Wednesday, December 02, 2015


It's been a minute since last I wrote here - so let me opine.

Last month I had my annual physical, which, truth be told has never really been annual.  My doctor was surprised to see that it had been in fact five years ago, when I turned forty, that I had last paid him a visit.

There was lots of good news, I'm lucid, mobile and feeling pretty great overall.

Some fair to middling news, I strained my shoulder so I need therapy and I have a weird rash on my face that anti-biotic cream now seems to be helping.

And of course a modicum of bad - namely my weight.  I have struggled mightily over the years, and seen it fluctuate from a height of 240 in 2008 down to 160 only 2 years later (thanks to Jenny Craig), then back up to 255 by this year, after I couldn't take diet food anymore.  255 is where I was when I visited the doctors office.

My doctor was frankly astonished when he looked at the chart and saw how heavy I was, he had first looked at me and didn't seem too concerned - I don't look quite as heavy as I actually am.  So we talked about solutions. I confessed it has been a long struggle for me; I am a man who loves food, especially the processed kind, the garbage that is engineered to taste incredible and stoke desire for more and more.

The good doctor suggested I might try a new medication, just 6 months on the market, that had shown great results for reducing appetite and cravings.  Best of all, it didn't appear to have any effect on the cardiovascular system and/or heart, unlike some other notorious appetite suppressants of the past.  I was ready to try anything at this point, so he wrote me a prescription and I planned to pick it up.

A couple days later, I hadn't done so because it wasn't covered on my insurance and was a bit expensive, but my lab results came back and the doctors office called me to tell me that my blood sugar was a bit high and my vitamin D was low.  Vitamin D, no problem, just pop a couple gummies every morning.  High blood sugar?  Crap.  I must be pre-diabetic.  Immediately I lost all desire for sweets and picked up my meds right away. (Thankfully I had a coupon which helped bring the price down.)

Almost 3 weeks later I'm happy to report that the pills work very, very well.  Almost too well.  I can have a small plate of food and I feel almost uncomfortably full.  When meal time rolls around, I might forget if not for the clock or my wife bringing it up.  I am cautiously optimistic about this, as the potential for lasting weight loss seems to be very real at this point.  Getting motivated to exercise is the other part of the equation, but with this first half apparently taken care of, I hope to focus more on getting active on a more regular basis.

As it turns out, my 'high blood sugar' was actually my triglycerides, which is part of the blood sugar thing, but it was only a single point above normal.  Thankfully though, with my resolve and now this medication working, I haven't had a single sweet of any kind (cookie, cake, chewy granola bar, pudding, anything) since my doctor's visit, and they are all freely available at my house and my work.  I'd say, for the first time ever, I truly don't have any desire for dessert, which is pretty crazy.

I also noted, that the big possible side effect, aside from the usual litany of headaches, dizziness, constipation, etc. that accompany almost any medication (none of which I've had) is suicidal thoughts.  Reading more about the medication, I learned that it doesn't work on the body per say, it works on the brain.  Kind of trippy.  Thankfully, I am still a very happy person and haven't had a whiff of depression or daydreams about doing myself in.

After telling my brother about this medicine (in case you didn't know, he and his wife are both psychiatrists - medical doctors who routinely prescribe this kind of thing) I learned a heck of a lot more.

He told me that the medication, which is called Contrave, is a combination of bupropion, which is an anti-depressant, and naltrexone - a drug that is often used in Europe to treat alcoholics and their cravings.  Side note - alcoholism is treated differently over there.  Here in America, we encourage the idea of going 'cold turkey' on alcohol.  In Europe they say to pop a bupropion before having a glass of wine.  Apparently it works fairly well.

Well all I can say, is this cocktail has worked very well on me as far as the food thing.  I do get hungry if it's been awhile, and food still tastes amazing (though so far these 3 weeks I haven't had any fast food) but like I said, after a small plateful I am very full and completely disinterested in having more.

But it also appears that this drug goes even further.  Thankfully, it seems to be all positive developments.

I have a litany of other vices, some bigger than others - and this medication it seems has reduced them all.

First and foremost in my life is poker.  I have always maintained that it is just a fun hobby that I enjoy a lot.  Truthfully, if I am being honest with myself, over the past five years or so - the game has really become a bit more of an obsession than I would like.  Every opportunity that arises for me to play, I take it without hesitation.  If my wife and kid are at a Girl Scout meeting, I am on my way to the casino, 45 minutes away.  I lay awake at night thinking about when and where my next session will be.

