Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes.

Today is a day of repentance in many forms of the Christian faith. While my Baptist upbringing doesn't include a formal celebration of this solemn event, I always feel compelled to commemorate it.

Today, I repent.

Father, I repent of my anger. My short temper, my impatience. I repent of seeing other people as distractions, obstacles, and bit players in my movie. I repent of my harsh words, coarse language, cutting sarcasm. I repent of my occasional violent imaginings, when I daydream about punches thrown and brutality inflicted in the name of "justice" or "getting even." I repent of hating my brother, and killing him in my heart. I repent of cursing my enemies, those whose faces I don't know and those who I do.

These are sins. Father forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

Father, I repent of my pride. I repent of being arrogant about my intellect, my talents, my ability to move people with words. I repent of not being more willing to associate with those of "low" position, knowing that You are a friend to the lowly. I repent any attempt to make myself and my name greater than the name of Jesus. I repent of seeing my life as "my" life, and not as the life you have given me so that I may worship You and give you honor.

These are sins. Father forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

Father, I repent of my greed. I repent of being greedy for material possessions, even if my greed isn't for the newest and best, but simply for more than I can enjoy. I repent of spending too much money on entertainment, as if my income were mine alone. I repent of living outside of my means, and not being faithful in the last few months to bring the whole tithe to your storehouse. This lack of faith was born out of my undisciplined spending, and I'm sorry.

These are sins. Father forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

Father, I repent of my gluttony. The fruit of this sin is most apparent. I haven't stewarded my body in the way you have commanded. Instead of making it my slave, I have become its slave, and too much of my efforts and resources go to feed it. Further, I repent of my gluttony in other areas: the lack of self-control that makes good things destructive to me. I repent of spending so much time on myself and my own amusement that other things go to the wayside. I repent of living an often-disordered life.

These are sins. Father, forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

Father, I repent of my slothfulness. The brother-sin to gluttony, a cousin to greed. Father, I am lazy. I don't rule my household well, I don't care for the things you have entrusted to me, and I give in to the temptation to give less than my best at my job. I put things off, and sometimes let other people take care of projects and responsibilities that are rightly mine. When the time comes to work, I'd rather fold my hands to rest, and risk the poverty that comes on the sluggard like a thief.

These are sins. Father, forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

Father, I repent of my lust. My wandering eyes, my wayward heart. The sins of mind and flesh. I've lost sight of my first love, and gone after other, lesser lovers. I've forgotten that Jesus was a 33-year-old single man who lived a celibate, sinless lifestyle. It's His example I follow in this season of my life. I repent of my mental adultery, my rebellion, my disregard of the Spirit's warning voice as I sometimes seek to walk in the flesh rather than in the Spirit.

These are sins. Father, forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

Father, I repent of my envy. I repent the jealousy I feel toward those who have better jobs, who have wives, children, success, good looks, and all the other good things I desire but don't have the patience or faith to wait for, the willingness or determination to work toward, or the peace to release to Your Will. I repent the ill feelings I catch myself having toward those who appear more "together" or "blessed" than I do. I repent my sometime unwillingness to rejoice with those who rejoice. I repent my self-pity.

These are sins. Father, forgive me for my sins, in Jesus' name.

For all these things and many more, gracious Father, I repent.


And then I rejoice in the freedom you give me, in Jesus' name, by Jesus' blood, for Jesus' glory.

When I confess my sins, you are faithful and just to forgive me my sins, to cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

Jesus became sin for me, so that I could become the righteousness of God.

Almighty God, by your great mercy, you cast my sins away as far as the east is from the west, and remember them no more.

I am one who the Son has set free. I am free indeed.

Praise Jesus. Praise Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Happy Pancake Tuesday!

Today's Mardi Gras, but across the pond, it's also referred to as Pancake Tuesday.

According to Wikipedia:
"The festival is widely associated with the eating of foods such as pancakes, and often known simply as Pancake Day, originally because these used up ingredients such as fat and eggs, the consumption of which was traditionally restricted during Lent. ...In the United Kingdom, Shrove Tuesday is often known colloquially as Pancake Day or Pancake Tuesday. The traditional pancake is slightly thicker than a French crêpe. It is served immediately after preparation and was traditionally served with a meat-based stew, although in modern times a sprinkling of granulated sugar (fine sugar in the United States), or caster sugar (superfine sugar in the United States), and lemon juice has become more common. Many other sweet and savoury toppings are used today (for example, in Canada pancakes are often served with maple syrup or preserves)."

So, in honor of the day, IHOP is giving away free pancakes and raising money for charity.

I'm very excited about this, and will visit them as soon as I leave.

