What I’d Watch 4/18/14

Easter isn’t really a big movie holiday like Memorial Day and 4th of July and Christmas.  It usually falls around somebody’s spring break, so it’s not like the studios need to specifically target it, as they’ve been sprinkling spring releases all around it anyway.  It’s also still relatively non-commercialized and non-secularized (but compared to Christmas, what isn’t), so a lot of people just don’t see it as a day to pack up the family and head to the multiplex.  Not that there’s not a bevy of new releases today, but none of them are really going to pose a threat to holdovers The Winter Soldier and Rio 2.

heavenisforreal_posterOne of them got an early start, opening on Wednesday, and it’s the one film actually somewhat related to the holiday.  Heaven Is for Real pretty much says it all right there in the title, and really, the people that are going to see this are the ones who need the least convincing that its title’s assertion is true.  They’re going to be told they’re right, and that’s fine, I guess, although you’d think they get enough of that affirmation every Sunday.  Assuming, of course, they go to church every Sunday like they’re supposed to.  In any case, this clearly isn’t a film meant for me or anybody who thinks like me, so I’m content to let these few lines in this paragraph be the extent of thought I put into it.  I’ll figure out if Heaven is for real when I’m done experiencing things I can actually see.

hauntedhouse2_posterNext up is a film that should make anyone legitimately question the existence of a kind and benevolent god.  I didn’t think the first A Haunted House made enough money to make anyone think about a sequel, but I guess taking in $40 million on a $2.5 million budget is enough to give it another go.  A Haunted House 2 only cost $500,000 more, so they sure are spending those profits wisely.  Look, there’s no need for any kind of heavy scrutiny here.  This thing is not even ninety minutes long, which means plenty of showings per day, and it’s aiming for a target so low that nothing short of the prints exploding into flames and burning down theaters is going to stop this from turning a profit.  Besides, every generation needs to be subjected to its own Scary Movie franchise, so here you go.

bears_posterA lot of people forget that Walt Disney had nearly as much success with his True-Life Adventures films as he did with his animated features.  They won him eight Oscars, including three for Best Documentary Feature, and if he had to shove a bunch of innocent lemmings off a cliff to get the job done, well, who are we to question genius?  In any case, it’s nice to see Disney attempt to honor that history of nature filmmaking with its Disneynature banner, and while their films haven’t met with the same award success as Uncle Walt’s films, they’ve been successful enough for Disney to keep making them.  Which brings us the roundabout way to Bears, which promises gorgeously filmed images of cute little bears amid sweeping vistas and reassuringly narrated by John C. Reilly.  If you don’t want your kids thinking about Heaven (or Hell, if A Haunted House 2 is on your radar for some reason), this is probably your go-to pick this weekend.  Assuming the bears aren’t pushed off cliffs as well.

transcendence_posterWhen’s the last time a Johnny Depp film crept into theaters?  Because that’s sure what it feels like Transcendence has done.  I haven’t seen a single theatrical trailer for this, and it only feels like the TV campaign has ramped up in the last week or so.  It’s Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman!  These aren’t no-names!  Well, the director is, unless you keep up with who Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer is.  But you’d still think Depp and Freeman would buy a little more buzz, unless the studio knows this isn’t very good and doesn’t want to sink good advertising money into polishing this thing up.  Do minimal promotion and hope Depp’s enough to get you a decent opening weekend.  Of course, this cost $100 million, so we’re not talking A Haunted House 2-style “just happy to be here” opening weekend being enough.  Still, it’s the one release this weekend that’s perked even a bit of interest for me.

I might just go shove myself over a cliff instead.

On His Mother’s Grave: Part Eight

Wherein things look bleak for our hero.  And for me finishing this story any time soon…

Mea Culpa

I’d meant to post the final part of “On His Mother’s Grave” today, but life is conspiring to give me very little keyboard time today, so I will likely have to push it back to tomorrow.

As a way of apologizing for this undue heightening of anticipation, I present to you a baby rabbit:

BJG6PIZ

Nary a Peep

We take the normal things for granted.  We don’t think much about them.  We see the same sights, hear the same sounds, all merging into this nondescript tapestry of a day that repeats itself until we’re barely aware of it.  It’s just there, background noise to all the much more important things going on in our heads.

Until one thing seems naggingly out-of-place.  Until something just doesn’t feel right.  It’s the kind of awareness when you’re around something you’re so used to that the smallest change is deafening.

That’s why I hesitated next to my car this morning.  The insistent peeping sounded too loud, too urgent, too close to be the normal happy chirping of ducklings bobbing along after their mother.  Moments later, peering down through the sewer grating, I saw two frightened little balls of fuzz frantically paddling around, and my whole morning changed.