I crave the action, the buzz I get from dragging a pot and stacking chips.  Poker for me is like a really fantastic cheeseburger - it is an intense high, fueled by making moves on my opponent and getting them to lay down a stronger hand or pay me off when I have a monster.

I'm assuming it's the medicine, but my white hot lust for this great game has finally, finally cooled off a bit.  Actually more than a bit.  I cannot remember the last time in my life that I had literally zero interest in driving to Inglewood or Commerce to play in a tournament.

This is a good thing.  A very good thing.

Cashing is great, bluffing is great, but these places are not that nice, and can be rather unpleasant, and they are far away from my family.  I've always put up with the smelly degenerates around me, because, turns out, I was one of them - and my quest for a tournament cash could never be sated.

Now, don't get me wrong, I imagine I'll still play every now and again, in my mind somewhere I still love poker, it is truly magnificent.  But right now I have no burning urge to go to the card clubs, and my plans that I had made only a month prior to kick up my home game into high gear by playing nearly every week - now seem rather absurd to me.

This, more than anything, is a bit of a shock to me - that I could be so altered as to be able to recognize for the first time in awhile, that this game, as rewarding as it can be at times, is nowhere near what matters most - which is being a good husband and father and spending as much time with my wife and child as I can.

For this revelation, I am very grateful.

I have two other things in my life that have also changed.

First - you probably know by reading this blog and if you are my Facebook friend, I dig a good political fight.  Well I guess I must have been getting a buzz off of that too, because right now - as crazy as the world is with acts of terrorism and college students trading out their universities for daycare centers, I have very, very, very, little desire to get into it with liberals over issues that I know I won't be able to change their minds on.  I have too many friends and family who I love and are far to the left of me - it seems the height of futility and yes, arrogance, to think that they will come around to my point of view.

As of starting Contrave, I have posted exactly ZERO political articles on Facebook in nearly 3 weeks.  That, is a minor miracle.

The second thing, and this is very personal, so personal I don't want to get into details at all, but I haven't watched any porn since I started these meds.  I still have a healthy libido, but again, I don't crave that buzz - the same buzz I get from poker, food, politics, as severely, and I hope my disinterest continues.

Anyways - I didn't mean for this post to come off as an endorsement for mind altering medication - I have long been suspicious of people who are 'medicated' and never thought I was a candidate for being on 'meds'.

But it turns out, the foibles in my life, poker, food, politics, sex and others, were all kind of driven by the same addictive behavior; and now for the first time in a long time, they have been reigned in.

I truly feel very happy with my life now, though I have been happy my whole life prior as well.   As I said, I'm cautiously optimistic that this next chapter will continue this new pattern of moving away from potentially self-destructive behavior and moving towards healthier means of expression and emotional connections with those I love.

I plan on relying heavily on my faith as well, to help me maintain this positive turn in behavior.

We will see.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Just stick to emotions and you'll go far...

So this last week a story broke of an undercover video revealing that Planned Parenthood is indeed the home of horrific abortion mill butchers who callously deal in a baby chop shop of blood and money.

Then a second video emerged, of an old biddy joking about buying Lamborghini's with the profits from organs.  And then yet another video came out, this one with pie plates full of baby body parts.

Disgusting, reprehensible and enough to send shockwaves across the country and make even the most ardent pro-choice people take a second look at the industry of "reproductive health".

There is so much to absorb with this story - one of the biggest things that gets to me is the fact that this company has fought against the right of women to use ultra-sound technology to make an informed decision and then turns around and uses that same technology to manipulate and extract a fetus so that it's most financially valuable organs can remain intact.

It's an utterly abhorrent story.  This is it  - now we have to wake up and pay attention, right?


As almost as if right on cue, here comes Cecil the lion.  Look, bright shiny thing over here!

Yes, yes, we all know that Planned Parenthood is doling out the parts of butchered babies for cash - BUT LOOK AT THAT LION!  LOOK AT THE UTTER BARBARITY.  DEAD LION PEOPLE!

Let's track down the hunter and DESTROY HIS LIFE.

Now this story is the lead on the New York Times.  Now this story is running everywhere, all the time.


Look, I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of trophy hunting.  But let me back up and give some info on where I am coming from before I bring down the hammer of truth.

