expect to hear over the course of the evening. I loved that Billy dug a bit deeper, as I think the bulk of his album tracks that were not singles are where the real gold is in the catalogue. Say Goodbye to Hollywood was actually a minor am radio hit, and on his greatest hits record, but I read in a review of Billy's concert at the bowl on May 17th that it was the first time he had played the song live in almost 30 years. He had retired the song long ago because it is at the top of his register - I'm glad he dusted it off for LA, it sounded great.

The venue was great, the sound was pristine, one of the best sounding concerts I've ever been to, and by far the cleanest Billy Joel show I've ever heard. The mix was awesome, the visuals were very good. The lights were what they needed to be and the occasional video footage worked beautifully with a very polished I-Mag camera operators and director. (IMag is the video image magnification, the video of Billy and the Band on the screens for those of us with 43 year old eyes and not in the $2500 seats).

All in all, it doesn't get much better than Billy, even old Billy who stays at the piano through Big Shot and You May Be Right - he did strut a little bit for It's Still Rock and Roll to Me, but stayed put in all the other songs that he used to run around to. Inevitable I suppose, and truly no less enjoyable in it's own context - just a reminder of his and our own mortality.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Global Change and Climate Warming

Been awhile!   Recently talked a bit about Global Warming (or whatever they're calling it this week on Facebook) and as usual I had a great home-run final response to post that was kick ass and long.

But the guy I was talking with is a friend of mine, smart fellow but alas to far gone to really appreciate my brilliance, so Imma post it here instead.

Right after someone posted a link about April being the "hottest April ever" (which is pretty absurd in itself) I fired back with...

"It was also the coldest winter on record last year, and we had record Arctic ice, the polar bear population crashed because there was so much ice they couldn't get to the seals.  Either way, regardless of what the numbers say or are manipulated into saying - ultimately it doesn't mean a damn thing to me.   Global warming is so far down the list of what I think is important to me and my family, it's kind of sad really.   Sorry, they have to do better.

The planet is four and a half billion years old.  I've been watching Cosmos, and if anything, it has made me more of a skeptic.  Tyson spends 50 minutes telling me to question everything and that the universe is infinitely old, and then he turns around and says "the science is settled" regarding global warming.  It's wacky, and frankly, it pisses me off to the point where I genuinely don't give a shit.   It's the boy who cried wolf on steroids.

Al Gore and his contemporaries have utterly failed to bring people in the middle and to the right of it over to the side of a cause that SHOULD be a no brainer, but isn't.  Turns out, he's the one without a brain. He sold his television station to the biggest propagators of oil on the planet giving a huge middle finger to the planet on his way out the door to a billion dollar pay day.

Instead of bridging the gap with dialogue and common ground, the whole global warming gang has devolved into a bunch of bullies who blacklist anyone who doesn't fall in line - and on top of this they don't offer any practical solutions except flushing money down their water saving toilets with projects like high speed trains to nowhere and other billion dollar boondoggles.  Remember Solyndra?  That whole thing is what the modern environmental movement is to me - a fucked up and decadent 1st world horseshit pet project with little bearing on the real problems of the world, a world of which I've seen an awful lot of (been to 40+ countries, many of them third world) and it ain't pretty.  Maybe we could work on sewage in India or depravation in the Sudan before people get in my face about plastic bags.

I know it sounds like another angry rant, but really, it's not.  I just frankly don't want to hear about global warming from politicians anymore.  This so called scientific consensus can keep their mouths shut too, as long as they aren't offering any real solutions.  I don't have time to deal with their self-aggrandizing crap.  No wonder the planet has a fever, it's full of hot air from these smug do-nothing jerks."

This blog is a much better place for my righteous smack-downs than facebook, right?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Movies 2013

A bit overdue, but better late than non-existant; 2013 was simply too good a year for movies to let my annual post about them pass by due to my recent laziness and lack of attention to this blog.

Remember, I'm talking about movies, not necessarily films.  Can't remember the difference?  I've spelled it out many a time over the years, the first few paragraphs here are your primer.

Also, disclaimer number 2 - I don't get out too much these days, so I haven't seen a great number of movies like I used to back in the day when I was single.  This is a limited sampling of the year, no doubt.  Also, as I have a kid, my selections are top heavy with family movies.  Thankfully we live in an age of great family entertainment.  On the more grown up tip, I still really want to see World War Z, 42 and Elysium, despite the latter's apparent political idiocy.  I also can't believe I haven't seen Bad Grandpa - no doubt that will rocket to the top of my favorites when I do finally Netflix it.

