Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And the Oscar for Average Goes To....!!!

I love movies, always have. It started when I was a kid, I’m sure, with those magical evenings of my Mom taking me to see “The Sound of Music” or the encore showings of “Gone With the Wind” on the huge screens in ornate theaters with high-brow names like The Embassy in Ft. Wayne, or the Friday night that my Dad took we to Warsaw to the Lake Theater to see Steve McQueen star in my all time favorite racing movie, “LeMans.” The smell of hot buttered popcorn, an ice cold fountain coke, and the frosty chill of a large air conditioned space on a humid summer night in Indiana. My childhood hero racing a Porsche 917 on a screen over a hundred feet wide and forty feet high right before my very eyes.

Of course, I loved the products just as much as the experience. My shelves are filled with as many classic DVD’s of movies as they are with books, and I have tons of them. From local live theater to the boards of Broadway, I love all things theatrical and how they magically tell us a story. I even have a dusty Best Actor trophy tucked away in a box somewhere from one of my six or seven high school performances.

But my favorite was always the movies. Call it my love of 50’s California, the pretty women, the fast cars, or just the huge stars and dreams of riches and glamour…I loved the movies!

And just like everything else, that began to change somewhere along the way. Video and then DVD made it easier to rent a show than to get a sitter or drag your kids to the theater, and soon enough so did ten dollar ticket prices. The lack of great stories didn’t help.

But there were still pockets. I’m a sucker for anything Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford or Jeff Bridges are in. And just like when I was a ten year old boy, I still harbor my actress crushes: Elizabeth Banks, Sandra Bullock and Charlize Theron; the last two even before they won their Oscars.

Yet overall, the movies became something that I did once a year with the family on Christmas Day after we’d opened our presents.

Now, if I can pause for a moment here, I should offer a disclaimer. If you read any of my stuff at all, you know that I have a tendency to rant a bit about our modern ethos. I miss those old timey virtues and values: hard work, discipline, overcoming challenge. And I’ve talked about that in seemingly every example of venue from sports to academics to our country’s leaders. I’m tired of how soft we’re getting and what that’s doing to the quality of our product in these various areas.
So if you don’t like that particular attitude, now would be a good time to change channels or to go to the figurative kitchen for an imaginary snack. Because this is going to be more of the same…

I realized yesterday that the Academy now nominates ten movies for their “Best Picture” Oscar. Apparently they did this last year as well, but my malaise when it comes to Hollywood these days prevented me from noticing. And this strikes me as incredibly ironic: at a time when Hollywood’s product is as mediocre as it’s ever been, when the industry is under fire from all forms of media and entertainment competition, NOW is when they choose to “dumb down” their standards and give every moviemaking kid a ribbon.

They’ve made Hollywood pass/fail.

They’ve turned the Oscars into a multiple choice test with more than one right answer.

They’ve erased “first” place from moviemaking’s most famous award, and instead stamped “participant” across Oscar’s chest.

Do they think that in naming ten movies instead of five they’ve increased my interest? They haven’t; my eyes glazed over when I got to the fifth nominee and realized there were five more.

Are they doing it to increase sales? Do they think that in having five MORE movies that can shout “Nominated for BEST PICTURE!!!” in their ads and posters that more people will come out to see them? I doubt that will work.

Or have they just gone the route of all those other brain addled governing bodies?

You know—like the ones that ruined one of the greatest sporting events of all time by moving Indiana to a class basketball system for their high school state tournament. Now there are more "BASKETBALL STATE CHAMPS!!!" signs littering the city limits of Indiana towns then there are corn stalks west of Kokomo, and much less excitement and interest. Back in the day, Indiana would jam up to 30,000-plus fans into the Hoosier Dome to watch one winner take all championship game; now, fans from the eight or ten schools playing (see, I don't even know how many CLASSES they have now) traipse in and out in shifts...less than four or five thousand for any one game. Dude, our SECTIONAL (the first round of Indiana's high school tournament)
use to draw 3,000 for games between six little schools!

Or the stroke of genius that puts HALF of the National Hockey League into their post season--which can now potentially add nearly 30% more games to a season--and allow someone like the Minnesota North Stars of 1991 to qualify for the playoffs and go to the Stanley Cup Finals; beating the teams with the two best records in hockey over the course of an 80 game season, and where if they'd won the actual NHL championship, they'd have finished with a record one game below .500--a Stanley Cup champion with a losing record.

Or the brilliance that WON'T give us an NCAA football playoff for Division 1 (or the championship division, or the BCS division, or the big shots division, or whatever the hell they call it now) but WILL give us bowl games that stretch for a month—and ten days into the new year—and give virtually everyone who goes .500 the chance to play in a bowl. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the pinnacle of college football excellence: Florida International (6-6) vs. Toledo (8-4) in the Little Caesar's Bowl in that tropical football landscape of Detroit.

Ah yes, excellence rewarded at the lowest common denominator. Each a winner and none outsanding.

Well congratulations Oscar. Because now instead of rewarding a true genius in your genre three or even four times…you’ll anoint some wild-card winning entry that shouldn’t have even been there. The good ol’ “I want to see someone DIFFERENT win it…” school of thought.

How charming.

