new column: merry spendmas and other holiday musings

Whew! The holidays are really throwing my writing schedule off. This is my last column until the New Year, and I'm not anticipating having any film reviews until the first week of January. I may, however, arbitrarily update the blog in the meantime - I expect to get back to a regular schedule on January 5th.
With the Christmas season comes all the usual ornaments and traditions including, of course, the biggest tradition of all: spend money. We could consider renaming the holiday “spendmas,” especially when the news reminds us about how much we’re doling out for stuff in comparison to past years. Outlook: not so good. Says the Front Page’s favourite punching bag, the L.A. Times: “The International Council of Shopping Centers has estimated that in November and December, sales at stores open at least a year may decline as much as 1 percent. That would be the largest drop since at least 1969, when the New York trade group starting tracking data.”
Read the rest of Merry Spendmas and Other Holiday Musings.

Happy holidays!


new film reviews: yes man and cycle of fear

Two movies this week.

Yes Man:
The ambiguous label of “B movie” is often reserved for quasi-exploitative genre films. But the definition could be expanded to include any film in which cheap thrills take precedence over meaningful drama. Just as horror films that focus on gore and sex easily fall into the B movie category, and action flicks filled with explosions, car chases and gunfire with nary more than an unintelligible grunt from the hero, the comedy that subsists on gags with only token gestures towards genuine heart is as B as it gets.

Read the rest of Yes Man? Maybe Man.

Cycle of Fear:
The film’s tagline is, “There is No End,” and if ever there was truth in advertising, this is it. There is no end to the recycling of fearful clichés in the horror genre – storytelling becomes affliction, thanks to a low budget. Beginning with the basic premise of a witch unjustly burned at the stake taking revenge on innocent people one hundred years later, “Cycle of Fear” hasn’t even gotten past zippy, swoosh-y credits before instilling the fear of a derivative piece of work. Suddenly, it’s possible to appreciate “The Blair Witch Project” a little more – not because it has any substance, but because, at least, it starts from an intriguing premise and presents it with a clever cinematic gimmick.
Read the rest of (Re)Cycle of Fear(ful) Cliches.

Housekeeping note: blogging is light these days on account of the madness we call the holidays.


crudely sexual

So I went to a press screening of Yes Man yesterday and noticed the film’s rating in the production packet: Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language, and brief nudity. My question is: why is it always crude sexual humor? Why not refined sexual humor? Intelligent sexual humor? Silly sexual humor? Anyone? Anyone?

And: is the humor crude because it is sexual? If so, what does that say about our culture’s sexual mores? Or is the humor’s crudeness distinct from the fact it involves sex? Let me put it this way: does a randy senior citizen make you laugh uncomfortably? I mean, the scene with Jim Carrey and an elderly neighbor IS funny, but is it funny because we don’t normally put the word “sex” in the same sentence as “senior?”

That’s just a minor spoiler, by the way. Not even minor. A trifle. And I got to use the word “sex” in the same sentence as “senior,” even I did have to use quotation marks.


new column: going for gold - an archery range for culver city

There's a proposal out there to build an archery range in Culver City - great idea. I shoot at Rancho Park, which isn't too far from where I live. But a range at the Culver City Park would be much closer, which means afternoon jaunts to the range for some extra practice sessions. This doesn't mean I'd abandon the Rancho Park range, though, given all the fine people I've been shooting with there.
I am not a sporty guy. Truly. I like hiking, and bicycling, and camping – you know, physical outdoorsy stuff. But sports? Nuh-uh. Oh, sure, I like watching the Olympics, and basketball has a certain appeal to me. But again: sports? Not on the top of my list. I did swim competitively for about three years, though, when I was a kid. The first year was great. Our coach was a swell lady who really focused on proper swimming form, a focus that made swim meets that much more fun. But she left to become a nun in the middle of nowhere, Québec, and year two brought along a wishy-washy coach. Nice guy, but wishy-washy…And then came year three, with a coach focused on winning, winning, winning. The fun got sucked out of the swimming, the competitiveness became oppressive, and suddenly, there was no good justification for getting up at 5:30 on Saturday mornings for swim practice in freezing water. So much for athleticism.
Read the rest of Going for Gold: An Archery Range for Culver City.


new theatre review: aah! scrooge must die!

I'm not one to go for raunch or offensiveness for the sake of being offensiveness, but I kinda dig this new play, Aah! Scrooge Must Die!, at the Ivy Substation. The Actor's Gang sure is a wacky bunch.
Ah, yes. The holidays. Christmas carols over the speakers of stuff-selling stores. Tinsel for the trees. Snow on Disney’s Main Street. The Ivy and the Holly. Ho, ho, ho, and glowing red noses – a certain reindeer’s luminous proboscis and too much rum in the egg nog. Colourful wrapping paper, ribbons and gift cards. Chocolate peppermint bark. Family visits. And maybe, just maybe a dash of that old bah, humbug? In the stress of the holidays, the relentless drive to play a part in unbridled consumerism, the forced smiles and strained good cheers – surely it’s not uncommon to feel a bit like a pre-phantasmic Scrooge amidst the onslaught.
Read the rest of Scrooge Must Die...Laughing.


the salvation army: WTF!?