...But I just have to be careful not to get TOO excited.

Worst. Protest. Ever. And the funniest thing I've seen/heard all week...

This, this is fabulous. I'm dyin' over here. [UPDATE: Whoops. Forgot to credit Rob at Say Anything for this one.]

The scene: NYU. A student group is protesting...something. Demanding budget disclosure, something about the food plan, scholarships for Palestinians, really a grab-bag of "progressive" talking points.

So this group of dozens barricaded themselves in the cafeteria building for three days.

On the third day, the school had had enough. The video is posted here. (Warning: some language--big shock, right?)

Oh. Man.

If you made it a drinking game, taking a shot at all of the PC-buzzwords and "conflict resolution" language, you'd make it maybe five minutes.

I have to give credit to the university representative. If this punk kid had looked me in the eye, and told me that they were going to decide if they accepted my demand to show ID, I would have lost it. You don't have a chip to bargain with, Skippy.

And I about died when, as their time to "deliberate" and find "consensus" is dwindling, the person filming actually says, "okay, who can act as facilitator here?" SERIOUSLY? You're about to be led away by the campus police, and you're wanting to facilitate a consensus discussion to make sense of it all.

What's so amazing about this video is the illusion of rights or bargaining power. Nevermind the fact that, as a student, you are paying for the privelege of attendance. Nothing is owed, nothing is promised. And if you violate the rules--if you RIOT and BARRICADE a public university building--you get the consequences. It's like, the children of the Vietnam protesters learned all of the buzzwords but none of the responsibility. People then realized that sit-ins and protests meant facing jailtime, facing repercussions. The idea was that through ACCEPTING the punishment, they would achieve change by the INJUSTICE done to them. That's how MLK did it, and it worked. Was MLK surprised or offended when he was taken to a Birmingham jail? No. He accepted it and transcended it. That's how victory through protest is achieved.

Now, it's like protesters are SHOCKED when their actions and choices result in punishment or intervention. They're angry? Really?!?

I wish i could sit down with this guy and his compatriots, in a civil manner, and say, "What do you think you deserve? What do you think you are owed?" After he rattles off a list of "rights," I would then take a breath, to keep from laughing, and continue.

"Why? What have you done to deserve that?"

And I'd be willing to bet my paycheck (know what that is, kids? that thing you go work to earn?), when i ask him that question, I'd be met with a total deer-in-headlights stare.

Oh, and what I'm now reading? The guy who took the video--not even a student at NYU.


Here's another account of the protest and sit-in. I like the title.


On the other hand, this disturbs me. Why hasn't the media been reporting this?

Oh, right. Oscars.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

No Fade on the Horizon: The official PBB Breakdown of U2's "No Line on the Horizon"

I listened to U2's last album, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," while I was doing some household chores this afternoon. It was and continues to be one of the best albums I've ever owned. A desert-island, top-five selection. I wasn't too far off the mark when I wrote my review of that album back in 2004. If anything, I've come to appreciate it more.

[Full disclosure: There are some things I'm predisposed to like, some writers, musicians, actors that I'm admittedly in the tank for: Stephen King, Orson Welles, Nathan Fillion (c'mon, he's friggin MAL). U2 is a band I'm naturally predisposed to. So I'm gonna work at being even-handed here. But I just want to get this out of the way. I'm a fan. Get over it.]

So how does the band's latest offering stack up? Let's take it track by track:

1) No Line on the Horizon
I have to admit, the first time I heard this track, I wasn't as impressed. But the second or third time, I started to anticipate the title/refrain, and later caught myself humming it throughout the day. This is a hard-driving rocker, and it will be a blast in concert, especially when the crowd sings the refrain with Bono. And the bridge, when Bono just lets loose with the long "whoa's" is lovely. Anytime Bono gets to flex the vocal chops is welcome. Thirty years later, he's still got it.

2) Magnificent
Another track that I didn't take to right away. It begins with the vaguely "Achtung"-like intro of drums, before sprinting into the vocals and guitar-riff that seem pulled off of Side 2 of "Joshua Tree." But the real reason this song works for me is the lyrics--which I missed on the first few passes. Here's verse two: "I was born to sing for you/I didn't have a choice/To lift you up and sing whatever song you wanted me/I give you back my voice/From the womb (?) my first cry/It was a joyful noise." This one will end up in your neighborhood "U2-charist" service. A praise song if I've ever heard it.

