Friday, September 28, 2007

Bad Dream

Been having some strange dreams lately. One featured a trip to a remote blues bar with my dad that will get its own entry in time. Another one this morning saw me spending some quality time with Kate from “Lost” out on their deserted island. I think I was consoling her as she was torn between her feelings for Jack and Sawyer.

Either of these are a fresh change of pace to my usual occurring dreams, where either all my teeth fall out or I’m driving cars with no brakes. Interpret as you will.

But the dream I want to address here is one I had earlier this week. I don’t remember many details, and I barely remember the context, but the experience left me quite rattled. See, all I recall is having an awkward conversation with a man in some sort of public place. It could have been a bus, a train station, or a Chucky Cheese, for all I know. I really just don’t remember.

What I do know is that I felt very disappointed in the conversation, almost as if I harbored a sense of foreboding about the entire thing, though (in the dream) I couldn’t identify why.

Then the man opened his jacket and revealed a half-dozen rows of explosives, and I had my answer.

Best as I can tell, the man I was speaking to in my dream was a suicide bomber. (Or “homicide bomber”, depending on the political stance you want to take). Once I saw those explosives, I knew in no uncertain terms that I was about to die. A somber feeling that combined disappointment and understanding swept through me, and then the dream was over.

There was no dramatic jerk awake, no horrified cold sweat. The “moment of truth” neither came nor even got close enough to scare me. It was just that feeling, that sense of “well, this is it”, that I was left with.

In one fell swoop, I felt as if I’d finally gotten an answer for every issue that felt unresolved in my life. No concrete “career”. No marriage. No real fame and fortune. Plenty of blessings and great memories, sure, but at that moment I knew why I’d never found my way down certain paths.

I wasn’t meant to. I was meant to get blown to Hell by some whack-job.

Obviously this dream has some connection to my abstract view of death—to this day, I have never attended a funeral—but I think it may have been specifically brought on by the twenty minutes of “Saving Private Ryan” I caught Saturday night before going to the Epic Summer Film Festival (which was, by contrast, quite a lively event). I was fortunate enough to catch the infamous Omaha Beach sequence, where Allied troops are being blown to bits left and right while Tom Hanks tries to get his men through the battle lines. Even edited for cable, it is a difficult thing to watch. What strikes me about the whole thing—other than the creative ways Spielberg blows everyone up—is the nihilistic way everyone gets killed. Here are hundreds if not thousands of promising young men, leveled scores at a time without a second thought. One second they’re America’s best and brightest, with hopeful families at home and the American Dream on their shoulder, then the next second they’re in pieces on some French beach.

This isn’t meant to be a commentary on the morality of war, far from it. In fact, if there was one complaint I had with Spielberg’s film, it’s that you never got a real sense of what the men were fighting and dying for: namely, to stop a horrible, horrible menace from continuing and spreading one of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen. No one on that beach died for nothing.

What bothers me, though, is that all my life I have felt this sense that I was meant to become something “great”, that I had some pronounced role to play in mortality. Usually I’ve been shortsighted enough to assume that meant I was going to play pro basketball or be a movie star. I certainly haven’t given sufficient credence to the idea that anyone who lives the life of a worthy husband and father is a real hero.

Over time, my more material aspirations have eroded. I used to draw up floor plans of the mansion I would build one day, but that stopped when I spent six months in a one-bedroom apartment in Kankakee, Illinois with a twelve-inch mold spot on the ceiling over my bed. I still thrill at the energy created at Jazz games and Star Wars movies, but the stories I hear of “the life” make me hesitate to inject myself into that world full-time. Still, I feel driven—if not obligated—to do something notable with my talents. Something that stands out.

It’s been very difficult to reconcile these notions, especially when I am reminded that at any given moment, I could be called out of the game and sent home.

* * *

Last spring I watched the Jazz battle the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs. As I watched a number of calls go in the direction of Houston’s 7’6” center Yao Ming, I found myself thinking a familiar thought: “yeah, if I was seven feet tall, I could do that, too. Probably a lot better. Everything you have was given to you.”

But for the first time, a different thought followed: “Josh, you’ve been given some talents, too. Who’s looking at you and saying the same thing?”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I can take care of living things

This morning I went to water my bamboo plant and realized that I have passed an important milestone. The problem is that I don’t know what that milestone is. See, I have had this same bamboo plant for several years now, and in spite of my pronounced lack of nurturing skills, it is still alive. I do not know how this reflects on my future capacity as a father.

