Saturday, April 30, 2011

Movie Review: "Stone"

   Movies, movies, movies...oh how I enjoy watching movies. I usually indulge myself with a proven genre that works very well for me...action! However, I have a very open mind and frequently immerse myself in great stories and profound dramatic acting. In the final analysis, it really doesn’t matter what genre you choose as your favorite...a great movie is a great movie.
The Cast
   Robert De Niro is one of the great actors of the modern age and it’s always a pleasure to watch his mastery of the craft he brings to the screen. He makes it very easy to lose oneself in his characterization. Edward Norton is, admittedly, one of my favorite actors and I was not disappointed with his performance. Indeed, it was a thrill to watch him play opposite De Niro and see him evolve his character from a hopeless head case into someone that believes in something. Milla Jovovich does a wonderful job rounding out the cast and delivers a performance several grades above the usual flatline roles she depicts in her recent action/horror films.
The Plot: 
   Robert De Niro plays soon-to-retire parole officer, Jack Mabry that only wishes to finish what little cases he has left before he leaves his chosen profession. Far from perfect, Mabry has a past that has scarred his marriage and a lifestyle that has colored the way he perceives the world. Things get real complicated when he gets involved with Lucetta Creeson (Milla Jovovich), wife of convicted felon Gerald ‘Stone’ Creeson (Edward Norton) who is up for parole.
   Stone is a convicted felon desperate for early release and will do anything to get it...including having his wife seduce the decider of his case, Jack Mabry. But the rode to redemption isn’t an easy one and Stone soon finds that his rode is leading him into places he’s never been before. Lucetta will do anything for Stone, but when playing with the fire of the heart, the burning of emotions can scar very deep.
   Everyone is looking for some kind of freedom and the best laid plans are just an excuse for life to assert itself.
The Verdict: 
   This movie is full of great talent and excellent acting that is mired down in a convoluted storyline with a plot that goes awry. Although De Niro does an excellent job of drawing us into Mabry, we never really know him to the extent of feeling any compassion for the deck of cards his life has become. The script doesn’t take us in this direction, nor does it ever make us feel comfortable with the storm-like emotional downpour Lucetta seems to constantly go through.
   Stone is the only character the writing has us care for...and he’s every bit as guilty as he first professes he isn’t. The self discovery journey he takes during this film is a trip he ultimately makes alone as we are left behind because of the shoddy blending style of storytelling. In the end, I was grateful for the performances and wishing the plot was strong enough to compliment them.
   This movie was certainly not my cup of tea and although I am open to different flavors...this movie only gets one cinnamon stick, out of five, in my cup.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Friend Ship

   Never having a true friend is sad. Having a true friend and not realizing it is worse. Having a true friend and knowing it, yet losing this rarest of gems is a complete tragedy. Reflect on your life. If you find it is a tragedy...write a play.
   The Friend Ship sails in and out of our lives at various stages of our existence. For some, the sad truth is, it never docks at their port. Others see the ship docked and never know what wonderful blessings are in its cargo hold. Yet there are others that know very well what this ship carries...and allow it to sail away to parts unknown. A callous act that often leads to a future assignment on the USS Regret.
   There are those that would try to sink the Friend Ship...monsters disguised as people with the purpose of chaos and turmoil. Worse still are those that confuse the Friend Ship with the Titanic, and think the ship to be unsinkable. They party all day and all night and never give a thought to the dangerous waters on which they sail.

There are millions of stories that could be told about this magnificent ship...and all of them would be true. Where this ship has been is the stuff of legend. Where it is going is the ever present question every passenger aboard should be asking. With the fuel of love, hope and dreams...there is no telling where it might make port next.

   Knowing what is now known about this incredible vessel...ask yourself: Has the Friend Ship ever docked at my port? Is the Friend Ship docked there now? Has the Friend Ship set sail...and left me behind? If it has never docked at your should keep an eagle eye out because sometimes it comes amidst the fog and is not easily seen. If the Friend Ship is currently docked at your your best to realize the opportunity placed before you and beg, borrow and steal to get on board.

If the Friend Ship has set sail without you aboard, then you have become the subject of study through theatre in the genre of tragedy. At the very least, you can be a catalyst for others not to miss the incredible journey the Friend Ship offers. However, if the universe flinches and the stars align just might become that rare tale of legend that speaks of the ship's return...

...but when was the last time you saw the universe flinch?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Then, Now and Far Beyond...