3) Moment of Surrender
This song, I fell in love with immediately, partly because it both sounded like U2 and...didn't. There's an ethereal quality to the instrumentation that reminds me of David Bowie's recent work. And the vocals. Wow. There's such passion in Bono's keening. The organ swelling behind him recalls gospels, spirituals, a feeling magnified by the harmonies on the chorus. As I listen, I find myself contentedly closing my eyes and rocking back and forth to the steady beat of the drum. And there are these claps thrown in. That's great. The Edge's sliding guitar solo is smooth and beckoning. The song is more than seven minutes long, and it doesn't seem like enough. The repetitions, key changes, additions and subtractions of intruments keep it fresh until the final chord is strummed, and you get to breathe again.

4) Unknown Caller
Slow build on the guitar intro, as the melody peeks its head out into the open. Then the chords, the heartbeat of the toms, the chorus of "whoas." The song follows the standard U2 formula until the chorus, which is, oddly, choral. Unison, forceful, compelling. Another singalong for the concert. The song builds and builds, as the guitars give way to an organ and french horn, which give way again to The Edge's deft solo. The guitar, along with the organ, fade us out.

5) I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
The only track I'm just not crazy about, oddly enough. The falsetto rings false. The lyrics are kinda simplistic, as are the rhyme schemes. It's like they were trying to construct a youth anthem full of idealism and optimism, but they're neither youthful nor idealistic. The only saving grace of the song is the "baby baby baby" interlude, which feels like it belongs in a much better song. I mean, look, the song isn't "Miami"-bad, but it's just not great. A mis-step, one of few.

6) Get on Your Boots
The first single. Like the last "first single," "Vertigo," it's pretty divisive. Among my circle, some loved it, and some hated it. Vertigo grew on me over time. Same with GOYB. The verses are okay, though the cadence reminds me too much of Larry Norman's "Reader's Digest," in cadence. But the chorus is keen. And the bridge. "Let me in the sound, let me in the sound, sound." Definite crowd-pleaser. This one will cause an earthquake of bouncing fans at every concert performance.

7) Stand-up Comedy
This one is all about the Edge's riff and Adam's bass. The lyrics aren't that exciting, though there are a couple lines I really like ("Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas"). There are some songs that I don't dig when listening with headphones or at the office, but which pass the "truck test." This may be one of those songs that need to be blasted full-volume at 70mph on a highway in order to be appreciated.

8) FEZ--Being Born
Then there's this bizarre and awesome interlude that combines snatches of other songs (like GOYB) and remixes them into a strange electronic track. Strongly reminds me of Mr. Bungle, actually. Then it switches gears completely and becomes essentially the prototypical U2 song. It's like the embryonic stem cell of U2 music, bearing all the elements that they use to make their albums. The same vocal pieces, the same guitar strums, the same use of key changes. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just funny. If you want to "get" the U2 sound, listen to the second half of this track, which in many ways unravels the band's musical DNA.

9) White as Snow
When I first listened to this track, I sensed a subtle homage to cowboy music, with the acoustic guitar picking. It felt like a campfire song. I can just see Bono picking this one, straw cowboy hat atop his head. Then as I listened something started to bother me. I recognized it, but couldn't place how. Finally, I realized that there's the faintest hint of "O Come, O Come Immanuel" in the melody, plus a few key changes. But the lyrics are what get me. He sings of needing a lamb as white as snow. The song seems to be about redemption, a theme fitting the musical allusion above.

10) Breathe
Another great rocker. The lyrics border on gibberish, but I still enjoy Bono spitting them out. The momentum of the song makes me sway immediately as I listen. Again, another chance for Bono to open up his voice a bit. There's a bit of the Beatles in the inside-out logic of the rhyming lines. (Manders mentions Bono's turn as "Dr. Robert" in the Beatles-inspired film "Across the Universe"; yeah, I definitely hear that.) But this song, at its heart, is just a great track for each of the band members to flex their muscles a bit. It could be a lot of fun live.

11) Cedars of Lebanon
The final song on the album. A brooding, desolate sounding song (quite a contrast to the soaring "Yahweh"). When the verse begins, I am momentarily reminded of Kevin Max's "Alas My Love" from DCTalk's "Supernatural" album. A coincidence, of course, but funny to me. The lyrics speak of love lost, remembrance, longing, and then turn toward more political imagery, soldiers and tanks, children drinking dirty water in war zones. The titular cedars of Lebanon are an image in the Bible of strength and perserverance. This may weigh into the interpretation of the song; a love that lasts? a people who withstand constant war? a heart that refuses to surrender to the darkness around it? Not sure. The final lines are haunting: "Choose your enemies carefully because they will define you/Make them interesting because in some ways they will mind you/They're not there in the beginning, but when the story ends/Gonna last with you longer than your friends."


That's it. Eleven tracks.