Actually, to be more precise, the bamboo plant is 80% alive. When I first got it (a Christmas gift, perhaps?) it had five healthy bamboo stalks, firmly planted in a bed of small stones. In the time since, one of the stalks expired, probably because for a period of four months I failed to give my plant its necessary once-a-month watering.

So in terms of being a father, I guess this would be the equivalent of losing my child’s left leg to gangrene.

Thus, my track record with “responsibility for living things” has not been exemplary. Just ask the frog and fish I sustained for a year. I inherited them from my sister, who had tired of them. (This would reflect poorly on her potential mothering skills were it not for the fact that she has had near sole responsibility for a cockatiel—first dubbed “Baby Bundles”, then “Bundles”, now “Satan”—for upwards of seventeen years.)

I faithfully attended the needs of my frog and fish—dubbed “Confucius” and “River Man”, not respectively—for several months without incident. Then shortly after returning from a pilgrimage to Chicago I found River Man hovering stiffly near the bottom of his tank. About two weeks later Confucius took up permanent residence on the water’s surface. (Mental note: dead fish have more natural buoyancy than dead frogs).

I was struck that the two passed so closely to each other, in spite of the fact that to my knowledge, I had been faithful in feeding them. True, Confucius died almost immediately after I changed the water in his tank one afternoon, but I still suspect that he passed voluntarily out of respect for his departed friend. This is, after all, the same way my paternal grandparents want to go, which they remind me of on a weekly basis.

(My deep suspicion is that the deaths of Confucius and River Man were a protest of my neglectful treatment of their dream interpretation column, which I sincerely regret.)

So for now, the best I can do is celebrate however many months or years I have kept my little bamboo plant alive, taking comfort in this achievement while trying to avoid getting too psyched out by the real adult responsibilities of child-rearing so many of my friends are now managing. And on that note, I leave you with a shot I took of one of my auxiliary nephews, Simon Ostler, as he destroyed a generous serving of his first birthday cake.

I may not know anything about raising kids, but I know a funny picture when I see it.

Five trade options for Andrei Kirilenko

One of the funny things about being a writer (even an unemployed one) is how little control you have over the creative process. For example, I am writing this at 1:21AM, when I should be dreaming about Kung Fu and flying mini-vans.

But enough about me. A week into the latest Andrei Kirilenko drama, it seems our native Russian still remains bent on taking his heroin-chic Ivan Drago act out of state. Maybe he just hasn’t had a chance to read my letter yet. Of course, I doubt that would do much to undo anything Deron Williams has already said on the matter.

Anyway, as the first day of training camp approaches, I have compiled a helpful list of options for Jazz owner Larry Miller to consider.

1. Shawn Marion, Phoenix Suns. Yesterday Marion officially made his own trade request public, and though he has indicated a desire to play for the Lakers (now there’s an original idea), the Jazz actually seem like a possible destination. Even the Sports Guy thinks so. The money lines up (kind of), the positions match (kind of), and not only is Marion a pretty serious player (he’s in that hip Nike commercial with all the guys walking in slow motion in white warm-up suits), but he’s a solid defender. Plus he's got a sweet nickname--The Matrix.
Odds: 10 to 1

2. Richard Jefferson, New Jersey Nets. In some ways, Jefferson makes more sense than Marion. Not because Jefferson is a 2-3 and would address our still-gaping hole at the shooting guard position, rather because acquiring Jefferson would finally give us the proper justification for playing “Movin’ On Up” during player introductions. And that would give this season ticket holder a big vote of confidence.
Odds: 25 to 1

3. Gordan Giricek, Utah Jazz. Perhaps the best move for Jazz brass is to look no farther than their own backyard. Giricek has an expiring contract, which will clear cap space for Deron Williams when the time comes for his max deal in a couple of years. Plus Giricek has also been unhappy with the logjam at his position and would likely enjoy a change of scenery. If we tell Kirilenko he’s going to a championship caliber team that desperately needs a defensive leader, in a city that loves white foreigners, he should perk up immediately and cure any locker room cancer threat. Both sides win.
Odds: 42 to 1

4. Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four. This trade makes sense for a number of reasons. For one, our current roster is not very good-looking. Alba adds clear roster depth here. Plus, adding a Hollywood celebrity to our lineup increases the chances of signing big name free agents in the next offseason. Scouting reports indicate that Alba’s wingspan is not quite up to par with comparable players at her position, but the benefit of carrying an “intangibles” player may overcome perceived disadvantages on paper.
Odds: 50 to 1

5. A microphone. (Insert your own joke about trading for an inanimate object here). By picking up a microphone, Larry can demonstrate shrewd business sense by ridding the team of a costly distraction, preserving roster chemistry, and adding an asset with cross-functional value, whether used by Jazz PA announcers or local country music performers.
Odds: 100 to 1

Or the Jazz could do nothing at all and hope that Andrei snaps out of his LSD-induced Karl Malone haze.

