Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Blue Like Jazz

"Blue Like Jazz" questions the very notion of what it means to be a Christian. Donald Miller writes about faith with a variety of topics on coming to faith, why to have faith, how Christ can transform, what to do with that faith and how to live a life as a Christian. Other than the last chapter of the book where Miller writes that if Ani Difranco wasn't a lesbian he would marry her, what interested me most was how Miller's perspective on being a Christian did not really come from a sense of organized Christianity as an institution. While he was a Christian and went to church and was even a youth group leader Donald Miller knew that there was something lacking. He believed in his head and he knows that Jesus was God, but he didn't truly believe in his heart. He didn't truly believe with his life. The organization of the church was telling him one thing, but it wasn't quite right for him.

There are several very interesting chapters dealing different aspects of faith that focus on Miller's time at Reed College. Reed is a college that people at his church and other believers declared was extremely immoral and that the college was voted "most likely to not believe in God". That much is true, but it was also a strong intellectual school. When Miller started attending, he met up with some Christians at the school who were essentially an "Underground" group of believers. They talked seriously of what it meant to believe and live for Christ and it was a transformative kind of living, more than just attending church on Sunday it was living as a follower on Monday and Tuesday and every other day. One of Miller's friends believed that feeding the homeless meant more than just giving some money to a homeless shelter, that it really meant to actually go out and feed the homeless, to give them food directly, to sit and talk and share a meal with them. To minister with more than just words and preaching, but by truly loving those whom society does not love. It's a sacrifice that takes a person well out of what they think their comfort zone is. It's a challenge.

The aspect of Miller's time at Reed that I found most fascinating was during the college's weekend party, drunken orgy. It is some sort of festival that most would probably see as one of the more decedent displays anywhere in America. Accepted public nudity, drunkeness, lewdness and this is the norm for that weekend. What Miller and his friends decided to do was set up a Confession Booth in the campus's common area. They expected harassment and perhaps abuse, verbal and physical. Christians are not generally accepted at Reed. But this was a different and revolutionary Confession Booth. The Christians confessed to the Pagans. Donald writes about how they would confess how they were not truly feeding the poor, how he has anger issues and lashes out verbally when he feels threatened and that in general they and many others are not good representations of Christ. And change happened after this. Their activities (feeding the poor, Bible studies for non-believers, etc) gained a measure of respect and more involvement from other students. This isn't to say that the entire school changed, because it didn't, but that a raw Christian faith can find a seed anywhere.

But this raw Christian faith is about truly living a different sort of life, that we as individuals and we as a nation cannot hope to fix the world if we don't see the world differently, that we try to heal ourselves first and that what is wrong with the world isn't the world, it is me and it is you. Saying that hunger and homelessness is a problem isn't enough if we aren't actually trying to do anything about it. If everyone gave $20 a month or whatever to various organizations within America (or worldwide), so many lives could be saved. If everyone stopped the "me first" attitude which is so prevalent and so easily glossed over, there could be radical change. But it comes first from not worrying that the other person isn't changing when we aren't changing, when I'm not changing, because if I change then I'm not worrying that someone else is being selfish...I'm working for change.

But this is a frightening idea because it is easy to be comfortable and just deal with our own issues and we all have issues. To move beyond this is a radical step. It comes from a true change and dedication inside and the daring to move beyond the fear and into the faith.

That's kind of what this whole book is about, but it is also Donald Miller writing about a non-religious but highly spiritual perspective on Christian Faith and that this is so important today. When asked by a radio host to defend Christianity, he couldn't and wouldn't because he didn't know what Christianity and any ten people would have ten different ideas of what Christianity is. But he could talk about Christ and what Christ means to him.

Reminds me of a song by Sara Groves called "Conversations" where near the end of the song where she sings about trying to tell a friend about Jesus and she closes the song with a variation of her chorus "The only thing that isn't meaningless to me is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free. This is all that I have, this is all that I am." This is the root of her belief and is the root of what Miller is trying to say.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Two Mules, Bobby Long

I was able to get in a couple of movies this weekend. The first movie is the Clint Eastwood western "Two Mules for Sister Sara". In this one he teams up with Shirley MacLaine. While this isn't a pairing that immediately comes to mind for Eastwood during his Western Days, it isn't nearly as strange as Eastwood teaming up with a monkey, so it all works out. Here's the set-up: MacLaine is set upon by some bandits and Eastwood happens to come and rescue her. She is initially in a state of undress and Eastwood is his gruff self and plans on just leaving her. But when she gets dressed she is a nun! In full habit nonetheless. Somehow they start to travel together and there are some conflicts and neither can seem to leave the other until the movie ends in a big gun battle with some Mexican soldiers. It's a decent western and entertaining. Eastwood is exactly what you'd expect from him in a western, but MacLaine was spunky and worked very well with Eastwood and it was a good role for her and a good fit for the movie. I liked it!

The second movie is one that netflix had shipped me by mistake. I cancelled last week but I guess "A Love Song for Bobby Long" had already shipped. I made sure I watched it right away so I could send it back. Wasn't sure what I'd think about this movie. John Travolta seems to be hit and miss these days with perhaps a few more misses than hits. I believe I had heard some semi-good things about the movie but it pretty much slipped under the radar except that Scarlett Johansson has been turning in good work, this included.