Final judgment? There are a few weak spots, but overall a great album and a great exhibition of a band who, after thirty years, are as talented as ever. Not as experimental as some may like, but the band has stayed true to itself and its sound, and as a fan, I'm pretty happy with that. I may end up adding a half-point or more after listening to it in the truck, but right now, I'm pretty satisfied to give it:

8.0 out of 10

The CD hits the street March 3 (here in the States). Be sure to pick your copy up. I know I will.

Friday, February 20, 2009

I got better.

I'm getting better, at any rate. This week, however, has gotten worse. But I'm not going to talk about it.

I just wanted to say, hang in there, thanks for checking in with me. And as long as I don't go crazy and throw my desk out the window this afternoon, at some point in the evening I'll post my song-by-song reaction to the new U2 album.

You know, this one streaming online right now.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Brain-sludge Blog

Stuff that's in my head:
  • I'm so abominably sleepy. I went to bed at 10pm and that doesn't seem to have come close to cutting it. Seven hours of sleep! Quit being a baby, Dave. So i've been a zombie all day.
  • This month's adventure in lazily not-budgeting has met with predictable "success." Broke-ness for the next few days, with an unpaid bill or two to be shuffled to the next paycheck.
  • After two days of my foot feeling much better (thank you, painkillers and 'spensive shoes), today it's acting up again.
  • This has become a whining post, apparently.
  • I've got a lot of work to do. SO much to do. And I'm so totally overwhelmed by it, to the point of complete apathy. This is evidence of latent self-destructiveness.
  • I had a dream last night that I kissed a person who, over the past few years, has often been an antagonist of mine. And the thing is, it wasn't a passionate, sexy kiss. It was the end of a long day, we were riding together in someone else's car, and she just turned to me, looked me in the eyes, smiled, and kissed me. And it was really nice. For a whole host of reasons, it's a good thing this didn't happen in real life, but it did make me sad that I haven't had a moment like that in several years.
  • I really was good with the whole V-Day thing, until I watched "Company." Which was a beautiful show, and I want to pick up the DVD at some point. But it made me look around at my slightly-cluttered yet empty apartment and think, "This is so freaking depressing."
  • About 17% of the time, I'm in love with a girl who will never love me back. This frustrates me too, but not as much as you'd think. The feeling comes and goes, like a bruise that rarely gets bumped into.
  • The post has now changed from a "general whining" post to a "whining about being single" post. Well done, Dave.
  • I think I'm gonna shut this down before it gets any worse. Goodnight, Gracie.

Someone is waiting...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Economics Oversimplified? Or Just Too Simple?

I have so much to do, but dadgummit, I really need to unload this.

On the morning drive to the bus stop, I usually listen to local talk radio. They're discussing the porkulus bill, when a caller named Kevin (i think) calls in and makes the following argument:

The two biggest earmarks of the Senate version of the bill were made by Republicans.

He was asked what those earmarks were. His answer--tax-cuts. And he then tried to use this to say that the Republicans were being hypocritical because their earmarks are just as bad as the Democrats' frisbee-golf courses and ATV trails they're buying for millions of dollars.

If I hadn't have been about to get out of my car, I would have called in (an unheard-of thing, for me), and said the following:

The difference is that tax cuts do more to stimulate the economy than hand-outs, and stimulating the economy is pretty much the point of the STIMULUS bill, isn't it?

Let's massively oversimplify this, so that it's in terms we can grasp. Say the stimulus bill was for... $35 dollars, and it has two parts. A $20 outlay to buy Kevin a pizza, and a $15 tax cut for me.

So at the end of the day, Kevin has his pizza. And we're not talking just any pizza--we're talking Fuzzy's Pizza or Barry's Pizza, one of the higher-end pizza establishments in the Greater Houston Area. Good pies. REAL good pies. So Kevin has his pizza, and I have $15 more dollars in my paycheck.

Well, now, my yard needs to be mowed. So I pay the neighbor kid $10 dollars, and use the other $5 to buy myself lunch at Burger King.

So Kevin has his tasty pizza, which he could eat and be full, but the rest starts to get cold. Meanwhile, I have created 1 new job (however temporary), and still had money to put into the local economy.

BUT it doesn't stop there. Because the neighbor kid takes the $10, buys a $5 comic book at Bedrock City Comics, and uses the other $5 to buy a sundae at Cold Stone.

So now, Kevin maybe has his enjoyable pizza leftovers, still cold, and I have created a job, bought lunch for myself, and the neighbor kid has invested in two sectors of the local economy HIMSELF.

But it doesn't stop there! Because the comic shop uses the five they gained, minus expenses, to help make the next purchase of stock, which provides more income downstream.