Odds: Even.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Photo Gallery Update

Happy Tuesday, people...

Just finished a series of updates on my Planet Venison photo gallery. Now it includes shots from recent trips to the Subway in Zion, Yellowstone, and the Murray City Park. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

An open letter to Andrei Kirilenko

Dear Andrei,

Last night I heard you’d written some blog post that said you wanted out of Utah. Obviously I had an immediate response, but thought I’d wait until it was confirmed that you had actually written the post before I made one of my own.

As of this afternoon, it looks like it’s the truth: after six seasons with us, you want to be traded.

Are you sure about this, AK?

Don’t get me wrong, comrade; I understand your position. Three years ago you were the centerpiece of the Jazz. You were an All-Star. You did everything for us, mostly since nobody else was around that could. When everyone else was either leaving or refusing to come, you played on, happy as you could be.

But now that Deron and Booz have caught on, we don’t really need you to score 20 points a game anymore. We’ve got another foreign All-Star, too. It’s a lot harder to fill box scores when you play on a more talented team, I hear.

Heck, I even understand that playing for Sloan has got to be tough sometimes. But try to cut him a break, Andrei. The guy lost his wife to cancer. Do you think he’s really going to be motivated by whiny blog posts? For Pete’s sake, compared to the guy that coached Stockton and Malone, this Sloan’s a cupcake. He’s a downright friendly guy.

If you really want to go, then go. I just think there are some things you should consider before leaving town:

1. Ex-Jazzmen haven’t exactly led distinguished careers. Granted, you’d probably be the biggest name outside of Karl Malone to leave the team for greener pastures, but if you go down the line, those greener pastures never turned out to be so lush. If I remember right, the biggest ex-Jazz success was Dell Curry. Remember him? I didn’t think so.

2. Patience pays off sometimes. If you get your way and get out of town now, you’re just another selfish millionaire ballplayer. But if you do the noble thing and stick around, you build good karma. Karma paid off for Kevin Garnett, Andrei. Look at the shot he’s getting now.

3. You mean more to the Jazz than you realize. With Utah you have a perfect opportunity to fill a role that is designed for you. You are the perfect “intangibles” guy on a blue-collar team that desperately needs them. Deron may pick up the assists, and Booz might score in the paint, but your blocks and steals and dives and whatever else you pull out of your hat are the things that bring the crowd to life, Andrei. We love you for that, and we want to keep loving you for it.

4. Why would you want to leave a winning team to be a big fish in a little pond? Sure, you might get traded to someone like Phoenix or Dallas, but you’ve made it pretty clear that you’re not interested in winning. You want “freedom”. I understand that, but when your career is over, would you rather look back on championships or scoring titles? Why do you want to be the next Dominique Wilkins? Wouldn’t you rather be the next Scottie Pippen? Go ask Vince Carter, see what he thinks.

5. Utah’s a much nicer place to play than you know. We Jazz fans are a forgiving lot (unless your name is Ostertag). Just look at Karl Malone. His fits and trade demands pretty much became a running gag around here. But when it got time to get down to business, Karl worked his butt off, and we saw that. We forgave and forgot. Even after he shafted us and joined the NBA’s entry in the professional sports axis of evil (Yankees-Raiders-Lakers), we still retired his number. Larry still cried at the ceremony. Do you think you’ll get treated that well in New York or Philadelphia?

(Give me a second. I’m still on the ground laughing after that last one.)

Like I said, Andrei, I know where you’re coming from. Basketball should be fun, even when you’re getting paid millions of dollars to play it. I think you can still have fun with the Jazz, though. And from what I hear, hoisting a Finals trophy over your head can be pretty fun, too.

Give my best to the Mrs.,


The Starting Five: Best Movie Endings

In all my years of movie watching, and all my subsequent experience as an aspiring writer, one thing I have learned is that a killer ending is hard to come by. There are lots of good writers, a few good writers with good ideas, and even fewer good ideas that turn into great endings. Oh, how many classic TV shows crashed with bad series finales? (“Cheers”, anyone?) Oh how many potentially classic films crashed with lame third acts? (“Blade Runner”) The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray...(hey, there's a classic ending!)

