Sep 12, 2012

Like Father, Like Son

It is 9:09pm.  I am just now sitting in my living room with no interruptions - except for the insane dog scratching on a blanket to find a resting place, before tearing off to presumably chew on something new that will cause a scolding once I find it.  Just a few minutes ago, the last of our offspring shuffled off to bed.  Josiah turned eleven today.  He wasn't up celebrating his birthday, though.  He wasn't eating cake and playing with his newest Lego product.  He was doing homework.

With a greater frequency, this is how the last few hours of my day goes.  The kids get home from school.  They want to play and hang out.  Around 4:30, I will earn my "Daddy is a Jerk" plaque by telling them to start their homework.  There was a time when thirty short minutes later one of their bright shiny faces would stroll into the living room.  "I'm done.  Can you sign my planner?"  No more.  Instead, the process spans several hours.  I have to get involved at multiple points to get them to leave each other alone, to put down their toys, to get to work.  It is a super fun way to end the evening.

I was a bit frustrated when I noticed the volume of homework.  "I can't believe they give the kids this much stuff," I mumbled to myself, like some old guy about to go feed some pigeons.  But then I found out that the volume was contributed to by the fact that they didn't finish their work in class.  Or it was a project that was assigned a month prior and put off until the night before.  Then my frustration turned like a precision automobile from teacher to student.  I got the classwork issue fixed.  But the delaying of projects and assignments?  That's a lost cause, I fear.

Josiah is brilliant.  And he knows it.  This is a dangerous combination for any gifted individual.  You hear how smart you are enough, you start to buy into your own hype.  This is bad for several reasons.  First of all, as I am discovering now, you begin to believer your only worth comes from that ultra-impressive brain.  You have to keep manufacturing more and more noteworthy academic accomplishment to gain favor from others.  Straight A's don't cut it after a while.  There needs to be academic tournaments and truckloads of awards.  You only have worth as long as you are flaunting your mind.  That is a bit of a problem when the grades stop, mind you.  At some point, where you finished in your class doesn't matter one little bit.  (You'll probably realize this as you, the valedictorian, are now a subordinate at work to some mouth breather that can't match their socks.)

The other problems are not quite so destined for therapy.  A brilliant student knows they don't need to exert as much energy on work as the average kid.  Their "mediocre" is often better than the majority's best.  That isn't arrogance talking.  (Actually, it probably is.)  It is a fact.  This lack of a need for diligence leads to laziness.  It almost becomes a game.  Just how long can you put off an assignment and still get the desired grade.  I'm not talking about just passing.  A kid like this only deals with one grade.  "What is the least I can do to get an A?"  That is the defining question.  When getting A's isn't a challenge any more, the only challenge is in how little you can do to produce that A.  I remember countless times when my friends and I would have an unwritten contest on just who could do the least possible.  (Want to guess who won?)  In Spanish 1, I don't think I ever did a single assignment at home.  I got to school twenty minutes early, sat at the door to the Spanish classroom, and punched out the work.  I didn't hide it or anything.  The teacher comes by.  "Hi, David.  You get the homework done?'  "No, ma'am.  Doing it right now."  I would study the vocab words for the test the same way - in the hallway before class.

This kind of risk-taking behavior just keeps escalating.  There is a thrill in knowing you got away with something.  It isn't like there were more important things to do which kept me from finishing my assignments.  I just wanted to watch more tv or play more. It had nothing to do with a shortage of time. It had to do with a sick desire to see just how far I could push it.  Crown jewel of this process.  UCF, junior year.  A friend of mine and I are taking an Honors Seminar called "Amazonia in the Age of Development."  Oh, yes, I know.  Absolutely riveting.  The class ruled for a few reasons.  One, the teachers actually took advantage of the fact that the honors department had budgets for their classes for refreshments.  So we had chips, cookies, sodas at every class.  And we had a killer end of the year party with the biggest bowl of shrimp I had ever seen.  The class had one assignment.  If you attended every class without an absence, the teachers would bump your grade up one letter grade.  So on that one assignment, I realized I just needed a B-. You had to pick a research paper or an annotated bibliography.  The paper had to be forty pages with twenty sources.  The bibliography was supposed to be an in depth synopsis of fifty books.  I opted for the paper.  I had never met a paper I couldn't BS my way through.  [In another honors class, I didn't read the book and wrote a paper on it.  The professor returned it and said, "You were dead wrong in your hypothesis.  The author didn't mean that at all.  However, you proved your point so well, I couldn't give you less than a B+.]

This Amazonia paper was going to be my magnum opus.  I didn't even open the textbook all semester.  The first time I opened it was to get the publishing information out for the paper's bibliography.  I started on the paper two days before it was due.  I finished it at 2am on the day it was due.  I printed it out at my friend's apartment (after he finished printing his annotated bibliography). We ran across campus to the professor's office and turned them in five minutes before the deadline.  I got my paper back a week later.  "B-" I was fit to be tied.  I went to see the professor and almost had a conniption.  I reminded her I hadn't missed a class.  "I know.  That takes that into account."  She gave me a C- on the paper.  What!??!???!  "You are planning to go to grad school.  That kind of junk won't cut it there. I'm grading you like a grad student."  But I wasn't IN grad school.  This is an undergrad class.  That paper in this class was a B paper (bumped to an A for perfect attendance).  The professor wouldn't budge.   I hated her.  To this day, I still get worked up about it.  I told that story to Josiah and Natalie's Gifted teacher.  She told me the professor was unfair.  I smirked because I already knew that.  [Yes, I graduated 16 years ago.]

So what was Josiah working on tonight?  Well, he had math and science.  And he had a gifted project that was assigned a month ago . . . that he knew was due tomorrow a month ago . . . that I had repeatedly reminded him about.  Did that stop him?  Nope.  He is my son.  I have tried time and again to warn him about this stuff.  I have told him it is going to bite him in his butt at some point.  But he still thinks he knows best.  I know I never listened to anyone, either.  Sure, once in a while I misjudged just how lazy I could be.  But it never really hurt me.  Tenth grade US History.  I played that fun game where you see just how low of a grade you need on the final to get an A.  I needed a 73.  I hadn't gotten anything lower than an 85 all year on anything.  So I didn't even study for a cumulative final exam in U S History.  I got a 72.  The teacher gave me the extra point.  See?  It didn't hurt me.  So why stop?

Josiah has been learning the states and capitals and abbreviations in school this year.  Every week, they have a batch assigned to memorize.  Every week, they have a test.  Every week, he waits until the last minute.  The first test, I was at a church event the night before.  Heather helped him study and come up with tricks to memorize things.  He got a 104.  The next week, she was gone and I helped him the night before - warning him not to do it again.  He got a 104.  The next week, he came and told me that he had "forgotten" to study.  The test was the next day.  I refused to help him.  I earned the "Daddy is a Jerk" plaque.  I forced him to study it himself.  After he had spent two hours straight looking at it, Heather came home and quizzed him on them.  He ended up getting a 104.  I told him we weren't helping him at all this last batch.  I told him to study them ten minutes a day every day.  The last batch is due on Friday.  Want to guess how many times I have seen him study?  Yup.  Zero.  What's going to happen?  He'll get a 104.

On one hand, I am amazed at his brilliance.  I'm not like Mr. Incredible, almost encouraging the negative behavior.  But it is impressive.  It is also maddening.  I know now how it must have been to be my parent.  I met with his gifted teacher and talked about this.  It is perfectly normal for a gifted student.  And she said no matter how hard she tries - or how hard we try - he is not going to change until HE decides to.  Some comfort.  Right now, he doesn't see the need.  I know I never really saw the need.  I still tried to get away with that junk in seminary - with Hebrew.  It worked on the first semester.  I hit a stone wall in the second semester, so I dropped the class and changed my degree program to one without Hebrew.  (I never finished seminary anyway, so it didn't matter.  Different story.)

Just about once a week, I sit there and shake my head about something Josiah does that just echoes something I did.  He is so much a copy of me in so many ways.  That can be good and bad.  He has many of the same struggles I had.  And he has many of the same gifts I had.  So it is easy to always assume he is doing the exact same thing that I would be if I were him.  But that isn't always true.  There are times when I am convinced he is up to something - because I would have been at his age.  But he isn't.  He is his own unique individual.  And just like it can be frustrating and maddening to be parenting someone so similar to myself, it is also rewarding to see him branch out and do things I never would do.  He doesn't like football.  By his age, I was a complete football nut.  He constructs amazing creations with his Legos.  I never used Legos - those were my brother's toys.  He saved up $140 to buy a big Lego set and then used it to help purchase our (his) dog.  I never in a million years would have saved $140 at his age OR wanted a dog.  He went away to church camp this summer and didn't even call us the first three nights.  He turned down Safety Patrol because he didn't want to get to school early.  He still thinks liking a girl is just ridiculous (or so he claims).  And he just signed up for a robotics class.  These are all things that are completely opposite of how I was.

In so many ways, we are similar.  But I also am intrigued to see how different we end up being.  Either way, Josiah certainly challenges me and pushes me in ways no one else can.  Many times, that is not something I care for too much.  However it is forcing me to examine my own behaviors, thoughts, and habits to make sure I am teaching him the best way to become a man.  I'm sure that isn't his goal.  He just wants to be able to put off his homework and play for another thirty minutes.  It is an interesting by product, though.  I am happy he's my kid - even though I'll have to help him remember Sacramento is the capital of California tomorrow night.

Aug 30, 2012

Alphas is the Show Heroes Should Have Been

I remember the first time I ever heard about the show Heroes coming out.  I was in a theater in Asheville, North Carolina waiting to see Talladega Nights (don't judge me).  There were posters for this television show all over the movie theater.  They had Heroes printed on the popcorn and drink cups.  There were promotional flyers in the theater.  In the pre-movie time killer, they had a little trailer for it.  It looked awesome.  I started hearing more and more about the show and saw more commercials.  I couldn't believe this was actually happening.  There was going to be a weekly, live-action tv show about superheroes!  I couldn't wait. And it seemed like I wasn't alone.