Despite the role Salvation Army bell ringers have in iconic Christmas scenes – and who among us hasn’t put an ol’ Washington or two in the kettle – I’m rather bothered by the militaristic theme behind the charitable organization. Army? Salvation? Sounds like the zeal to march on the world and gain converts, which isn’t entirely a stretch:

“The Salvation Army has a devoutly religious mission, rooted in its founding in 1865 by an evangelical protestant minister (and former pawn broker) named William Booth, whose early motivation was to convert poor Londoners — and eventually prostitutes, gamblers and alcoholics — to Christianity. Recognizing that his followers needed more than just religion to improve their lives — and that the way to attract the destitute was the provide services — Booth provided meals, clothing and other assistance to his early converts. He was famous for saying, "Nobody ever got saved while they had a toothache." The quasi-military name "Salvation Army" was given to the charitable church in 1878 — Booth had been known as its "general" even before that — and the first U.S. chapter opened around 1880.” (Source: Time)
Regardless of how harmless the Salvation Army may be, I’m wary of military analogies – it encourages flawed reasoning. After all, armies conduct war. If it were called the Salvation Corps, the impression would be different.

In any case, an item in the news came to my attention and I’m just gobsmacked: a Salvation Army officer is facing dismissal over his choice of fiancée. Apparently, officers are only allowed to marry other officers due to expectations that they live and breathe the Salvation Army. Captain Johnny Harsh of Oshkosh, Washington, was suspended from his leadership position after he became engaged to a nurse he met through an online Christian dating website.
“Harsh was suspended from his position as leader of the Oshkosh Salvation Army after he announced his engagement to a woman he named only as "Cia." Harsh's first wife, Capt. Yalanda "Yoley" Harsh, a Salvation Army officer, died suddenly of a heart attack in June. A few months later Harsh said he met Cia, 56, a nurse, on a Christian online dating Web site.

‘I prayed and told the Lord, I can't stand being single. Can you please give me a woman on the outside and inside,’ said Harsh. He said it was love at first sight. ‘One word describes her. Wow.’

Harsh said the organization's rules regarding marriage are outdated, unfair and must be changed, but he doesn't want his personal situation to harm the Salvation Army.”
This is exactly how institutionalized religion can become a detriment to individuals - in terms of freedom, personal fulfillment, and even basic humanity. These are not “divine” rules, but organizational rules that work to keep people in the fold. But Harsh knew what he was getting into, and his first wife, who died of a heart attack, was indeed an SA officer. And his call for people not to stop giving to the charity, which is only second to the United Way, goes a long way from making this exposure a personal vendetta.

For my part, however, I’ve come to realize just to what degree the Salvation Army is really a Christian organization, complete with doctrines of original sin, the holy trinity, heaven for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, and so on. The question is, to what extent does supporting their considerable charitable work a reinforcement for their religious and organizational beliefs?


Nick LaRue and I are writing a book on the topic of living without religion, and we're starting off with some research. Whether you're an atheist or a person of faith, we want to hear from you.

Background in this week's column at The Front Page Online.

...and the book's blog here at goodbyegod.blogspot.com.


new review: the life I lived

Perhaps greater than the fear of that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns is the fear that comes with discovering, then desperately clinging to, regret over bad choices. And many are the stories that take this primal psychological morass as the drive to dig deep into character.
Read the rest of The Life I Lived, and Rather Wish I Had Not


on the topic of truth in scripture

Does the Bible condemn gays or support them? The answer is yes! Religious scriptures are so vague and contradictory, leading to an endless pick-and-choose game to find that bit of text that rationalizes whatever people of faith want to rationalize, it’s no surprise the Anglicans are tearing themselves to pieces:

Theological conservatives upset by liberal views of U.S. Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans formed a rival North American province Wednesday, in a long-developing rift over the Bible that erupted when Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop.


new column: what's so great about being the greatest?

As my wife and I prepared for a family Thanksgiving gathering at our home, we had the TV set to the Macy’s parade. Big balloons, floats, marching bands; the whole shebang. At some point, a modestly sized float came into view, a large urban landscape crowning a giant apple. But it wasn’t the float itself that took my attention away from some last-minute cleaning-up. It was the commentator announcing the float with something more or less along the lines of “and here’s the float for New York City, the greatest city in the world.” My first reaction: Sorry, but New York is not the greatest city in the world. My second reaction: What is this obsession with being “the greatest?”
Read the rest of What's So Great About Being the Greatest?


new film review: bolt

Sorry for the delay in posting this. Holidays happen.
Only an overzealous dog lover would make a cat give a speech about having a dog complex defined by a secret desire to be a dog. Why can’t cats get any respect? Never mind. It’s all about the hamster, anyway. “Bolt,” Di­sney’s riff on “An Incredible Journey,” delivered in gorgeously rendered 3-D animation, starts out with Bolt (Travolta), a brave dog who is the victim of a monstrous “Truman Show” deception: He doesn’t know the TV show he stars in as a superpowered canine is all fake. So when his beloved and perpetually endangered human Penny (Cyrus) is separated from him in the latest episode’s cliffhanger and a mailing mishap puts him on the other side of the country, Bolt doggedly sets off, as always, to the rescue.
Read the rest Forget the Dog. It's the Hamster Who Saves the Movie. Also at inkandashes.net.