With that in mind, here are my “starting five” best film endings of all time. These are the movies that delivered in the clutch, even if the first three quarters were kind of awkward.

(If you come across a movie here that you haven’t seen, skip it. You deserve to get the full experience, so go rent the thing tonight.)

Point Guard: “The Graduate”

A good leader has to come through in the clutch, even if the rest of the game has been pretty shaky. I actually came to identify with “The Graduate” more after finishing grad school than when I finished my bachelor’s, but even back then I knew I’d found a gem of an ending.

Buck Henry’s watershed story follows Dustin Hoffman as he struggles to find his way after college. Everyone seems to have an idea for how he should spend the rest of his life (“Plastics!”), but Hoffman himself feels pretty lost. Somehow he winds up having an affair with—get this—his dad’s best friend’s wife (Anne Bancroft as the immortal “Mrs. Robinson”), and he coasts through the summer in a nihilistic haze. Unfortunately he falls for her daughter in the process, and eventually shakes himself out of his insanity enough to go after her. Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well with most of the parties involved, and Mrs. Robinson tries to marry her daughter off to some rich kid to get her away from Hoffman. When Dusty intercedes, you get one of the great “question mark” endings of all time. All set to Simon and Garfunkel.

(Note: at the present time, no one has uploaded the final scene on YouTube. Just go rent it.)

Shooting Guard: “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”

Every great team needs a sharpshooter; why not two? “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” just about reinvented the Western, and is packed with enough classic moments for a dozen films. (“Who are those guys?” “Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you!” “I’m better when I move.” “Bolivia!”)

But all of those classic moments lead up to a signature ending: cornered in some shack in a nameless Bolivian village, Butch and Sundance are waist deep in a shootout with a few local authorities. As they nurse their wounds, they go about their business taking pot shots at each other, continuing the abusive friendship we’ve come to love, never knowing that an entire militia is gathering outside. Finally they suck it up and run outside for one final charge, guns blazing.

Small Forward: “Tootsie”

A great swingman needs versatility, and enough unpredictability to keep the defense guessing. Then when he gets hot, you just don’t know what’s going to happen next.

When you try to explain “Tootsie” to someone who hasn’t seen the movie, you come off looking strange most of the time. Nevertheless, for those willing to take the plunge, Dustin Hoffman’s cross-dressing turn as a soap opera star pays off in one of the all-time great comic finales. Half a dozen crazy subplots spiral out of control—his relationship with his old friend (Terri Garr, who thinks he is gay), his relationship with his director (Dabney Coleman, who thinks he’s a man-hating feminist), his relationship with his male co-star (Punky Brewster’s dad, who thinks he’s playing hard to get), and his relationship with his female co-star (Jessica Lange, who thinks he’s a lesbian) and her dad (Charles Durning, who proposes to him, leading to this exchange with Hoffman’s agent, Sydney Pollack: “What did you say?” “I SAID NO! I went into the bathroom…I nearly pissed in the sink! I’M IN TROUBLE, MAN!”)

Eventually the crap has to hit the fan, and when it does, it’s comic history.

Power Forward: “Planet of the Apes”

Karl Malone was one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history, helped in no small part by a pair of serious guns that brutalized interior defenses. So who else could bring great guns to the table than Charleton Heston?

When Chuck and his interstellar crew crash land on a strange foreign world, they find a bizarre doppleganger planet where the monkeys are the ones in charge. They aren’t too keen on humans that can think for themselves, either. After two hours of classic lines and bizarro situations, Chucky packs up his loincloth and his mute She-Woman and hoofs it out to the “forbidden zone” to start a life far from those nasty apes. What he finds is a twist-ending and a half.

Center: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

You’ve got to have an anchor in the middle. Someone strong enough to carry the team when everyone else is having an off night. “Chief” does exactly that in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, both on the court (during a classic rec yard basketball sequence) and at the end of the movie.

“Cuckoo’s Nest” is the story of a criminal (Jack Nicholson) who fakes insanity in order to avoid serious jail time. He winds up getting institutionalized with a who’s-who of future Hollywood big shots (Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, for starters), and proceeds to turn the loony bin upside-down. But after two hours of civil disobedience, Jack crosses the line when a fellow inmate commits suicide, and the powers-that-be take drastic measures to make sure he never acts up again. When Jack is returned to bed post-lobotomy, Chief steals over to him, thinking the two of them are finally going to bust out for good. What happens next is the ultimate bittersweet ending of all-time.