Heroes was, in some ways, going to be a small screen version of X-Men.  It was the tale of what Marvel Comics has always classified as mutants - people who, through a mysterious benevolent mutation, have developed skills and abilities greater than the average human.  As any comic book fan worth his salt knows, X-Men is one of the biggest comic franchises out there.  It has spawned three good movies (and two lousy movies).  The animated X-Men tv show from the 1990s was incredibly popular and well done.  The X-Men arcade game was and is a classic.  So the chance to see something resembling that on primetime television was about all this geek could handle.

When Heroes premiered, it was great.  The whole concept was mysterious.  There was this eclipse that caused all these people to suddenly develop crazy powers.  They could fly or absorb powers or heal themselves or freeze time.  There was an evil government agency that was tracking these people.  There were secrets and twists and turns.  I remember actually writing this at one point early on in the season: "Heroes has officially surpassed Lost as the best show on television."  And I believed it.  It was one of our go-to shows.  Can't miss television.

Then something went wrong.  Maybe it was the crazy inconsistency of plots.  Maybe it was the fact that there were just too many secrets and cover-ups.  Maybe it was the inexplicable network necessity to turn popular bad-guy characters (Sylar, Horn Rimmed Glasses Man) into tragic heroes.  The season started to drag.  It wasn't fun any more.  It became extremely violent.  Characters didn't act in ways consistent with how they were created.  Massive story arcs panned out to be pointless.  Too much attention was paid to Sylar.  But I stuck with it, hoping what every fan of the show hoped for.  The finale was going to be epic.

The whole season was building to massive showdown.  Sylar was accumulating so much power that he had to be stopped.  I remember the last scene in the penultimate episode - Sylar got the radioactive powers and stood there looking at the city.  He just said, "Boom!"  It was evil and set the stage.  It was apparent that the good heroes were going to have to have a massive throwdown with Sylar.  The Petrelli brothers, Hiro, everyone came together for the big battle.  And then when the massive fight happened...  Well, it never happened.  It was the least satisfying climactic battle scene I can remember.  I looked at my wife and she looked at me.  "What?!?"  That was it?  It was the exact opposite of how Lost handled their seasons.  Sure, they may meander and have some clunkers.  But they always delivered the goods in the season finales.  Heroes just flopped.

We watched the first couple of the new season and they were horrible.  A couple of times I considered going back to the show, but everything I was reading was so negative.  I didn't even realize that the show had a third season until I started reading about the upcoming series finale.  I didn't even bother.  How did a show with so much promise, that started off so well, end up fizzling out?  NBC obviously took a big risk on the show and dumped a lot of money into it.  But it just couldn't stand up for the whole season.  Such a disappointment.

Fast forward a few years.  SyFy Channel has been started putting out original series.  They are fun and entertaining.  Eureka was a solid comic, action, sci-fi entry for several years.  Warehouse 13 upped the mystery and at-times creepiness factor, while keeping the humor and homages to sci-fi classics (especially in their guest star casting).  Last year they introduced a new show, Alphas.  I am a pretty loyal viewer and will give networks, movie studios a shot on their new products if they have been consistently reliable.  I'll see every Pixar movie that comes out.  I'll at least try every new USA Network offering (an usually like them).  So I went ahead and watched Alphas.  The synopsis sounded familiar.  A group of people have started to be discovered that have powers greater than normal humans.  There is a government agency involved.  Mystery surrounds the "alphas" and how they came to be.

From the very outset, it became apparent to me that this could be the best entry yet in the "benevolent mutation" genre.  Yes, even, perhaps, better than X-Men.  We are greeted with a person who isn't in control of his actions.  But he knows he is supposed to kill someone.  With his enhanced skills, he is able to use a sniper rifle to shoot a man in a closed off interrogation room through an air vent.  The whole scene was crazy and compelling.  We are then introduced to Dr Rosen - a psychiatrist with sympathies for "alphas" and his special team of "alphas."  They investigate crimes that appear to be caused by other "alphas."  Each member of the team has a power - what would usually be called a superpower.  But, it comes with a twist.

One of the things about Heroes and even X-Men that is hard to deal with is that these supers have these awesome powers that have no explainable origin.  That is something that always bugged me about Superman.  I can understand the yellow sun giving him enhanced strength, super speed, and maybe even the laser eyes.  But how does it give him x-ray vision or super freezing breath.  And how can he fly?  That isn't something that is a natural progression.  A flying person is a cool concept.  But HOW can they do that?  What allows them to completely ignore laws of physics?  Their bodies are not more streamlined than other people.  They don't have wings.  So how can they manipulate air currents when an average person can't?  Like with the Hulk, he can jump insane distances to where you might think he was flying.  But that isn't what Superman does.  He doesn't push off of the ground so hard he breaks gravity's power (or the concrete would crack).  He doesn't jump off a building and catch a current.  Heroes had the same problem with Nathan.  How did he fly?  If someone is going to have a mutation, it should take the form of an enhancement of a normal ability.  Claws shooting out of your hand?  Doesn't qualify.  Neither does turning your skin into diamonds or metal, teleporting, or growing wings.

With Alphas, though, that is exactly what happens.  They take a normal human function and ramp it up.  Bill, one of the leaders of the good guys, has his normal "fight or flight"reflex on supercharge.  Whereas a normal person may be able to run faster in a threatening situation, Bill is able to run faster and hit harder.  But, it doesn't last long.  And he, along with all the others, has a negative side effect.  His heart is wearing out from the pressure of overusing it.  It is a brilliant and "more realistic concept.  Rachel has super senses - she can amplify her hearing, smell, sight to identify things far beyond a normal person.  But that ability brings with it a crushing fear of social settings.  Even a whiff of cologne can give her a headache.  She can see bacteria and germs, so she hates eating out.  Nina can "push" people by staring them in the eye and making them do what she wants through suggestions.  But she has used it so much that she never knows if someone really wants to be with her or if she is making them feel that way.  One of the most interesting team members is Gary - an autistic young man who has the ability to "see" electronic communications.  So he has the ability for unusual communication, but is almost unable to communicate with others.

Every "alpha" we meet fits into this pattern.  Their abilities are amplified versions of normal human functions.  One guy can rub his hands together with the resulting friction causing sparks.  Another's metabolism runs so fast that he can move super fast - only he ages at a ridiculous rate.  One guy can use acid reflux to spit acid at people.  Another can learn virtually anything in a short period of time at the expense of her long term memory.  One of the more fascinating character is played by Summer Glau.  She can see the patterns of how objects piece together, giving her mastery of machinery.  But she has no order in her life.  She keeps moving around, has trouble working with others, seems to be destined to chaos.

The regular people are at first oblivious of the existence of these enhanced individuals.  The government is well aware and are terrified.  They usually banish them to a shady mental institution and try to keep them under control.  Last season ended with Dr. Rosen going public with the existence of these "alphas."  He ended up in trouble for it and the government kicked into overdrive with controlling the "alphas."  A new big bad has arisen, Stanton Parish - someone with enhanced healing abilities.  He sees the rise of the "alphas" as inevitable and is trying to bring it about.  Rosen is trying to get them to live in harmony with the humans and has struck an uneasy peace with the government to keep the peace.  What?  You say that sounds familiar?  You're right.  Parish=Magneto. Rosen=Professor Xavier.  It is almost like we have that realistic version of the X-Men that Heroes was supposed to be.  Some of that could be attributed to the fact that Alphas was created by Zak Penn, writer of Avengers, X-Men 2, and X-Men 3 (maybe that isn't the best example).  Like with X-Men, you can tell a war is coming.  This time, though, there is a slow burn.  But it isn't accelerated like in the first season of Heroes.  There is a story of the week format, with them all fitting into the larger Stanton Parish problem.

I also feel the characters in Alphas are better developed.  We don't just care about their abilities; we care about them.  They are extremely well written and have multiple layers.  Cameron - the assassin from the pilot episode - is now on the team.  He had been under the control of a mind controlling "alpha," so he was released to serve on the team.  He has such a tragic back story.  He used to be a pitcher and had thrown two perfect games, thanks to his ability to see angles and trajectories.  But he was a drunk.  He lost his career, lost his family, was working in a grocery store.  In addition, he had become such a mess that he couldn't even use his abilities.  Now he seems to be getting his life in order, but not in that "everything is better after one season" manner that other shows resort to.  He still makes bad choices and gets waylaid by strong influences.

Overall, I have been very pleased with Alphas.  I like the creativity of the different characters and how they keep coming up with different powers.  I am invested in the recurring characters and their story.  I also want to see where the show goes with everything.  It looks like a war is coming soon.  And I can't wait to see how that looks.  The actions sequences are very good in the show.  Will they be able to come up with the action necessary to reflect a big war?  We'll see.  How do you stop a person who can't be killed?  Also, how can the "good guys" battle Parish's recruitment campaign?  The government has already proven they can't be trusted.  It will be a big challenge to get people to side with them.  It makes for compelling television.

Alphas airs on Monday nights, at 8:00pm, on SyFy.

Aug 10, 2012

Dog Person

I am taking a break from my focusing on the Olympics and fawning over Oscar Pistorius.  Don't worry - there will probably be at least one more post (maybe two, if South Africa medals today with Pistorius running anchor in the 4x400).  I really think the first week of the Games is much better than the second week.  I watched every night of the first week, but I actually have been watching other stuff this week and just flipping back to see the important stuff (Usain Bolt, Beach Volleyball final, anything involving Pistorius).  So I have had time to post something different today.