I’m surprised at how instantly, how intently I wanted to help them.  I pulled on the grate, but it proved far too heavy.  I looked around for maintenance, but it was too early for them to be in yet.  I was failing them.  I was letting them down.  I tried the grate again, succeeding only in getting my hands dirty.  The peeping continued, and now I could see the mother and the rest of her brood circling the scene, as if they sensed I was trying to help but not knowing what else they could do.

I called animal control, which boiled the whole situation down to a sterile string of information and case numbers.  I finally found one of the maintenance crew, who had no way to open the grate, and who sounded pessimistic at the chances of rescuing the ducklings.   I felt helpless.  I wasn’t doing enough.  I couldn’t leave them there.  I had to do more.

So I talked to them.  I told them to hang on, that we’d get them out.  I got some bread from my apartment and dropped it down to them so they wouldn’t be hungry.  I knew they couldn’t understand me, that, if anything, I was probably only scaring them more, this big looming shadow above them.  But I was all they had.

Finally, one of the managers from my complex arrived for work.  She saw me hovering over this sewer grate, and when she came over, I told her what was happening.  I gave her the case number I’d been given, and I finally started to feel like I’d maybe done all I could.  Someone else knew.  Someone who’d be there and could check on them.  Maybe it was a comfortable fiction, so I could go to work without feeling like I’d abandoned my charges.  But I felt better.  Although the rest of my morning echoed with those scared little peeps.

A few minutes later, and I never would have heard them.  The mechanical roar of lawn mowers and weed whackers and hedge trimmers would have almost certainly drowned them out.  I’d have gotten in my car and driven away and maybe nobody would have ever known anything had happened, and nature would have taken its course.  I’ve seen plenty of duck families go from a dozen to a half-dozen to two or three over the course of a few weeks.  But this wasn’t some bird or cat leaping out of nowhere, or a bad turn in the weather.  This was some dumb accident.  Maybe those ducklings weren’t meant to make it.  But I’ll be damned if I was going to just watch it happen and do nothing about it.

I wish there was a happy ending to this story.  I wish there was any kind of ending.  But I’ve been told that animal services couldn’t get into the sewer.  They said if the sewer leads to a retention pond, the ducklings could follow the drain back out to it and be all right.  Small comfort.  But I guess that’s how life goes.  We do what we can, try our best, but sometimes, we just have to wait and see if it’s all right.

I do wonder why these two trapped little ducks produced such a reaction, when I’ve watched people on street corners with “Will work for food” signs and felt nary a thing.  Maybe I have a degree of cynicism towards my own species that I don’t have towards cute baby animals.  Maybe it’s latent paternal instinct.  All I know is that, even if I didn’t make one shred of difference in what eventually happens to those two, it didn’t go unmarked.  And that makes me feel ever so slightly better about the whole thing.

Perhaps we should spend a little more time paying attention to everything instead of just letting it wash over us in a dull wave.  Nothing should just be the background.  Nothing should just fade away in the haze of our own self-importance.  One day, it might be one of us who’s trapped.  Would we want someone to decide to just go to work instead of helping us out?

Valar Catharsis

NOTE: This post contains spoilers from HBO’s Game of Thrones, including last night’s episode.

Having read the books in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire when they each initially came out, a big part of my enjoyment of watching Game of Thrones has been in seeing how the production team pulls off the big moments I know are coming.  You know an adaptation is doing something right when events you’ve already read about can still surprise, enthrall, shock and excite.  Of course, some of that surprise is more from the how than the what, especially with some of the tweaks the show as made to the story; the book version of the Red Wedding, for instance, lacked the quite literal shot to the gut of Robb’s pregnant queen being repeatedly stabbed in the stomach.  Throughout though, there’s the undeniable pleasure of seeing something you’ve enjoyed in print vividly brought to life.

But maybe the biggest thrill I get is waiting for those signature moments so I can watch the reactions from those who are watching the show completely cold, with no knowledge of the books.  I sat on the edge of my seat all through Season One waiting for Ned’s execution, and was not disappointed by the stunned reactions from those who were certain Sean Bean would be the star of the show, that something, anything, would stop that sword from coming down.  And I just as eagerly watched through the build-up to the Red Wedding, knowing that if Ned’s death was unexpected, this would totally bowl people over.  Judging by the number of video cameras set up to record the reactions, I wasn’t the only one waiting to see them, and again we were not let down.  Even now, almost a year later, watching people leap from their couches in disbelief never fails to make me smile.

Last night brought another one of those moments, only this one wasn’t a sudden onrush of tragedy and dread.  Oh no, this was a moment so long anticipated, so long hoped for, so long desired, that I could barely wait to see the joyous outpouring on Twitter and Facebook:  King Joffrey, easily one of the most hated villains in television history, breathed his last, in as publicly humiliating a way possible.  Seconds after the credits began to roll, Twitter was flooded with euphoric messages, and as I type this, reaction videos are already popping up on YouTube, filled with cheers, clapping and fist pumps aplenty.