I was a camera operator for two seasons on ESPN's American Hunter, and in my time there I learned a lot about hunting and hunters.  The first thing I discovered was that hunters are the largest group of supporters of wildlife conservation.  By a lot.

The show promoted this fact and thankfully it also promoted the sustenance type of hunting, every episode always concluded with a cooking segment on the game that had been brought down.

But inevitably I crossed paths with hunters who enjoyed killing animals for the sheer sport of it, and in turn collecting parts to add to their decor.

I can't say that I found much to admire about this passion - and I still find it mostly reprehensible.  Mostly.

The one redeeming thing about this activity, I learned a few years later when I traveled to Africa to shoot (as a camera operator) for a wildlife show, is that trophy hunting was and presumably still is, the number one source of income for the preservation of animals in southern Africa.

Simply put - a single trophy hunt by a lone hunter can yield more money that an entire photographic Safari camp full of tourists can pull down in a month or even longer.

This inescapable economic fact, and the naked truth that wildlife would simply not exist in most parts of Africa were it not for trophy hunters -  falls on deaf ears now more than ever in the age of outrage.

This particular Cecil hunt it seems, was shady and full of shenanigans - the trophy hunters I encountered would be appalled to know that a collared research animal was brought down after being baited out of a national park.  This is not how things normally go down by any means, but I am not surprised it happened in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe, under the ruthless dictator Mugabe, has an 80% unemployment rate, a poverty rate of at least that much and suffers under a ruthless and systematic campaign of human rights violations.  It's government is entirely corrupt - and I find it a bit absurd how now, that the story has gone viral, government officials are righteously clamoring for the dentist to return to face poaching charges.

Despite Zimbabwe's problems, it is my understanding that trophy hunting there is usually legal and above board, and the killing and the collecting of parts to display later, goes on not only there but throughout sub-saharan Africa at large, all the time.

And as revolting as I find it on a personal level, having been in awe in the presence of wild lions, tigers and bears, in my life - I also am grateful in the end that trophy hunting does happen, so that the revenue it generates can mostly go to the preservation and protection of the animals that otherwise would quickly meet extinction.

In short - no money, no animals.  Period.

A guide I worked with in Kruger put it succinctly - I'm paraphrasing - 'If an animal cannot generate revenue, it will not exist.'

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in Africa, not just as a tourist but working for months at a time as I have - will understand this plain truth.  Poverty is not as it is in the United States - where most people who deal with it are not actually in it, but rather trying to temper it within a political arena of ideas that often end up exacerbating it.

Poverty in Africa is a very real, direct and often violent threat to existence for the people who are in it, which unlike the US, is the majority of the population.  Without tourism, and very importantly without exorbitant trophy fees, the beast that is real poverty threatens to overrun and consume the people who live in the shadow of it's specter.

But by all means, carry on with the outrage from your laptop.  Call for violence.  Print out this man's home address.  Actually track down this dentist and string him up, as PETA has demanded.

That way you don't have to think about stories of any real significance or consequence or bother dealing with real evil.

Babies can go right on being butchered, and in the end big and rare animals will still be killed and butchered as well so that Kruger national park and other amazing places can continue to exist.

But which slaughtering is more abhorrent, and which should be getting the most attention from the media and from your social media feed?

Oh yeah, the animals of course.  BECAUSE LOOK AT THAT LION OH MY GOD!!!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Regarding race...

Recently I had an exchange with a mutual friend on Facebook over issues of race.  Here is her latest question and my response.

It's interesting to me that you used the term "privileged" since much of my recent discussions on the subject of racism has been about acknowledging white privilege and trying to convince white people that our responsibility is to recognize our advantages and use whatever power and advantage we have to speak out against oppression. What sanctimonious lecturing are you hearing? Do you think black people, in particular, are treated the same way as white people? If not, what would you like to see happen, ideally?

I understand if you're just tired and don't want to respond, but I hope you will.

I've given some thought to your queries, and I'm afraid I can't get too much into the weeds over this, but I think my biggest problem with white liberals regarding race issues is that they tend to speak with such righteousness and authority - when they really have no clue about what it is to grow up black in this country.  

Obviously I don’t either, but I would never presume to tell someone, no matter their color, to ‘check their privilege’ .   I think such a statement is supremely arrogant and also disingenuous in that it comes almost always comes entirely from privileged white people.  