I have developed a reputation over the years for hating dogs.  I would like to dispute this fact right here.  I do not HATE dogs.  I just don't LIKE most dogs.  First of all, I am a cat person.  Just like with other major showdowns in our world, you can only take one side.  Coke/Pepsi - I choose Pepsi.  Star Wars/Star Trek - I choose Trek.  UF/FSU - well, on that one I hate them both.  So when it comes to the dog/cat showdown, I land on the side of cats.  Why, you may ask?  Fair enough question.

  1. Size - I don't like big dogs.  Cats are the perfect size to sit on your lap and get loved on.  When you have a big idiot dog wanting snuggled, it is annoying.  They lean all over you and knock you over.  Plus it is like having another person in the house.  Cats are small and don't take up a lot of space.  Advantage: Cats.
  2. Bathroom Issue - Cats you send to the litter box IN the house.  You clean that out regularly.  Pretty easy.  Dogs you walk around OUT of the house.  They traipse all over the yard, sniffing every blade of grass and trying to eat whatever they find.  Lizards, bugs, mulch, plastic, turds.  They are disgusting.  If the cats eat turds, at least I'm not watching it while getting soaked by the afternoon storm that ALWAYS is happening RIGHT when the dog needs to go out.  You take a dog out and they start off sniffing, wander around the yard for ten minutes, end up right back where they started and go potty.  The cat just walks off into another room and is done.  Advantage: Cats.
  3. Status - Cats are not people.  They don't think they are people.  They have no interest in being people because they believe in their hearts that they are far superior to people.  Why would they demean themselves?  Dogs, on the other hand, think they are people.  They want to sleep where people sleep, eat where and what people eat, sit where people sit.  They always feel like they need to be in the middle of everything.  They are like extremely insecure children.  "What's going on?  Are you talking about me?  Why wasn't I included?"  Unfortunately, dog people have no problem encouraging this behavior and treating their dogs like people.  Here is part of my problem.  We always had cats growing up and also always had dogs.  The dogs had jobs.  They were guard dogs.  They slept outside, ate outside, drank water out of buckets.  They were not even allowed into the house.  That was until we got one exceptionally stupid dog named Red.  He was a big dope - barked at plastic bags, got scared of airplanes.  He was a big baby.  My mom felt for this big lug, so he got special treatment.  He got to come in the house when it was cold or raining.  My mom used an old purple sweatshirt and made him a shirt for when it was cold.  What a dork (the dog, not my mom).  I'm used to dogs being outside and being, well, dogs.  Cats could care less about any of this.  Advantage: Cats.
  4. Intelligence - Cats are smart.  They are conniving and plotting and planning.  They always look like they are thinking about how to kill you and assume your identity.  I am not threatened by this.  I appreciate it.  Dogs can be very dumb.  Not all dogs are dumb.  I'm sure your dog is a Mensa candidate.  But dogs do dumb things.  They eat their own puke.  They chase cars.  Golden retrievers have been known to hang themselves while tied up outside.  They sit there with their tongues hanging out, which doesn't help their cause.  Advantage: Cats.
So, I have always been partial to cats.  But there has been an exclusion to this - one loophole.  I like small dogs.  In some ways, small dogs are superior to cats.  They fit on your lap. They are sweet. You don't have to deal with the shedding thing most cats do.  You don't have to worry you will wake up chained up in a cellar while the cats eat your fine meats upstairs.  Sure you still have the bathroom issue and the less-than-stellar IQ tests.  But there are some real benefits to a small dog.  Even still, I am not a dog person.

My big problem is that I live with three dog people.  Heather, Josiah, and Natalie LOVE dogs.  They always are drawn to dogs and want to play with them.  They like it when dogs lick them, even their faces.  [Oh, I forgot that in my list.  The face licking.  AND the butt sniffing.  Repulsive.]  Heather grew up with dogs.  Josiah and Natalie have always loved them.  I have known for years we were destined to end up with a dog.  My saving grace came when Gabe came along.  For some reason, he has been terrified of dogs.  Not like me, where he didn't like them.  He was physically terrified of them. So, now I didn't have to ban the canines on my own.  I could just say, "Well Gabe is terrified of dogs." As much as the kids and Heather love dogs, they love Gabe more.  We would try to get him comfortable with them.  He has had a couple that he was okay with.  But he was still jittery.  So we continued to be dog-less.

So this is our dog, Katie Bell.  How did this happen?  Well, the deck was stacked against me, to be honest.  We were at the Oviedo "Mall" the other day and decided to get lunch at the Food Court.  Since everyone has to eat at different restaurants, I went to pull some cash out of the ATM by the Food Court, but it was broken.  (I know it is hard to believe something at the Oviedo "Mall" wouldn't be in perfect working order.)  So we ended up walking over to Dillard's to use their ATM.  On the way, we passed Pet Rescue by Judy, who uses a store front on weekends.  The kids begged to go in, so I kept going to Dillard's and Heather took them in to see the animals.  When I came back a few minutes later, they are all standing in front of the store.  Josiah and Natalie are pleading with Heather (which I expected), and Gabe was standing there crying.  When I got even with them, I asked Heather, "What happened?  Did he get bit or is he just scared?"  She looked at me and said, "No, actually he's upset that we can't bring that one dog in there home with us." 

Well, dang.  I knew the day would come when Gabe was okay with dogs.  But I didn't expect it so soon.  And I certainly didn't think he would be crying because we didn't get a particular dog.  I looked at Heather with a quizzical look on my face.  "Seriously," she said. "There's a little black dachshund mix in there and he loved it."  Now, that's not fair.  Everyone in the family knows that the one kind of dog that I have always been partial to was dachshunds.  I even have a magnet on the refrigerator of one.  I went in to the store with them to check out this miracle dog and see Gabe's reaction.  He was completely terrified of every dog in the store.  Except this one.  

We talked about things at lunch and came up with a plan that could work involving Josiah's birthday and the dog.  But I wanted to see Gabe interact with the dog.  We went back to the store for nearly an hour to let the kids play with the dog.  By the time we left, it was apparent this dog had some kind of special bond with our kids.  So we set the wheels in motion to see what we could do to get the dog.  There was a whole list of things that had to work right for this to happen - the landlord, the owners, the other people contributing to Josiah's birthday stuff.  Each step worked out perfectly.  So now we are dog owners.

Even though this is "Josiah's dog," you already know how this is going.  As I have been typing this post, where has Katie been sitting?  That's right - on my chest.  It is a hard thing to train a dog.  We also have to train kids on how to have a dog.  They don't think to take her out enough or give her enough time outside, so she has had some accidents.  They don't remember to feed her.  They don't get down on the floor to play with her enough.  So I have had to step in while they are learning.  Everyone wants a dog, but they don't always want the responsibility of it.  So they are learning, especially Josiah. He told me the other day, "I'm glad I have her, but I never knew she would be so much work."  I laughed, partly because I completely understood and had said the same thing once we had kids, partly because he has no idea just how much work it is because he isn't doing all of it.  

It has been stressful, to be sure.  Last night I was having a hard time.  I am a pretty big guy (shocker, I know).  The dog is very tiny - she is just six pounds.  When she makes a mess or does something wrong, I have to jump up to correct her and stop it.  That is probably terrifying to a very small dog.  Last night, she was quivering and trying to run away into the bushes after I caught her peeing on the floor and corrected her.  She just sat there, paralyzed in fear.  That makes you feel great.  I hate the fact that she gets scared of me, but she has to learn. From my own history, I have never wanted to have my kids or any small creature fear me.  Of course, as I told Heather last night, if I didn't care so much I wouldn't care.  That is the thing ... I love the dog.  I keep saying I don't, but everyone knows I'm a liar.  I love having a little animal love me and sit on me.  She is very sweet and fun.  She may be Josiah's dog, but she thinks I'm her person.  I can be her person, but I still am not a dog person.  

Aug 7, 2012

Olympics 2012 Diary: Inspiration

We have hit that point in the Olympics where things are not as crazy and exciting.  Instead of spending the last two nights glued to NBC's DVR rebroadcast, I have actually been catching up on some shows on our own DVR.  Sure, there are some cool things here an there.  But once swimming, gymnastics, and the signature track events are over, things slow down considerably.  We still have a lot of team based finales coming up (basketball, volleyball - court and beach, soccer, water polo).  My interest definitely wanes, though.

So what would you say has been the most incredible performance in these Olympics?  As far as a career culmination, most people would point to Michael Phelps.  Usain Bolt's mind-blowing 9.62 in the 100 meters was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen.  Mckayla Maroney's vault in the team finals was jaw-dropping - as evidenced by the classic pictures of the judges doing just that.  There were several swimming events that broke records.  Kevin Durant rained three pointers on Argentina like it was a pickup game.  And Jessica Ennis obliterated the field in the heptathlon.  But for me the answer is simple.

Take a minute and look at that picture.  It almost looks Photoshopped.  It looks like someone was erasing the bottom and accidentally removed the guy's legs.  Except it isn't like that at all.  This is Oscar Pistorius, sprinter from South Africa. He was born without tibias in his lower legs, so the doctors amputated his legs when he was eleven months old.  Now, an inspirational story would be that the child learned to walk on artificial limbs and lived a relatively normal life.  That would be an incredible performance.  But, Oscar wasn't content with that and neither was his family.  Instead, he worked really hard and became a sprinter on his artificial Cheetah blades.

Now, his talent for sprinting is indeed great.  He has represented South Africa in the Paralympic Games.  And he has routinely destroyed the competition because he is ridiculously fast.  This would be an incredible performance.  But that wasn't something to be contented with, either.  Oscar is fast enough that his top speeds are comparable to the "able-bodied" athletes in the Olympics.  So he pursued that goal as well.  If someone can qualify for the Olympics and they are following the rules, they should be allowed to compete.

This is where Oscar's story gets strange.  He was banned from the Games because the authorities ruled his limbs gave him a competitive advantage.  To this day, there are people who say he should not be there because he is using attachments to his body to compete.  US track legend, Michael Johnson, is one of the detractors.  Now this is where I take pause in this whole story.