Before I get to my top ten - here are the runner-ups; there were a lot of them.

Thor 2
Lots of fun, even more-so than the first one.  Took my 9 year old and wife, they both dug it.  Eager to see it again.

Despicable Me 2
Not as fresh as the first, but still a good time and beautifully animated.

Monsters University
Many saw this as an unnecessary rehash.  I enjoyed it, recognizing that it really wasn't something I was dying to see - but understanding that the Pixar wizards still did a remarkable job with such a thin premise.

Captain Phillips
This one almost cracked my top ten - but it encroaches heavily into film territory, and art film territory at that, rather than a straight ahead jingoistic treatise that I would have preferred.  Still, Hanks is a remarkable everyman, and his Somali co-stars are a revelation in truth.  The shaky cam is fairly tortuous, but highly motivated.

Oz the Great and Powerful
I am able to set aside the legacy of the MGM Oz movie and see this fun romp for what it is, a fun romp by Sam Raimi.  The consensus on this one is that Franco is miscast, I would disagree and say he does pretty well as a smarmy and somewhat likable charlatan who gets through his origin story with enough deft aplomb to sustain our interest.  Love the production design, not hung up on the overuse of CGI.  My kid really enjoys it too, so that speaks to something I suppose.

Star Trek: Into Darkness
A blast of a movie - a bit of a come down from the stellar 2009 reboot, but still a rollicking adventure. Ignore that Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be Kahn (and that awful Spock scream) and everything else works just fine. Here's hoping they really take off in the next installment; I'm looking forward to seeing them finally go where no one has gone before.

The Croods
Yet another great animated movie.  There are just so many of them these days.  This is the one that my kid likes the most, so I have to put it here.  What really makes it soar is it's devotion to the value of family as a unit of love; lots to look at and enjoy, it really holds up to repeated viewings - which of course, with a 9 year old in 2014, is how movies are most often viewed.

The Wolverine
After the forgettable first Wolverine movie, this one was a delightfully fun surprise of comic book grit and creativity.  A stunning train sequence highlights this "Logan comes of age" flick.  Did we really need it?  Not especially, but I'm glad I went along for the ride.  It will likely end up sitting on the shelf next to my other X-Men blu rays.

Pacific Rim
Another one that could have easily cracked my top ten - I just love this movie.  It harkens a bit back to Starship Troopers - minus the hyper-violence.  Cheesy dialogue and mostly wooden acting, save the indomitable Idris Elba and the scenery chewing Ron Perlman, are rescued by the deft directorial touches of Guillermo Del Torro who finally delivers on his potential.  This is the ultimate man-in-a-rubber suit spectacle, though nearly entirely CGI, it has more than enough visceral thrills to merit repeat viewings.

Okay - just want to pause here for a second to bring up a movie watching truism - If you have super low expectations, you are bound to be pleasantly surprised.  The next two flicks on my runner-up list were blasted by critics and bombed with audiences; and make no mistake, they are both problematic movies.  But, they are also both full of cool stuff and they both also have plenty of fun moments.  I am happy to recommend both of them, provided you go in thinking that they are going to be total crap.

Jack the Giant Slayer
Zero expectations for this one - pleasantly surprised to find a highly watchable fairytale romp with lots of spectacular set pieces and mountains of creative designs and creatures.  Yes, it could've used a dialogue polish, or two or three, but that said - you could do a lot worse than this fantasy tale.  In fact, we have.  Dragonheart, Lady Hawke, Legend and so on, are all beloved, yet not as well crafted or told as this Brian Singer directed movie.

The Lone Ranger
Hey, it has problems.  It is too long, and the title character is woefully underdeveloped and underplayed by the bland Armie Hammer.  However, The Lone Ranger is a spectacular looking and at times spectacular feeling western that I was pleasantly bowled over by when I saw it on a whim on a Disney cruise.  People forget that Verbinski is a true auteur film maker, and he plays a lot with deeper themes in a visual way, much like Tim Burton, and often what he is getting at is lost by critics and less attentive moviegoers.  I get what he does and I dig it.  This one, believe it or not, is a purchase.

And so those are the ones that didn't make the cut, many of which would make it into my top 10 any other year.  So here we go.