In other words, the relentless, humorless and accusatory path taken most often by people on your side of the political spectrum, does way more harm than good in bringing people together.  Our country is more divided now than ever, under a black democratic president, but I don’t hold our president entirely responsible, I mostly blame the white elitist dogma that he subscribes to.  Micro-aggressions and trigger warnings and all this other bullshit do nothing but piss people off on both sides of the aisle.  When someone says, ‘check your privilege’ they are really saying ‘agree with me or shut up.’  

Well sorry, I’m not on board with that.  I have no idea what it is to be black, but I don’t want to hear one word from a white person regarding this.  I’ll stick with actual black people and not necessarily race baiting extortionist shysters like Al Sharpton.  I throw my hat in with conservative black intellectuals like Clarence Thomas, Larry Elder or Senator Tim Scott, because - I’m a conservative and independent thinker and these men are as well.  

But beyond that, these guys actually walk the walk.  They are not only actually black but all three of these men grew up poor.  Thomas was the great grandchild of a slave and didn’t have running water in his house until he was 7 years old.   Elder grew up in Compton, dodging bullets on the way to school.  Scott’s single mother worked 16 hour days to support her family in the working class poverty neighborhood of Charleston.    These men grew to greatness through hard work, the grace of God, and the opportunities provided to them by the greatest country on earth; never blaming others for the obstacles in their way, including actual racism on a regular basis.

The utter lack of respect and humility from the left regarding men like this, who happen to believe in free market capitalism, the right to bear arms and the American dream; is what pushes me away from listening to liberals about race.   I don’t want to hear how Clarence Thomas is an ‘uncle Tom’ or how Senator Scott betrayed his race - especially from porridge brained white college students who haven’t done anything or been anywhere.  I recognize that there are also liberals who despite lots of real world experience, still cling to the infantile notions of utopianism and the idea that poor people can’t help themselves without the government.   That’s not me.

In my 20’s and 30’s I traveled all over the world in my work with NGO’s, and I have been to dozens of third world countries and been knee deep in actual poverty - seen with my own eyes starving children and their desperate mothers.  I can’t come back to the United States and condemn the only economic system that actually works to bring people out of poverty.  I also have a hard time sympathizing with iPhone using activists who want to tear down capitalism and punish those who have been successful at it.   

I hope this illuminates my perspective a bit, you may of course disagree - goodness knows most of my friends and family do; but this is where I’m coming from.  Thankfully I don’t believe that my politics are my identity, and that there’s a lot more to life than who or what I vote for.  I can have strong opinions about which means to an end will work best, but the end that I want is the same as most Americans, liberal or conservative.  Peace and prosperity for my kid and her kids.

I’d be happy to hear more about you and your experiences and feel free to lay on the lib-speak, though I should let you know that growing up in Berkeley I’ve pretty much heard it all.  Yes, I’m pretty much set in my ways, and I try to remember that most other people are as well - sometimes I forget and share inflammatory posts from Matt, but hey, I’m only human.  :)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dropping the BOMB.

I have never been one to swear too much on this blog, you may have noticed that in the last two years or so there has been an uptick, that's because my dad and grandmother are gone and no longer read, so I am less concerned about offending anyone.

I feel it's important to drop the occasional f-bomb here because I want this blog to be entirely accurate on how I feel - unfiltered.  I temper myself on Facebook quite a bit, and I think it's fair that I have a place where I can let loose a bit.  So if your ears are sensitive, this might not be the post for you.

You may not believe it, but overall I am actually not a giant fan of profanity.  However, I find it does on occasion find a useful purpose.  Lately the pressure cooker in my brain has been building, so in the interests of my own sanity and to blow off some steam so to speak, here, in no particular order here are the latest people and things that I think can utterly and sincerely FUCK RIGHT OFF.

Micro-aggressions and trigger warnings.

Anti-plastic bag ordinances.

People who say "I'm normally for free speech, but..."

Bullet trains to nowhere.

People who say "Faux News" instead of Fox News.

The college student with the mattress.

The $15 minimum wage.

Those who think hate speech should be a crime.

The Baltimore DA.

Obama's speech to the Coast Guard last week.

Firefighter cadets who can't pass their physical tests but graduate anyway.

Donald Trump.

The Delta Smelt.

Lena and Janeane.