My favorite sports columnist, Bill Simmons, has proposed several times that all sports teams and sports ruling bodies should be forced to hire a "VP of Common Sense."  This would be a non-sports related individual that had to make a final approval on all trades, roster moves, and rule changes.  This would be someone like you and me, someone far enough from the situation to think clearly.  A BS detector, if you will.  There have been many times in the sports world where a decision was made where we, the fans, have said, "Who came up with that?  If I ran my business that way, I would go broke."  This is where the VP of Common Sense comes in.

I wish that there had been a VP of Common Sense when this original ruling came down on Pistorius.  I mean, even the announcers at the Olympics - who are not generally considered insightful by any stretch of the imagination - just can't get over how ludicrous this entire train of thought is.  You know this.  I know this.  It is nonsense.  The man does not have legs.  Everyone else does.  What possible steps could be taken - short of mounting him on jetpacks, rockets, or actual cheetahs - could ever made THAT equal, let alone give him an advantage?  Think about this for just a minute.  HE DOESN'T HAVE FEET.  I'm not being crass here.  I just want that to sink in.  Think about all the things you need feet for in your life.  True, most of us are stuck in a sitting position for most of the day and could manage just fine without feet.  But getting up, walking to find a donut in the break room, standing up to pee, driving.  Things get complicated.  Average, boring, menial things get complicated.  But running at an Olympic speed?  In the words of Gus on Psych, "Son, puh-leeze."

I would have overruled them.  I would have said, "Think about it, jack wagon. How could you possibly justify this stance?"  Even with this setback, Pistorius kept training and challenged their ruling. He got a team of experts to testify in his favor.  I read the summaries of the reports by this team.  They couldn't even agree with each other about why the ruling was wrong - but they all said it was wrong.  One of them said that the artificial legs DID give him an advantage when it came to moving his legs faster because the lack of bones made them lighter, meaning they could go faster.  One of them said that the blades gave him a higher rate of return on the leg muscles effort, but a grossly inferior rate of return from the foot itself pushing onto the track.  Supposedly a human foot will return over 200 percent of the force pushed down in a race.  The blade only returned 90 percent.  The final expert - who has artificial legs with robotic elements - said the other guys were all completely daft and none of what they said was true.  His report was more along the line of what I have said.  "You guys are seriously stupid.  Just think for a second what you are saying."

So Pistorius was cleared to compete.  He was named to the South African team for the 400 meter sprint and the 4x400 relay.  On Saturday, as soon as I woke up, I fired up and watched the replay of his qualifying race.  They ran it in the evening as well, with the commentators.  It was bizarre.  This was really the first that anyone had mentioned Pistorius on the NBC coverage.  They were so busy mooning over Phelps and Lochte and Gabby Douglas.  The track team of Tom Hammon and Ato Boldin are usually very good.  But this time, it was almost like they were condescending.  It was like it was a curiosity.  "He isn't expected to do much, but it means so much he is even here."  Now, the crowd in London didn't quite feel the same.  They gave him such a rousing ovation for just standing there, you would have thought he was British.  You could tell he was extremely moved at the reality of the race finally happening.

The gun went off and so did Pistorius.  The announcers were stunned to see that he wasn't loafing in the back.  Instead, he was up near the front.  In fact, he finished his heat second, behind eventual silver medalist, Luguelin Santos, in a time of 45.44 seconds.  Wrap your mind around that.  I am always amazed at how fast the sprinters in the Olympics can run.  I swear, Usain Bolt is just a blur of limbs as his lopes down the track.  But Oscar Pistorius is not your average sprinter.  He shouldn't be able to run that fast.  The story took off, and NBC finally got a clue.  They ran the pre-Games interview between Mary Carillo and Oscar.  He was on the Today Show.  There was a lot of build-up to his semifinal race.

I was rooting for him to win.  But, he came in eighth.  It wats apparent, though, that no one in the stadium thought that was a loss.  This included his fellow competitors.  In a great picture, the eventual gold medalist, Kirani James of Grenada (who just seems like a really cool guy), came up and wanted to switch name bibs with Pistorius in a show of sportsmanship.  You could tell the other guys were deeply respectful.  Oscar didn't just show up - he raced and competed and held his own.  It was incredible to watch, and my most amazing performance of the Games.

It also got me thinking.  Pistorius has had to do so much work to get where he has gotten.  He has trained himself daily to get into the shape necessary to be a competitor on any stage.  But he also has had to fight in the courts to get the right to compete where he has every right to be - the biggest stage.  He has had to listen to people who have held up his biggest disadvantage and dared to say it gave him an unfair advantage.  In one way they are right.  It isn't the blades that gives him an advantage.  It is the commitment to overcome the hand he was dealt.  It is the lifetime of struggling and fighting and overcoming that no person with full use of their limbs can ever know.  He does have an unfair advantage - but it isn't from science or technology.  He had every excuse to NOT do this.  Most of us wouldn't excuse someone like Ryan Lochte or Missy Franklin for quitting the pursuit of gold.  It is all consuming and exhausting, more than any person should have to go through if they don't want to.  So no one in their right mind would blame Pistorius for quitting at any point in the process.

Most of us are content to let greatness pass us by.  We aren't committed to see it through.  It just becomes too much work.  I have loved the Nike ads narrated by Tom Hardy through these Olympics, reminding us that greatness is not something born into people.  It is discovered and worked toward.  To say it is born diminishes just how great greatness is.  Sure, someone like Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin or Lebron James may have the genetic package to succeed in their selected sports.  But that doesn't guarantee anything.  Just go look on any playground basketball court in New York City and you'll find dozens of players that had the genetic package to make the NBA.  But some combination of events and choices led them away.

I struggle with this.  I know that I have talents - great talents in some areas.  I am not being a braggart by saying that.  I have a lifetime of trophies and accolades and awards to back this up.  To claim that I don't have talent actually minimizes the gifts that God gave me.  But I am so afraid.  I can be so lazy.  So I just don't follow through.  I love writing.  It is something that is not an effort for me.  My life has happened in such a way that I was prepared to be a writer.  The three hardest teachers I ever had were 10th, 11th, and 12th grade English.  They honed my skills.  But everyone thinks they can be a writer.  That is why there are fifty gazillion blogs out there.  And it is easy to not follow through on something that I want to do out of fear that I won't succeed, or that I am fooling myself.  I have wanted to write a book for so long.  This isn't just a dream that I came up with yesterday.  I have a folder on my computer with book ideas - complete with thumbnails, chapters, intros.  One series I thought up has the floor plan for seven entire books.  They are just sitting there.

When I see someone like Oscar Pistorius, the thought that comes is, "So, what's your excuse?"  Trust me, I have many.  And I usually ignore that question.  It is too uncomfortable.  I have dozens of reasons why I don't do something.  People may not like it.  No one will read it.  Maybe I'm not actually that good.  Maybe I'm actually not that funny.  What about money?  How will I print it?  No publisher will ever buy it.  What about time?  With all the other stuff I am doing or need to be doing, how will I have time to write something that isn't guaranteed to even be bought or read or anything?  The voices of doubt are so loud in my head that I can't even move.  It is frustrating.  And I have a feeling that I am not alone in those thoughts.  I want to move past that fear and paralysis to actually DO something.

I have heard people ask, "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?"  That isn't a great question, I have realized.  There is never a guarantee we won't fail.  And to only do something if we know we won't fail, well then we don't want to do that thing enough.  Pistorius didn't know he wouldn't fail.  There was no guarantee ever for him. We need to ask, "What is it you want to do, even if you might fail?'  Jumping into something because you believe in it and are committed to it, even if the cards are stacked against you is so much better.  That is when greatness happens.  That is something Olympic athletes have realized.  That is something that Oscar Pistorius lives by.  And that is something I hope I can learn too.

Aug 4, 2012

Olympics 2012 Diary: Week One

And before I realized it, the first week of the Olympics were over.  I have failed again in keeping up with a regular diary.  If I was an Olympian, I would have been one of those guys who bombed out in the first qualifying heat.  The one who looked like he was doggie paddling in a freestyle race.  It would have been pathetic.  I'm glad my failure was more private and relegated to my recliner.

It has been an exciting first week.  The Olympics never fails in delivering the goods. There has been more than a fair share of controversy (a lot of it involving NBC), but nothing outrageous like a steroid discovery in a major event ala Ben Johnson.  All in all, I have enjoyed the many many hours I have spent watching people doing things I could not do in my wildest dreams.  While I had intended to be more prolific with my entries, I will have to settle for a recap of some major story lines.

NBC -  It almost seems unfair at this point to take shots at NBC.  They have made a TON of errors in their coverage of these games.  It almost is as embarrassing as the 2000 Sydney Games. One of my friends, Stuart, posted a funny tweet that just about summed up the complaints.  "It is nice of NBC to share their DVR with the world."  I've taken my shots at the coverage as well.  Tape delaying the games for sometimes twelve or eighteen hours is ridiculous.  Packaging and editing to only focus on Americans or to raise tension is obnoxious.  And their dumbo move of running a promo for their own show that spoiled a race outcome was inexcusable.  But I am going to take a different track this time.

-  I read a great post the other day that asked if we were to run NBC, would we do anything different?  He wasn't asking us as fans, but us as businessmen.  NBC paid a huge amount of money for the right to broadcast this event and needs to make their money back.  They need to get eyeballs on the screen.  What exactly could be changed?  It was a good point.  I couldn't answer.  Brings a different perspective.

