Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I Don't Get...

...zombie movies.

I'm only saying this because one of the movie websites I read noted that George Romero showed his latest, Diary of the Dead, at the Sundance Film Festival. Probably some synergy there, as Sundance often seems filled with the kind of robotic critics and writers who say "film" instead of "movie." And they do so in such a way as to make clear that those four letters are more important than the Ten Commandments, Hammurabi's Code, Magna Carta, U.S. Constitution and Einstein's theory of relativity combined. Or at least they are to people who are intelligent enough to "get it," which seems rarely to include folks like you and me.

Where was I? Oh, zombie movies. OK, so the dead start walking and they attack the living. Used to be, in order to get to be a zombie, you had to die, but recently you've been able to become one by contracting some kind of virus or disease. Zombies also used to be afflicted with arthritis, too, based on the way they walked and moved, but apparently they have all found some kind of zombie-Aleve that lets them move really, really fast. But they still want to eat people.

And that's it. That's the premise of every silly zombie movie ever made. Directors and writers dress them up by supposedly showing how people deal with a world turned upside down by the zombie phenomenon and this or that aspect of the human condition blah blah blah. But in the end, what you have is a legion or so of the great unwashed -- excuse, me, undead -- who mindlessly try to attack the few living, breathing people who still have enough brains to truly grasp the world around them.

If that's not a metaphor for how the lion's share of our modern entertainment industry views itself and the people who buy its product, I don't know what is.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Playing for Keeps

A fun part of pastoring in areas with lots of small towns is going to small-school sports events. NBA arenas have nothing on the energy that buzzes in a dingy old WPA-era gym filled with half the town cheering for students who carry the whole load of municipal self-esteem onto the courts with them.

Sometimes the crowds get a little ugly -- I've never understood how a grown man or woman can heckle a kid, and I've long since lost any respect for the idea of screaming at a referee. Especially when the screamer's someone whose life peaked in high school and who looks about one diastolic reading away from shaking hands with Mr. Stroke. Plus, I don't get the concept of coaching from the stands. I'm betting a lot of these folks spent their high school sports careers as Riders of the White Pine (the instruction "Block out!" shouted when the ball is being brought upcourt is my first clue). The next good piece of coaching advice I hear from the stands will be the first. I have a high school buddy who played on a team that went to the state tournament, and when his daughter plays, he limits himself to encouragement and straight-up rooting for the home team. And her coach is apparently something of a twerp. Of course, under his breath he says something different, but that's just so he doesn't have a stroke himself.

All that drops away when you see the face of a kid who hits a game-winner or does something that he or she probably thought they could never do until just that moment. It's never a bad thing to get to witness someone having the best night of their lives, and here's hoping that for all of them, that experience is actually "the best night of their lives" so far.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Proven Leadership

Yup, I'm committed to supporting the Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin ticket in the 2008 presidential elections. The team of Aubrey and Maturin have demonstrated their abilities in areas such as national defense and have shown themselves capable of quick, decisive action. They are proven leaders who inspire those who serve with them, keep their heads in a crisis and earn respect from their enemies. (For more information, see the series of books by Patrick O'Brian).

There are downsides -- for one, they're both upwards of a couple hundred years old, and they're not natural-born U.S. citizens as required by the U.S. Constitution. Hence my other political project, the "Repeal Article II, Section I Drive." Slogan: It's Not Just For Arnold Anymore.

Some might also point out that they are fictional characters, and all the information we can read about them was made up by someone else.

Yeah, like that'd be different...

Monday, January 21, 2008

You Know How to Whistle, Don't You?

Well, we don't want to be negative all the time, do we?

Sara Gran's third novel, Dope, is a great piece of noir crime fiction that snaps, crackles and pops like no one has since Robert B. Parker started cutting and pasting old macros instead of writing new books. I can read Josephine Flannigan's narration and almost hear Lauren Bacall's voice, and the story itself seems like it was written in black and white, the way it should be filmed if it's ever a movie. Though Dope's plot has the appropriate twists and turns, it's still like a spear; it has no branches or extensions that unbalance it or keep it from moving forward. Josephine's hired by a wealthy couple to track down their daughter in 1950 New York City. They're afraid she's fallen into the drug and prostitution swamp of Hell's Kitchen, and they think Josephine can find her because she's straight out of that scene, herself a recovering addict.