Sixth Man: “City of Angels”

I never said these were my favorite movies of all-time, just my favorite endings. For 90 minutes I thought this was the dumbest movie I had ever seen. I figured some big shots were sitting around a table in Hollywood when someone said, “Hey, how about Dennis Franz bodysurfing naked? What kind of movie could we build around that?”

They built “City of Angels”. Nicolas Cage (an angel) lusting after Meg Ryan (a disillusioned surgeon) for two hours until he decides to give up immortality so he can get busy human-style. The morning after they finally get their groove on, she goes for a bike ride and runs into the back of a logging truck and dies, then Nick decides to take up body surfing. Roll credits. It can’t make the starting five, but it deserves notoriety as “greatest unintentionally classic ending of all-time”.

Bench Players: “American Graffiti”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “The Godfather”, “Easy Rider”, “The Blues Brothers”, “The Great Escape”.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Origin of the Species

I was thinking the other minute, "hey, maybe one of my five readers might be interested in seeing the clip that inspired the name of my blog."

Then I thought, "nah, I'm sure they probably already know."

Then I thought some more, and said, "it still might make for a good post" to no one in particular.

Then I thought, "I'd better be careful. It's 1:30am, and in my current state of mind I'm liable to post something really stupid and embarassing."

Then I sat silently at my computer for a few seconds, watching my bootleg "Wonder Years" episodes continue to transfer onto my desktop from my roommate's external hard drive.

Then I thought, "will my readers justify my having bootleg 'Wonder Years' episodes with the understanding that since the DVD release of the series will likely be held up for several years due to soundtrack copyright issues, the only way to see the old shows is through the ABC Family Channel bootlegs?"

Then I thought, "oh yeah, this post is supposed to be about the wounded mosquito title", and I figured I'd better patch in the "embed" code and get this post online.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Impostor Potter infiltrates local theaters

Layton, UT – Avid Harry Potter fans and local moviegoers have been duped. All along the Wasatch Front, reports are pouring in of impostor Harry Potter films showing up in local movie houses.

The substitute film, dubbed “Larry Potter”, has been fooling locals into buying tickets, thinking they were going to see the newest Potter franchise release, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” But instead of Harry’s fifth year at Hogwarts, complains Hyman Roth of Kaysville, “I get three hours of home improvement videos with some fat guy in a plaid shirt.”

Apparently “Larry Potter” is a collection of how-to home repair videos spliced from old episodes of “This Old House” with Bob Vila, patched together with music video footage of kids skateboarding in front of Davis High School. The entire package comes in at close to 180 minutes, and according to Cineplex Odeon manager Luca Brasi, “has been raking in the dough.”

“I was a little suspicious at first,” explains Luca, “this late in the season I would have thought Harry 5 would be over at Sugarhouse, bringing in six bits a head. But then I just figured they were re-releasing it with some new CGI or something to squeeze a few more bucks out of these kids.”

Reaction up and down the Wasatch Front has ranged from confusion to outrage. "I'd missed the last couple movies," said North Salt Lake resident Peter Clemenza, "so I didn't catch on right away. I just figured Daniel Radcliffe had put on some weight and gotten really excited about drywall."

“I remember all these kids coming out of the theater crying,” said Philip Tattaglia, veteran ticket taker at the Gateway 8 in Bountiful. “At first I felt really sorry for them, but then one of the little (expletive deleted)’s stabbed me with his plastic wand.”

The scam has impacted everyone involved, and placed a particular burden on parents.

“Robbie’s friends make fun of him at school,” said Theresa Hagen of Alpine, as her son stood dutifully at her side outside University Mall Saturday. “They’ve all seen Harry twenty-seven times, and poor Robbie’s still stuck on twenty-four.”

Robbie’s father seemed less concerned. “Best movie I’ve seen all year,” he said.

Local authorities are hard at work trying to locate the source of the confusion. But so far leads have failed to provide significant evidence.

“We found the same return address on all the film cases,” explained Officer Al Neri of Draper, “but it turns out that 1060 West Addison in Chicago is the address for Wrigley Field, so now all we’ve got to go on is the skateboarding footage.”