-  The ratings are not showing a lack of happiness.  If it were offensive enough, wouldn't millions of people abandon the shows?  Instead, they are thrashing everyone.
-  There is a massive amount of coverage available.  I have been stunned to see it.  It's a shame that the live stuff that runs all day is the heats and qualifiers.  But there is a LOT of live coverage on the television.  NBC shows Olympic coverage on the main station from 9am to 5pm.  Then they air again from 8pm to 12am and 1230am to 3am.  In addition to that, their is almost non-stop coverage on CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports Network, and Bravo.  There also is an entire station dedicated to Soccer and another to Basketball.  If that isn't enough, EVERYTHING is available online live and can be viewed after on replay.  That is a mind-numbing amount of coverage.  I have seen every sport that has run at some point. That is admirable.

That all being said, there have been some moments that were very frustrating.  If you are going to delay coverage until 8pm, that's fine.  But then waiting to show gymnastics until 9:30pm or 10pm? Ridiculous.  My daughter wasn't able to watch any gymnastics "live" because she can't stay up that lated.  On the topic of gymnastics, I hated that they didn't show a single rings routine in the men's gymnastics team or all-around competition.  How do you leave out an entire apparatus?  Also, NBC had concocted a massive amount of coverage for John Orozco.  The second he fell off the horse, it was like he didn't exist any more.  They didn't reference him or show him again.  Pitiful.  They started to to the same thing to Aly Reisman in the women's all-around before she clawed back into the medal chase.  Even still, she didn't get a third the coverage of Gabby Douglas.  Jonathan Frakes (Cmdr Riker from Star Trek) tweeted that NBC was very jingoistic in their packaging of sports.  I agree.  If an American wasn't in an event or a final, it didn't happen.  That is annoying, because there are some great foreign athletes with stories just as moving, or more so, that the American reps.  The first female athletes from several Muslim countries?  That is huge.  But they weren't even acknowledged in the Opening Ceremony.  There are teams from countries in turmoil - Tunisia, Egypt, North Korea - what about what it takes for them to get to London?  I am always intrigued when there is an athlete from a non-traditional team in an event final.  What is their story? Good luck finding out on NBC.

There have obviously been some major issues, but some of them stem from things that I don't really know how ANYONE would figure them out.

TWITTER - This is one of those things.  I mentioned the 2000 Sydney Games.  That was the first Olympics that really had to deal with problem of the Internet.  NBC didn't have any clue how to address the fact that people could find out every result twelve hours before they aired.  This year, the problem is Twitter.  This is the first Olympics that had to deal with the obsession with instantaneous information.  The first day of competition, people everywhere were tweeting results.  You had athletes and fans in London, people watching the live feeds on NBCLive, sportscasters from around the world all putting results on their twitter accounts.  And no one was really prepared for that.  My wife and I both got burned independently of each other with a twitter update from someone we follow.  Honestly, I don't know if people would have been so angry with NBC if Twitter wasn't compounding the problem. It didn't take long before we realized we just had to avoid Twitter (and Facebook) on days that we wanted to not know results before the prime time showings.  It is awesome to see the comments from people actually over there.  But, at the same time, the spoilers have been very annoying.  Even today, when gymnastics spoilers were over, I had several swimming events ruined by people I never would have expected to say something.  

DUMB RULES -  Answer me this: Why is it that only two people from a country can compete in the gymnastics individual all-around finals?  No clue?  It isn't consistent, either.  There can be three representatives from a country in the track and field finals.  The US has swept events before.  So why is the rule two in some events and three in others?  It is one thing when you can only BRING two or three athletes in an event.  But why put a cap part way through a competition?  It was ridiculous that Jordyn Wieber wasn't allowed to compete in the all-around.  She finished fourth in the competition and sat home in the all-around.  The same thing happened to another American in an event final.  And I heard today that it happened in another sport.  There is no good reason.  Now, if that all got you irritated, wait until someone gets tossed on the "no mercy" false start rule in sprinting.

STILL HARD TO BEAT SWIMMING - For pure excitement and action, it hard to beat swimming. The races are usually short.  They have a lot going on.  And they are gorgeous on television.  With all the technological innovations, it has gotten even better.  We know who is in each lane.  We get camera angles that make it so exciting.  And the announcers are the best in any event, in my opinion.  The stories are good.  The hidden politics and rivalries are even fun.  And I love to see rising stars emerge that will be involved in several Olympics.  We saw Michael Phelps in Sydney as a precocious teenager.  This year, we met Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky - who will be back in Rio and wherever 2020 lands.  Very enjoyable sport.

PEOPLE NEED TO LIGHTEN UP -  This sound weird coming from a person who blogs and tweets and has a highly developed sense of snark.  But it is true.  One thing that is definitely true about America is that we are ultra-sensitive about anything.  If the events of the past week has shown us anything, it is that Americans can get all worked up about everything.  The thing we don't realize is that not every country in the world is that hyper-sensitive.  Not every country shares our beliefs, our views, or our paranoia.  And we also need to realize that not everything that is said and done is meant as an offense.  When a commercial with a monkey doing gymnastics airs right after Gabby Douglas wins the gold medal, it was not intended as a racist comment.  That commercial had run several times before.  It was part of a huge marketing campaign for NBC's new show Animal Practice.  There also was one of a dog swimming right after Michael Phelps missed the medal in his first race.  That wasn't a comment about him, either.  Gabby Douglas' hairdo isn't worth getting all worked up about, and neither is Serena Williams' hairdo.  When Lolo Jones tweets, wondering when the gun competitions are after the US lost the archery event in heartbreaking fashion, she is not saying she endorses gun violence.  She was saying that we are better at gun events - something that has been proven by our medal victories in them.  When a swimmer comments that Michael Phelps hasn't trained as hard this Olympics, it wasn't "calling him out" or minimizing his talents.  Phelps himself admitted as much.  If a Chinese swimmer puts up a ludicrously fast time, it does not automatically mean she is doping (as NBC went out of the way to claim they were not saying, but by claiming to not say it they were saying it).  And if an underwater camera accidentally catches one player pulling the suit down on another player in a water polo match, it is not the modern equivalent of the Janet Jackson halftime show.  I am a very conservative person.  But I also feel I am a reasonable person.  Let's work a little harder in the second week to lighten up a wee bit.

WHY THE OLYMPICS RULE - Lots of people wonder why the Olympics is so popular.  I have wondered that.  Some of it is the novelty of it.  We don't have to be invested in the process week in and week out like other sports.  We root for things based on our country, which just seems natural.  All the corporate ugliness that sullies so many sports seems to melt away.  Even mega-millionaires take the Olympics seriously.  But I think the real draw of the Olympics comes from the fact that MOST of the sports are very relatable.  Swimming?  I do that.  Running?  When someone with a weapon is chasing me, I do that.  Jumping, throwing stuff, picking things up.  I do those things.  It seems like those sports are the ones that are the most popular.  The simpler it is to put on the event, the more popular it seems to be.  Running is huge.  Swimming is mammoth.  Flipping around on a mat is easy to stage.  So it putting up a volleyball net and hoisting a basketball hoop.  Table tennis, badminton, tennis, soccer.  These are not foreign concepts.  You could argue that shooting guns and arrows, martial arts, boating, and horse riding are some of the older skills in the world.  We can all relate to these things.  Now, it may be true that I can't relate to the rifle events, where the people have Robocop-like attachments all over their body.  But the thought of shooting a gun is not that hard to grasp.  And I think that is what makes the Olympics so powerful, as well.  I can run (sort of).  So when I see someone running down the track so fast that they barely look human, I can really appreciate that.  I swim across our pool, kind of like a whale moving slowly along.  The fact that there are people that can swim 50 meters in 25 seconds is something I can grasp as being freaking ridiculous.  That feeling is worldwide.  I'm actually glad that they have gotten rid of some events, like baseball and softball.  The more accessible the event, the better chance it will rock out in the Olympics.

Jul 28, 2012

Olympics 2012 Diary: Excitement

I love the Olympics.  It is hands down my favorite sporting event - even more than the Super Bowl that I have lovingly blathered on about before on this blog.  Look! I even debuted a new identifier disc to reflect my Olympic spirit!  I'm not some naive doofus that buys into all of that Olympic purity and honor and integrity garbage.  I know that this is big business and that athletes will do anything they can to get ahead.  I would not be surprised to find that even some of my very favorite athletes may have so many drugs in their system they could be considered a pharmacy.  Plus the belief that the Olympics somehow bring peace to this world is a joke.  That has been shown time and again at the Games.  People are still people, countries are still countries.  No torch is going to change that.

Yet, even in my cynical approach to sports, I still have a soft spot for the Olympics.  I believe some of that was forged in my childhood, when we all sat down together and watched the Olympics non-stop.  My parents loved them too - even my mother, who usually was as ambivalent to sports as a person could get.  (Except John Elway.  For some reason, which I never understood, she loved John Elway.)  Anything that caused that to happen in our house was going to get my stamp of approval.  I'm sure it didn't hurt that my first major Olympic memory was the 1984 Los Angeles games when we won everything due to the Communist boycott.

You know how you may have a restaurant you really like, but you only get to go once a year or maybe every other year?  Maybe its a place you go on vacation, so it is REALLY special?  It could be that if you were able to go to that restaurant all the time, it wouldn't be that special anymore.  I think that also has something to do with my draw to the Olympics.  The sports that make up the Olympic roster are ones that I really enjoy AND don't get to see that often.  You aren't saturated with the non-stop presence of them, unlike football or baseball.  So they remain special.  I love watching swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, volleyball, and rowing.  I don't know if I would watch those sports if they were on all the time, but I like watching them every four years.  The same goes for the winter games.  Bobsledding, skiing, figure skating, speed skating.  Those are fun things to enjoy, partly because they are rare.  Even the more accessible sports - tennis, soccer, basketball - find a new meaning in the Olympics.  I barely watched any basketball this past season - NBA or NCAA.  But I will watch Olympic basketball.

