Archive for November, 2007

The Magic and Mishaps of “Beowulf”

I just sat through 117 minutes of the pure visual spectacle of Robert Zemeckis’s “Beowulf” and was, on the whole, very impressed. “Beowulf” succeeds in using the latest and greatest in computer technology to bring to life the most realistic CGI actors ever to grace the big screen. Akin to the CGI actors in “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”–what I would consider the predecessor to every other all-CGI films to date (which includes Toy Story and all the Shrek movies)–the actors in “Beowulf” had realistic skin, realistic hair, and realistic movements that makes one do double-takes during many parts of the film. In one of the final scenes, in particular, when an aged Wiglar (voiced by actor, Brendan Gleeson) is trying to hold back tears, the computer-generated facial expressions were so real it almost seemed like that part of the film was actually a live action shot.

Speaking of action, this film’s more aggressive moments were also quite impressive, that they made the scenes in between seem contrived. My favorite was the dragon fight. And the obligatory nudity was, for the most part, tastefully done. Beowulf’s (voiced by Ray Winstone) nude battle with Grendel was reminiscent of scenes in the movie, “Austin Powers,” where the genitalia is obscured by carefully positioned objects in the foreground. Grendel’s Mother’s (voiced by Angelina Jolie) private parts were under a layer of gold skin. However, there’s no escaping the double-entendre in the scene where Grendel’s Mother lightly fondled the blade of Beowulf’s sword.

One major mishap is in John Malkovich’s character, Unferth, who remained pathetically two-dimensional despite the CGI enhancements. Perhaps it was Malkovich’s typically subdued vocal delivery which, although appreciated in live action films, cannot be successfully interpreted by computer-generated avatars. It’s a shame really; one of the two best actors in the film (the other, of course, is Anthony Hopkins) was hampered by the very same technology that could make the film an instant classic.

All in all, I enjoyed “Beowulf” for what it is–a sensationalized CGI film.


Change To Spare

My mother recently put together two paper bags filled with non-perishable food items, which she aims to give to homeless people, particularly to those who wait curbside on busy intersections. Her idea is that, instead of providing money–which she says may end up being used for destructive activities like drinking or smoking–the homeless person can have food to eat, which will satisfy one of life’s basic necessities. I spied a large cup-o-noodles container among its contents and wondered to myself how a homeless person will consume it if he/she doesn’t have access to hot water or a microwave. Still, my mother’s action is admirable, and at least she’s doing something productive regarding the homelessness in our city, but would it really help?

I have a very divided conviction toward homelessness. Each one has their own reasons or set of circumstances that led to his/her being on the streets–be it due to financial reasons or abusive relationships, among other things. Yet sometimes I can’t help but think that some of these people have chosen homelessness as a lifestyle, that there were responsibilities that they simply didn’t want to deal with, and being on the streets, living off of other people’s charity, was an easy way out. I think this to be true especially of those who appear to be able to support themselves. Why is it that I, who put in my ten to twelve hours a day at work, should feel compelled to give “spare change” to those who I feel should be able-bodied enough to put in even just six to eight? Am I missing something? I’m certain that there are homelessness support organizations that would consider my insight terribly flawed, but am I truly alone with this disposition?

My jadedness is questioned when it comes to homeless children. Did some escape into homelessness from negative home-lives, a choice between two evils? Were some born into homelessness? “Street kids” are very common in downtown Portland, with Pioneer Square acting as a veritable playground and hangout. Mostly male, this group has had a very negative impression on the public, often described as rude and aggressive. I think that they, too, should find jobs–especially those who are sixteen or older–but what of the younger ones? How are they to support themselves? Of course, there are shelters that can help them, but, again, are these truly the answers?

I don’t know if there’s really one magical solution to the homelessness in our city (or the country, for that matter), but it’s random acts of kindness–like the food packages that my mother has put together–that can only help. At least, they should help to fill an empty stomach.

Family Gatherings: A Survival Guide

The holiday season is a time of joy, togetherness, and all-around cheer, but to me it is a futile exercise in civility–a time when I am forced to endure one dreadful family gathering after another. Ordinarily, they’re not so bad; but sometimes it’s the same old shit, different year.