Now, you may say to me, "Dave, the same could be said for Kevin's pizza company." And this is true, to an extent. But if the government bought Kevin a highly-overpriced pizza, from a union-run pizza shop, the amount of downstream prosperity is much more limited. The costs are too high, and the government purchaser is too stupid to look for a better deal. (Maybe they have promises to keep to one of the pizza unions, and their hands are tied.) The government could have said, "Hey Kevin, here's twenty bucks, buy yourself a pizza." Kevin could have taken that money and bought a cheaper pizza, pocketing the rest. If Kevin were an enterprising young man, he could even have bought several frozen pizzas, cooked them himself, sold them by the slice, and made a profit.

The question then becomes: Who has the best chance of using the allocated money in such a way that the economy is better off as a whole?

According to John Kerry, the government does, because no one knows how the private citizen will spend their own money. He is concerned that Americans won't invest in the same projects the government wants them to. And he's right--I couldn't give a flyin' flip about a frisbee-golf course I'll never see. But Kerry, and others in Congress like him, don't want to give the American consumer the freedom to spend this money--OUR money--on what WE want to. He sees it as the government's money, and thinks it should be the wisened heads of Congress who make that call.

*tap tap tap* Is this thing on?

It's all about CONTROL, folks. That's what this all comes down to. Control. Who's in charge of OUR money. Who makes decisions about OUR livelihoods. The government, in this instance, isn't the least concern about being "of the people, by the people, for the people" ['who came up with that old line?' 'aw, some guy born 200 years ago!']. Instead, in spite of the will of the people, Congress has decided that they need to take OUR tax dollars and spend them without our consent.

It's about control, Kevin.

Class dismissed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Feeling like a Twit.

I've given in to the madness that is Twitter.

I've resisted it as long as I could, because there are any number of good reasons why no one needs ANOTHER "status update" program to keep up with.

But in the end, meh. Whatever.


The whole idea of "followers" weirds me out a little, though.

Immediately, my mind goes to the mildly-sacriligious visual joke of Jesus having a Twitter page with nothing but a "Follow Me!" button.

Imagine the conversation that could have occured in the Gospels...

TheMessiah: I'm heading to Jerusalem, and they're gonna kill me. Who's in?

BigFishPete: @TheMessiah are you sure about that? You're not too popular there. But don't worry, we'll never let you die.

TheMessiah: @BigFishPete Get behind me, Satan.

PhillyHebrew: @BigFishPete oh, SNAP.

TheMessiah: @PhillyHebrew Phillip...

PhillyHebrew @TheMessiah Sorry, Lord.

TommyDoubtsIt: @BigFishPete What's the matter, Peter? Scared? I say we head there and all go down together.

BigFishPete: @TommyDoubtsIt Who are you calling scared, twinkie? That's it, you and me, third watch, by the withered fig tree.

HeyJude: Okay, I'm giving 3-1 odds on Thomas to pull the upset. Who's taking?

TaxMatt: @HeyJude Gimme two drachma on Pete.

HeyJude: @TaxMatt Done. There's a five shekel convenience fee, also.

TaxMatt: @HeyJude Seriously? Ugh. Not cool, man.

ThunderJohn: @ThunderJames ...Compared to this lot, we are *so* the greatest.

ThunderJames: @ThunderJohn No kidding.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Linky-Love: Better Things to Do Edition

What? Do my work right now, rather than a blogpost? Bosh.

Monday, February 09, 2009

PBB Capsule Video Reviews: 55-Word Edition

epI've watched several movies in the last few weeks, and haven't really had a chance to review them for you guys. They say the most powerful writing is sometimes the most precise, so as an exercise in precision, I present the following 55-word (or thereabouts) reviews of recent videos I've watched. Apologies for those of you who enjoy the longer-form reviews. Hope you dig it anyway.


Tyler Perry's "Why Did I Get Married?"
A parental recommendation. Darker than expected, with fewer laughs than cringes. Plot: four couples whose vacation together unearths a lot of secrets. Some marriages survive, but not all. Not a horrible film, but I'm certainly not putting it in my favorites list. Perhaps married people appreciate it more. If you like Perry's films, rent it.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist
Liked parts, but overal too uneven. (Chuck hated it; I disagree about Kat's looks.) Cera and Dennings were fine, though the plot warranted older characters. Not enough magic, and too much low humor. Had higher expectations, but was disappointed. Instead, rent Garden State or Juno (both had some crude material but neither felt cheap/shallow).

