Wednesday, June 28, 2006

For granted

Have you ever noticed how often you take things for granted? And have you noticed how disconcerting it is when things do not work the way they are supposed to? I take things like computers and cars for granted all the time, which often means not performing proper care and maintenance on them, and then it is always distressing when my ignorance results in some kind of supreme inconvenience (it is, of course, even more frustrating when there is no discernible connection of an effect to a cause, but that is not the topic of this post). I think I often take friendships for granted; I assume things will be okay because they have been okay. There are definitely times in which I do not care or maintain them properly, and there are consequences for those actions, which include hurt, pain, frustration, and breaking down of relationships. Sure, I have excuses - I'm busy, I'm in school or at camp, I'm dealing with my own issues - but those excuses only contribute to the deciding factor in any breakdown: me. The fact is that I am a broken, incomplete, often stupid human being, and that I do stupid things that reflect that nature, even if I have no desire to do so. If I have taken you for granted, I am sorry. I wish I could promise that I will never do it again, but all I can promise is that I can try, and I will work on fixing things the next time I do something stupid. But you shouldn't take that for granted - hold me to it, so I don't take you for granted.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Camp update

It has occurred to me that I have talked little about camp over the past few weeks, and so I thought it would be prudent to update you all on the goings-on here at GTBC. June has been fairly crazy month, even thought the RVICS team left over a week ago. They were replaced by a consistent stream of junior teens, as Grade 7 and 8 classes from King George, Westmount, and Sunningdale schools in Moose Jaw descended on camp. It was a lot of fun having really energetic kids around, and hopefully some of them will be returning later in the summer. We finished off day camps with a K-5 class on Monday, and we are now in the midst of a bit of a break before camp really starts. We have Squirt Day and "I Can't Wait 'Til Camp Day" (because camp is so late this year), followed by a week of a rental group and running three VBSes, and then staff training starts on July 16. It is a welcome break for me, as June has also been a busy month in my social calendar with something happening each of the last four weekends in Regina. But this round of baptisms, weddings, and baby dedications is now done, and I should be able to visit my peeps in S'toon before the next round of weddings hits. That, my friends, is what is happening at camp and in the life of Turner.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Welcome back fans!

The Hurricanes' win in Game 7 last night completed a playoffs and a season that is undoubtedly one of the most exciting in years. This year, along with the season previous to the lockout, have established that the NHL is still one of the most exciting leagues to watch, and there are a lot of great young teams who will be competing for years to come. Although it is disappointing that Edmonton did not triumph in Game 7, they will have other chances; I believe that they can only get better, and that the Battle of Alberta will wage for many years to come. I am happy that Carolina won the Stanley Cup, as a number of good Canadian boys got to hoist the Cup and played key roles for the team; the scary fact is that Carolina is only going to improve as Ward and Staal get older, LaRose and Ladd improve, and Jack Johnson enters their lineup. The Southeast Division has now won the last two Cups, and will continue to do very well. At any rate, the NHL needed this kind of finish to bring its fans back, and that happened. Now only two and a half months to wait hockey starts again...and the Leafs work on their next chance to end their drought.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The ethics of disaster movies

I saw Wolfgang Petersen's Poseidon tonight, and I will not recommend it to people for two reasons: not only is it a fairly straightforward disaster movie with very thin character development; but it is also fairly graphic in its depictions of the death of non-protagonist characters. But the simplistic plot did have one distinct advantage: it allowed me time to think about the "disaster movie" genre on a deeper level. It is simple, of course, to analyze the conventions and patterns of the genre and deconstruct it as a genre, but my thinking tonight went deeper than that (pun intended). Why do disaster movies appeal to us? My thought is that it is because they provide us with the opportunity to have (and share) experiences that we would otherwise have no chance to undergo (I, for example, have rarely been in a life-or-death situation). They also provide the safety of an assured outcome of success, to the point that constituents of the genre which do not obey that rule are disliked for that very reason (eg. Petersen's 2000 movie The Perfect Storm). But as I watched the movie tonight, it did not hold the same appeal as other disaster movies had in the past, and I tried to figure out why. I think one reason is because, unlike many of its peers, Poseidon directly showed the death of many of the non-protagonist characters, thus making the experience more real and subsequently more terrifying. I think it is also because it is less possible to abstract disaster now than it was five years ago. Since the turn of the century, 9/11, the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and countless earthquakes have devastated our world; we are still raw and bleeding as a people from those real disasters, and so watching one for entertainment is akin to rubbing salt in a festering wound. This then leads me to the question of whether this genre should be considered a valid form of entertainment, or whether it is something that I should avoid from now on. I am more inclined to think that I should avoid disaster movies now, if for no other reason than they do very little to help me grow closer to God. They rarely teach me things, they are certainly a distraction, and there seems to be little of spiritual merit to most of these movies. They are no more than adrenaline-pumping, testosterone-provoking, mind-numbing pleasures that have little long-term redeeming value, although when such a film does raise those questions - 1998's Deep Impact, for example - it transcends these barriers and can offer some merit beyond its expectation. Maybe I am simply no longer interested in explosions and last-minute escapes, but I think I am past disaster movies - or at least, I should be, for my intellectual and spiritual health.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