   My job is many things, but boring and not mentally stimulating (for me anyway) is not one of them, but I find mental stimulation in, admittedly, the weirdest things. I stopped by a cubicle of a coworker and on his computer screen was a picture of a very, very old firetruck. Another coworker walked by and said “I used to drive that truck.” Really? I mean...really? THAT truck? In an instant I imagined what it must be like for him to witness the incredible leap in technology representing todays apparatus compared to his fond memories of driving the antique we were all looking at. Then my mind took off...
   I realized that there have been some incredible leaps in technology and drastic changes in lifestyle because of those leaps, that have happened right before my eyes. I don’t have to imagine what its like for my coworker because I’ve become him...we all will. I had a rotary phone growing up and it dialed so slow you’d need a Snickers bar to pass the time. If my friends weren’t home when I called, I had to go outside and look for them at all the usual hanging places...basically walk two or three neighborhoods. I could spend all day looking and still go home frustrated at never finding them because that day they decided to go Downtown or to Watertown or some such adventure. If you didn’t want to talk to certain people you had to ignore the phone completely because you had no idea who it was until you answered it. How handy would caller ID have been when my teacher was calling to talk to my mother? Today, the phone has become a complete device. Instant communication has replaced the much needed exercise searching the neighborhood provided and sent the pay phone the way of the Dodo. On the upside, it has put parents in contact with their children, assuming caller ID is not used maliciously, and has probably gotten more than one child out from under having to be in the house before the street lights come on.
   Undoubtedly the computer has had the most affect in the lives of everyone. Texas Instruments first handheld calculator sold for $5500 and they were practically giving it away within three years. Now, more goes into a computer the size of your fingernail than was in the two floors of MIT’s first supercomputer! Not to mention that computers are in everything now...and are the foundation for a global network by which these very words are read by people all over the world...really.
   Lets crawl down this rabbit hole real quick shall we? Cars now speak to you and park themselves. Money is electronic and accessible around the clock. Microwaves cook “food” in seconds. Since the arrival of microwave ovens, we have developed “instant” food to accommodate it, and home cooked meals are becoming a thing of the past. I’m not a fan of the microwave oven and can see how a family sitting together for a meal has given way to everyone doing their own thing (usually sitting in front of some kind of screen) while eating something that was prepared in minutes. I think its a detriment to the family unit not to eat together and share a meal.
   I remember having to adjust the “rabbit ears” on our black and white television and thinking the fuzzy picture I got was pretty decent considering what it had been before I started mucking with it. Now...not only do we have television in color, but we’ve got it in 3D! Not to mention that the huge heavy box it used to be has been trimmed down to something akin to a painting you hang on a wall. The staple of television used to be just six main channels and now I have to browse through six hundred to find the show I want. 
   A whole generation has no idea what it’s like to drop film off at the photoshop and wait for it to be developed. Those that still do it, do so at a high cost because what was once the normal technology and cheap to do is now the exception and, therefore, expensive. Everything has gone digital and instant. Cameras are in the phones now and can take a picture, crop it, and send it to the internet in minutes! In the time it took to wait for a role of film to be developed, you can make a digital album on the internet with thousands of pictures...but it doesn’t stop there.
   The progression of how I listen to music in the short time I’ve been on this planet is incredible when I really think about it. I used to listen to my mother’s records, which eventually developed into tapes (bring back the eight track)! Cassette tapes stopped when the compact disk came on the scene. I used to pride myself on being able to splice a broken tape back together using Scotch tape, a steady hand, and a lot of patience. Now its all digital and downloadable. Gone are the days of the walkman and flipping the tape over as you finish listening to a you’re lucky to get through all ten thousand songs on the Ipod. It’s the same way with movies. Although people still go to see them, the introduction of the VHS and the progression to DVD (and now Blue Ray) to simply digitally downloading or streaming them to your computer is having an impact on the industry. Gone are the days of the drive-in...and the wonderfully unique experience that came with it.
   I remember when writing was a big deal in school. Penmanship, good penmanship, was required since reading letters depended on it. Then typing took over as the standard which developed into email. Now texting is dominating how young people communicate and with it comes a new language...and abridged version of English. I dnt nd 2 typ ev wrd since my fngrs mve 100 mph. In thirty more years I won’t even be able to communicate with my own grandchildren. 
   I see the writing on the wall. I see it there since it won’t be in books least not anything I recognize as a book. They don’t even have paper anymore...just a screen that scrolls pages with the touch of a finger with page numbers replaced by a percentage of how much of the material has been read. Yes, I’m talking about device that will eventually replace my entire library. Call me old fashioned, but I like looking at all the different types of books in my library. The color, the sizes, the artwork, the texture...Kindle can reproduce every word in every book, but it can’t replace that.
   I used to sit at the top of my stairs as a child and play with toys (either cars or action figures) for hours and let my imagination run wild. Now children sit in front of a screen and have their imagination fed to them. I find it a daunting thought to contemplate where technology and society will be when my children look back on the iPhone and Xbox 360 the way I look back on 8 track tapes...and that old firetruck.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Sneak Peek at the Upside