One final reason I have loved the Summer Olympics is that they usually fall during the summer.  (That may seem obvious, but we have also had games that ran during September, which is just stupid.)  As a student, that timing is perfect.  You are off from school, usually having trouble filling the time.  Out of nowhere, BAM, non-stop Olympics.  It is awesome.  Just about any time of day, you can find some kind of Olympics on tv.  Now, with all the iPhone apps and web coverage, a person could watch coverage all day.  [NOTE: Some of this coverage is boxing.  I hate boxing.  I used to watch it as a kid.  That was before two things happened.  First, the USA started to suck at boxing.  That makes it less fun to watch.  Second, I realized that boxing is a disgusting sport.  So CNBC is basically a useless station.]

As you can see, I love the Olympics.  Here are the ten things I am most excited to see during this Olympics.  (Spoiler alert - not all of them have to do with sports.)

  1. Opening Ceremony - I know this happened last night.  All day, I was excited for it to start.  I actually was counting down the hours.  Personally, I loved the London opening.  I heard a lot of people say it wasn't as good as Beijing.  For some reason, I don't remember much about theirs.  But I thought London did a GREAT job.  Maybe I just appreciated the story-telling.   It was brilliant how they transformed the stadium like they did.  The rising smokestacks were very cool. And the forging elements, complete with the map of London on the floor of the stadium, were just incredible.  Their tributes to literature and music were fun - even though their exclusion of Coldplay, Adele, and U2 (YES I KNOW THEY AREN'T PART OF THE UK!!! But they are on the same islands, for pete's sake) was annoying.  I thought the parade of nations was great.  It was much faster than usual and the background music (which did include Adele and U2, but not Coldplay or Mumford and Sons) was super.  My favorite was the lighting of the torch.  I thought the incorporation of every country in the creation of the giant torch was brilliant - and it mimicked the storyline of building and forging.  I loved it.  Well worth the wait.
  2. Oscar Pistorius Running - For those of you who don't know who that is, he is a sprinter from South Africa.  I've actually been following his story since the beginning.  The dude is fast - one of the fastest sprinters in South Africa.  But he has been refused inclusion for two straight Olympics.  Actually, he has competed . . . in the Paralympics.  He had both of his legs partially amputated as a child.  So he runs with these bladed appendages.  There has been a big fight over if he can compete because his artificial legs gave him an advantage.  US legend Michael Johnson even went on record saying he thought Pistorius shouldn't be allowed.  My thought is HE HAS NO LEGS!!!! What kind of advantage can POSSIBLY make up for having NO LEGS?!?!  He isn't going to win.  But I want to see him finally run in the Olympics.  What an amazing story.
  3. Men's 100 Meter Finals - Talk about running!  This is stacking up to be the most incredible 100 meters race I can remember.  You have Usain Bolt, who has looked like he is running on fast forward for years.  But he has lost to his own countryman several times this year, including the qualifiers.  Plus, there is the gaggle of US sprinters and several others.  Just how fast can a man run?  I remember when Ben Johnson ran the 9.78 100 meter with the steroid needle hanging out of his butt.  I thought that we probably had hit the point where it was impossible to run any faster.  Bolt ran a 9.58 in Beijing.  What will happen in a field THIS competitive?  Will they run so fast they break out of their Matrix slumber?  (That was for the three of you who saw that short story on Animatrix.)
  4. London - One of the alternating best and most annoying things about NBC's coverage of the Olympics is the human interest stories.  Sure, we hardly ever get to see these sports, so let's cut away to see Mary Carillo talking to some Ethiopian athlete's third grade teacher.  But I do love the insight into the host country.  Combine that with the fact that London is my ultimate dream vacation spot.  I love London - like an illogical love of London.  I've never been there.  But I would rather visit there than New York City, Hawaii, the Caribbean.  I've been to Washington DC, Los Angeles, Montreal, Sydney, Philadelphia, and Dallas.  But none of them were as high on my list as London.  I love history, I love Shakespeare, I love several UK bands (I KNOW U2 ISN'T FROM THE UK!!!), I love Harry Potter, I love Sherlock Holmes.  There is so much from London that I love.  At one point, Heather and I had discussed going to London for these Olympics - before Med School made that impossible.  I think I would have exploded.
  5. Women's Gymnastics - I have always loved gymnastics.  They are fun to watch.  The fact that my wife is a major gymnastics fan, which she passed on to our daughter only serves to intensify my love for the sport.  If you don't believe that we are that attached to this sport, think of this.  We went to the Women's Gymnastics Olympic Trials in 2000 on our honeymoon.  That's important.  
  6. Michael Phelps - I like Phelps.  I know he can be arrogant and make bad decisions.  But he is an awesome swimmer.  I want to see him become the most decorated Olympian of all time.  Plus, the drama from swimming is unmatchable.  I still can't believe Phelps won that one match in Beijing.  You know the one I'm talking about.  (That's another great thing about the Olympics.)
  7. Ryan Seacrest - One thing I noticed last night is that his hair looks like he has completely replicated Bruno Mars' pompadour.  At what point does this guy have to clone himself to do all of his jobs?  I'm excited for that.  Cloning yourself never ends well in movies.  What kind of evil could multiple Ryan Seacrests propagate?  I'm on board to find out.
  8. Basketball  - I have generally abandoned the NBA.  But even I have to admit that it is stinking cool to see our all-star team playing together like you do in the Olympics.  I also get a kick out of seeing NBA players playing for other countries - like the Gasol brothers in Spain and Ronnie Turiaf for France.  It will be fun to watch.
  9. NBC Olympics LIVE - With each Olympics, NBC learns a little better how to handle the new technology.  I remember the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when Heather and I would get online to find all the gymnastics scores twelve hours before they were broadcast.  NBC has been under fire for years about delaying sports until prime time.  BUT, this year you can watch just about everything live.  They have a website and an iPhone/iPad app where you can watch any sport as they are happening.  Plus, they have sports running all day on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, and three different NBC Sports channels.  It is almost overwhelming.  Do I want to watch cycling, fencing, tennis, soccer, handball, boxing (not boxing), or beach volleyball?  Or do I go online and watch something I've never seen before?  
  10. Tennis - The tennis matches are at Wimbledon.  Do you realize how cool that is?!?  Wimbledon only happens once a year and is just incredible to watch.  I have always loved Wimbledon.  It is another one of those special events, made more special by their limited access.  BUT, for one time only, we get to see it TWICE in a year.  Awesome.  Plus, all of the big name tennis stars are playing - but for their own country and not just themselves.  That is one thing I do like with the professionals being involved.  These stars make tens of millions of dollars a year.  But there still is something special enough involved in playing for their country that they will give up their offseason to play.  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, the basketball men and women.  It is cool to see them so invested in something like a gold medal that brings no financial gain.  
I hope to be writing a few of these articles as the Olympics go on.  So just look for the fancy new Olympics identifier disc at the top.  

Jul 27, 2012

Farewell Dear Friend

This morning I lost one of my oldest and closest friends.  We met in junior high, but like many friendships, it didn't fully grow until years later.  It really solidified in high school.  I remember strolling the halls together at Forest Hill High School.  We thought we were so cool - both just wisps of what we would later become.  We didn't care how goofy we looked - we felt more mature just being together.  As I got older, we grew more attached.  In college, things really firmed up.  And we've been together ever since.  Sure, there were times when my friend disappeared.  Sometimes it was my fault; sometimes it was his.  And sometimes something else would come between us - sever the ties.  But that never lasted.  I felt better with him than without him.  And he knew he couldn't exist without me.  I don't think we have gone more than thirty days in the last twenty years without seeing each other.

But today, tragedy struck.  It had been building for some time.  I had some concerns that he was covering things up.  I couldn't see the situation clearly as long as he was blocking my view by hanging around.  I tried to trim back his presence, but I still was having problems identifying the true story.  Heather and I talked about it a couple of days ago.  She urged me to give it time and see if things cleared up.  But they didn't.  Finally this morning, I knew what I had to do.  I had to make a clear cut of the situation.  I feel weird.  But it was a necessity.

I shaved my moustache off.

It is strange.  Like most guys, I have experimented with different facial hair combinations.  I've had a full-on James Harden hostage beard.  I've gone with no beard and just the little moustache.  I've had long 90210 sideburns.  I have even on a couple of (misguided) occasions gone clean shaven.  But for most of my adult life, I've opted for the moustache and goatee.  I don't like my face without facial hair.  My giant balloon head has so much real estate without something to break it up.  My dad always had a beard or goatee - except for a couple of weeks when I was in high school.  And I have always had one.

I noticed something the other day under my moustache.  Some kind of blemish.  At first I thought it was just a pimple.  (Sorry for the graphic description)  But then I realized that it looked like several pimples. And a big red patch.  Weird.  I trimmed the stache with my normal #2 guard.  I still couldn't figure it out, so I dropped down to the dreaded #1 guard.  Using a #1 guard on facial hair is a risky move.  It basically transforms whatever hair pattern you have.  There is a fine line between "unshaven" and "has facial hair."  A #1 guard is that line.  For some guys, it looks awesome.  For other guys, it makes them look slobby.  (Take a wild guess which group I am in.)  I got a clearer view of the spot and showed it to my almost doctor wife.  "I would have someone look at that."

Friends, let me tell you something, since I know most of you are not married to doctors.  I always thought that having a doctor for a spouse would be incredible.  FREE MEDICAL CARE!!!  Now, my wife has firmly informed me she is NOT my primary care doctor.  I still have plans to never see a primary care doctor again as soon as she can write prescriptions.  There is a great comfort in taking one of the kids to her and having her check them out or asking her about something.  One of my favorite questions (and her least favorite) is, "Hey, can you look at something?"  So, this all is a great benefit.  BUT...  When your doctor spouse looks at something and immediately says, "I would have someone look at that," that is NOT cool.  That is terrifying.  Of course, it is well documented that I am a massive panicker when it comes to medical issues.