In the end, Dope is hampered by one twist too many, especially since that twist sends you a telegram from several miles off to announce its arrival. But you can spend your book-buying money on stuff that's a lot worse. We all have.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Ruins

Saw a trailer for a movie based on this book. I first read it because I have a friend who gets stuff from his friends at some publishers, and he passes them along to me, and I in turn pass it along to our local Goodwill or Salvation Army stores. They're going to miss him when I'm gone.

Anyway, author Scott Smith gave us A Simple Plan back in 1993, so you'd hope he would transfer his skill at building tension and suspense from that noir-ish story to the horror arena. You'd hope wrong. It's hard to imagine telling a writer who publishes his second novel nearly 13 years after his first that he should have taken some more time with the book, but it's also hard to imagine a much more pedestrian horror novel than The Ruins.

Smith gives his story away in the first 50 pages of this 330-plus page novel, and I mean that literally. Bottom of page 50, you learn everything that will happen through the rest of the book. I refer to the hardcover edition. Paperback readers, your mileage may vary.

The one thing The Ruins does well doesn't help -- Smith earns an A+ for stressing the callow nature of his characters. I not only didn't care what happened to them, I had to keep turning back to the front of the book to remind myself which one was which.

But Stephen King says he liked it, and the echo chamber reverberates with praise for The Ruins as a "real page-turner," so a lot of people will donate their time and money to it. Me, I'm pretty sure I'll have to clean the cat's litterbox that day, so I'll be busy.

Friday, January 18, 2008


I'm a Johnny Cash fan, and from time to time I converse with people who are also fans, but who don't much appreciate his final albums, especially the last two or three. He sounds old, they say, and worn out. I want to remember him young and with that powerful voice. What's to like about him later on?

Here's one shot at an answer.

Listening to the Johnny Cash of "Hurt" and "The Man Comes Around" is like listening to the wind blow through a tree in late autumn. Most of the leaves are gone and those that remain whisper where they once spoke out loud. The whisper and the bare limbs scratching at a leaden sky suggest life at its end and are only ghosts of the swelling green surf that waved in blue summer seas.

But even so thin and pale a ghost holds the shape of its history and its whispers echo a real past. Though it sounds and looks bare now, its strength roots in earth and days and it minds not illusions of feebleness and age. It has an ancient power unbound by time and one day will green again.

Monday, January 14, 2008


I love watching football -- as a Kansas City Chiefs fan, this is a year in which I have to watch for the love of the game, as it was demonstrated early on I would have no great stake in post-season play.

Though I love it, there are also some things about it which I do not love at all, and here are a few:

- Guys who act like the tackle they just made saved a Super Bowl victory for their team. Sure, I'd act like that if I brought down an NFL running back. But I'm 43 years old and my last down in organized ball was in a kids' flag-football league during the Ford administration. You're a professional athlete in the National Football League, the elite of elites in the business. Act like you've tackled someone before.

- Brent Musberger.

- The phrase "imaginary championship" applied to Division 1 football in the Bowl Championship Series era. The idea that any sort of meaningful playoff system can be developed among this many schools is ludicrous, and any format designed to pick, say, the top eight teams or top ten teams will be just as buggy and prone to stupidity as the current formula for picking the top two. There's no rare purity of sport or something that requires a so-called "real" champion, at least not among the schools for which this is all a business or the NCAA or television networks for which it is even moreso.

- So many flippin' bowls anyway with so many stupid names. I sound like an old codger, but wasn't it neater when your team could call itself the Rose Bowl champion because it won the Rose Bowl? As opposed to the Corporate Conglomerate Unpaid Advertising and Tax Writeoff Bowl champion.

Enough for now.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why Am I Here?

From time to time, I have an opinion on something that doesn't fit into a sermon. This will be where those things go.