The usual suspects are there: the party’s host family, who are like restless little chickens running around, making sure everyone’s having a good time while they themselves don’t; the aunt or uncle nobody can stand; the family who unfailingly brings inedible food; second or third cousins you try to like but still end up treating like complete strangers; the boyfriends and girlfriends who awkwardly try to fit in but ultimately can’t; the pariah family that everyone surreptitiously avoids; the nephew who clearly isn’t enjoying himself, and makes it painfully obvious to everyone by sulking in a corner, mumbling to himself. While some might consider these characters archetypal of family gatherings, in my personal experience, they are as real as they get. This is why I’ve devised some sure-fire methods for surviving these annoying get-togethers that I hope you can use in your own adventures:

Arrive late. Unless everyone is watching the door as you walk in, no one would ever notice if you arrived late to a get-together. The biggest benefit to arriving late, of course, is that you would significantly decrease the length of time you have to stay at the party. Try to enter through a back door, if at all possible.

Keep mobile. Don’t be committed to any one spot for too long. Keep moving through the crowd. In this way, when you see an annoying relative heading in your direction, you can easily evade his/her attack by changing your geography, and he/she would be none the wiser.

Always have an exit plan. Spread the word that you’ve got another engagement “in an hour” even if you don’t. In this way, you’ll have a completely “legitimate” reason for leaving before you’ve reached your breaking point. If possible, have an accomplice call you on your cellular phone thirty minutes into the party, and make it seem like an emergency. Try to have the most convincingly concerned look on your face and mumble something about “ER” and “ambulance” in your gibberish while quickly walking out.

Bring alcohol. When all else fails, you can always turn to the bottle to make all your troubles go away. Additionally, alcohol decreases anxiety and helps you to deal even with the most annoying relative as he/she ruthlessly attempts to sell you life insurance. Stash your supply in the garage, an outdoor deck, or any spot where you know you must step away from the crowd in order to replenish. In this way, you can do some breathing exercises to calm your nerves in privacy before heading back to the banality of it all. Also, you can drink yourself senseless and end up with nothing to worry about. This is, of course, a last resort inasmuch as it is pure genius.

Of course, some of these get-togethers can end up being more enjoyable than you might expect. In those cases, be prepared to go with the flow. But try not to kid yourself into thinking that such family gatherings will always be fun, because they won’t. So, keep these tactics in mind, and you will survive this holiday season and beyond.

Thanks, Stumptown!

Today, I think about the many things that I am thankful for. I am thankful for family, and how my nearest relatives have chosen not to bother me; for my health, and how I’m finally not wasting my fitness center membership; for my friends, and how they always manage to bring me back to the dark side; for my job, which, for the first time in forever, doesn’t suck; and for my “hometown,” and how it’s such an awesome city!

There is one thing in particular about my city for which I will be eternally grateful–amazing coffee! (Oh, and the rad microbrews! But I’ll get to that later…) Of course, there’s Starbucks, which, although originated from the Emerald City (that is, Seattle, for the uninformed) up north, is so much a part of the Portland landscape (and, oh, the world) that I can’t go two feet without being close to one. In fact, I’m presently sitting in one of my favorite hangouts–the Starbucks on 37th and Hawthorne–sipping my “decaf, venti, with room Americano” as I tap into a nearby establishment’s free wi-fi. (Yeah, Starbucks still chooses to charge their customers for wi-fi access.) Lately, however, I’m actually trying to wean myself from the double-tailed mermaid’s siren call ever since I discovered the delectable qualities of java from another coffee company. (And, no, I’m not talking about The Coffee People, which, at one point, proliferated our fair city, but is these days relegated to one or two spots in the suburbs. Sigh.)

“Stumptown” is one of Portland’s nicknames, attributed to the fact that, save for maybe one or two “really tall buildings,” the City of Roses (yet another of Bridge City’s nicknames) is devoid of scyscrapers. The cityscape is akin to a deforested Northwest wilderness–replete with lots and lots of tree stumps. Hence, it seemed the appropriate name for one of the best up-and-coming tastes in coffee brought to us by Stumptown Coffee Roasters. Now, I say “up-and-coming” but they’ve actually been around for a while. At least, I’ve been aware of them for about five years or so (although they may have been around much longer than that). Stumptown’s coffees have a much bolder taste than those of Starbucks, and offers a magnificent alternative to the ubiquitous corporate entity. Also, most, if not all, Stumptown cafes offer free wi-fi, which draws many of Portland’s tech-savvy (and slightly poorer) coffee drinkers. Also, the baristas at Stumptown appear to be purists, preferring to offer their brews in ceramic cups over the “to go” variety. I mean, how else is one able to see and appreciate the intricate designs they make with half-and-half?