The California legislature.

People who complain about too many super hero movies.

Hands Up, Don't Shoot

And so on and so on and so on.  Really, this is a grumpy old man post in so many ways.  I, for the first time in my life, feel truly disconnected with the younger generation; they seem very entitled and are far more concerned with 'feelings' and 'fairness' rather than logic and liberty.

Particularly irksome is the seemingly never ending stream of stories about the lunacy on college campuses.  This preoccupation the left has with creating 'safe spaces' free of discourse or original thought has chilled free speech beyond what we could ever imagine, turning what is supposed to be places of learning and growing into cocoons of infantilism and regression.

It puts me in a strange place because my kid, though she's only 11, will some day probably go to college.  I have long ago promised myself that I wouldn't overtly inflict my political views on her, I much rather she make up her own mind on all the issues as she gets older and gains a greater understanding of the world around her.

But I fear that when she goes to college the deck may be severely stacked against her when it comes to independent thought.  These by and large are no longer institutions of learning but rather indoctrination.  Where instead of being challenged to 'question authority', young minds are now encouraged to 'check their privilege'.   It is a disturbing mentality that pervades our universities, and personally I find it frightening and disgusting.

So, I'm afraid I have to renege a bit on my ideal idea of not getting my own politics tangled up in hers too early.  I simply cannot wait for her to be brainwashed by her teachers, even in middle and high school.

True story; her fourth grade teacher taught his students a historic quote every week.  It was all fine and dandy until Nat brought home a quote from Al Gore.  Then daddy had to step in and offer up a quote of his own... from the original environmentalist, Teddy Roosevelt.

"The pacifist is surely a traitor to his country and to humanity as is the most brutal wrong doer."

How do you like them apples teach?

And so it is, that I will continue to insert myself into my kids schooling as often as I can, and to offer a counter point whenever I encounter lazy thinking.  You see, it's not so much the liberal ideology I mind, what I really can't stomach is the presumption, the arrogance, the laziness and lack of critical thinking that is bound to pop up more and more as my daughter's education continues.

I will be right there to counter balance, to offer a different perspective, to get my kid to actually challenge presumptions and yes, respectfully question authority.

Above all, I hope and pray that even if she comes out seeing things differently than I, it won't be for lack of thought or effort.  I hope she gets to travel as I have, so that she can appreciate what we have here and understand that it's easy to be flip and dismissive when you have no concept of what the world is really like.

Anyways, looks like I got a bit off track - I've been a bit consumed with despair and anger over the younger generation's utter lack of thoughtfulness when it comes to the world at large.  Glad I could find my bearings through my kid, she really is the best thing I've ever done and she is turning out so awesome.  Super smart and utterly capable of dealing with all the nonsense out there.  I have to remember, when I get down, that there is hope in the next generation.  Even if it is only just my kid, at least there will be someone who gets it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Movies 2014

Finally getting around to this - there's still a lot of movies that I want to see, but I have to just go for it at some point.

And here's my usual disclaimers -

I'm a big fan of movies, less so of films.  Confused?  Don't be - read the first two paragraphs of this.

Also, I don't get out much.

All caught up?  Good.  Here we go.

First off, the runners up - in no particular order, movies I enjoyed and would recommend.

Big Hero 6
Utterly charming and inventive.  Another winner from Disney Animation.  Loved discovering a new world with new characters, and plenty of heart to go with it.  A must watch again.

Great stop motion animation that I enjoyed more than this studios past two efforts of 'Coraline' and 'Para-Norman'.   Especially I love the villain, whose predicament I won't spoil, but suffice it to say it is a most ingeniously devised paradox that motivates his 'evil' doings.   Be sure to watch the credits, probably the best tag I've ever seen.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
The first one is one of my all time favorite movies ever, so this one couldn't possibly hope to reach it's heights - and indeed, it didn't.  Still, I was surprised at how good it was.  Structurally, it has problems - most notably is the ham-handed way it brings in Hiccup's mom.  That and the fact that they revealed this in all the trailers and ads, which is ABSOLUTELY inexcusable.  This blunder means that this sequel isn't as powerful as it should have been.  I also had issues with Stoic's departure, again - it just seemed clumsy although it was heartfelt and worked to the extent that we are already invested in these characters from the first film.