The footage may turn up some progress, however. “One of the boys at the station recognized one of the skateboard clips from YouTube,” said Officer Neri, “and we were able to trace it to a user that goes by ‘halfpipemama88’. We’re pretty much stuck from there, though. We do know that she lists ‘Indian Thriller’ on her favorites list. Maybe that means something?”

In the meantime, local theaters have been sheepishly removing “Larry Potter” from their marquees, and trying to find ways to make up the damages to all the disappointed youngsters.

“We were thinking about dressing up one of the projector operators as Voldemort and sticking him in a dunking booth,” mused Century 16 manager Carlo Rizzi, “but we wound up giving the kids a bunch of free passes to see ‘Die Hard’ instead.”


(The above article is intended as satire. All quotes and references are fictional.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Three movie reviews in under three minutes

Thanks to a run to the Redwood Drive-In and a late night pop-in at Sugarhouse, I knocked off three movies last weekend. Here are the results:

Ocean’s 13
2 ½ stars out of 4

Every time I see one of the “Ocean’s” movies I feel this need to go clothes shopping. For a T-shirt and jeans guy, that’s a strange thing. Nevertheless, there is no denying that one of the strongest aspects of the whole series is style, from the clothing to David Holmes’ soundtrack. It’s almost enough to make you cheer for the bad guys.

Of course, in “Ocean’s 13”, the bad guys aren’t really the bad guys. This time around they’re trying to get even with Al Pacino for snaking Elliot Gould out of a new casino deal and leaving him on his deathbed. Given Al’s history of dealing with business partners (see Moe Green, Hyman Roth, and his brother Fredo), maybe the Ocean’s boys should have just considered Elliot lucky and left alone.

But that wouldn’t be a very fun movie, would it?

Bottom line: another fun installment in a fun series. Rated PG-13, mostly for having to sit around for an hour without a clue what anyone is talking about before they finally start executing the big plan.


The Invasion
1 ½ stars out of 4

At first I thought this film was a re-make of a re-make; then I found out it was a re-make of a re-make of a re-make. First there was the 50’s version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, then there was the late 70’s version (with Leonard “Call me Spock” Nimoy), and apparently there was a version in the 90’s called “Body Snatchers”.

I never saw the last one, but can’t imagine it offered anything I haven’t already seen in the other two (and now three) movie versions of the classic original novel that I haven’t read. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wonder how Hollywood continues to function while people like me spend their time writing blogs no one reads.

Three years ago, I would have seen this movie for Nicole Kidman alone. But now she’s married to some country dude and I’ve pretty much lost interest. After the movie was over, I still felt the same way.

Bottom line: watchable but unoriginal, rated PG-13 for lots of vacant zombie looks, shots of zombies hacking up alien spores, and having to watch James Bond utterly powerless.


2 stars out of 4

“Stardust” is one of those movies that reminds me why deep down I’m really just not a huge fantasy guy. Kind of a funny thing for such a big “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” fan to say, but when I look at it, I’ve really enjoyed the big franchises and a lot of Sci-Fi movies, but when it comes to stuff like “The Neverending Story”, I just kind of shrug. Maybe “Star Wars” and “LOTR” are more rooted in classic mythical archetypes, making them accessible to all people regardless of persuasion. Maybe I just have discerning tastes. Maybe “Stardust” wasn’t all that great.

“Stardust” made me shrug. It had some good moments, some decent performances from folks like Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Daines (and a really unnerving one from Robert DeNiro), but I can’t say there was much of anything from the movie that will stick in my mind six months from now. Pfeiffer will still be Catwoman, Daines will still be Juliet, and DeNiro will still be the taxi driver.

Bottom line: pretty good date movie, more of a dollar flick than a first-run, rated PG-13 for having to see Claire Daines without eyebrows and Robert DeNiro in a dress.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why I Hate Country Music

It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment it happened. Maybe it was the first time I saw that trucker crying in his beer while the Blues Brothers sang "Stand By Your Man." Maybe it was the first time I got stuck in the fast lane behind a dualie. It could have been back when I worked at the Delta Center ticket office and saw the entire cast of "Deliverance" buy Randy Travis tickets over a six-week period. All I know is that as hard as it is to quantify, the feeling is absolutely real.

I hate country music.

But then again, it’s just not enough to say that I hate country music. It’s not enough to say that I despise country music.

It’s not enough to say that when the best output from an entire musical genre in the last 40 years came from five drug-addicted British rockers back in the '70s, that genre sucks.