The basic plot is that Scarlett's mother has just died and when she is told she tries to make it to the funeral in time. She doesn't, but she finds out that her mother has left the house to her and two men. The two men are Travolta, who plays Bobby Long, a former college English professor, and a former student of his. They seem to get by without paying rent and just existing, talking about literature and drinking bad alcohol. When Scarlett begins to live with them things start to change and we see how their relationships evolve and how the student cares for the professor and why Bobby Long seems to be broken and how everyone is broken in some way. "A Love Song for Bobby Long" is less a movie about plot than it is about the characters and how they relate, grow, and learn. Character growth and development. It's one of those movies. Nothing explodes on screen, but their lives seem to be on the verge of explosion. I was surprised by how moving it was and how good everyone is. Johansson, if she can stay away from doing another Michael Bay movie, is turning out to be one of our better young actresses and Travolta can prove from time to time that he's quite good. It's not going to make a "Best Of" list, but it's a decent movie. I'm not mad I watched it. How bout that?

Blood Follows

Steven Erikson's series "The Malazan Book of the Fallen" is widely considered one of today's Great Fantasy Series and he is often listed at or near the top of the list of the best fantasy authors writing today. He's good, but it'll take a few more books until I'm willing to anoint him above a certain George Martin. Thus far only three of his Malazan novels have been published in America and I'm waiting for the third volume, "The Memories of Ice", to come from the library. It's possible that Book 4, "House of Chains", is out, but my library certainly doesn't have it yet. Anyway, along with the primary Malazan series Erikson is also writing a series of novellas set in this same world/universe, but featuring secondary characters which may or may not appear in the main series. As the Malazan books progress we'll see how they tie together or if they even do. "Blood Follows" is the first of these novellas and it is described as being "A Tale of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach".

Who? I don't know, either. Maybe they show up in "The Memories of Ice", but I can't say for sure yet. The story of "Blood Follows" touches up this Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, but the story the novella is telling is two fold. First we have Emancipor Reece, a former coachman for a local merchant who was just killed by this serial killer who has been eviscerating his victims one a night for the past eleven nights. Reece is now out of a job and his wife is commanding that he not come home until he finds one. He does, of course, and it is in the employ of a Bauchelain as his manservant. There is also a sergeant of the city watch who has been ordered by the King to stop the murders and bring the killer to justice. The sergeant is good at his job. Since Reece's last three employers all have ended up dead he is someone the sergeant first talks to, but his investigation also takes him to the foreigners Bauchelain and the so far unseen Korbal Broach.

The novella is only 120 pages or so and Erikson does not have the space to indulge in slowing teasing the reader with little bits of detail across hundreds of pages and "Blood Follows" reads easier than the main Malazan books. It doesn't have the depth of satisfaction or richness as the Malazan books but it does add something to the world, that there is something else going on that may eventually tie in to the main story and how everything may connect. I'm actually looking forward to the novellas as much as I am the novels, if as much because the novellas are less of a time commitment. Finding out more about Bauchelain and Korbal Broach will be interesting and now that Reece has left the city with the two I can only wonder what darkness comes next.


With "Shadowed", author Jerry Jenkins brings to a close the trilogy he began with "Soon" and "Silenced". Jenkins is best known as the co-author of the "Left Behind" series and Jenkins was the writer of that series while Tim LaHaye provided the scriptural background. Here Jenkins is on his own and he tells a story set midway through the 21st Century. Several years from now there will be a World War III and it will be a war based on religion. Out of the ashes of this war will come a worldwide fear and distrust of religion and the new World Government that is created makes as one of its first act of completely banning religion of any kind. The world has lived in relative Godless peace but there are still pockets of underground believers.

"Soon" introduced us to Paul Stepola, a top agent with the National Peace Office and his job is to infiltrate cells of "believers" and arrest them, breaking up the Christians. To better do this he researches and researches and reads the contraband Bible and as he continues to work against the Christians he comes closer and closer to belief until he can no longer deny that there is a God and that Christ is Lord. But Paul still works for the NPO and his new fellow Christians asks if he will work from the inside as a double agent. He agrees. In "Silenced" Paul is working deeper inside and has aroused some suspicion but his "success" in various jobs has protected him even while Believers pray for various large scale miracles which God has delivered. Finally, near the end of "Silenced" the leader of the World Government is issuing a decree that within 60 Days every citizen must sign a statement that they publicly renounce religion. But for a Believer this is Peter denying Christ and they are not willing to do so. Paul knows that this is the end of his status as a double agent when the 60 Days is up and he doesn't sign. The Believers give an ultimatum. If the decree is not rescinded they will pray that God will unleash the 10th Plague of the plagues that inflicted Egypt in the time of Pharoah: The Plague of the First Born. The decree is not rescinded and God unleashes the plague and every first born male on the planet who is not a believer or have a believer as a parent drops dead.

And so we begin "Shadowed". Paul is known to be a first born son and when Paul and his own first born son are still alive he needs to go in hiding. Paul's father in law is also a high ranking NPO official and one who is vehemently anti-religion and is grieving for his own adult son. Paul goes on the run to a underground group of believers and his wife, Jae, also comes to profess faith in Christ.