Interstella 5555
An hour-long anime film, set to the music of Daft Punk. The "story" is told through images and music; no dialogue. An interstellar rock band is kidnapped, brainwashed, and mass-marketed by a mogul with evil motives. Surprisingly moving, with great music and emotive artistic design. It's in my Amazon wish-list. Rent it now.

Appaloosa (Updated after further consideration)
Western that suffers greatly in comparison with modern classics like "Tombstone." Ed Harris writes, directs, stars. Viggo Mortenson, Renee Zellweger, Jeremy Irons also star. Usual tropes: brave lawman, evil rancher, power struggle, railroad showdown. Add a frustrating and unsympathetic female opportunist. Stir, then end abruptly. Some good cinematography, decent performances. Nonsensical characterization left me cold.

An American Carol
I laughed twice.

(...What, you want more?)

Should have been MUCH better. Set "right-wing" satire back by a millenia. If I had seen it before the election, I would have voted for Nader out of sheer protest. Nothing more to add.

Ghost Town
A refreshingly funny romantic comedy that follows and subverts the formula. It's an "I see dead people" comedy with a good heart and clever script. Ricky Gervais is golden. The trailer made it look horrible; ignore the trailer. Best rom-com I've seen in years. Tea Leoni and Greg Kinnear do nicely. Rent it for Valentine's Day.

The Wackness
I love Josh Peck's Nickelodeon sit-com "Drake and Josh." I kinda hated this film, though I admit he did well. Story of a high-schooler who deals drugs for college money, gets his heart broken. Bleak, depressing, frustrating. A better child-star's-gritty-breakout-movie is "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" staring Shia LeBouf.

Charlie Bartlett
If Matthew Broderick were still 18, it'd be his picture. Combination romantic teen comedy and light satire of adolescent over-medication. I enjoyed this much more than i expected to, but it's not without problems. Robert Downey Jr. makes a mediocre vice-principal role interesting and empathetic. Fans of teen dramedies and after-school specials will appreciate this.

Chaos Theory
Unexpectedly-involving Ryan-Reynolds movie that starts out silly before sucker-punching you with human drama. Story of a cautious man who contemplates living recklessly and embracing "chaos." Themes include lies, consequences, and commitment. This one made me groan "oh, dude" more than once. Guess that makes this a recommendation. Watch out for some "content," but consider it.

Son of Rambow
Interesting British film about friendship between two schoolboys who bond over the love of filmmaking. They decide to make an action movie sequel to Rambo, and things go awry. Cute film, some fun sequences. The "oppressive religion" themes were eventually tiresome. Not quite as charming as I hoped, but not a waste of two hours, either.

and in case i haven't discussed it before...

Wristcutters: A Love Story
Bizarre but thoroughly enjoyable fable about love beyond death. In a bleak post-industrial limbo inhabited by "successful" suicides, three acquaintances go on a road trip to find lost love and answers to questions about their fate. Great cast, darkly funny script. Best Patrick Fugit performance since "Almost Famous." Plus, Gogol Bordello in the soundtrack.

Evidence of God's Grace: Health

Despite being 200+ pounds overweight, my BP is 120/80 and my cholesterol sits at 200. The HDL and triglycerides are a tad high, but other than that, I'm good. No diabetes, no problems of any kind (other than the tendon issues in my foot).

So, in other words, despite my best foolishness to do otherwise, God has kept me alive and in good health long enough for me to come to my senses, commit to get healthy, and add years back to my life.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Post-Mortem on Smallville episode 8.14 "Requiem"

(This won't mean anything to all but three of you, but humor me.)

So I've been asked what I thought of this week's Smallville. I've given it a bit of thought.


I wasn't pleased when I first heard that Lana was coming back for a 5-episode arc. While her exit at the end of Season 7 was abrupt and under-explained, for the first nine and a half episodes of this season I felt like I was finally watching the Superman show I had been hoping for all along. Clark was working with Lois at the Daily Planet (and they were growing closer), he faced enemies, he rescued citizens using a "secret identity" (or at least, an obscured one). It felt like the showrunners were letting Clark become the man he is destined to be. So the announcement of Kristin Kreuk's return as Lana was unwelcome to say the least.

When we didn't see too much of her for the first few episodes, I breathed a sigh of relief. The first three episodes--Bride, Legion, and Bulletproof--were fantastic hours of TV. They followed the Superman mythos, created some really great character moments for Clark, and fleshed out his renewed commitment to serving the people around him. Then the end of Bulletproof brought us a Clana moment, where Clark utters the final line of the episode: "What about what we want?"

You hear that noise? That's half a season of character growth imploding.