10.   The Wolf of Wall Street
So many people hated this one, I kind of expected to as well, but I have to say - I was thoroughly entertained and never bored despite it's 3 hour running time. (Take notice "American Hustle")  Over the years I have been mystified by people's slavish devotion to Scorcese as a film maker - "Goodfellas" is regularly hailed as one of the greatest movies ever, and I have to say; it's pretty good, but Greatest of All Times?  Meh.  It sure is violent and at times gratuitously so.  This is okay, but I would never hail it or "Casino" (which I think is a better movie) as "wonderful" or "amazing".  They are crisply directed and brutally staged operas of violence - which are mostly over the top enough not to really bother me. (That scene in the cornfield in "Casino" is really rough though....)

Anyways, I'm meandering a bit - but my point is, the outrage that you would think people would have over Marty's gangster movies and their violence apparently was saved up for this rather ludicrous portrayal of a stock trader who has no conscience and and overindulges in sex and drugs.  People, liberals especially I should say, have a deep and seething hatred for Leo's character and the outlandish and non-judgmental portrayal of his excesses.  I personally think this movie is fucking hilarious and very entertaining.  Which are two big qualities I look for in movies.

The shock and indignation of people over the absurdities portrayed in Wolf of Wall Street, these same people who blithely enjoy Joe Pesci putting a guys head in a vice and tightening it until an eyeball flies out, have got their priorities of outrage all mixed up.  Jonah Hill is hilarious, Leo DiCaprio is great and this movie is fierce and outrageous.  I loved it.  And I recognize that life isn't fair and people in fact don't always get their comeuppance - at least not on this earth.  I know truly, that while the real life wolf may think he got away with "living the dream" he has a lot to answer for and absolutely will in the face of his maker.  Gosh I am so glad I am at peace with my faith and my God - saves me a lot of anxious anger at silly things.  And this movie above all is silly - how anyone can look at it and see any kind of truth is baffling to me.

9.   Man of Steel
Speaking of God - this is probably the most obvious tribute to our father in the movies this year.  I absolutely love this classic tale, redone for the 21st century game.  The Reeve movies, and to a lesser extent the Brian Singer tribute, were good for their time; but this is Supes done up right for the new millennium.   Snyder delivers outstanding action set-pieces and a surprisingly deep story with lots of biblical and spiritual themes to chew on.  Love the ending with Zod - and again, my God given clarity of conscience and thought makes this one easy.  Can't wait for the sequel, though part of me wishes they would incorporate Nolan's bat instead of an entirely new one; never mind that it's Daredevil.

8.  Rush
Oh hells yes.  Didn't know I could ever be so fascinated by race car driving, which traditionally I've found about as exciting as soccer.  Apologies of course to my friends who enjoy 90 minutes of not scoring.  Ron Howard brings an amazingly mature and assured hand to weaving the perfect rivalry film - yes, it is a film; but because it's Howard it is grounded in what makes movies great.  Action, a bit of sex that's actually sexy, and two superb performances by actors who inhabit the souls of the real life people they portray.  A fascinating ride that's also a lot of fun, both as a beautiful period piece and an exploration of a different day and age.

7.  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Much lighter and frothier than the Lord of the Rings saga, still, this journey for me is one well worth taking.  Loved the action and pace, the great production design and VFX; thankfully the story and characters are just good enough to draw me in and hold my interest.  Can't wait for the conclusion.

6.  Catching Fire
Woot woot - the second installment of this surprisingly watchable tale, adapted from the mega-best selling young adult book series, is even better than the first.  With quite a bit more of a modest budget than many of the bigger franchises out there, the writers and director manage to envelope us into a grim dystopian future and still keep us hopeful for our heroine.

5.  Saving Mr. Banks
Much like last years "Flight" - this one is tough to watch for someone who has had alcoholics in their life.  The sequences with Thompson and Hanks are wonderfully sentimental - but the flashbacks are difficult to get through.  Thankfully, the filmmakers manage to bridge the disconnect very well in the end, and provide a satisfying story of hope over disfunction, even a disfunction which never completely recedes.  The real life story of P.L. Travers is quite a bit darker than what is portrayed here, but if I wanted to watch a documentary instead I wouldn't be as big of a movie fan that I am.

