September 14th, 2012

Grandma had the most wonderful greeting. She would come out the door with the largest possible smile when she heard our car, and as we got out she’d walk towards us, clap her hands together and reach out to me, fully outstretched, as if there was no greater joy in the world.

She got to do that again this morning as she welcomed grandpa.

I’m sure I’ll try to write more later, but kudos grandpa on a life well lived. Ninety-five years is a lot, but not enough with you.  You are greatly missed.

The Grey

July 23rd, 2012

Before the shootings in Aurora, the biggest news surrounding “The Dark Knight Rises” was the supposed death threats received by film critics who dared to review the film as poor.  Threatening reviewers was of course unnecessary, but they had a point.  Audiences love the movie, so who cares what the critics think, and if anything, critics in general seem to project their own desires for the film more than review what is shown on screen.  Thus we get glowing reviews for raw, unfinished, low budget movies from young directors with “potential” (seen “Bellflower”?  Sucks hog. 72% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes!), and frequent unenthusiastic reviews for large budget movies from established directors (by Friday, seemingly, a contrarian review was for Rises being good).

It goes without saying that reviews are subjective.  Everybody likes and wants different things in movies.  I’m not a particularly cerebral movie viewer - I get that.  I just want to be entertained, and there are a lot of movies that aren’t even “good” which fit the bill, but when I read reviews, I find them worthless.  In the end it’s not always that I reviewer liked or disliked a movie, it’s why.

Case in point: The Grey.

Reviewers: IT’S SOOOOOOO REAL!!!


Here were have a Liam Neeson vehicle where he plays an Irish professional hunter for an oil company in far north Alaska.  He hunts wolves to keep them away from the oil workers, BUT HE HAS A PAST! His woman left him, so he tries to commit suicide with his trusty wolf-killing rifle.  He pulls the trigger and it goes click.  He’s saved by the same hard primer that saved Denzel in “Man on Fire” (probability: maybe 1 in 1000 or less, for either).  With his contract up, he goes to fly home for some R&R.  As the plane flies along, creepy oil worker says something creepy about crashing (FORESHADOWING!).

The plane crashes.  Somewhere on the order of 10 people live (we’ll assume it was a 737, so maybe 15% survival rate).  Here’s Red Flag No. 1: People don’t survive crashes from airplanes that make uncontrolled descents from cruising altitude (in this case, the entire cockpit caught on fire…).  They just don’t.  You’re going Mach 0.7 at 30,000ft and you become a glorious lawn-dart.  No one walks away.  Sorry. Side note: this is why I can’t watch “Lost”.  They all died during the opening credits.

Anyway the 10 or so people who have survived start dying, and will continue to die for the rest of the movie.  One guy succumbs to crash injuries.  Fine.  Then, although they crashed on a vast expanse of snow and ice, our antagonists show up.  If you guessed wolves you get a gold star.

Now if you haven’t seen the movie and are imagining a normal, 80-100lbs grey wolf, guess again.  These are the wolves to match the sharks from “Deep Blue Sea”.  I was totally anticipating a plot twist where we find out they are from a government breeding program gone wrong.  They’re all a good 150-250lbs, black, have green eyes, move like cheetahs, and instead of having less than 10 like a normal pack, seem to be traveling by the value-pack.  They’re also unbelievably aggressive.  Neeson tells us, “We must have landed close to their den.”  (He’ll go on to tell us about each member’s role in the pack throughout the movie, ie “That’s not the alpha, that’s the omega.” Mmmkay.) Remember: SO REAL!

The survivors make camp at the crash scene, where inexplicably, most of the airplane fuselage is still intact.  A wolf picks off the female flight attendant who survived the crash, and injures Neeson.  Now instead of rubbing two brain cells together and staying with the wreckage (it’s clearly winter - honestly, no one with ANY survival training steps away from the shelter provided by the fuselage in this case), Neeson decides they have to head the treeline on the horizon… TO BE SAFE FROM THE WOLVES! DAFUQ???

Let’s recap: They should have all died in a crash, but didn’t.  They go up against uber-wolves.  They leave the metal tube protecting them from the wolves so they can be safer without shelter or protection in the wolves’ natural habitat.  The crash wreckage with the vast expanse of snow around it (almost like you could land a plane on skis to pick them up), which should be easy to find from the air now doesn’t point to the survivors, because they’re in the trees.  The guys are convinced no one is coming for them because “it would save payroll.” Never mind filed flight plans, never mind radar, never mind the FAA, never mind SAR teams.  Awesome.

So they all trudge through the thick snow to the treeline.  One guy can’t keep pace and predictably gets mauled to death without the other guys noticing until after the attack.  They get to the trees around dark, which is when the glowing eyes show up.  The “omega” gets sent to challenge the Hispanic dude with the bad attitude (shockingly the black guy hasn’t died yet), and using some ridiculous survival shit (shotgun shells on the end of sticks), they kill it.  Morning comes.  The black guy dies.  Cause of death: “Hypoxia”.  One dude says “some guys just can’t take the altitude.” HOLD THE PHONE.  Interior Alaska doesn’t get much above ~4,000 ft, unless you’re in a mountain range, which we’re clearly not.  For reference, airplane interiors reach 8,000ft pressure altitude during every flight. FFFFFFFUUUUUUUU….

Did I mention it takes place north of Anchorage, during winter and no one has so much as had their teeth chatter yet?

Anyway, the movie has descended into a death march.  It’s clear they’re all going to die one by one.  They lose one to a fall, one to exhaustion and another to drowning (and all the rest to the omnipresent wolves).  The last half hour of the movie are spent down by a river, where the drowning guy drowns.  Yes.  In running water.  In winter.  Neeson goes in after him, so he’s wet.  Other than his hands being a little red, we really can’t tell he’s cold, but clearly he realizes he’s going to die.  In his wet clothes he walks around for minutes before stumbling into the wolves’ den on accident.  I’m not kidding.  He and the alpha wolf engage in mortal hand-to-paw combat as the move fades to black, but not before we learn that his wife died of cancer and we’re forced to contemplate some allegorical shit about how god doesn’t exist.  Fine.

That gets you 79% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

So here’s the deal:  It’s not a horrible movie.  It’s one of those moves that does $80mil at the box office without most people knowing it exists, and for good reason.  It bogs down badly over the last 45 minutes, but it does deal with death and dignity and other topics most action movies don’t.  I get and appreciate that people (ie reviewers) like that the protagonists don’t develop super-powers or make miraculous actions to save themselves (remember Anthony Hopkins killing a brown bear with a stick in “The Edge”?).  They just die, which honestly, from the second they left the airplane was their fate.  But, to call the movie realistic or even believable is just unfathomable.

More than anything I was just disappointed that Neeson didn’t summon his best voice from “Taken” and say to the wolves “I don’t know who you are, but if you don’t let me go, I will find you, and I will kill you.”

twenty weeks

May 26th, 2012

Hi Baby Girl,
You’re only half-baked - there are still twenty weeks until we get to meet you face to face, but I am so, so excited.  It’s becoming clear that your eating habits are more like mine and your sleeping habits are more like your mom’s, but there is still a nearly infinite amount to learn about you.  Our heads have been spinning the last few weeks trying to anticipate all things we need to do before your arrival, and even more so all the things we want to show you and teach you and learn with you as you uncover the joys and passions of your life.  Honestly, I’ve spent more time thinking about the music I want to play for you and the planning the trips I want to take you on than figuring out what your name should be or what the nursery will look like.

There are so many beautiful things out here that I am desperate for you to experience.  There is music so amazing, complex, emotional and interwoven that when you try to sing along, you won’t know which line to follow because they are all sublime.  Oh, how I want you love Mozart and Bach and Chopin and Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, and understand how they all fit together.  Conversely, you’ll hear music with such a deep and insistent groove that even with your extreme whiteness you’ll be physically unable to clap on one and three.  You’re already listening to Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington play at Newport, and over the next few weeks we’ll cover bebop, and post bop, and cool, and even get into Coltrane’s sheets of sound period if we can get mom to sit long enough.  We’ll have to dedicate time to the blues.  The blues are important.  There are very few emotions that you will ever feel that you won’t feel listening to good music, and even when you feel those emotions for the first time, you’ll probably still need music to get you through.  Music is a great companion for the highs and lows of life, of which there will be many.

If there is something that can eclipse the beauty of music, it’s the natural world.  We live in the most amazing place, surrounded by trees and mountains, lakes and fields, and all kinds of animals.  You’ll feel the sting of ice crystals blown on your face, and the power of strong gusts during wind storms.  You’ll be soaked to the skin regularly, and eager to return to the warmth of home and the unparalleled delight of hot chocolate.  We’ll hike on perfect autumn days through piles of golden leaves, and sit overlooking the sound on warm evenings and appreciate even a slight breeze.  You’ll see squirrels, deer, elk, myriad birds and someday you’ll walk through the trees into a clearing and see a bear with nothing between you but grass, and you will be afraid, and that is good.  Being out in nature teaches us that we’re not in nearly as much control as we’d like to believe.  It keeps us honest.  One storm, animal, or wrongly placed step can place us in peril but the benefits are far greater than the risks, so we always move forward, with caution and wisdom.  In someways that’s life in a nutshell.

I have a feeling you may love school.  It’s great.  It’s also the only period of your life where you’ll be supported to study whatever you desire.  I can’t wait for you to find your academic passions.  For me it was the wonderment of flight, and for your mom it was how people formed ideas and then changed them, but for you it can be anything.  Anything.  It won’t feel this way at the time, but nothing you learn in school is that difficult.  Calculus is a simple concept, and there is very little about elementary physics that requires much abstract thought.  It mostly just requires work.  As long as you don’t get intimidated you’ll be fine.  Just make sure that your curiosity never dips below your confidence.  Being under-curious and over-confident makes people complacent, boring and annoying.  You have so many aunties and uncles that do crazy, amazing, interesting things, and would love nothing more than to tell you about how to design submersible robots or high-tech crutches, or how to make movies, or how languages are formed, or how DNA works, or how to take care of people.  Actually, that’s something we’ll all be working on with you.  How you treat people is crucial, and I’ll know that I did my part if you love God and love the people around you, and just to be clear, we’re not talking about a cheap, convenient love.  We’re talking about all-in, bonded-together, sacrificial love - the kind of love that stands up for the bullied and the funny-smelling kids with the not quite right clothes and insists upon justice and acceptance.  Feel free to make people uncomfortable occasionally.

I’d better draw this to a close before I really get started and find myself writing for days.  Just know that for every CD I want to play for you, mom has two books she wants to read with you, and that you’ll learn both our methods for making pie crusts so you can decide which is better.  Oh, there are so many fun things in store for you.  You will have fascinating conversations with mom about the nature of God.  She is also really good at drawing, and I can teach you how to ride a bike, and ride it well such that you’ll always be graceful and in the right gear, and seamless in a paceline, and know to attack when you’re tired because that means everyone else is tired too.  Your grandpas will teach you how to change oil in your car, how to catch and clean fish, and how to work hard.  You will have excellent trigger control, and know a knot for every situation.  You will give it a try when others would say no.  Your grandmas will spoil you rotten.  In fact they’ll be so in love with you that they won’t even know what to do with themselves sometimes.  The big, smelly, hairy, noisy thing with teeth is Eddy, and he will always be there for you too, although he may not exactly know the best way to show it.  Also, it’s likely he’ll be the one teach you what it’s like to lose something or someone you love.

Whatever happens, never lose your sense of wonder towards life.  Every second, every where around you, amazing things are happening.  The bird flies on invisible air.  The car drives because little explosions, little bombs really, take place thousands of times a mile, deep inside the engine, and we harness that energy into motion.  A writer combines words on paper and seemingly magically, a story forms.  Your blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients throughout your body without you even having to think about it.  Electricity powers the lights and computers and we can’t see with our eyes how that takes place.  Sometimes those things we can’t see are the most important.  You won’t always be able to see tangible expressions of our love for you, but we will make it our mission that you will always be able to know and feel it deeply.  You are made in the image of God, and nothing you can do can separate you from that love either.  Wherever you go, whatever you do, you are loved more than you could ever imagine.  I’ve kissed you so many times already, but compared to what is to come that number is so small it’s insignificant.  We will do our best to keep you safe, to challenge you, to comfort you when times are hard, to cry with you when you’re sad, to praise you when you’ve done well, to celebrate you when you’ve achieved, and to remind you of who you are and whose you are.

Please be patient with us.

Love you,