   I do much thinking, observing and self examination and until very recently, didn’t share any of that process with anyone to any great depth. I’ve decided to write a book about this process in the hope that somebody even cares to know it...and that it can in some way, be of some positive use to someone struggling to grasp a balanced understanding of a particular situation, or just contemplating the details of life itself. 
   My first book “Survivor’s Guide to a Recession: 50 States” is very specific in addressing the economic hardships that are being experienced all across the country. I encourage everyone to get a copy and share a copy because anyone can be effected by a troubled economy...and everyone is.
   The title of my second book is “The Unseen Reflection: Marinations in Life” and it is written to be interactive with the reader, embarking on a profound journey through every facet of life from my unique perspective. I am determined to leave the world a bit better than the condition I was cast into it...emulating the words " Every angle cannot be seen until there is commitment to turning the shape." The following is a partial excerpt of “The Unseen Reflection: Marinations in Life,” that I hope all will enjoy. The book will be available later this year.
Chapter 17
January 6, 2010
We often seem to realize that things really aren't that bad...right after they become exponentially worse. Appreciate your situation for what it is...and be thankful for what it isn't.
     I often wonder to myself how much better, or perhaps worse, the world and our personal relationships would be if we always endeavored to put situations in perspective. I personally think things would be better...but I can’t ignore the possibility that they might actually get worse. I try to think on an optimistic level and keep things in perspective...from my point of view, thus I find myself saying “it could be worse” or “there’s always an upside”  whenever faced with a situation that has the potential to drag my spirits down and my attitude out.
     I like to shock people sometime with a very extreme example of there always being an upside. I use a scenario in which a man finally realizes his dream to go skydiving. He has saved up the money, taken all the lessons, gotten time off from work and is finally on his way to fly among the clouds and experience a feeling of freedom that can only be realized by jumping out of a perfectly functioning airplane (you guessed it, I’m not a fan of skydiving). 
     The man gets on the plane and can hardly contain himself as the plane takes off. His euphoria is building to near critical because his mind has already moved to the moment he leaps from the plane, even though his body has yet to follow. The plane reaches the right altitude and the word is given! The man leaps and it’s as if he has finally found the meaning to life and discovered the purpose of the universe...all at once. The wind beneath him, the air currents around him...he cannot form a coherent thought that describes the feeling going through him.
     Then he reaches his altitude for deploying the parachute. It saddens him just a little that his dance with heaven will soon be over, but he is excited at the idea that this door will now forever be open to him. He pulls the ripcord...and nothing happens! He pulls the emergency ripcord to the back-up parachute...and nothing happens! All at once he realizes that the parachutes will not be coming out and this will be his only dive from the sky. His heart and mind sink to the depths of his soul...and he feels them somewhere on the bottom of his feet. He is going to die...
     It’s at this point that I ask my million dollar question to whomever I’m talking to: What’s the upside? I have had the most interesting facial responses to this question that I have actually thought about doing a video blog on this just to share the incredible array of expressions. The answers have been equally interesting and surprisingly enough, nobody has ever answered the question with the answer I have for the question. I usually wait a few minutes and let the story sink in and the thought process take hold before revealing the upside.
     The upside is: the man’s death will be quick, instantaneous even. This moment is another for the video me. The most common response is “Yeah...but he’s going to die”. It’s tough for most to get their mind firmly planted around the idea that the final outcome of this situation is indeed death. The thought being that if the end result is death, then there can’t possibly be an upside. How can there be anything good about death? As I said, it’s the most common response, but it also shows how often the point of my example is missed.
     The man is going to die. I’ll say it again...the man is going to die. The upside rests in how he is going to die, not the fact that he may have a chance at life. His death will be as quick as a blink when he finally hits the ground. I think that to be a preferable way to go, than being tortured for fifteen hours by enemy combatants before finally succumbing to your wounds. Fifteen hours of complete agony before reaching the certainty of death? thanks. A blink is preferable to me than taking a year and a half to finally succumb to cancer. The agony and constant decline of your body is a nightmare beyond words in my mind.
     Some people retort that the man will be defecating on himself all the way down from the moment of parachute malfunction discovery...or that he will have a heart attack at the prospect of his body exploding on impact...and he might. He also might be of the mind to appreciate the situation for what it is...a quick and instant death, and be thankful he isn’t being tortured for hours or dying slowly in constant agony over time. This is a very extreme example, but if we can understand and grasp the idea in the extreme, then we can easily apply this idea with the mundane.
     In our everyday lives we come across situations that we think are as bad as they can be...only to realize that they weren’t as bad as we thought they were. This realization often comes the minute the situation gets worse. Your at a sporting event at odds with yourself because of the location of your seats, then it begins to thunderstorm. You get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere and can’t stop cursing about the time you will lose on your trip having to change the flat, only to discover there is no spare tire. Then you grumble about having to wait for a tow service, only to realize you have no signal for your cell phone to even make the call.
     There are many examples in all of our lives of how we paint a situation in the worst possible light...until the lighting changes and we see things clearly. Your job is cutting back on your rate of pay and you think that it really stinks that they’re doing that, but you’re still thankful to at least be working. You get into a car accident and break your leg, but at least you’re alive and well, apart from the broken leg. 
     I don’t know the long term ramifications of a universally adopted philosophy of always seeing the “upside” and being thankful that any given situation is not worse than it is...but it may be worth the effort, just to find out.