So far, I’m a weekend Stumptown coffee drinker. I can’t help this fact since there’s a Starbucks in the building where I work, and the closest Stumptown is, well, not close at all. Plus, people seem to always want to give me Starbucks gift cards, so I have no choice to but appreciate their generosity (a.k.a. drink free coffee!). However, I know there will come a day when I completely ignore the familiar green and white circular logo. And, I hope, that day will come soon.

Now, about Portland’s microbrews…they’re totally rad!

Art Alexakis Likes Chai Tea Lattes

I saw Art Alexakis this morning. What, you don’t know who Art Alexakis is? He’s only the front-man of Everclear, one of the most prolific Portland-based bands in the 90s! Anyway, this was at the Starbucks on 23rd and Irving. I guess he lives in the neighborhood. He’s borderline “has been” but it was still firkin awesome to see a celebrity like that. The only thing I didn’t like about it is the pair of Adidas he was sporting. I mean, c’mon! This is Nike town! Oh, well.

Here Comes The Rain Again

It’s six-thirty on a Saturday morning, and I’ve already been up for an hour. It’s pouring outside and the forecast looks grim. I guess that means I won’t go for a run; I wouldn’t want to take a spill and be down for the count because of it. Today will be one of those lazy days for me, I suppose. Nothing to do but read, write, listen to music, eat good grub, maybe chat it up with friends. I deserve days like today. Well, maybe without precipitation–I can go without the rain.

There’s so many things I can enjoy indoors today. For instance, there is the Grindhouse Film Festival that’s happening at Hollywood Theatre this weekend. They have a couple of 1970’s martial arts flicks in their line-up that would be killer to see on the big screen. And they’ve got a zombie movie! Oh, and Beowulf is out now, too. What to do? What to do?! Or, I could spend a couple of hours at Powell’s today, and just peruse through the cajillion books that they’ve got. (I’m in the middle of a Michael Chabon anthology right now; I probably should hold my horses in buying a new paperback until I’ve finished this one.)

Ah, my life is so exciting! Sigh…

My Life: Brought To You By Microsoft Outlook

There are many things in life that are constant: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west; the northern star; love; growing old; the mockery of decaffeinated coffee. Time is also constant. There will always be twenty-four hours available to us in any given day. But, if everyone has the same allotment, why do I sometimes feel like I don’t have time?

I’ve read many books and have attended numerous seminars about time management. (Steven Covey’s “First Things First” was among my favorite reads.) I have used a variety of day planners and digital organizers for over two decades in an attempt to master time, but nothing seemed to have been fully effective. I’d even consulted with a “life coach” who taught me a system that allowed me to get closer at managing my time by usimg Microsoft Outlook religiously, scheduling everything from client meetings to phone calls to lunch breaks. It’s made me quite anal-retentive that my co-workers have wondered if I even scheduled my trips to the bathroom (which may not be such a bad idea at all). Yet I still go back to the same lamentation time and time again: I don’t have time!

Friends and relatives also seem to suffer from this affliction, especially those who are married and/or have kids. Suddenly, afterwork drinks, parties, and just plain get-togethers have become things of the past. Some even appear to have lost time for such things altogether. How does one lose time? And, why does it always seem to be easier to lose time than to find it?

The term “time management” is one of life’s greatest misnomers. No one can ever truly manage time as if it were an employee to boss around. I can’t ask time to slow down nor can I ask for more than my daily allotment. I can’t ask it to stop either; time moves forward whether I’m ready to move with it or not.

What I’ve learned is that it boils down to managing “priorities.” Everything one wants to accomplish in life has to do with the urgency and/or importance one places on them, prioritizing tasks that have a higher level of urgency and/or importance over those tasks that don’t. If I mosey over to Starbucks instead of going for a morning run, would it, therefore, result in my not having time for exercise? If I watch endless hours of TV instead of picking up a paperback, does it give credence to my complaint of not having enough time to read? Whatever one ends up accomplishing in any given day are results of conscious (as well as subconscious) decisions one makes based on priorities.

I wish I’d learned this truth two decades ago, when I began my adventures in time management, so that I would hopefully not be as Microsoft Outlook-dependent as I am these days. However, perhaps software such as Outlook will only get more effective and efficient in the future, and bring us closer to the perception of true time and priority management. But, as with all things, only time will tell.

November 2007
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