It’s not even enough to quote that stand-up comedian from the early '90s who said “country is the Special Olympics of music,” because that statement would be offensive to the Olympians.

As far back as I can remember, I have carried a deep, almost blind loathing for contemporary country music. I hate it in the same way liberals hate George W. Bush: sure, there are a few token reasons supporting the argument, but they aren’t really a cause as much as they are a justification for a more intense passion below the surface.

It’s kind of like when Seinfeld used to break up with each new girlfriend for some increasingly obscure asinine reason, like eating peas one at a time or because she had “Man Hands.” He didn’t really care about that stuff, and he knew it. They were just excuses, concrete justifications for intangible realities. The real reasons were more personal, more existential.

Here’s my best attempt to explain how country music eats its peas one at a time:

Country Music isn’t really Country Music. I want to get this on the table early: I like REAL country music. Songs real cowboys might have listened to out on the range, like "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds" by the Sons of the Pioneers. Stuff by guys like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. I even like a lot of Patsy Cline’s stuff. But somewhere in the late '70s or early '80s (as usual), something went wrong, and country went from The Gambler to Billy Ray Cyrus. Most country today is nothing more than bad pop music with a twang.

Country Music monopolizes traditional patriotism. This is more a shot at mainstream rock than it is at country. I realize that the nature of rock and roll is to be somewhat anti-establishment, and I would be dishonest if I didn't acknowledge my love of '60s protest rock, but how come only country artists write songs that espouse traditional patriotism? Has ANYONE in the rock world written a pro-America song since Neil Diamond? Bruce Springsteen doesn’t count, cause “Born in the USA” is really a protest song. These days, the only “patriotic” songs you hear are Lee Greenwood knock-offs, and the rock world gives us wanna-be protest rock, brought to you by Coca-Cola.

Country Music monopolizes the female population. For every girl I meet that likes The Beatles, there are twenty more that would rather go see Tim and Faith in concert. And for every attractive mainstream rock artist that doesn’t dress like a tramp, there are about four-hundred all-American beauties churning hick tunes out of Nashville. Someday I’m going to meet a girl who will already know that Sam Cooke has the most incredible voice of all time. I just don’t think she’s going to be a Mormon.

Country Music is an epidemic. The day Classic Rock Z-93 converted over to K-BULL 93, I knew that I would always be a musical minority on the Wasatch Front. Whenever I tell a country-lovin’ friend how much I hate their music, they always give me the, “you just need to try it; it will grow on you” line. And I don’t doubt it. Country probably would grow on me, just like cancer or a good heroin addiction.

Country Music inspires poor clothing decisions. Every musical genre has its caricatures: the Goth, the Hippie, the Punk. But I’d take them all next to the mouth-breather in the stiff neon orange striped shirt and the Wrangler Jeans latched up over his small intestine by a belt buckle that doubles as a beer can opener. Only a country music fan would take something as cool as cowboy boots and ruin them by tucking their jeans INSIDE them.

Country Music encourages group conformity. The closest thing I’ve got to a “country exception” are the three or four times I’ve allowed myself to go country dancing, but the only reason for that was because The Code dictates that you are pretty much willing to chew your leg off if it will help you make progress with a girl. But even on those rare occasions, I flee for the walls when “Cotton-Eyed Joe” comes on. As my old friend Brian used to say, “I have no desire to participate in an activity which reminds me of Nazi’s.”

Country Music almost cost me my construction job. The “Twang” is the great undefinable “attribute” that makes country so distasteful to so many. I’m still not even sure how to quantify it. Is it the steel guitars? Is it the awful lyrics? Or is it the fact that in the country world, I’m not a “man,” I’m a “may-un?” Either way, all I can say is that the Twang alone brought me to the verge of quitting the same job twice in the same summer. Working construction for $8 an hour a month after finishing my Master’s Degree was humbling enough; having to listen to “The Drinkin’ Bone” while doing it was intolerable.

* * *

One Saturday in Logan a friend of mine walked up to me with a big grin on his face as his new country mix CD blared behind him. We were getting ready for the annual “Cowboy Date” my roommates had been putting on for several years before I’d moved in. I only participated because The Code dictated that if I had the chance to spend an evening with Hailey Gray*, then I’d willingly debase myself to do it.

He asked me if I liked his music mix. Actually I think he said something like, “isn’t it great?”, no doubt expecting me to chime in automatically with the rest of my roommates who thought country music was downloaded directly from Heaven along with the EFY soundtracks.