My Dad's birthday

Today marks my father's 29th birthday. Those of you who are doing the math are confused, and rightfully so, because it is not his biological birthday - it is his sobriety birthday. On June 15, 1977, at the age of eighteen, my father stopped drinking alcohol, and he has not had an alcoholic drink since that day. I have never seen him take a drink, and I hope that I never will. To this day, he still attends AA meetings when he can, and he refers to himself as a "recovering alcoholic", since one drink could undo almost three decades of hard work. It was because of his example that I learned to handle alcohol appropriately, and because of his persistence that I have a father who is still in my life today. I know that it was only by the grace of God that he did not drink during my childhood after his back injury, and I am very thankful that that did not happen. If he had not sobered up in the first place, my parents would not have been married. If he had not stayed sober, they would likely not be married today. I can only imagine the struggle that he has endured over the years, but he has persevered, and he and our family are much better for it. His sobriety is one of his greatest accomplishments, and I am so proud of him for it. Happy birthday, Dad.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The schmooze gene

I think I was in my early teens when one of my more prominent genetic inheritances from my father began to show. It was one of those features of his that always annoyed me as a child, but that was clearly in my DNA: the schmooze gene. You see, I would always be very bored whenever Dad took me anywhere, because he would undoubtedly run into some old friend he had not seen in fifteen years and would have to spend time catching up and then more time explaining who this was to me. But then when I entered high school, I began to meet more people and get involved in more activities and clubs, and I began to show the schmooze gene. I began to see people I knew wherever I went, and as I got to know more people, it got more and more advanced. Now, after having gone to school in Regina and Saskatoon, working at several camps, and participating in many different groups, I am prepared to see someone wherever I go. It often surprises me more when I do not encounter some person from my past when I go out. It is one of those realities of the life of Turner: if you go anywhere with me, I will have to leave for several minutes to go talk to somebody I have not seen in a long time. And then, of course, enterprises such as this site have only further exacerbated the syndrome. Do not be mistaken: I love the schmooze gene. Though occasionally I see people with whom I would rather not talk, or am not in a mood for talking, these random encounters have consistently brightened my life, and many have become very solid friendships. And, as far as I can remember, it has only happened to me once when someone has known me and I have been clueless as to who they are. I think the schmooze gene has become more pronounced in me than it was in my father. In fact, it might even be my mutant power. That is the schmooze gene, an essential part of the life of Turner.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Trailer Trash?

Once in a while, I take an hour or so out of my day and visit the Trailers at Apple dot com site and watch movie trailers. There is something about trailers that causes me to want to watch them, even if I have little or no desire to view the movie when it is released. But I even like watching trailers for movies I have already seen, which makes me wonder what it is about trailers that is so appealing. Maybe it is the fact that they are incredibly high-energy snapshots of the movies that have no downturn - everything in a trailer is going to look great because it is all meant to make you want to see the movie. But I think the key to trailers is the idea of anticipation: you are only receiving small portions of the whole picture, and the lack of knowledge of the entire piece drives our minds to put the pieces together. I think this happens so much so sometimes that I am almost disappointed when a movie is released. As long as it exists in an incomplete form, there are still possibilities and you can use your imagination to fill in the gaps, but once it has been made into reality, it cannot be changed - the movie is what it is, and nothing more. For example, although I enjoy the Lord of the Rings trilogy, watching it now can never exceed the anticipation I felt before it was released in December 2001. I think the way in which we evaluate trailers corroborates my theory about anticipation. We often determine a bad trailer by the fact that it shows too much of the movie - Fun With Dick and Jane, for example, would have been far more entertaining had I not seen most of the funniest moments in trailers and commercials. Trailers that spoil the movie provide too much information and do not allow us to use our imaginations; watching them is essentially equivalent to watching the complete movie. A good trailer always leaves the viewer wanting more, or if they have seen the movie in question, helps them remember the parts of the movie that were not included in the trailer. By the way, I think the best trailer on the Apple site right now is for Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, and the cheesiest is certainly for Oliver Stone's World Trade Center. Take an hour of your day, and visit the trailer park.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Wedding etiquette