Anyways, the spot never cleared up so I shaved off the moustache to get a better look at things.  The white points were not pimples.  They were some kind of dead skin patches.  Once the shower and shave were done, I was left with a neat pink patch about the size of a dime on my face right under my nose.  Doctor Heather looked at it again.  This time she told me to put some Neosporin on it for a couple of days.  And then have it looked at.  AAAAAAAaaaaaaaahhhhh!  What is it?  Leprosy?  Cancer?  Excema?  An alien infestation?  Only time will tell, I suppose.  (It probably is nothing.  Like I said, I like to panic.)  Whatever it is, I already am angry at it.  It cost me my friend.

Jul 21, 2012

Alien vs Alien

My wife is out of town for the week. So that means that I'm bored. Instead of watching the shows stacking up on my DVR (all of which my wife wants to see), I am hitting up the Red Box and catching up on some movies that I have not been able to see yet. To make this even more fun, I will be blogging my reviews and thoughts about the films. Today's Final Installment: Super 8.

What is wrong with aliens today?  This is something that I noticed in some recent movies that has started to bother me.  When I was growing up, we had some really iconic aliens.  Think back.  There was the plethora of cool extraterrestrials in Star Wars and Star Trek.  You had THE alien in Alien and Aliens.  Then there was the predator in Predator.  I would even include E.T. as one of these guys.  They were recognizable and memorable.  If they were scary, they inspired fear.  But they also were just plain cool.  I remember when I saw Alien.  That thing was terrifying.  It looked horrible.  And it was a complete nightmare.  It had armored skin, even side of it was lethal, and it even had acidic blood - so if you did shoot it, it could kill you with its wound!  That is just vicious.  BUT, the alien was so ... stinking ... cool.  I felt the same way about the predator.  They were terrifying with their hunting helmets on.  And when they took them off, man, even worse.

I don't know filmmakers that came after those epic monsters were worried that they couldn't live up to the standard of awesomeness.  Maybe they were afraid that people accuse them of just making a cheap knock off.  Or it could be that they needed to follow the current mindset of "bigger, gaudier, blockbustier" when it came to their creations.  Whatever the reason, aliens in movies are just not doing it for me.

I noticed the trend back in Independence Day, actually.  I remember that they never showed the aliens in the previews.  My friends and I intentionally didn't read anything or watch anything that might show the invaders - just so they would be ready to be stunned at the big revealing scene.  Then they showed the things.  Whaaaa?  What the heck is that?  Their ships were cool, their attacks were awesome.  They were just stupid.  I mean, look at that thing.  As memorable as the movie is (and trust me, it has a huge following), the alien in it is just about the least memorable thing.  You don't see people with little figurines of that or hear anyone clamoring for more of the shovel headed freak.

This has continued with other movies.  I really have rarely been that impressed with the aliens.  It seems the reliance has been on their technology or their ships instead.  Many times we never even see the alien.  There is a menacing craft doing unspeakable damage.  But the thing piloting is is irrelevant.  Think about The Avengers this summer.  Now, I loved the movie.  Absolutely loved it.  But was anyone talking about the aliens in it?  Nope.  They were just cannon fodder.  They had nothing unique or awesome about them.  They actually were one of the weakest elements of the whole movie.

I watched Cowboys and Aliens the other day.  This is a movie that is based on the terror of these invaders.  Again, they never showed the aliens in the previews - just their ships flashing around and the mayhem they cause.  I was looking forward to see what they aliens looked like in their big reveal.  Again, I have kindly included a shot of these things.  What in the heck is that supposed to be?  Is that a fish?  A rock man?  They were ridiculous.  Their chest would also open up and these weird hands would come out.  It actually made no biological sense at all.  Was there a symbiotic relationship?  Were there two creatures inhabiting the same body?  What was the purpose of the second internal hands?  And do they have internal organs?  Plus there was no consistency in how to dispatch the aliens.  They seemed like they could take arrow or bullet hits, but if you hit their head (which seemed extra reinforced) they could die.  The whole thing was very bizarre.  I'm sure it didn't help the movie that the aliens - part of the title of the movie - were lame.

This all brings me to Super 8.  On the whole, this was a very good movie.  I loved it.  Well, I loved the first three-quarters of it.  Then it seemed to derail.  (Hmmmm.  Kind of sounds like another JJ Abrams project involving suspense and thrills.  cough LOST cough cough)  I thought the opening minute of the movie demonstrated Abrams' absolute brilliance at story telling.  The opening scene has the haunting score, penned by the always incredible Michael Giacchino.  There is a factory with a sign showing how many hundreds of days it has had without an accident.  A worker climbs a ladder and starts taking the numbers down, replacing them with just a 1.  Then it cuts to a boy sitting on a swing in the snow.  In just a moment, we already know this boy lost his parent.  Brilliant.  I loved it.

Abrams has a knack for opening a story - it is one of his hallmarks.  Consider the opening scene of Star Trek.  It was absolute mayhem.  And it was incredible.  I remember watching it with my friend, Greg, and he leaned over to me when the scene ended and the title screen came up.  "JJ Abrams is a freaking genius."  I agreed.  The pilot of Lost was as good as any television episode ever.  The same could be say about the pilot of Heroes, the pilot of Alcatraz, the opening of Mission Impossible III.  Abrams grabs your attention on a consistent basis.  The challenge is carrying that all the way through.

Super 8 started off great.  I was very interested in the story.  It was a great tale.  The train wreck that really catapulted the movie was intense and incredible.  I really liked the kids that were the center of the movie.  It was a very good movie and it was very enjoyable.  But...

Throughout the film, there is this monster hiding.  It escaped from the train and it now lurking in the city.  We see glimpses of things happening.  The monster is obviously formidable.  It can crush a car.  Somehow it affects the electricity in its area.  People scream a lot when it shows up.  It is supposedly terrifying.  They are building to the moment when we finally see it.  I am actually excited and nervous to see the thing.  I'm sure that Abrams and executive producer Steven Spielberg will come up with something worthy of the hype.

Ummmmm.  What exactly is that?  It has six legs, I think.  The first time we saw it on the kids' video it looked like a spider.  I thought maybe it was a giant spider.  A giant spider is what they are going with?  After Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, we are supposed to be freaked out by a giant spider?!?  Then I realized it wasn't a spider. It had that weird face too.  What is that?  It looks like a dozen other creatures we have seen.  Actually, his face reminds me of Megatron from Transformers.

There are tweaks and such, but I wasn't that impressed.  It was ugly.  And then we are supposed to actually have some sympathy for it.  It just wants to go home!  Of course, it has killed dozens of people already and caused tons of damage.  One character has already said that it has no remorse or pity for anything.  And we are supposed to be like, "Poor spider looking transformer thing.  It misses its home."  Sorry.  Not working for me.

The other problem is that the scenes where we actually see the alien up close are so dark that I could barely make out details.  There is no big scene where the thing emerges so we can see it in its full glory.  It is always in shadows or silhouettes.  That's really annoying.  So we either have to deal with scenes too dark to actually be scared of the non-spider or we have to deal with Abrams love affair with lens flares.  [Side Note - there is an entire online community devoted to ripping Abrams for his love of lens flare effects.  For those of you who don't know, lens flares are this trick where light hits the camera just right and you get a little starburst of light in a scene.  Awww.  However, they also can be added through any video or picture editing software.  I know how to do them in Photoshop.  They are actually one of the first "tricks" people learn.  Star Trek was infested with them.  Light bounced off all the chrome everywhere and there were flares galore.  I actually laughed at one scene in Super 8.  It was a gas station at night (of course).  I counted six lens flares in one shot.  In a gas station.  At night.  But I quibble.]

I know that this whole alien thing may seem like a small thing to focus on in a rather enjoyable movie - especially for a guy who gave Cowboys and Aliens a VERY generous evaluation.  But, I think it should be an understandable rule in Hollywood.  If you are going to make a movie or show that focuses on the presence of a terrifying alien, then the alien needs to live up to the hype.  If not, then the movie kind of crumbles.  I mean, that is the crux of the conflict, right?  Was the alien in Super 8 scary?  Well, sure, if I was a kid standing there in a cave and that sucker came up to me, I would soil myself.  Heck, if I was the sheriff and that thing came jumping out of the dark at me, I would soil myself.  But I'm not. I'm a grizzled moviegoer who is used to aliens from decades of invasion movies.  I need to see something memorable.   I don't even know what I was hoping for.  I just know that wasn't it, especially with the big names that were associated with the film.

In addition, to have the movie end the way it did just seemed weird.  It almost felt like I had wrongly identified the main story arc.  The whole time we are sitting there worried about how to defeat this alien.  At the same time, we are supposed to be suspicious of the military guys, knowing they are up to no good.  The alien is actually going out of its way to hunt people.  He isn't just offing the clowns who cross his path.  He is out and causing trouble.  He takes out sympathetic characters, too.  So there is no reason to feel bad for this guy.  I am wondering the whole time how the kids and their parents are going  to fight off the military AND defeat the spider thing.  Then we get a twist that this guy just wants to go home.  And then he goes home.  Aaaaaand scene.  What?  That doesn't make any sense.  Everyone just stares up as his cobbled together ship takes off.  Now, mind you, only a couple people know that he just wants to go home.  But what's left of the town is just going to stare up approvingly at the killer leaving, as their buildings are burning all around them.  Nonsense.

In short, the movie was three-quarters very good and one-quarter confusing as heck.  The alien was disappointing on many levels.  And the ending was bizarre.  But there were some very cool elements and moments.  Which brings me to the end of my week of movie reviews.  I hope all two of you enjoyed it.  Actually, it is funny to see friends of mine out of nowhere putting status updates like "I finally am watching Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" or "Let's see if Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is any good."  I would like to think I made a difference.  Whether or not that difference was worth making is a different story.

Jul 19, 2012

Cowboys vs Aliens

My wife is out of town for the week. So that means that I'm bored. Instead of watching the shows stacking up on my DVR (all of which my wife wants to see), I am hitting up the Red Box and catching up on some movies that I have not been able to see yet. To make this even more fun, I will be blogging my reviews and thoughts about the films. Today's Installment: Cowboys and Aliens.