4. Frozen
A GREAT Disney movie.  Like "Tangled" - the Disney animation studios have outdone their Pixar brethren again, by a lot.  There's so much to love here, great animation, story, songs and a healthy dose of humor that makes these things so much fun for parents and kids to enjoy together.  Olaf is a revelation - I thought after watching the teaser that he would be lame.  Come to find out, he rocks.  And speaking of rocks - the trolls are great as well.  Lots to savor, not the least of which is the unconventional act of true love that comes to fruition at the movie's end.  A classic for the ages.

3.  Iron Man 3
Simply a great superhero movie.  A fantastic redemption from the uneven Iron Man 2 - this one has a great script and director from Shane Black, a very talented filmmaker in the mold of Tarentino, who is an expert at taking old tropes and making them fresh.  Love the action, love the humor, love Gwyneth Paltrow- and that my friends, is a miracle in movie making.

2. Lone Survivor
The only real film on this list, with the possible exception of "Rush" - this is yet another great military movie.  Like Zero Dark Thirty, my number one movie last year, this one does the troops right and shows it all, the good and the bad, simply the truth - and we are all better for it.  Not easy to watch at times, graphic and unflinching, "Lone Survivor" is in the end a fitting tribute to the courage and sacrifice that our soldiers have made for us in staving off the forces of evil.

1.  Gravity
A game changing movie from one of my favorite directors - Gravity has it all; action, suspense, darkness and hope, all wrapped up in a powerful 90 minute package of mind blowing VFX and a surprisingly potent spiritual component.  With groundbreaking camera techniques and masterful editing, this movie is truly unlike anything you've seen before, and I cannot speak highly enough about it - both from a technical and emotional perspective.  If you haven't seen it - run, don't walk, to your nearest Imax facility before it goes away.  If you do miss it - you can come to my house and watch it on my 55" television from 3 feet away.


Well that's it for the movies in 2013 - overall I have to say there were a lot more movies I loved than movies I didn't .  The one big disappointment for me was "American Hustle" which seemed to be a very unfunny "comedy" that was actually a dour Martin Scorcese-light.  The acting was good, especially Amy Adams who had a much more difficult role than Jenny Lawrence, but overall I just wanted to get away from these people - they were not only unlikable, but not interesting enough to get past that.

As for "12 Years a Slave" - I do want to see it, but I will be fully aware that I'm watching a film, not a movie - as it certainly doesn't look to be entertaining whatsoever.  Ah well.

2014 in movies is already off too an amazing start, as "The Lego Movie" is already firmly ensconced in my top spot!  Here's hoping that something even more amazing will come along to usurp it.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

More of this, less of that...

Happy New Year to one and all.  2013 was fair enough, but there are certain things I want less of.

First and foremost, I want less outrage.  From everyone.  If 2012 was the emergence of perpetual outrage, 2013 was that anger coming fully into fruition.  In 2014, I refuse to be outraged.

In tandem with less outrage, I expect far fewer shrill accusations and labels. There were far too many vicious attacks this year - from all manner of idiots on both sides of the aisle, though admittedly from this right of center fellow's perspective, it always seems that the left has nearly cornered the market on most of the most outrageous smears.

Back in twenty aught eight, when Barry ascended the throne - I half joked among my liberal buddies that they couldn't call "racist" every 10 seconds anymore now that a good majority of voting citizens had put a black man in office.  But now, as the "r" word has been used to death in 2013 beyond all decorum or sense of reason, I am no longer joking.

As far as I'm concerned, the terms "racist" and "racism" have lost all meaning in any actual discussion.  Much as any "Hitler" comparison that you draw to your political opponent means that you are lazy and have lost the argument, this now also applies to any and all accusations of racism.  I don't want to hear the word, because it's been sucked dry and thoroughly used up by the hysterical left.

So that's what I want less of.  As for what I want more of - I only ask for one thing.

More shame.

I want more shame.  Less shamelessness.

From Miley, to Wiener to the crack smoking mayor of Toronto, I have absolutely had it with all these dick holes who think it's okay to be walking trainwrecks.  Lance Armstrong - you are a disgrace.  Dennis Rodman - North Korea is evil, the government kills tens of thousands every year.

All of you, yes Kim and Kanye, and I'm including you too, all you "Real Housewives" out there - find some shame.


I also want more hope and less hopelessness.  More humility and less hubris.  You know, the usual stuff.  Thankfully, the optimist in me truly believes this will be the way it is.  I am forever upbeat about the future - as my life has been so amazing and fantastic so far, I can't help but feel this way.

God bless us, every one.