Then there's "Power." Lana steals information about Lex's attempts to return via life-support suits and nanotech. The whole idea of Lana being as good a hacker as Chloe is something I've gotten used to, though it still make sense. Then she convinces Dr. Grohl to allow her to adopt the technology Lex has designed, giving her superhuman powers. The episode ends with she and Clark on the roof, where she tells him he doesn't have to worry about her anymore, because now they're equals.

Excuse me?

Nevermind that Lana has a history of, oh, extortion, torture, murder, destruction, bloody vengeance, and selfishness. While Clark has finally started growing out of his immature self-interestedness to develop a moral code that involves intentionally avoiding killing (even his enemies) and sacrificing himself for the greater good.

No, sweetie, you're not equals. Not by a long shot.

Which brings us to "Requiem." And we begin with Clark and Lana engaged in some super-"Business-Time" that destroys what appears to be...well, it appears to be the Kent family bed. Clark was sleeping on a smaller bed several years back, so unless he's replaced the bedset in the master bedroom, this is the same bed his parents shared before his father's death (incidentally, caused by Clark's bullheaded insistence on changing fate to save Lana).

Take a minute and think about that. Better yet, don't.

Meanwhile, as Oliver strides in to tell the LuthorCorp board of directors that he's just taken over, a bomb goes off killing everyone but him. The bomber (a character known to the DC universe as The Toymaker) is a disgruntled former employee. Oliver knows he's working for Lex, and tries to track him down without Clark's help. Ollie wants revenge.

Okay, here's my second problem with this episode, really with the show's writing for the last year: Ollie's not much of a hero anymore. He's a vigilante.

I'm not as up on his history and mythology, so i don't know how true to character that is. But it's ticking me off. He's set up as an equal to Clark, a hero setting wrongs to right. And yet for the last year, since he found out Lionel killed his parents, he's been trying to kill Lex. Not just stop, but KILL. More on this later.

Chloe. Enough with the lies, please. I'm not happy about her character being dragged down with Oliver. While the Brainiac arc is over, thankfully, she's still obfuscating and hiding things. That never turns out well, and I hate that she's going down this path (which, according to spoilers for the rest of the season, keeps getting darker).

And seriously, why isn't she in Star City taking care of her HUSBAND? The one who tried to save her and was nearly killed by freaking DOOMSDAY?!?

Ugh. Moving on.

Skipping ahead to the climax. The krypto-bomb atop the Planet. That was actually a pretty cool device, and very appropriate for Lex's evil genius. Too long, this show has made Lex a woobie, even a woobie destroyer of worlds. It's time he became the criminal mastermind he's destined to be.

But seriously--Lana absorbs the kryptonite into her super-skin and saves the day? What i'm getting is that the powers that be (TPTB) are making her out to be a hero, a martyr, who sacrifices herself for Clark. But she just hasn't earned it yet. There's too much baggage there for her to get my teary devotion.

I like that Clark makes the decision to lose her in order to stop the bomb and save lives. It was subtle, but it was there. Last year's Clark would have hesitated, would have probably tried to stop her. But that doesn't absolve what comes next.

Clark finds "Lex's" semi-truck and suddenly goes to kill him.

Wait, WHAT?

And then Lana immediately talks him down.


All those episodes establishing his code, his "one rule." And he would have tossed it aside because Lex somehow made it impossible for him to be with Lana. He didn't even kill her. And Clark's ready to throw it all away.

My huge problem with this is: Clark doesn't need Lana to be his conscience.

Look, the greatest strength Superman has isn't flight, or speed, or strength, or anything else. It's his moral code. That's at the heart of Superman--he is bound by an iron-clad moral code that DEFINES who he is. That's what makes him the world's greatest hero.

And in this show, after all this time, Superman needs Lana Lang to show him the better path.

Read that again. Or better yet, don't.

Suddenly, "Lex's" trailer explodes. Why? Because Oliver put a bomb in there and killed him.

Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, kills "Lex Luthor," and Chloe ends up covering up for him.

I actually had to rewind and rewatch that scene, because I couldn't friggin believe it. Two great characters, utterly stained by these unheroic actions. I don't even have words. This may well be the lowest point of the series in my mind. I haven't been this frustrated with the show since the abhorrent Season 4 "Lana is possessed by a Witch" arc. And you KNOW how i feel about that one.

I know it wasn't really Lex. It couldn't have been. Either there was no one in the truck, or it was a double. TPTB don't have the...fortitude to pull off so brazen a move. But the fact that they would even imply it, and cover the hands of the Green Arrow and Chloe Sullivan in blood--it's appalling to me as a fan.