Well count me out. I haven’t watched you for years, and this just closes it. I’m going back to my season-long anthologies of Dexter, Spartacus, and Weeds. Yes, TV productions. Pat yourself on the back Academy, you’ve disenchanted another lifelong fan.

And in what may be one of the truly great cinematic twists of all time, the Academy Award for Being Average goes to…THE PLAIN BLAND MANILA ENVELOPE PLEASE...the Academy!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ancient Aliens

Ok, if you know me at all, you know that I'm a pretty open minded person. From personal morays to haircuts and tatoos to religion...I'm extremely tolerant and inquisitive, and am open to many other ideas or beliefs aside from my own.

And I've always had an interest in space and all things flight related. I grew up a child in the 60's, buidling model rockets and jets and idolizing the astronauts. Back when school was put on hold and all classes walked to the lunch room in the middle of the morning in straight lines to watch a rocket launch or space walk on a solitary TV in stunned and awed silence with mouths agape. My dad was a pilot, and I became one too, primarily because of the wonder that all of that instilled in me.

So it's natural from that combination of characteristics to make the small leap to my belief that there's other life in the galaxy. I mean, literally millions of stars--each one representing the same thing that our sun does--and you're going to tell me there's NO ONE else out there? I don't believe it, even if it's just math. If we're one in a million, that means there's at least another ten or twenty of us out there. At least.

But I'm not one of these people who necessarily believes that other aliens are super beings. Why wouldn't they be just like us? Trying to get to the next planet in their system, maybe hang out on their moon for awhile?

Still, the case can be made that they are, and it's quite interesting. If you ever watch those shows on The History Channel, I think the series is called "Ancient Aliens", there are some pretty convincing pieces of evidence that are hard to explain away. How do you explain the Nazca Lines?

These amazingly geometric and scale accurate designs are visually impressive, especially when seen at the optimal level of 20 or 25,000 the air, like from a plane. Now, I'm not amazed that an ancient culture in Peru could drag dirt and rocks around to make cave-like heiroglyphs on the ground; and I'm not amazed that they could make them on such a large scale.
I am, however, somewhat stunned that you could make them so size appropriate and geometrically correct for viewers from five miles up in the air...especially in 500 AD. I mean, forget that they're even geometrically correct at that level...WHY BUILD THEM THAT WAY IN THE FIRST PLACE IF NO ONE CAN GET TO 25,000 FEET TO SEE THEM????? AND HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY'RE RIGHT????

Or the fact that cave drawings and ancient mythology is all so cultures that were thousands of miles and continents apart.

Or that people lived in the South Pacific on islands literally thousands of miles from other islands, with their only mode of transportation being a dugout canoe. And their culture showed up on those other islands thousands of miles away.
Many interesting facts.

But you have to admit that some of these shows and the leaps they make are pretty astounding. Their logic is not always sound. Alien Expert: "How would these cultures thousands of miles away have EXACTLY (exact being a loose term for these "experts") the same drawings?! I think the answer is clear; ancient aliens."

Well, not necessarily there Nostradomus. People in like times, of the same species, evolving on the same planet...isn't it possible they'd think and act and talk about similar things? Do we find it odd that birds in Asia and birds in North America (taking on the slow, deep, low voice of the mysterious Ancient Alien expert announcer here) "would hunt bugs and food in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY...even though they've never seen those other birds continents away who hunt in EXACTLY THE SAME WAY...?" Of course not. They're birds and that's how they hunt for food.

Isn't it possible that the things that inspired these people to draw in the first place would have evolved similarly to the race of beings? Hence inspiring similar drawings in similar yet distant races? Or heck, maybe they just sealed up a jar with their drawings in it, and threw it in the ocean as a sacrifice to their God...who washed it up on a shore somewhere else ("Look!!! It's a message from God...or ALIENS from a distant land!!!") and then those people drew the same designs on their own wall?
But all of that not withstanding...there's still the mystery of Stonehenge and the ancient pyramids. How did those rocks weighing literally thousands of pounds get pulled up to the very top of that pyramid in Giza? How is it that pyramids in Egypt have exactly the same heighth and angles as pyramids in South America? How did Stonehenge get lined up just so? As the mysterious voice says haltingly on the show..."Is Stonehenge a celestial GPS for visitors from another time and space?"

Well, here's where you've got me. Let's assume for a minute that these other aliens from distant galaxies ARE flying to earth and watching us. They'd have to be an advanced race right? I mean they traversed literally hundreds of millions of miles, maybe BILLIONS of miles, to get here...because that's how far other galaxies are. I mean, we're pretty advanced, and it takes us five years to get to the next planet. So these little gray men either live a hell of a long time, or they've figured out how to get billions of miles in pretty short order. Either way, health care or time travel, pretty advanced.

So we've got these advanced thinking people from billions of miles away who are using some form of time travel or worm holes or just supercalifragilisticexpialidocious fuel to get them here in a nano-jiffy. They've mastered space-age (literally) metals and physics and all of this stuff...
...and they need to line up rocks to figure out where to land?
They need to build a giant ancient sundial to know what time it is and when the next eclipse is?

Yeah. That's probably why that dude on Ancient Aliens has hair that looks like Heat Miser...