Monday, January 28, 2013

Abrams To Fly Falcon

There’s a bug in our house.  Maria got sick on Saturday.  She’s slowly recovering, but Elizabeth came down with it today. Between the two of them, it means my writing time today is constrained to three-to-five minute intervals between rinsing out the throw-up bowl, and administering to Maria’s many random whims.  I suppose I could use that time to wonder how long it will take for me to catch it, but I'd rather write. (excuse me; I hear retching)

There’s no chance of getting any serious writing done, so today I thought I’d take on something easy, and respond to the news that J.J. Abrams has been designated to direct Star Wars Episode VII. 

Not that it matters to anyone else, but I’m not sure I like this pick. Yes, I know he can handle big budget, special-effects-laden franchise films, but I have to say, I haven’t been overly impressed with the films he’s directed.  (excuse me)

Okay, after almost three hours of vomiting, Elizabeth appears to be resting. Not that anyone needed to know that. 

As I was saying, not a huge fan of J.J. Abrams as a director.  I think I saw Mission Impossible III, but I can’t remember with certainty.  Since I’m not sure if I saw it, I should reserve comment, although if I did actually see it, the fact it was that forgettable would be a verdict in itself.

On surer footing, I did see the Star Trek reboot from 2009.  As any tbf of the blog knows, I’ve always been more Star Wars nut than Trekkie (it’s got its own category on thunderstrokes, fer cryin’ out loud).  But I’ve always respected Star Trek for its intelligence and integrity.  Consequently, the most recent film presented a big setback for me.  While the film looked great, and the movie as a whole wasn’t bad, there was something inherently intolerable about eradicating the past (no, I guess it was the future) lives of Kirk, Spock and company in order to justify wiping the slate clean and taking the characters in a new direction at a younger age.  In my opinion, that’s just cheating.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hard Freeze in Phoenix

We recently endured a stretch of freezing nighttime temperatures.  This usually means two things:  Hell's weather hotline is being swamped with calls, and it must be time for another Eagles reunion.   

In our desert climate, freeze warnings are a cause for great alarm.  We don’t often have to deal with water in its frozen state.  Come to think of it, we don’t often have to deal with water in its liquid state either.  Ditto for water vapor.  Consequently, we run our water pipes willy-nilly all over the place because we don’t have to think about protecting them from the cold.  We leave our animals outdoors year-round, because there's not much chance of them turning into petsicles overnight.  And we buy our plants based on their pretty shapes and colors, not on whether they can tolerate a freezing night or two.    

Nothing seems to mobilize the valley quite like the threat of cold weather.  In their finest moments, the Suns used to be able to muster up a similar sense of civic industriousness, but those days are long gone.  But anytime the forecast calls for 32 degrees or less, people you normally never see are outside with their ladders and their bed sheets, frantically working to cover up their citrus trees and bundle up their bougainvilleas.  

Anyway, this being one of the more dramatic examples of cold we’ve endured in the last thirty years, I thought it would be a good time for a visual survey of how different people approach the problem of protecting their plants.  I took the following pictures almost entirely from one small neighborhood in the area where my oldest daughter goes to school.  

As you will see, there is a wide range of techniques, philosophies, and strategies evidenced in the following photos.  Covering up, with plants as with fashion, seems to mean different things to different people.  

This is a reasonably average Arizona response to a freeze warning.  You pull out the pool towels (which you're not using at the moment anyway), maybe grab a few blankets, and head out front.  If it's a plant you really don't want to lose, you drape a towel over it and hope for the best.  It's not foolproof, but it does strike a balance between having to re-landscape your yard in the spring, and sitting out all night with the blow dryer.

Meeting with The Boss, A Springsteen Odyssey: Song 1


The time has come to be bold and daring.  The time has come to take a risk.  The time has come to show a little faith, 'cause there’s magic in the night.

I’m going to try something new.  It might end in ignominious disaster, or glorious triumph, or die somewhere (mercifully? tragically?) along the way. 

I’m saying this up front:  I don’t know how I’m going to do it.  I don’t have a plan.  I have only an idea:  I want to tell you a story.  Specifically, I want to tell you the story of the night of December 6th, when Elizabeth and I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Arena in Glendale, Arizona.  It’s a story that encompasses much more, and much less, than a single night.  And it’s a story only I can tell, because, like everything here at thunderstrokes, it’s always as much about me as it is the purported subject.       

Here’s the thing.  The way I’ve decided to tell this story is a little, um, unorthodox.  This story will have 26 parts. 

Why 26? 

Well, somewhere along the way I got the idea that it might be possible to tell this story within the framework of the songs Springsteen and the band played during that December concert.  By my count, the set list was 26 songs long, so that means 26 parts of the story.  I start with the first song, and end with the last.  Every song, in order.  Little bits of the story get woven into each song.

Sound a little coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Big Year

More elusive than a great spotted woodpecker.  Harder to locate than a pink-footed goose.  More difficult to spot than a snowy owl.   

Is anybody getting these references?

For the last fourteen months, I have been diligently trying to pin down and watch this movie The Big Year. 

And yes I get the irony.  It took me more than a year to see a film called The Big Year.  Har har.

The film is about an annual competition amongst bird watchers.  I like birds.  I don’t stalk them or anything, but I am often distracted by them when driving, and I often sit around and wonder what it would be like to be a bird, or wonder where I would fit in the social hierarchy at the bird feeder, that sort of thing.  I also like the three lead actors in the film:  Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.   

I wanted to see The Big Year when it first came out, but I missed its theatrical release.  Why?  For one, there are few things in life I do quickly, unless it’s driving home after hearing that one of our bathroom pipes burst, as happened last weekend due to our recent cold snap.  For another, I am the father of two young children, and therefore a Very Busy Man.  This means that it typically takes me a month or more of advance planning to get to a movie these days, even one I’ve actually set my mind on seeing.  This is why I tend to see and write mostly about blockbusters; they’re the only ones that can handle my requisite lead time.  The Big Year was not a blockbuster.

Having missed my opportunity, I intended to take up in hot pursuit of the film once it was released on DVD.  However, unlike ultra-ambitious bird-spotting champion Kenny Bostick in the movie, I constrained myself to using only using the most ethical and legitimate methods, which for me includes Netflix’s streaming service, Redbox, and the local library – but not paying more than a buck fifty, or poaching the movie illegally online.  I struck out repeatedly with all three of my sources, and was just about ready to acknowledge that I would probably have to wait for it to pop up somewhere on regular cable. 

The problem with watching a movie you haven’t seen before on regular cable (excluding Turner Classic Movies, thank God), is that you just don’t know how it’s been edited.  They always throw that disclaimer up on the screen before the film: “Edited for content, and to run in the time allowed.”  With that kind of a free hand, almost anything could be cut in order to make sure they get the right number of Geico commercials in.  And since you have no way of knowing exactly what’s been taken out, you can’t help but feel like you’re watching an incomplete movie.  It doesn’t matter what they actually do with the film; they could show the whole thing in its entirety.  They could unbleep the curse words, and unblur the T&A, but I would still feel wrong about watching it, all because of that stupid disclaimer. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Are we there yet? Thoughts on Jackson's The Hobbit

Not much has been said about The Lord of the Rings here on the blog, the movies or the books.  The last of the movies came out long before I started thunderstrokes, and although I’ve managed to work in a few scattered references here and there along the way, they are in no way sufficient to indicate the depth of admiration I have for them, the movies and the books.

I am an unabashed fan of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies.  Jackson did a better job of bringing Middle-earth to life, and of telling the story of Frodo and Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf and company, than I would have believed possible.  The narrative was clear and compelling, the characters bold and nuanced, and the tale’s majestic scale and scope effectively replicated.  Best of all, Jackson found a way to consistently give satisfactory visual form to Tolkien’s unbounded imaginings. 

Frodo as the book, and Sam as the movies.
Yet for me, the films cannot begin to rival the books.  At their best, Jackson’s movies play Sam to Tolkien’s Frodo, faithful and loyal followers to the hilt, but always subservient, always ancillary to the one charged with carrying out the original task.  As Frodo would be the first to tell you, though, that is something special in itself, and renders the films deserving of all the bountiful praise they have received.   

I think I can honestly say no book, or series of books, has had the cumulative emotional impact on me that The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) has.  Oh, all right, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did, but in a different way, for a different reason, which I will hopefully find the words to explain someday.  I was fifteen, or sixteen, or maybe even seventeen when I discovered Tolkien’s magic place.  By the time I finished reading LOTR, I was so completely and hopelessly attached to the characters, so utterly rooted to their world, my mind could not accept the fact that I was now being deprived of their continuing company.  My forced departure from Middle-Earth was physically painful; I felt as though I were being punished unjustly for no crime greater than finishing the story.  I grieved the sudden absence of Frodo’s band of noble heroes from my life like the death of a good friend.  I was heartsick for weeks, suffering from intense feelings of separation and loneliness.  I have no doubt that I would have been labeled as clinically depressed during that time, had anyone stopped to check.