Since this is written by a Christian author and the Christians are the good guys we know that God will come through and things will change. Nobody on the planet can deny there is a God, but they still do not all worship. This "Incident" as it is called is the last major event of the series, though there is still a little bit of action as the Christians gain more worldwide support.


I finished this book because I started the series and if it is at all readable I want to finish. This book and this series suffers from the same issues that plague (pun intended) the Left Behind series: bad writing. Jenkins can come up with some interesting ideas and he writes in such an easy style that the books go by very quickly...but they aren't very good. Everything is so simplistic and one sided and heavy handed in his novels (and I can say this after reading 12 Left Behind Books, 1 Left Behind prequel, and these 3 Underground Zealot novels). There is enough compelling ideas in the story that I want to see how he delivers the conclusion of the story and how he gets there, but there is a lot of cringing and wishing that the craft improves. But he isn't that kind of writer and this isn't that kind of a book. "Shadowed" is lightweight (though semi-violent and semi-graphic) fiction with a Christian perspective, but I wouldn't hold this book up as something to celebrate how "Christian" fiction can be just as good as the best of "secular" fiction. There's just a little too much sugar here for it to be good for you.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Buy My Stuff

Along with the Netflix Cancellation and other budget changes around the house, we are selling off a bunch of our stuff. Books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, random stuff. I'm putting everything that looks like it can sell for at least a couple of dollars up on ebay. There are a few books up right now, a handful of cds, and I'm working on the DVDs right now. In the next days and weeks I'll be getting more stuff up until we run out of things that look like they can sell.

So, if anyone is interested, they are free to buy my stuff. I suspect I'll be re-evaluating the DVDs that so far I've decided to keep, and will then auction those up as well.

There are also some other DVDs which are not going up on ebay because there doesn't seem to be an Ebay market for them but which can likely sell for $5 each at my mother's garage sale in May. If anyone is interested in buying some and finding out what DVDs aren't going up on ebay (books, too), contact me by e-mail or post a comment and I'll let you know what is available.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

goodbye netflix

I cancelled my Netflix subscription this morning. It was a cost savings measure. To get certain costs back in line we're cutting some things out of our budget, and Netflix is one that had to go.

Where shall I get my movies from? The library! I just put a good number of DVDs on hold. They have longer hold lines, but I should be able to get most of what I want, so it all works out in the end.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (movie)

How do you turn a 700+ page novel into a movie? Well, you either make a 4 hour movie or you cut, cut, cut and turn into a 2.5 hour movie. The filmmakers decided on the latter because there was no good splitting point in the novel to make GOF: Part I and GOF: Part II. What we end up with is the absolute core of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Gone is that side plot with Hermione forming S.P.E.W. and trying to bring freedom and equal rights to all house elves. Gone, actually, is any appearance of a house elf. So, no Dobby in this one despite the role he plays in the book. The early scenes of the novel dealing especially with the Quidditch World Cup are cut very short, nothing at the Dursleys, and we do not get to learn much about either Krum or Fleur.

What do we have, then? Harry starts out with the Weasley's as they go to the Quidditch World Cup. The match isn't shown (though the entrances are, so we know Krum is famous) and after we see the attack at the Q.W.C. by the Death Eaters and the Dark Mark being released in the air. I have to say that there was a serious sense of menace and fear and confusion during the attack. Very well done and shows hints of why the Death Eaters (followers of Voldemort) are that scary. From this moment we know things are changing. Year 4 for Harry, Ron, and Hermione is now beginning back at Hogwarts, but this year is going to be different. The Tri-Wizard Competition is being held at Hogwarts and each of three wizarding schools will have a champion competing for Eternal Glory. It is only open to those over the age of seventeen, however. The three champions are chosen: Krum, Fluer, and from Hogwarts - Cedric Diggory. But then the Goblet of Fire glows red once more and spits out a fourth name: Harry Potter. So, Harry must compete in this competition which has caused death in the past and Harry doesn't have the experience or the knowledge. Meanwhile he keeps having visions and dreams about the return of Voldemort and his scar is hurting.

This movie is far more streamlined than the book. School, Voldemort, Competition. That's it. Nearly everything extra is cut. And you know what? It works. Azkaban may have been a stronger movie, but Goblet of Fire is still far better than the first two movies. There is a real sense of darkness and menace to the film as we know that the series is just going to get darker. I didn't feel like anything was missing from the movie. All of the side stories which build the richness of the world would not have fit in the movie and would have killed the flow and tension of it. The only lack is that there is little or no development or information about Fleur or Krum, or even Cedric though a little bit more is given about him. We do get the little love interest of Harry for Cho Chang and the boredom of the Parvati twins at the ball is perfect. But the main story here is the Tri-Wizard Competition and Voldemort, and it works well.

After each Harry Potter movie I always wonder how they are possibly going to film the next one and have it work, but I look forward to it because the movie series is turning out to be quite a good one.

To End All Wars

I thought this was just going to be another telling of "Bridge on the River Kwai". I think it is the same basic story and may be based on the same source material (though "River Kwai" is also from a Pierre Boulle novel). But, the basic form of the story and the origins may be the same, but midway through the movie it is clear that "To End All Wars" is going in a different direction. We are still set in World War II and we are still in Burma and Thailand building the railroad. There are still British Prisoners of War (Scottish this time) and one American (this time played by Keifer Sutherland) and they are being poorly treated in the prison camp and made to build this railroad on meager rations. They are brutalized for not bowing, and for doing anything out of line or that would make the Japanese "lose face".

But through the movie there is a string of hope, of grace. That through kindness in the face of brutality, of turning the other cheek and of sacrifice, that the prisoners can gain respect (from their captors and self respect) as well as better treatment. The railroad is almost an afterthought here.

I had never heard of this movie until a friend recommended it to me, and then another friend. I still didn't expect too much from "To End All Wars", but it turns out that this is a quality movie. Well made, well acted, and very moving. There is a spiritual side to "To End All Wars" with a bit of the Christian teaching running through it. It's not overwhelming or preachy, but it is effective and there is a very strong and overt Christ image but not quite the way it was expected and how that plays out isn't such that it bangs your head with Christ.

Well done. I like when a movie I haven't heard of and clearly did not get a major release turns out to be a good one.


"Kinsey" is the story of Alfred Kinsey, the very controversial sex researcher of the 1950's. At a time when the only sex education that was being taught was abstinence and only in a general health class, Dr. Kinsey was feeling the lack of information and that amount of rubbish that was being taught as fact. People just didn't have any information about sex, who does it, who does what, what is permissible, and what is possible. His interest in the subject came because of some sexual issues early in his marriage and his need as scientist to know the solution. There is also a deep undercurrent of sexual repression from his father.

Dr. Kinsey initially starts to advise some of his science students and then more and more start coming to him and Dr. Kinsey inquires about a sexual education class that could be held at his University. He also begins an exhaustive study (pun intended) into the sexual behavior of human males with a follow up study on females to come later. Any question that could be asked is asked and the findings are shocking to many, though not likely shocking to today's audience.

My expectation for the movie that it would be start to finish sex and nudity. I think this is from some of the negative, one sided reviews that portrayed this movie through a certain moral lens. It isn't. The movie is filled with talk about sex, and as it should be considering the subject. There is sex and nudity, though not nearly as much as one would expect. While there is a good deal of sex as the movie progresses, it is far less revealing than it could have been.

The real surprise that I had was that this was a good movie, better than I had anticipated. I was all ready to dislike the movie and I couldn't. Well made, well told, and while it does celebrate Kinsey and his work (ending with a woman telling an older Kinsey that his work saved her life and helped her to have a healthy relationship with another woman), "Kinsey" does not hide his faults, obsessions, and uncomfortable beliefs (such as that there is nothing wrong or immoral about pedophilia). The film shows the great strides Dr. Kinsey helped America take in sexual education even when America wasn't truly ready, but doesn't hide the negative.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Sandy purchased some tickets yesterday to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the Imax Sunday night at 10:00pm. Looking forward to how this book gets adapted. Quite a bit has been cut, I hear (nothing on Hermoine's quest to free the house elves), but the core should still be there. Here's hoping.

Lost, ANTM, MNIE, Boondocks

I was a little disappointed with Lost last night. The episode was all about covering the first 48 days the survivors from the tail of the plane were on the island. So we're given this whole new group of survivors to be introduced to and to get to know...except we're not. The focus is mainly on those who we met in the previous two episodes: Michelle Rodriguez, Bernard, Clinical Psychologist Lady, Strong Silent Black Man. But my real problem with the episode was just the format. To get us from Crash to Ana Lucia shooting Shannon in 1 hr and 4 minutes, we get a lot of fade in and fade out as days pass and days are skipped. We get the highlights. We get little clips of the characters and this all could have been done just as well by giving us little clips throughout the regular episodes. The one really positive thing this episode did was show why and how Michelle Rodriguez was in such a leadership role. At first I thought she was just the mouthy little second in command to SSBM, but she's the leader. Why? Like Jack, she stepped up when nobody else did. She filled that void and she was fierce in her desire to protect her group. Unlike Jack, she's much closer to snapping. My wife doesn't like her for two reasons. 1: Ana Lucia is played by Michelle Rodriguez. 2: Because she's always so angry and unreasonable and M.R. always plays that girl. I think I figured some of that out, though. I think the snap in Ana Lucia happened when the kids were kidnapped. She was frustrated when the Others first took the three men on the first night, but losing the kids pushed her over the edge. That's what I think.

Still don't know who the Others are, or where they came from, or why. My guess is something to do with the Island experiment.

Another decent episode of America's Next Top Model. Everyone (except Nicole) was mad at Kim because Kim talks behind folk's back. But near as I can tell from what the editors have selectedly shown us, Kim has only talked about Lisa and Jayla. She joked about Nik in front of Nik, but I haven't seen anything else behind anyone else's back. Bre continues to be a hoot with her attitude hidden behind a layer of cuteness. She's funny, my wife really likes her. Right now Bre is our pick to win (in the absence of any really strong contenders). The shock, though, was Lisa being cut. I thought she'd be final 2 and probably the winner. Don't like Lisa, but she was the strongest and arguably the best model. She was a punk behind the scenes, though. She'll probably get work from this if she can control herself off camera.

Skimmed through My Name is Earl. I watched it, but I was also looking for crap to put up on ebay and if it would sell (found some books that might sell), so I didn't really get a grasp of what happened. That was last week's episode where they drove away in the Bandit car. I have this week's episode recorded. I'll make sure to watch that one and pay more attention.

The Boondocks is getting a little bit stronger. I watched the second episode, "The Trial of R. Kelly" and it was funnier and really kind of ripped on how (and I need to be careful here) the black community will get behind somebody who commits an awful crime because that person is an entertainer and because they like his music, or his athletic ability...even if that person has a mountain of evidence which should convict him. It was a good episode, and at the end I think they are about to introduce Jasmine, the cute little girl from the comic.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Phew. After starting John LeCarre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" weeks ago I finally finished the book last night. I had previously read his "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" and thought it was fantastic, and was disappointed by "Absolute Friends". Thought I should love this one. Didn't.

My biggest problem is that it was a difficult book to really get into. The story, about spies and double agents and George Smiley trying to figure out who the mole was in the British spy agency is a great idea. However, LeCarre spent so much time telling us what might be happening that he doesn't actually show us. The entire novel is Smiley talking to people, investigating, but we never get into his head so we don't know where Smiley is going with this investigation or where he makes his intuitive leaps. Not really.

I plan on reading more LeCarre, but this one was disappointing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

RAW Tribute Show

RAW last night was an Eddie Guerrero tribute show. I don't remember if it was taped on Sunday along with Smackdown, or if RAW was live last night like it usually is, but this must have been incredibly difficult for the performers. Vince McMahon gave every wrestler the option of performing or not and every single person elected to perform as a tribute. It's an odd thing about the wrestling business, but it is the way things seem to work. These men (and women, but mostly men) spend way more time with each other than they do with their families, so to say that they become family is likely not an exaggeration.

The show opens up with all of the wrestlers of RAW and Smackdown standing in front of the "curtain" where they make their entrance. Vince McMahon (owner of WWE) was standing in front with a microphone announcing to the crowd about Eddie's passing. Everyone already knew as many had signs saying goodbye and even before Vince said anything the crowd was chanting "Eddie, Eddie" and "Thank You Eddie" in respect. Vince talked for a short while as the camera panned around the other wrestlers, some who were barely holding themselves together. Chris Benoit, in particular, was having the hardest time as he has been friends with Eddie for fifteen years. Then there was a tribute video showing some of Eddie's accomplishments and just giving a little bit of a feel for who Eddie was. The song playing with the video was Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt". That's a beautiful, painful song as it was. When it was over most of the wrestlers were crying and as the camera panned, so were many in the Minneapolis audience. After Vince spoke, but before the video the WWE gave the traditional 10 bell salute to a fallen wrestler. It's a chilling sound to hear.

Interspersed throughout the show and between matches were segments where the wrestlers talked about Eddie. Some talked about his professionalism, others his heart and how good of a friend he was. Benoit broke down at the end of his as he talked about his friendship. As Benoit spoke and got more emotional, this was the only one that I had a tear fall. The pain was too raw for so many of these men. Eddie's nephew Chavo Guerrero talked about how he really thought of Eddie as a brother since they were only three years apart and how everything they dreamed of came true except that Eddie isn't here anymore. Shawn Michaels gave a completely different perspective and said that he can't talk about Eddie as a wrestler because he never had wrestled him. Instead he talked about Eddie's faith and how they had shared their faith in Christ for the past few years and how Eddie was the only man Shawn had ever seen to get the entire company together from Vince to the road crew and lead them all in a prayer meeting.

I'm not really going to talk about the matches because they weren't terribly important. They did not advance storylines but served to just entertain the audience as well as show respect to Eddie. Many wore Eddie's t-shirts to the ring and several wore black arm bands with EG on it. A couple almost broke down just walking to the ring. The best match, by far, though was Shawn Michaels against Rey Mysterio (Mysterio is a good personal friend of Eddie's and their families are close). It was a well wrestled match, and if you can give respect through your actions and performance, this one gave the most.

Smackdown, which will air on Friday and was recorded the same day as RAW (this is why I think Sunday night) is also going to be a Tribute Show and is likely just the second half of the Super Show which ended up being one great big Tribute to Eddie Guerrero

Monday, November 14, 2005

RIP: Eddie Guerrero

WWE wrestler Eddie Guerrero died Sunday morning in his hotel room in Minneapolis. He was in town to wrestle in WWE's Super Show. Guerrero was one of the best wrestlers on Smackdown and had overcome drug and alcohol issues in the past to reclaim his life and his career and at the time of his death he was near the top of his industry.

Personally, Eddie has been one of my favorite performers since he had come back from rehab four years ago. He consistently put on some of the most entertaining matches and his gimmick of "Lie, Cheat, and Steal" made for some comic moments as he always found a way to win. It appeared that he was primed to make another run as the Champion on Smackdown as there were hints of a feud with the champion Batista and Batista had just suffered an injury that might put him off the shelf for months, so Guerrero may have been the logical choice to take the belt. As I've never met the man (or any other wrestler), I can't comment on his personal life, but from all reports Eddie had put all of his demons behind him. On WCCO news his nephew and WWE wrestler, Chavo Guerrero said that Eddie told him on the flight that he had just celebrated four years of sobriety.

As a husband and a father to three daughters, Guerrero will be missed. As a wrestler, Eddie Guerrero was one of the best and will leave a hole in the hearts of fans everywhere.

mucho television

This weekend was a semi-busy weekend for me. I wasn't terribly productive, except for running a 5k race and putting 20 cds up on Ebay, but I did get a few things watched.

First is the documentary Gunner Palace. This movie follows a particular group of soldiers in Iraq and gives us a glimpse into their daily life. We follow them on patrols and get to hear what they have to say about being in Iraq, and their frustrations with the situation, lack of armor, and risking their lives when people at home will be forgetting all about what they are doing. Very interesting documentary, and the squad rapper/poet has some heartfelt verses about the situation. It's a little disjointed, though, because Gunner Palace really doesn't follow any sort of narrative structure. There's no point A to point B. But that's okay. The picture of the soldier's life is a very good one.

Second is a couple of episodes of Commander in Chief. This continues to be a quality show. I think we're at the point that Rod Lurie had left the show, so we'll see how things continue. Geena Davis makes a credible President, one who wants to do the right thing, is intelligent and strong yet compassionate.

Third is the first part of the History Channel documentary on the Crusades. It's called "The Crusades: The Crescent and the Cross". It's fairly interesting and it seems fair to both sides, though it veers a little negative in the actions of the Christian Crusaders...but then I suspect it should be. It grants the genuine devotion to religion and spirituality and that many of the Crusaders went off with the best of intentions and the belief that they truly are doing the right thing, but also acknowledged that others may have went for profit and plunder and to be a warlord in the Middle East. Neither side really comes out smelling like roses in this documentary.

Fourth is the Ironman Triathlon World Championships at Kona. Inspiring. Truly inspiring. I don't care so much about the elite athlete stories, it is the common people who are interesting. If you can call them common. There is always a focus on those who have the best stories, like a guy named Blais. Blais is suffering from the early onset of Lou Gehrig's disease and has already lost the use of one of his hands, so he has an additional challenge. So, you know that if he can't finish this year he never will because he will likely be in worse shape next year. Then there is Sarah Reinertson. Sarah was profiled in 2004 as well. She is a single leg amputee (below the knee, I think) and last year she didn't make the cut-off time on the bike, so she didn't get to do the marathon. This year she clear the swim, makes the bike, and I felt a little choked up as she finished. More so than the guy with ALS. It is amazing what people can do when they are determined to work for it.

Fifth is the second part of Category 7: The End of the World. This is the crappy CBS mini-series/movie about a superstorm destroying the planet. Blah blah. Still crappy and now there is this kidnapping plot thrown into it, like giant hurricanes with 400 mph wind isn't nasty enough. Whatever. Honestly, it didn't get any better in the second part. Why do I watch this crap? Do you think there is any chance there is any scientific basis for the weather claims the movie makes? I doubt it, too. But, in case you are curious and didn't bother watching the claim is that something in the atmosphere is dropping (really cold stuff), which is causing these low pressure storms (is it low pressure, I don't know), but this is what is causing these extra powerful storms. Now, when they get over a city the city has these rising columns of heat. This part makes sense because a city should have a greater concentration of heat energy than any other area. When the heat mixes with the already powerful storm you get these super storms and when a couple of super storms combine over a get a crappy movie. The solution, turn off all the power in the city which should lower the city's temperature quickly enough to lessen the storm...but then when they finally do this the storm isn't flat out disappears and the the sun comes out. Oh. My. God. Who wrote this crap and what is Gina Gershon doing?

Sixth, because it just gets better, I tried to watch the Penn and Teller special while putting stuff up on ebay. They make a sub disappear and do random other tricks. The one cool thing is that the reveal how they did everything, but otherwise it was kind of lame. Sure the disappearing submarine was interesting (yes, a submarine, not a sub sandwich) in theory, but watching it happen wasn't. Blah blah, blah.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Boondocks

The Cartoon Network is airing the first cartoon adaptation of Aaron McGruder's comic strip "The Boondocks". This is probably my favorite current strip, though I don't read the funny pages very often anymore. Now Huey is bringing his angry black viewpoint to television, along with his brother Riley and Grandpa. Jasmine didn't make an appearance in the first episode. Regina King does the voices for both Riley and Huey. It works. I don't know what voice I expected for the boys, but they are just kids so a manly James Earl Jones certainly wouldn't work.

Anyway, the first episode has Grandpa invited to a garden party held by the owner of the bank which has the mortgage on his house. Oh, keep in mind that Riley and Huey live with grandpa in an incredibly white neighborhood. The episode opens with Huey having a dream where he tells the truth to white people that Jesus was black, President Reagan was the devil, and the gov't is lying to us about 9/11. The white people riot. When he wakes up Grandpa tells Huey never to tell white people the truth and that he shouldn't even dream about making white people riot. Instead of telling white people the truth, Grandpa says, you should offer whites cheese. It calms them down.

I should be offended by this, but I'm strangely calmed by the thought of cheese.

The isn't consistently funny. The "N" word got thrown around a lot, but it was used casually like it would in real life. The show wasn't as topical or as politically current as the strip, but as McGruder said on Tavis Smiley this week, the show is written a year in advance so it is difficult to truly be topical with the political humor. Plus the shows have storylines rather than fitting ideas into four panels.

We'll see how the show progresses. I want to like this as much as anything else on tv.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Category 7: Part I

Apparently that CBS disaster movie Category 7: The End of the World is actually a two part mini-series and it is even a sequel to last year's crappy Category 6. The setting is a couple of weeks after that huge megastorm tornado which leveled Chicago and Gina Gershon has been promoted to be the head of FEMA. She is charged with not only been the first responder on the scene of disasters but to find a way to get there before the disasters hit. The movie opens with with scenes in Paris where a huge storm causes mass destruction and destroys the Eiffel Tower. Then there are news reports of storms which caused havoc from Nevada through the Midwest United States. The Mall of America was even destroyed (heartbreaking, I live only a few miles from it). Huge storms, tornadoes and hurricanes are taking place all over the globe and often over major cities. Why? What is causing this and how can that be stopped? Gina Gershon brings in a disgraced scientist who predicted the storms which hit these cities several years before they happened but was ignored. It just happens that they are former lovers and that this scientist also happens to be married to Gershon's former roommate. Oh! And Gershon's son is dating Science Guy's daughter!

Honestly, this is a pretty crappy movie. It's actually worse than Category 6, and Cat 6 starred Jo from The Facts of Life. Gina Gershon is a better actress than Nancy McKeon, or at least she should be. I'm not sure it is possible to be good in this movie. Strangely, I wish Jo was Cat 7. Gershon doesn't get to show much personality.

Somehow Randy Quaid is still alive even though his character was swept up in that Force 6 tornado that rocked Chicago. Mmm, hmm. He goes from a full body cast when he first shows up to tearing off his neck brace and walking around just fine only hours later. Right.

The special effects are about what you'd expect from a CBS movie. This movie rains destruction down on the globe. So many major American cities are destroyed, the MOA is gone, George Washington's head at Mt Rushmore has fallen, the Eiffel Tower is gone, some pyramids in Egypt have been wrecked the Sphinx also seems to be destroyed. And it is only fixing to get worse because near the end of the first part we saw the all these storms converging on each other which could make a mega storm.

*sigh* Why am I drawn to these crappy disaster movies? I'm not sure, but I just feel this need to see wanton destruction and bad acting. Then again, after watching The Core, I can make it through anything.

Stay tuned for Part II this coming Sunday night.

Monday, November 07, 2005

dvd cover art


Rize for Four Minutes

"Rize" is a documentary about Krump and Clown dancing. Before I saw the preview for this movie months ago, I had no idea. Dancing to me is the "white man's shuffle" which involves swaying and thumbs pointing straight up in the air, so krump dancing is well beyond my wildest imagination. So what is krump? Krump is a form of dancing that seems to have come from the streets of Los Angeles. The beginning of "Rize" ties the entire movie into the Watts riots from the 60's and the 1992 Rodney King riots, so we are to get the impression that this form of dance comes from the anger of those who have nothing else. In a way, that is exactly what the dancers tell us. The film introduces us to Tommy the Clown, a hip hop dancing clown who does neighborhood parties and is very popular. To him, this dancing and the "clowning" is a chance to do something positive, and the other clown dancers are also doing something positive. The dancing is wild and almost out of control, but it comes from the soul.

Krump comes from clowning, but krump seems to add this extra layer of aggression to the dance. It is hard to truly describe krump, or clowning, but the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie which says that nothing in the movie has been sped up should tell something of the intensity and speed of the dance. It really is amazing.

Rize continues to tie this dance into the community, African traditional dance, the church, and the opportunity to do something positive and be a positive influence rather than gang banging. Clocking in at under an hour and a half, "Rize" is well worth the time to watch. And for those who can only dance the white man's shuffle, it is an impressive look at dance.

"Four Minutes" is a movie which premiered on ESPN 2. Usually this would automatically lower expectations regarding quality but it was fairly well done. Since I enjoy running and enjoy watching the elite runners do their thing, seeing a movie made about Roger Bannister was a treat for me. Bannister was the first man to run faster than four minutes for the mile. As a character says in the movie, four minutes was as much a psychological barrier as it was a physical barrier.

Personally, I found this to be a fascinating movie. It is a fictionalized account and not a documentary, but the performances were good enough and I got to see some running. I have no idea how this movie would play for someone not interested in this story and what is going on. I imagine it would feel a little slow and maybe boring. It helps if you want to see a running movie and the enormity of what Bannister was doing in the running world is great drama even if you know that he is going to break it and open the floodgates to people running sub 4.

It's not a great movie, but I liked it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Days, Volcanoes, Naked Lunch, Earl

Big movie day so far. I managed to sit through Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. When The Thin Red Line was released in theatres in the late 90's he was acclaimed as this legendary director whom everyone wanted to work with. He was a recluse who hadn't made a movie since the 70's when he made two. This is one of them. Stars Richard Gere as a migrant worker with his woman and they end up working on this farm. The idea is to scam the farm owner who has fallen for his woman. Everyone believes Gere and the woman are siblings because this is the story they have told. There is very little dialogue, random shots of nature and scenery (though the underwater shot of the goblet was quite beautiful), and there is spare narration and the whole thing felt...incomplete. Like there was a story there but Malick didn't really get around to telling it. I was bored. Still, Malick did an excellent job with The Thin Red Line, I look forward to The New World and I'll get around to renting Badlands fairly soon. Then I can cross "Watch all Terrence Malick's movies" off of my list of things to do.

Watched the Imax documentary Volcanoes of the Deep Sea. Somehow this one managed to stir up a bit of controversy a few years back because it hinted at evolution and the creation of the world and some theatres in the south didn't show it. Oh. My. God. Honestly, this is an hour long documentary about creatures two miles underwater that we've never seen before and scientists didn't believe anything existed down there. So, for a visual treat this is worth watching and it is neat to see this unexplored world...and it is like a whole different world. On the other, the documentary isn't anything special and it doesn't really say anything or explain things very well and it was rather dry. I imagine the best experience would be to find an Imax theatre that was showing this and watch it as it was meant to be seen. It didn't play that well at home, but at only an hour in length it isn't bad. And forget about that evolution controversy. I was looking for it and it wasn't really there...unless you believe the Earth is only 4000 years old in which case you'll probably hate most science books and movies.

I tried to watch David Croenenberg's Naked Lunch. Key word: Tried. A co-worker lent me this movie when I said I've only seen eXistenZ and nothing else by the director. Love eXistenZ, by the way. Well, this movie is just flat out weird. Based on a novel written in an acid trip and considered unfilmable, I just didn't get it. There's this guy who is an exterminator and his wife is shooting up the "bug powder" and then some bugs are huge and they talk to him about this conspiracy and that his wife may be a bug and I just wanted Jerry O'Connell to come in with his roaches and have a great big bug paradise while Caspar Van Diem and Doogie Houser tell me the only good bug is a dead bug. It wouldn't have made sense, but then this movie doesn't either. I could only manage 40 minutes of it, so if you tell me that it gets better or that it makes more sense or that the last 27 minutes of the movie should have won a special Academy Award...I still don't want to finish it.


So, the three movies I've watched so far have all pretty well sucked. What didn't suck? My Name is Earl. This week's episode had Earl trying to make something up to his ex-wife Joy. He had smashed one of her figurines which apparently can only be won in this mother/daughter beauty pageant and he needs to get her a figurine. She wants a hot tub. And then there are this mother daughter pair who come from a long line of knife throwers but the daughter doesn't want to, she wants to become a doctor. The mother wants none of that and wants to go on the pageant circuit with her. This show just gets better and better. Love it. I also want more knife throwing children on television.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dirty Job, My Humps

My wife and I like to watch a show called Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel. The host, Mike Rowe, goes around the country and shows us what some of the dirtiest jobs are that people do. And then he does them. So we've seen roofing, roadkill cleanup, something with a bat cave (nasty!), sewer inspector, horse inseminator, ostrich farmer and many others.

We really like the show, but sometimes the jobs aren't really nasty dirty, but just tough jobs when you might get a little dirty. Last night was about charcoal and Mike got as dirty as I've seen, and also a segment in a animal groomer's office which included having Mike express the anal glands of some dogs! We've seen that done on our dog, and it is nasty and smells awful. Good show, I just hope they can keep finding some dirty jobs for Mike to do. That guy is willing to try anything.

I've been thinking about this for some time and the song "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas has to be one of the worst songs I've ever heard. Really. That chorus about "my humps, my humps, my lovely lady lumps" just kills me. I mean, who decided one day that they wanted to sit down and write these lyrics and thought they sounded good? Who? How was this a good idea? "Yeah, man, these are some kicking lyrics, let's put a beat to it!"


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hurt, Batman Begins, Elizabethtown

I rented the Johnny Cash video "Hurt" from Netflix. One disc, less than four minutes. It's a great song, Cash doing the Nine Inch Nails cover all slowed down and broken. Beautiful. The video is good but on the second time through I decided to close my eyes and it was even more powerful. The songs hits me in the gut far more when it is just Cash singing with no visual.

After missing it in the theatre, and having it sit on my DVD player for a week or two, I finally watched Batman Begins. Damn, if that isn't what a Batman movie should be. The origin story worked so well and I really, really hope that Christopher Nolan makes the next two. He did such a great job reinventing Batman and making him darker and grounding everything in a reality. The Scarecrow charcter made me nervous as a concept of a supervillain who caused "fear" in people, but it works so well. Everything did.

Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown is something that I've been looking forward to for some time. He is one of my favorite filmmakers, but I was nervous. Orlando Bloom was great as an elf, but as a real person? Well...he works. It works. Bloom is believable without pointy ears and I loved the dynamic of Bloom meeting an entire side of his family that he never met before (the father's side) and how different it is and how welcoming it was. It's a family dynamic that made me a little wistful, how the whole community was family and friendly and supportive and close. And Kirstin Dunst played an actual character with some depth. Her flight attendant who becomes friends with Bloom and helps him find some focus even while she doesn't have a true focus is an excellent character. She has heart, the movie does, and the longer the movie played the more i liked it and the less I wanted it to end because i just loved being in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. It is doubtful that it'll make my top ten list for 2005 (which you can expect sometime late 2006 when I watch all the movies), but I truly felt a part of this town, family, world, movie whatever.