Sometimes people can justify a white lie. Sometimes you can tell someone their hat looks nice when it really looks like a cat with brain damage. I’m not very good with lies, so I couldn’t just say, “yeah,” and walk away. But at the same time, I couldn’t say, “I think country is the most reprehensible batch of garbage I have ever encountered,” either. So I just kind of mumbled and avoided eye contact until he moved on.

Two months later, Hailey stopped returning my phone calls.

So maybe I hate country music because it is a symbol of my social alienation and romantic futility. Maybe one man's opinion really is as valid as the next's. Maybe country music enriches the diversity of our great nation, celebrating our broad culture and freedom to wear really tight pants and dance in straight lines.

Nope. Just because you're entitled to your opinion doesn't make that opinion valid. Bad taste is real. Country sucks.


*Name changed in case she got married or something.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jon Voight hates my people

Dear Jon Voight,

Last spring I saw a clip on “The O’Reilly Factor” that said you were going to be in a movie about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. I was miffed, but I forgot about it, because I don’t spend lots of time thinking about dumb anti-Mormon movies during the day.

Now the movie’s out, and my fears are confirmed: Jon Voight hates my people. And so does General Zod.

What did I do, Jon? Where did I let you down? After all we’ve been through, after so many memories, why this?

Why, after I was so worried when the inbred guy with the teeth was going to shoot you in “Deliverance”, but then luckily you got him first with your arrow?

Why, after I cried with you in that New Jersey bar while you pointed to Derrik Zoolander on the TV and said, “that’s my son, that’s my son”?

And why, after the time you bit Kramer’s arm on “Seinfeld” and almost got me to start an “I Love Jon Voight” fan club?

After all those memories, how could you star in this crap movie? Why screw up such a great track record?

Has the pressure gotten too great? Did your agent take a vacation? Have you struggled to find direction since the falling out between you and Brangelina? Why take it out on the Mormons, Jon?

I’ve been watching interviews you did on important media outlets like CNN, Fox News and “The View”. You keep saying it’s important that the truth be told, but then you said you did your background research on the Internet. Come on, man; I expect more from a guy who played the Pope. I expect more from my eighteen-year-old English 1010 students.

Speaking of the Internet, have you ever read the Rotten Tomatoes Web site? Maybe you should check it out. Apparently “September Dawn” isn’t exactly “Citizen Cane”. According to the Tomato-Meter, it’s not even “Rush Hour 3”.

Do you know why, Jon?

It’s because even movie critics can see through “September Dawn”. They all know it’s a pathetic attempt to make Mormons look bad, and you’re front and center in the production, along with General Zod and Uncle Rico. You’re breaking my heart, Jon.

You can claim that the movie isn’t meant to reflect on current members of the church, but you have to know better than that, Jon. Do you think that after watching “Big Love” on HBO, informed viewers sat back and said, “hmmm, this satire is a clever poke at a radical fringe element of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who continue to espouse a doctrine that was officially disbanded over one-hundred years ago”?

No, Jon, they sit back and think, “Man, Mormons are weird. I’m totally voting for Rudy Giuliani.”

Do you think that after watching “September Dawn” people are going to say, “Ah, this cartoonish depiction of the Mormon sect is a powerful metaphor for the dangers of religious extremism. It’s a good thing Mormons today are so well-grounded, like that Napoleon Dynamite guy.”

No, they’re going to sit back and say, “Dude, no wonder the Jazz can’t get any good free agents.”

Actually, from what I can tell, most viewers are going to sit back and say, “what the h--- was that?” But then again, that’s just judging by the Internet.

I’m not saying the attack never happened. Even the church (meaning the real one, not the horned polygamist one) freely admits that. But I don’t think that’s what “September Dawn” is about. I think it’s about taking shots at a group that is outside of the “protected” sphere.

Jon, I want to cut you a break because I haven’t seen the movie. It’s rated R, so I’m going to have to wait a year or two until the cut out the naked bits and put it on cable. But I don’t know if I’ll feel any better then. Next time you get steamed when some journalist starts going through your closet, remember the ones you went through yourself.



Habanero Time!

On the way up to Island Park for Labor Day Weekend this year, I stopped in Perry, Utah, to pick up some local produce to make homemade salsa. They had habanero peppers 10/$1.00, so I grabbed a bag. On Sunday night, my buddy Brandon and I decided to have a "Pepper-Off" to see if we could take the things straight. Here are the results: