Sunday, May 24, 2009

NBA Basketball

So, based on my recent anthropological observations, here is the skinny on NBA basketball.

NBA Basketball is a contest resembling but in no wise identical to actual High School, College, Olympic, or Recreational Basketball. The play proceeds for three and one half quarters where four players congregate underneath under baskets and attempt to beat the living s--t out of one another while one player from a team alternately bounces and scoops and carries an orange ball like a waiter's tray while trying to run into the fifth player on the other team. If he is successful at running into the player on the other team, he gets two free throws, if not he must stamp his foot three times and cover his eyes before returning to play.

This proceeds until there are are approximately four minutes left in the game, at which point the rules change. Then, one player from the team that is behind is chosen at random to intentionally wrap his arms around another player's waist (rather than elbow him in the face) before the player scooping the ball can run into another player. If the scooping player is named Lebron, Kobe, or Michael, he doesn't actually have to run into another player in the last four minutes, he only has to get within three feet of the other player--at which point the other player is obligated to run in the other direction or be called for a foul.

After the game is over, the player with the most felonies or points must then publicly thank God and the fans at the arena, while the players of the losing team must say the word "adjustments" before going to the locker room. This is repeated every three days if no travel is required or every two if the teams are not from Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago until one team is either so beat up they can't play or has so many players suspended for doing in the last two minutes of the game what they are required to do all game, that the other team moves forward.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

New Contributors to 1More Film Blog

I'm pleased to be able to add content to 1More Film Blog from two new contributors.

Dan Mohr has graciously allowed me to republish some of his discussion board thoughts on the new Star Trek film. I like Dan's writing style and (although we largely agree on this particular film) his ability to disagree with a prevailing attitude or critical consensus while avoiding personal insults and just dealing with the substance of an idea or critical opinion.

I've known Laura J. Morefield much longer, as a sister-in-law and friend. She describes herself on her blog thusly:
Laura Morefield is a poet, budding novelist, political commentator, wife, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, person fighting cancer and occasional life coach.
Laura's skills and experience as a creative writer give her a perspective which, I think, nicely complements my own as an academic and critic. In her own blog, she has written about how fighting cancer has effected her perspective about her own political writing, and I suspect this experience can't help but influence how she feels and writes about art as well. It is for this reason I especially welcome her perspective as she works through Academy Award winners or other films. Her most recent piece is about The Life of Emile Zola.

There is, of course, something that threatens to reduce a person and put her (or him) in a box when we focus too much on one specific aspect of their perspective. Just as I like to think of myself as more than "just" a "Christian critic" or a "literature teacher" even though I like to think my faith and profession help shape and differentiate my perspective, so too Laura is so much more than "just" a cancer fighter, or a creative writer, or a woman writer. All these things (and more) inform and differentiate her perspective and make her someone I enjoy listening to and someone who I inevitably learn from.

Friday, May 15, 2009

When Facebook Applications Go Bad, Part II.

Yeah, I can't possibly think what could go wrong here, either.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek Rant

Originally posted at Cinevox. Spoliers, of course.


Spoilers abound, of course.

So Peter, Beth, Cindy and I saw it.

My goodness, my transformation to effete film snob is nearly complete. I know intellectually this movie isn't half as bad as it felt (or maybe it was) and that I'm responding as much to the adulation it is getting (confirming my growing suspicion that most of the people in the world who aren't me--or at least agree with me 95% of the time--are idiots) as its mediocrity.

Peter and Beth want a full-on ATK rant. Not sure I'm up to that--but I guess I'll give it the old James T. Kirk try. The abbreviated version, in rising order of what I found irritating:

--the prolonged and ever increasing chase factor, turning the franchise from a science-fiction film into an action film. Mission: Impossible in space, if you will.

--either be a reboot (and ignore the continuity issues/problems) or a prequel (and spend time explaining how to get Nimoy, etc into the movie), but don't do a half-assed job at both and thus a satisfactory job at neither.

--The explicit coda delivered in dialogue for those too stupid to understand what a movie they have just seen is about.

--(I realize I may be the only one who cares about this one, but...) I find it to be the wrong cultural moment for the political self-congratulatory tone of our humanistic, Western federation valuing of life and even mercy towards our enemies. Spock is supposed to be the moral hero because he recognizes he has been "emotionally compromised" and thus relieves himself of command. Kirk offers mercy to the terrorist slayer of 6 billion life forms b/c that may be the only way to build a diplomatic bridge to the terrorists? Sure, he's happy when they say they'd rather die than submit, allowing us to simultaneously exercise genocidal vengeance yet still feel morally superior in, you know, a Christian sort of way. It's the sort of fantasy wish fulfillment of the sort (pandering to our basest instincts masquerading as moral superiority) I haven't seen since, well, Left Behind. Rather than deal with or even acknowledge our most problematic (Kaplan uses the word "shameful," I think, in Female Perversions) urges, let's construct fantasy scenarios in which giving in to them is actually required of us and therefore morally noble rather than compromised or even base. It's the philosophical/moral equivalent of the Kobyashi Maru scneario--let's rewrite the program to that some problem isn't a problem at all and congratulate ourselves at our cleverness in being able to have our cake and eat it too. I've never been a great follower/fan of the television incarnations, but I've respected what I've seen, in part because there seemed to be an actual ideological idea or world-view that was being expressed. This film reminded me of the first Harry Potter film--working feverishly to get in all the superficial surface paraphernalia (as though those were the things that made it great rather than just nostalgic buttons to push) but totally whiffing on the spirit that animated them and made people love it in the first place.

Should make a couple gazillion billion dollars and serve marvelously as a tent pole reboot. And it's my fault, because like the last two Star Wars movies, I know I'll probably go see them all.

On the upside, I had a great afternoon with friends and family, so that was well worth eight bucks. I guess if I had to choose between that and loving the film but finding the people I see it with really annoying, I'll take the company every time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

"God's Love" and The Celebrity Apprentice

I stopped watching The Apprentice long ago, basically when it became clear that decisions were not about winning the weekly contests but about creating conflict that was good for "drama." I was, however, interested enough to read this interview with Joan Rivers who defended calling one of her rivals (apparently Annie Duke, the poker player) "worse than Hitler."

King: Joanny, where did you come up with that 'worse than Hitler' crack?

Rivers: Oh, I don't know. You know, you're always saying things. Hitler is the worst villain in the world. So when you really get furious at someone, you say, 'Oh, you're a female Hitler' or something, you know? It's just an expression. But I stand behind it.

So, it's all in the game, and it's all about making money for charity.

Joan's charity? I'm not making this up:

Trump: She got $250,000 plus she raised hundreds of thousands more during the course of the 14 weeks. But she gets $250,000. That goes to God's Love We Deliver, which is a great charity in New York.

I guess I should cap this post with a clever zinger about irony, but really, one senses that if people don't get it themselves, anything I could say about it would probably be lost. So, instead, I'll just say, thank you Joan Rivers for delivering God's love, and congratulations on acquiring $250,000 for your charity.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Dom DeLuise has died...

...and so has Bea Arthur. So has Jack Kemp.

But that's not really what this post is about.

The first celebrity passing which I recall actually being aware of was when a newscaster for the evening news gave a teaser that John Wayne had passed.

People died back then, but, pardon the crassness of my saying so, it seemed to happen less frequently. I'm sure there were obituaries and all, but with the Internet, it seems that someone dies every day.

And that's what this post is about.

There seems to me to be something pat, routine, and "Now...This"ish about the whole exercise of acknowledging (different from memorializing) celebrity passings that I actually find dispiriting and depressing. The phrase "Now...This" is from the book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (who I think is dead, but I'm not sure). It is the transition, he says, that indicates what you have just heard and been asked to think about has absolutely no connection to what you are about to hear or think about. Okay, that part is just typical media age disconnectedness. He also says, though, that it is the cue that you have thought long enough (an appropriate time) about whatever and now are okay to think about something else. If it is a really big celebrity, that might mean long enough to post a thought on your blog (or read someone's), but if it was someone you didn't really know was alive or dead until you read the obit, it's more usually a moment of silence or an acknowledgment.

What's wrong with that?

Well, nothing, I guess, other than my general dislike of expressions of anything that are ceremonial rather than actual. But it just seems like the canned way of responding is so routine that it just means that all we think about is death, that death is the only thing that gives the story meaning. It's also a bit of a trap in that not acknowledging makes us feel cold and hypocritical, so we have to acknowledge everyone...."Hey, that person that was in the commercial for x died...yeah, that was a funny commercial...hey and the first drummer on the One Hit Wonders...and the reserve point guard who played on the NBA finals..." But in acknowledging everyone, isn't there a kind of trap or hypocrisy as well? "So and so...wasn't he the one who did that television show I never watched before doing that other television show that I didn't watch?"

If nobody died, we can always do a catch up with the friends or family of somebody who died last month or last year. Earlier this month I was at the supermarket and there was a magazine that had a famous celebrity talking about dealing with the death of a family member. "Oh, yes," I thought, "I remember [vaguely] when it was reported that that happened."

The fact that I hadn't thought about it once since then is, perhaps an indication that this story didn't really have anything to do with me. That a stranger died in another part of the country under sad and tragic circumstances. Or perhaps it is an indication that whatever sympathies I had for that family and those people was parcelled into increasingly smaller packages to be shared with the friends and families of Dom DeLuise, and Bea Arthur, and (not dead yet!) Roger Ebert, and Patrick Swayze, and Farrah Fawcett...

Kon Ichikawa died this year. Seems like just yesterday we were talking about Bergman and Antonioni going in quick succession. Oh, wait that was 2007. I totally skipped over the tragic deaths of Heath Ledger and Natasha Richardson, didn't I? How could I have forgotten those stories? No, I mean that literally, how? They were all over the news, weren't they?

I don't mean to disparage any of these celebrities who brought beauty and entertainment to countless people and who, I hope, had friends and loved ones who will feel their losses very deeply, not because a newspaper told them to, but because they were integral parts of their lives. I don't even mind people who have a particular remembrance of a film or a performance writing a memory or an appreciation. (I did, when Nick Reynolds passed away last year...or was it 2 years ago...). I just wish that we could find some way of making such gestures something other than compulsory so that I could trust and believe them when I read them and not just feel like they served no other purposed than to make the person making them feel insulated from the charge of being a jerk less anyone notice that, "Hey, Marilyn Chambers died, and Ken was so busy writing about his life and his family that he didn't even mention it."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Movie Prayers--Cromwell (1970)

Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget thee, do not thou forget me.

"I'll Pray for You..."

Why do those words set my teeth on edge?

Okay, today it is because I got a letter that had in its return logo:

On the back it said:


Really? Even if the desire of the heart of the hands that open the letter are an Islamic Jihad, a pedophilia party, or a lifetime supply of crack cocaine?

My friend Jeffrey Overstreet once remarked to an inquiry about whether or not he prayed for Hollywood celebrities with a rather caustic remark that he had a hard enough time cultivating the discipline of praying for his own family.

Really, isn't praying for someone one of the greatest things you can do? We certainly say that, yet how many people, when they hear those words actually feel glad to know it? Even Christians. Perhaps we don't feel it because, rhetoric aside, our experience of having people tell us those words is not one of experiencing a difference in our lives.

Many years ago, I made the decision to try to avoid ever saying "I'll pray for you." It seemed like an indeterminate and weaselly commitment. I was also frustrated by the number of people who would ask me to pray for someone or about something and then never follow up. I might see them days later and ask about their "prayer request" only to be met with a shrug or an embarrassed look and told they didn't know how the situation had resolved or if it had. Really "I'll pray for you" is a way of ending the conversation, without having to do any follow up. I will, occasionally tell someone "I have prayed for you" and I'm certainly open to people who want to pray right now.

My favorite part of the above prayer is the scripture reference. I love how the pray-ers tell Jesus not a prayer but THAT THEY ARE PRAYING. They then tell Jesus that they are praying in his name, and in case Jesus is wondering why they are praying the way they are, they provide Jesus with a nice scrpture reference from Psalms.

I'm trying to picture a kid talking to his parents (or, if the metaphor is better, his big brother) like this:

"Hey, will you bless this name in the phone book, because I want to help this person on your behalf by letting them know you blessed them..."

I believe prayer is a a good thing. I believe it helps us more than we know and is effective more than we guess. I just wish that it were more meaningful in our culture. Meaningful enough that we would toss our prayers around like advertising slogans, hoping for market pentetration rather than genuine human and spiritual connection. And I wish we would talk about praying less and actually do it more.