There is an especially funny episode of Friends where Rachel decides to make a traditional English trifle.  Her cookbook somehow gets some pages stuck together and she ends up combining the recipes for trifle (custard, lady fingers, and jam) and shepherd's pie (ground beef sauteed with peas and onions).  The resultant dish is reviled by all, with Ross going so far as to say, "It tastes like feet."  However, Joey eats not only his plate, but all the other hidden plates.  When someone asks him if he likes it, he says, "What's not to like?  Custard? Good. Meat? Good. Jam? GOOO-ooood!"

That exchange immediately popped into my head when I was thinking about Cowboys and Aliens.  On the surface, the individual elements of the movie look and sound great.  Jon Favreau, who brought us the incredible action movies Iron Man and Iron Man 2 and the class Christmas comedy Elf, was directing.  Steven Spielberg was producing.  As far as the cast goes, you have both James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in roles that seemed created just for them.  The supporting cast was even stellar: Clancy Brown (Highlander, Shawshank Redemption), Keith Carradine (Deadwood), Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy, House), Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood), Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, Galaxy Quest), Walter Goggins (The Shield, Justified).  You get the point on the cast - a good strong cast.  It's a Western, which has a strong following.  It's a sci-fi, which has a stronger following.  Then you have a unique concept when so many people complain about too many reboots and sequels.

So, naturally, with all those great sounding ingredients, the movie bombed.  No, it wasn't a John Carter or Battleship level bomb.  But it was hardly the raging success everyone hoped for when it was made.  It took in $100 million in the USA and another $75 million overseas.  That doesn't sound bad, except it cost about $170 million to make, not counting the massive promotion costs.  So it didn't make blockbuster money.  Not only that, but its reviews were far from stellar.  If you go on Rotten Tomatoes - the online review site - the movie has a 44 percent fresh rating.  That means just 44 percent of people who reviewed it gave it a positive rating.  Among professional critics (translation: Morons that can't relate to the average moviegoer), it had a 50 percent fresh rating.  With the general audience, it had a 45 percent positive rating.  So, across the board, the movie just seemed to be not well liked.

When you actually read the reviews, few of them are actually viciously negative, though.  For some films, you will find hateful and scathing reviews.  I didn't see many like that at all.  Instead, most of them echoed along these sentiments.  "The movie wasn't as good as it should have been" or "It wasn't as fun as I thought it would be."  It seems like most people who went in thought they were going to get a fun, madcap, action film.  They were disappointed that the movie didn't deliver on it.

All of this puzzle me.  I remember reading about the movie from its original casting announcements.  I saw the previews, saw the marketing.  I don't really remember the movie ever being pitched as some kind of summer fun ride.  It wasn't supposed to be The Avengers or Fast Furiou6: More Fasterer and Furiouser.  So I'm not sure where people developed this perception.  After seeing the movie, I can say that the movie was a Western.  It had the pacing of a Western and the feel of one.  Thinking back on the Westerns I have seen, I don't remember to many of them having a frantic pace.  There aren't planes or guys in metal suits to race around.  There aren't race tracks and sports cars zipping back and forth.  People ride horses or walk.  It is dusty.  Fun time is sitting in a saloon and drinking, playing cards, and listening to music.  That's your average Western.

I know that the commercials highlighted the exciting moments of the film - Daniel Craig jumping off a cliff onto a spacecraft, Daniel Craig blowing up a ship with his bracelet weapon.  But it also showed a lot of Harrison Ford growling and Daniel Craig scowling and Olivia Wilde staring.  So, was Cowboys and Aliens mismarketed?  It is entirely possible that is the answer.  I know that even up to the release, friends of mine were not sure if the movie was supposed to be funny or not.  "Is it a spoof or something?"  [Answer: No.  It is not funny.  Very few laughs.]  When I would try to explain it to them, they would look at me and usually say, "That sounds dumb."  Now, these are the same people that have already pre-ordered tickets to Dark Knight Rises and can give you a fifteen minute dissertation on the symbolism in the Batman films.  They aren't movie noobs that don't get to a theater often.  But they still didn't catch the Cowboys and Aliens fever.

I remember in the past that there have been a handful of movies that were horribly mismarketed.  The strange thing is that I generally like those films because I judge them based on what they actually are.  But most moviegoers go in with a perception and are disappointed when the movie doesn't match that.  Here are a couple of examples.

  • Hudson Hawk - This movie was supposed to be a typical Bruce Willis film.  Lots of action, some humor and sarcasm tossed in.  It was marketed as a caper film.  Bruce Willis was the best burglar in the world going after his biggest prize.  I can understand why someone would be upset when it turned out to be an action comedy about a duo of burglars who sang songs during their thefts instead of wearing watches.  It was zany and bizarre.  There were subplots about Da Vinci, the Vatican, mercenaries named after candy bars, and alchemy.  I loved it.  But it was NOT Die Hard 3: Rob Hard.
  • The Cable Guy - Jim Carrey was a superstar.  Everything he touched up to this point was pure gold.  He was in the middle of a run that most stars would kill for.  Ace Ventura ($72mil), The Mask ($120mil), Dumb and Dumber ($127mil), Batman Forever ($184mil), Ace Ventura 2 ($104mil) led up to this movie.  The next two after it were Liar Liar ($181mil) and Truman Show ($125mil).  The Cable Guy thudded in at $60 million after costing $47 million to make.  It had Matthew Broderick, Ben Stiller (who directed it), Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and a very hot Jim Carrey.  People HATED it.  Why?  Well, simply enough, they were expecting a Jim Carrey movie.  They wanted to see him acting all crazy and speaking out of his rear end.  They thought he would twists his mouth sideways and cackle.  Instead, they got a VERY dark comedy and commentary on the unhealthy infatuation with entertainment, especially the voyeuristic appeal of criminal trials and the like.  It was should be paired up with Truman Show instead of Ace Ventura. Horrible marketing.
  • Last Action Hero - Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his drawing power.  He had just put out the monster hit Terminator 2 and was about to release True Lies.  This movie raked in a pathetic $50 million on a $85 million budget.  How did it fail so badly?  Again, it was marketed as a big Ah-nold blockbuster.  And it was NOT!!!  It was a BRILLIANT satire on the action picture genre that was about to collapse on itself.  Seriously, go back and watch it again.  I remember seeing it in the theater and being disappointed that it wasn't typical Arnold.  I watched it again a couple years later at home and loved it.  It was hilarious.  
  • Shawshank Redemption - It wasn't marketed at all.  Or it was promoted as "from the mind of Stephen King."  Yes, he wrote the story it was based on.  But it was NOT a Stephen King film.  I remember seeing it in theaters and saying, "What in the world is THAT?"  I had no clue until the Oscar nominations came out that it was even a good movie.  Then I saw it.  WORST. MARKETING. EVER!  Seriously, this is one of the top 100 movies ever?  And it doesn't even get promoted.  Dumb.
So, did Cowboys and Aliens get tripped up by its own packaging?  I don't think it was as horribly mismarketed as those other films.  It wasn't presented as a comedy and then turned out to be a drama or anything.  But I do think it was communicated poorly.  People thought it was either a spoof, a rolling action flick, or a sci-fi film.  Each of those comes with a pretty standard set of preconceptions.  And those are all a pretty far cry from a Western.  Imagine if someone went into it thinking it was like Will Smith's Wild Wild West and realized it was closer to Unforgiven.  That would throw you for a loop.  

Judging the film for what it is, I actually liked Cowboys and Aliens.  I read one review that said Favreau couldn't control the erratic shifts in tone and mood.  Well, you're in a Western.  There's a guy who is wanted for all kind of crimes wandering through town.  People are coming after him, slowly, on horses.  One of them is a corrupt and cruel cattle baron.  They are threatening to hang him or ship him off to the marshalls.  Then three alien spaceships comes screaming down the middle of the street, blowing up stuff and snatching people.  That would be a erratic shift in tone and mood.  That is what made the movie so interesting to me.  How exactly would a Western gold rush city handle an invasion of massively technologically advanced alien spacecraft?  They don't have a clue.  They have six shooters and rifles and sticks of dynamite.  Think of the panic that ensued in films like Independence Day or V.  Those people at least had the benefit of having science fiction movies predicting alien invasions.  The Wild West didn't have that.  So it was a shock.

I also saw one reviewer mock the fact that the characters were able to overcome their differences to defeat a common foe.  Well, duh.  They had to.  Isn't that a common theme in movies from the very beginning?  And books?  And all literature?  Sometimes it takes a common enemy to help people learn that their differences are not really that important.  It puts things in perspective.  Why in the world someone would have a problem with that is beyond me.  That is the message at the heart of The Avengers.

I did enjoy the movie.  It wasn't my favorite movie of all time, or even my favorite Western.  (That still goes to Tombstone.)  I think that Jon Favreau has done better work.  Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig were both good in their roles.  And the aliens were actually very creepy and somewhat original.  There were some surprises that caught me off guard.  But I can understand the overall opinion that it didn't blow me away.  If I had spent the money to go to the movie in the theater, I would have been a little disappointed.  When I used to go to the movies all the time, this one would have fallen into the "good, not great, mostly forgettable, a little disappointing" category.  Now, I would have been more let down, since I don't go as often.  I wouldn't buy it, but I'm glad I saw it.  

Tonight I finalize my week of catching up with another film that I never got around to seeing.  Like last night's film, it has a lot of good credentials.  But this one lived up to the hype according to most people who saw it.  It is a good conclusion to the week - it has aliens,  secret agents, JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg.  Basically it has a little bit of everything from the whole week.  Super 8.  Now the review won't probably be up until Saturday, though.  I'll be driving to Tampa on Friday.  Sorry to make you wait.