Why does this please me?  Well, it’s similar to when the Lord of the Rings films took off.  It’s a triumph for my people.  It’s something truly and utterly geeky becoming the topic of conversation in all of pop culture, not just our nerdy little niche.  I can’t begin to describe the stupidly esoteric thrill I got hearing Iron Man make a Legolas joke in The Avengers that not only didn’t have to be explained to anyone, but that actually got a big laugh.  And now people are bandying about Red Weddings and Purple Weddings as easily as they would Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.  Those of who pored through all those interminable multi-volume fantasy epics back in the Eighties and Nineties?  We were just ahead of the curve.  We’re cool now.  Our things are now your things.  You’re welcome.

Oh, and not to spoil anything, but if this season of Game of Thrones goes where I think it will, we’re in for at least two more nights where I’ll be anxiously waiting for Twitter to blow up.  Awesome is coming.

Every Person Comes Out Tired

One of the best benefits of all this weight loss has been the effect its had on my feet.  I was born with flat feet.  Absolutely no arches whatsoever.  And for the longest time, that meant any concerted walking was going to result in a whole lot of pain in my feet.  So spending time in a theme park was usually a mixed blessing:  a lot of fun mixed with the certainty of aching feet at some point during the day.

Now though, without an extra sixty pounds to tote around, my feet are doing great.  Today saw me do two full laps around EPCOT — a damn big theme park — with nary a peep out of them except for a very normal and expected bit of tiredness.  And that was with a six and a half mile walk this morning to make up for the eating and drinking I knew I was going to do later.  Now I’ll probably feel all of that activity come tomorrow morning, but my feet didn’t start screaming at me halfway through the day like they used to.  Which made for a happy Richard.  And a happy group accompanying him, since they didn’t have to listen to me complain about my feet every twenty minutes or so.

And I needed every bit of that walking I did, because, well, I misbehaved.  A lot.  EPCOT pretty much tempts you every step of the way with some kind of enticing foreign delicacy.  It’s basically a big restaurant that has some rides thrown in between courses.  Drinking around the World Showcase lagoon is a popular pastime, and it’s long had the reputation as “the drunk park” at Walt Disney World, since for so long it was the only park where you could buy alcohol.  And as I mentioned, it’s big, real big, leading to the alternate meaning of its initials as used in the title of this particular post.  When I was kid, though, it was just the boring park, since it didn’t have the childlike charms of the Magic Kingdom.  As an adult, well, it’s usually less crowded and it has beer.  Two large selling points.

So access to booze and feet that didn’t hurt.  That’s a good day all around, even if we all did come out tired.

What I’d Watch 4/11/14

Captain American: The Winter Soldier is sure to throw its weight around again this weekend, but the competition isn’t necessarily waving the white flag.  There’s some smart counter-programming going on, giving people who either aren’t looking for or already had their share of super heroics something else do to at the movies.  I don’t expect all of these to give Cap a run for his money, but there’s definitely some box office to be had if people find these viable alternatives.

rio2_posterRio 2 has itself positioned nicely as the new kids film in theaters, ready to take the baton from the surprisingly robust Mr. Peabody & Sherman.  That film is knocking on $100 million and never thought it would get much past half that.  Rio 2 is probably the prime challenger to Cap this weekend, since the first film was a hit, and animated movies like this usually open well.  Me, I never saw the first one and have absolutely zero interest in its follow-up.  But it’s got enough big names behind the mic and enough bright, loud, frantic things going on that it’ll pull people in, especially with kids on break from school.

oculus_posterOf course, there’s also the old “horror films always open” rule to take into consideration here, and Oculus has been generating plenty of interest with a pretty creepy TV campaign.  I can honestly say I’ve yet to see a trailer for this in theaters, but the TV spots have been everywhere lately, and have me more interested in a horror film than I’ve been in more time than I can remember.  There’s some heavy geek cred on display here too, what with Karen Gillan and Katee Sackhoff in the cast, so that’s bound to draw some diehards out to the theater.  And it’s a good alternative for the older teens who are also saying goodbye to school for a week or two.  Throw in its relatively miniscule $5 million budget and this can’t help but have a good opening.

draftday_posterBut I’m pulling for a couple of comebacks this weekend.  Kevin Costner’s been sniffing around a career revival for a while now, but it’s director Ivan Reitman who could really use a boost.  He’s been in a slump dating back to Junior in 1994, and while he’s had a couple of romantic comedies gross around $70 million, he’s a long way from his blockbuster comedy days.  Sadly though, while I’m personally looking forward to Draft Day, I don’t think this is going to be the jolt either one of them needs.  Football movies aren’t exactly surefire winners when it comes to box office, and neither Costner nor Reitman are putting butts in seats these days.  But I guess spring break needs something for the grumpy old men to go see who don’t want to deal with kids and teenagers.

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