Pretty derivative of the Hunger Games, which in turn is derivative of a ton of dystopian future stories - but Divergent also stands on it's own as an engaging and at times emotionally resonant comment on the human psyche and the ideal of human sovereignty. Plus the lead actress is hot.

This is by far the best iteration of this story I've ever seen - and though it lags in the middle considerably, I'm still glad I got to see this on the big screen.  Not nearly enough of the big green guy on camera leaves us wanting more, and that's not an entirely bad thing.  I really wish though, that the rest of the film were as powerful as the opening sequence with Brian Cranston and his wife.

Amazing Spider-Man 2
Yet another example of too little too late to be hailed as a great super hero movie.  The Disney MCU movies are simply too strong.   This one has all the earmarks of a classic, yet we still can't shake that feeling that we've seen all of this before and seen it done better.  But there are parts of this story that do absolutely soar.  I am probably the only one who really liked Jamie Foxx's Electro.  I also really enjoyed the Parker/Gwen Stacy romance quite a bit, and though the culmination of the arc is badly rushed, the aftermath is the best part of the movie.  I also freely admit, I got pretty choked up with that little kid at the end.

I did not expect to enjoy this one as much as I did.  I dug it so much that I actually watched it twice.  I love historically accurate WWII movies, and I especially appreciated this one's tribute to the human spirit.  After watching the movie I read quite a bit about the protagonist, and then found myself wishing that they had showed us the second half of this remarkable man's life.   I could have easily gone for the rest of his amazing journey.

We finally got around to seeing this, and I must say my incredibly low expectations helped me enjoy this quite a bit.  It takes a while to get there, but the ending really does pay off and is very powerful on an emotional and spiritual level.  I felt it was well worth my time.  Others, especially more literal minded Bible folks and those who have a problem with the director being an atheist, may be slower to find inspiration here.

Edge of Tomorrow
Despite this reminding me very much of two other movies I love, Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers, I still had a blast with this one.  Very dense movie and whip smart in it's story construction and character development - even though the only characters of any depth are Cruise and Blunt.

Dumb and Dumber To
Honestly I get a good laugh from all the pompous critics and nerd naysayers who poo-poohed this very worthy follow up, 20 years later.  I mean really, people act like the original is some amazing work of art and this sequel pales in comparison.  Um, it's 'Dumb and Dumber' people, Shakespeare it ain't.  My 10 year old girl and I had a great time with this one, both of us at one time or another were in fits with tears of laughter streaming down our cheeks.  It's brash, it's bold, it's stupid.  It's extremely funny and more than a little bit subversive.

Transformers: Age of Exhaustion
This one is a lot of fun, but it is also a big bloated mess.  Interesting to me is how Michael Bay, who is a true film auteur in every sense of the word, cast this latest installment with big name Chinese actors in small roles and parlayed the movie into a billion dollar earning behemoth. A very sharp and many would say very cynical way to make a movie.  I still got a kick out of it - even though there were plenty of parts that dragged and in the end the movie feels like every bit of it's overlong running time.

I also enjoyed Grand Budapest Hotel, it was probably the least irritating Wes Anderson movie I've ever seen.  Also, also, I just saw 'Wild' with Reese Whitherspoon and I was shocked to find that I really dug it.  Very moving, despite the lead character being every bit the dummy with her life choices.  Somehow, Reese is so likable that it all works.  I somehow felt sympathy for her foolishness and sinfulness, and reflected on my own as well.

Okay, so here's my top ten movies of 2014.  I still really want to see 'Imitation Game', 'Whiplash' and 'Bird Man' as well as a few others, but at this moment in time, this is what it is.

10. Maleficent
Believe me, no one is more shocked than I am that this movie turned out so well.  Angelena Jolie is just so strong in this role that she elevates the material entire.  A very touching fairy tale and family film that at it's core has real heart ache and hope.  Like the best Disney stuff, this movie explores both the divine and the profane, and with a magnificent production design and serviceable direction, manages to be more than just fluff.

9. Fury
One of two GREAT war movies this year.  There is moral ambiguity in war, even in the 'good' ones, and 'Fury' doesn't shy away from this in the least.  The action set piece is a tank to tank battle that is an amazing technical feat of practical effects, editing and sound manipulation - but the heart of the film is the scene in the apartment with the two young women.  Both enthralling and disquieting in the extreme.

8.  X-Men: Days of Future Past
Hey, I love superhero movies, what can I say.  Brian Singer returns to form and basically fixes everything that was wrong with X3.  Yes, I know he didn't direct that one, but I'm glad he came back and righted the ship with a story that moves fast and is driven by character arcs that are both emotionally resonant and satisfying.  Plus the action kicks ass.  More Quicksilver please!

7. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
This is probably the strongest of the three Hobbit flicks, and not just because some dwarves finally get killed off.  It is leaner and meaner than the previous installments, but it is also (like Return of the King) a payoff for our investment.  All the big action, all the big set pieces, all of the conclusions are here.  Most satisfying is the fabricated character of Tauriel and her doomed love; but Bilbo's story is also fulfilling.  I confess I am a bit mystified by all the hate in Nerdworld that these movies have gotten, very reminiscent of the Star Wars prequel trolls; but whatever.  It's Middle Earth for crying out loud, and I for one am very glad I got to go on the journey.

6, Lucy
An original (enough) story that is R rated and whip smart and stars my favorite Black Widow, what's not to love?  This is classic Besson and highly watchable in the very best tradition of R rated1980's popcorn fun.  Terminator, Road Warrior, Aliens, etc.  Now we have Lucy, and she is rather bad ass.

5. The LEGO Movie
Preposterous is the word that pops into my head when I remember that this movie did NOT get an Oscar nom for best animated feature.  That bullshit aside, The LEGO Movie is a hell of a lot of fun, and carries with it the genius premise that this all emanates from the mind of a child - and really, every aspect of the story does seem to organically flow from such a boundless imagination.

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Loved the first one and love this one just as much.  It's about as grim as it gets for a popcorn movie, but I am fascinated with most well done apocalyptic movies - and this is no exception.  Especially great is the effects work, these are all entirely digital creatures.  It is in fact, mostly an animated movie; but the real power of the film comes from a great story and great actors, even those who are motion captured.  The Blu-Ray has an exhaustive set of documentaries that show just how much of the actors performances are utilized in the final product.  I was shocked to find out that it is nearly all of it.  Can't wait for the next episode.

3. American Sniper
Right up there with 'Zero Dark 30' and 'Lone Survivor' as GREAT war movies about our country's latest conflicts.  Chris Kyle is an American Hero and this movie shows that and more, dealing honestly with his sins as well as his sacrifices.  I'm a bit surprised that the far left has been so vitriolic in it's condemnation of this as a jingoistic snuff film, but most Americans who watch this - no matter their political persuasion, can plainly see that it is not that.  It is simply a brutally honest picture of war and war is ugly.  Granted, the simple truth is that far and away most of the ugliness comes from radical Islam - and that is probably what rankles coo-coo birds like Michael Moore.  They hate America so much, that when the facts of our war on terror are laid bare so effectively, they can't help themselves from lashing out against Kyle and the US Military at large.  Well I say fuck them.

2.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Oh hells yes.  Disney's MCU it seems can do no wrong.  This is a tight and taught spy thriller from the 70's wrapped up in a 2014 package of awesome production design and stunt work with practical and CG effects so seamlessly blended it really is amazing.   There is a lot going on here in a fantastic story structure bursting at the seems with action - but my favorite moments are the quiet ones between Cap and Tasha.  A grown up relationship of respect and care in a comic book movie is a very satisfying thing to behold.  Redford is great.  The Falcon is great.  Everything works.  It is both grounded and fantastical, dire and exhilarating.  CAWS is truly something else, my favorite Marvel movie since the Avengers.  I didn't think it could be topped until...

1. Guardians of the Galaxy
My number one pick is always based on one thing - which of all of these flicks is the one I would have with me on a deserted island and watch over and over again.  This year the choice was easy. GOTG soars like no other.  It's a space opera, it's fun, it's amaze balls.  Love all the characters, especially Drax.    Again, Marvel does the boy girl thing really well - Gamora and Quill's attraction is believable and natural, it doesn't feel forced or rushed at all.  But there's also so much more to love in this movie; I have said it before on Facebook and I'll say it here - this one is this generation's Star Wars, Raiders, take your pick.  This one is one for the ages.

So there it is.  A lot of fun stuff in 2014.  Yes I'm a Marvel movie nerd in the grip of a full fever, but I'm okay with that.  Very much looking forward to Avengers 2 and what lies beyond.  Also can't wait to see Kingsman soon!