Now, about the final scene. The last "loft scene" of Smallville. (These "loft scenes" are infamous in some quarters of the SV fanbase.) Clark and Lana talk about how her having absorbed the kryptonite makes her poisonous to him, that he'll never be able to touch her again. She's leaving, never to return.

And Clark, slowly, makes the agonizing walk across the room to her, nearly falling over a few times, and embraces and kisses her for the last time.

I'm going to admit it, I was tearing up, because it was a powerful scene. For all the horrible missteps and distractions this relationship has brought to the show and its story, this scene was one of the best bits of acting I've ever seen from Welling. I believed fully, in that moment, that Clark's love for Lana was real. He held her, kissed her, until his body couldn't take it anymore and he fell to his knees, writhing in pain. She cried out and ran away from him. Before she left, she said she loved him. As she runs out, he pushes himself up off the floor, and from his knees gasps, "I love you." Aaaaand scene.

Okay. As I said, I thought it was an incredibly powerful scene. But what i found interesting, and heard others observe, is that it's also so incredibly emblematic.

Lana is kryptonite.

This has been true for YEARS. She was Clark's greatest weakness. She brought out the selfishness in Clark, to the point where he was willing to give up his abilities and be human, in order to be with her. He was willing to sacrifice the life of someone else (not realizing it would be his own father) to be with her. He was willing to stop being a hero, in order to be with her. And when Lex made that impossible, Clark was ready to sacrifice his moral code and shed Lex's blood, an act of unheroic vengeance (no matter how deserved).

Lana was the kryptonite that kept Clark from taking his place as a hero. And for the first half of the season, when she was gone, he was stronger, more heroic, and closer to Superman than he'd ever been before.

And now she's gone. But at what cost? Everything that seemed to be building in Clark's character and heroic journey this year was pretty much lost. Lex Luthor is "dead" at the hands of two formerly heroic (or at least semi-heroic) characters. And everything seems to be in turmoil, regarding the storylines still unresolved. (Where is Doomsday/Davis? Where is Lois? Is Jimmy going to survive?)

So, you asked me what I thought, gentle reader? I'm disappointed. Offended, really. And while there were a few really cool moments in the episode, I think it did more harm than good. I don't know how the show will recover at this point. It's too late in the game to pull a stunt like this.

I know there are people who are swearing off the show forever. I'm not. I'm a fan, and I'm going to see it through. But I'm really let down. Up to this point, Season 8 has been the very best season of the show, in my opinion. I had high hopes that when it ends, either this year or next, it would end at the top of its game. After the last two episodes, my hope seems to be ill-placed.

It could turn around; anything's possible when it comes to TV shows. But without a massive ret-con, I don't see how.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Lettin' the Sunshine In.

(Borrowing a borrowed page from Ms. Trim's book...before slamming the cover shut!)

Things that make me happy:

  • Really well-written prose. I mean, sentences and phrases that just sing, you know? Stuff that I want to read aloud to myself just to savor the sounds of the words like little bite-sized bricks of Hershey chocolate.
  • Singing along to the car radio on a sunny afternoon. Something loud and easy-going, like Creedence or the Beatles.
  • Hugs. And i'm talking real good hugs--hugs from people who i know really care about me.
  • Girls wearing their hair in pigtails.
  • Watching "live" baseball of any kind. Sitting in the ballpark with the crowd. Eating a hotdog, preferably.
  • Reaching the end of my Sunday School hour feeling like I'm about to drop from exhaustion. That's when I know I'm done and I've done allright.
  • Going to the movies.
  • Solo road trips, with nothing but the radio and the horizon for company.
  • Walking into a hotel room just after checking in--everything perfectly placed, neat and clean, and interesting because it's unfamiliar.
  • Starting a new Superman graphic novel.
  • Holding hands.
  • Chocolate milk.
  • Being in love.
  • Babies.
  • The smell of ink in new books.
  • The smell of dust in old books.
  • Polaroid cameras.
  • Mint-flavored anything.
  • Empty work email inboxes.
  • Locking my office door on the last day before vacation.
  • Overcast winter afternoons that make you bundle up.
  • Music montages in offbeat/indie movies.
  • "Cubs win! Cubs win! Holy cow!"
  • Spending time with my family. (My dad, especially.)
  • Overtime shoot-outs at Aeros games.
  • Being forgiven.
  • Being accepted.
  • Being loved.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Monday Video View

Best Commercial I Saw during the Super Bowl:

Seriously, any commercial that uses "Jump Around" gets high marks from me.

Best Commercial No One Saw during the Super Bowl:

The Top 25 Songs of 2008, combined into one mash-up:

"Ned! Ryerson!"

"This is about a self-loathing...giant squid..."