I have horrible wedding etiquette. I have RSVP'd late to weddings; I have forgotten to send gifts or cards for weddings I did not attend but to which I was invited; I have even occasionally neglected to bring a gift to weddings, even if I was part of them. This is, of course, exceedingly ironic, considering the high number of weddings I attend each year. But the question is why I have such poor understanding of etiquette, in answer to which I have determined that there are several contributing factors. The most obvious is that I am a male. Weddings are not as significant to men, and we rely on women (ie. Mothers, girlfriends, wives) to supply us with our understanding of etiquette. We have an inborn handicap in the area of weddings. The second reason is that because I have been involved in a significant number of the weddings I have attended, I have not had as much need for etiquette. The RSVP is not necessary, the gift is an obvious choice, and the rules that govern the attenders do not apply entirely to those involved in a wedding. A third reason is that etiquette is often a set of rules that appear to have little reason (I am most certainly not British), and I honestly have trouble following rules for which I can not see the purpose (note that my emphasis here was on my perception, not necessarily on the reality). There is also the factor that the heavy wedding season has overlapped with my working at camp, and it is very difficult to remove yourself from the camp atmosphere. But I think the biggest reason I have had little grasp of wedding etiquette is that I attended few weddings when I was younger. Most people have lots of family weddings throughout their teen years, while I remember attending only three weddings before the age of sixteen. I never really had a chance to learn the etiquette until I was in the midst of the wedding overload, and so I was not able to learn from my mistakes until I had attended a few weddings. I am a far better wedding-goer now than I was three years ago, but I still need a lot of help with the etiquette. Any women care to help me out?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A dissertation on superhero movies

With the recent release of X-Men: The Last Stand, and the upcoming release of Superman Returns, I have been thinking a lot about superhero movies: how many I have seen, which ones I would recommend, which ones have most faithfully adapted their source material, and which ones have been the best movies. Box Office Mojo lists 59 different movies in the superhero genre since 1978, the year the first Superman movie was released; though I might dispute the inclusion of some films, I will use this list as canonical. Of those 59, I have viewed the top 12 grossing movies, and 15 of the top 19, while being familiar with many of the others, so I feel that I have personally enough authority to make some comments on the genre. It has interestingly been a genre that has had four distinct phases, from what I can tell. The initial phase, inspired by Superman in 1978, lasted until the mid-1980s, at which point characters like Rambo, Rocky, and the Terminator usurped the position that superheroes would normally fill. There was a downturn until 1989's Batman and 1990's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which seemingly brought the genre back to life, only for it to be again damaged through some bad directorial choices (ie. Joel Schumacher's Batman movies), as well as a rise in superhero comedies and lesser-known superheroes throughout the late 1990s. Some of those have become cult hits (1995's Tank Girl comes to mind), but many were very forgettable and lamentable efforts. This, combined with the inability of major studios to make big projects like Spider-Man and X-Men work, led again to the forecasted downfall of the genre. But then came 2000's X-Men, upon which the fate of the genre rested: if that film failed, the genre could well have died. But the film was a success for several reasons: the plot was well-communicated and clear for fans as well as non-fans; the presence of up-and-coming stars like Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry; the legitimization given to the film in the presence of actors such as Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen; the maintaining of consistency with the source material; and the direction and vision of Bryan Singer. X-Men succeeded, and so the mold was remade. The Spider-Man films followed a similar formula: director Sam Raimi; upcoming stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst; solid actors like Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina; and a faithfulness to the Spidey universe. This, of course, led to Ang Lee's The Hulk (a film I did not enjoy much but should probably watch again), as well as Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. Though there are still some really poor superhero movies being released, it seems as if the genre now has enough legitimacy to withstand its poorest elements, which no longer comprise the entirety of the genre. It shows no signs of stopping, with Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3, and Fantastic Four 2 all slated for release in 2007. But the real question is why the superhero movie is popular. I think it is because it allows us to escape from our reality, while yet maintaining some connection with our reality through using either known locales or people. It allows us to metacritically analyze ourselves and ask ourselves questions about our identity and purpose and nature of life, because those are the questions that superheroes must ask. It fulfills our desire to do great things by providing a cathartic outlet in viewing great things being done by others. And it provides some really cool special effects, one liners, and quotations ("With great power comes great responsibility"). It is also a genre that is typically consistent with a Judeo-Christian worldview because it is normally outside of it, though there are some distinctly troubling instances (ie. Ghost Rider) which certainly blur that distinction between real spiritual reality and the created superhero reality. Nevertheless, the genre seems not only to have the pop culture presence to maintain its presence in theatres, but also to have the extra-genre appeal to withstand its shortcomings. With all this in mind, the question is then which movies should be considered the exemplars of the superhero movie genre, and I certainly have some thoughts regarding which films are worthy of your attention, and even necessary to view to understand the genre the best. Here is my list of superhero movies you should see, in alphabetical order:

Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) - Tim Burton's take on the Dark Knight is somewhat flawed, but nevertheless provides a clear idea of what a vision of a superhero world can be. Michael Keaton is somewhat wooden as the hero, but it is the villians - Jack Nicholson's Joker, Danny DeVito's Penguin, and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman - that make these films truly necessary to watch.

Batman Begins (2005) - Christopher Nolan helped revive the franchise after Joel Schumacher's debacles, and certainly crafted a great exploration of Batman's early years. A number of great actors (eg. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Tom Wilkinson) overcome the film's weaknesses (Katie Holmes), and it will be very interesting to see how the Batman franchise continues from this point on.

The Incredibles (2004) - Brad Bird's animated masterpiece combines the perfect amounts of comedy, action, and family values, as well as providing a great exploration of the superhero genre. Plus, Elastigirl.

Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) - Sam Raimi's take on our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man has been a very solid adaptation of the comics and has provided a very believable universe. And there are apparently FOUR villains in Spider-Man 3: Venom, Sandman, Green Goblin, and one yet to be identified (Lizard?). Is four too many? With Spidey, it might not be enough.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991) - It's the Ninja Turtles. These were two of my favourite movies as a kid, and I still have them memorized. Plus, Vanilla Ice.

Unbreakable (2001) - M. Night Shyamalan's entry into the genre was not very well-received, but both Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson turn in great performances in this tale about a regular man turned into a superhero. A great commentary on the genre through breaking down its traditional barriers while maintaining its necessary elements.

X-Men (2000), X2: X-Men United (2003), and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) - Although each film is not as solid on its own as are the Spider-Man films, the trilogy nonetheless provides a solid plot continuation, lots of action, and great characters (Nightcrawler, Wolverine, and Beast especially). These would likely be best watched as an X-Men movie night, and preferrably with bonus material added in.

There are others I still need to watch (ie. 2005's Hellboy and Sky High), but I think this is a fairly solid starting point for the genre. As you can tell, I have done a lot of thinking about the superhero movie, and I will likely continue to do so. Any comments or thoughts are more than welcome, and if you ever want to talk about the more superficial elements of the movies, or how well the stories have been translated to the screen, or even some of the more metacritical points I have merely begun to raise in this post, please contact me. That is the conclusion of my "dissertation" on superhero movies.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

An X-hilirating X-capade

I saw X-Men: The Last Stand this weekend, and I enjoyed the film thoroughly. This is a post about the film, but there are no spoilers ahead, so read on whether you have seen it or not. It brought a very solid conclusion to the events of the first two films, while maintaining enough similarity to the comic stories to satisfy the knowledgeable fan (such as myself). Of the new characters, Beast was brilliant (Frasier?!), though Juggernaut was somewhat disappointing. I did not notice a large difference in directing style, as Brett Ratner seemed to maintain Bryan Singer's vision fairly consistently throughout the film, despite my misgivings before its release. In all, it is a good conclusion to the storyline they have developed in the first two X-Men films, and allows for many different possibilities for spinoffs (Wolverine is already in the works for 2008 release). It lives up to the summer blockbuster status, but still is decently written and acted. It will be interesting to see what they cut out when they release a special edition near Christmas, though. And stay until the end of the credits. Trust me.

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