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I don't know what to make of "The Dark Knight Rises." A part of me wants to love, love, love it, just like the initial time I watched "The Dark Knight." But second thoughts turn into quibbling. Which turns into nitpicking. Which then becomes self-destructive.

Let's first be clear: Christopher and Jonathan Nolan have created a riveting comic book/superhero trilogy for the ages. Immensely brooding, hypnotic, engrossing. The Nolans' take on Batman is, as a whole, celluloid masterpiece. All three films are a perfect reflection of our present era of faint hope amid cynicism, discontent and bleakness. Each movie explored crucial philosophical themes.

But where we geeks and non-geeks alike reveled in the near-movie perfection that lies between "Batman Begins and "The Dark Knight," it's human nature for expectations to be raised way too high.

What have we really expected from "The Dark Knight Rises"? Something somehow more than "The Dark Knight?" Something that matches our love for all or specific arcs in the Batman comics past and present? Something that exceeds Heath Ledger's mesmerizing portrayal of The Joker?

It's not all that dissimilar from the range of emotions that many of us geeks held prior to the release of "The Phantom Menace." We had built up two whole decades worth of hopes, expectations and fanboy dreams in seeing what new technology-driven "Star Wars" world George Lucas could deliver in the digital era. Ultimately, aside from a few scenes of sheer joy in "Revenge of the Sith," the second "Star Wars" trilogy was a downer.

Here with "The Dark Knight Rises," we've had four years to digest what TDK gave us. Each teaser, rumor and interview brought us fans an equal amount of anxiety and excitement. A few days since my initial viewing, "The Dark Knight Rises" is a rousing, super-epic, unnerving, relentless finale to the Nolans' Batman trilogy. It caps one of the great film trilogies. It's grim, well-acted, bold, ambitious, awe-inspiring. It provides a decent send-off, if that is really the case, for our friends.

It also - not surprisingly - leaves things open to a fourth installment and/or possibly a link to a Justice League flick, which – given the way things are going with DC Comics movies lately – may not come for at least a decade.

Alas, enter the second thoughts, quibbling and nitpicking. For all the amazing set action pieces the Nolans have provided throughout the trilogy, there are a few moments of bewilderment -- yes, even for a comic book adaptation (beware spoilers):

* Wow, an armed three-month occupation of a major city by a small hodgepodge of armed criminals and hybrid Occupiers/self-proclaimed freedom fighters?

* None of Bane’s guys caught that camouflaged Batcopter atop the roof?

* The same siege that's essentially supposed to leave Gotham City to wither doesn't seem horrible, not when cops in hiding are still able to meet each other in daylight to lay out plans for insurrection. They seem fed and clothed. So does most of the remaining population. And hey, if the U.S. government can send in a relief convoy (occupied by Special Forces members) with relative ease, things can't be that bad.

*Did Bruce Wayne really have a terrible background check for his employers?

* Bruce Wayne is an injured recluse, is able to walk with a robotic leg brace, then gets his back, umm, bent (not broken) by Bane, and then is able to escape what is pretty much the Lazarus Pit, a brutal prison that only Bane is said to have escaped as a child?

I do assume Bruce Wayne, once he's financially wiped out, still has plenty of contacts and favors to cash in around the world. Otherwise, I'm not sure how he covertly returns to a Gotham City under siege, from India, in a matter of days after being literally broken and imprisoned for weeks. (A-ha! Superman or Green Lantern could've given him a lift to the states. There you go, DC and Warner Brothers. I just gave you a connection to big-screen Justice League.)

*John Blake instantly recognizes Bruce Wayne as Batman, when almost nobody else in Gotham City does for years? Dude is gonna make an excellent detective. Hell, he might make a better sidekick/successor to Batman. He should just go by his middle name, Robin.

Oh wait.

Sure we can, yes, quibble whether this would be Robin from the comics or a new creation by the Nolans – and perhaps a collective, subtle “screw you” to Warner Brothers. You decide.

Speaking of the ending, that too inspires great debate. Which film entry has the strongest final scene? Batman Begins finished with a flourish, with Jim Gordon and Batman discussing escalation in crime and alluding to The Joker arriving on the scene. The last scene in TDK was astonishing, the ultimate cliffhanger as Gordon talked of Batman being a dark knight, of being Batman being hunted down by the police. Geek giddiness. The end of TDKR almost spoils everything leading up to it.

And shall we mention a lot of the film's first half seems rather tedious - too tedious - in its build-up. I almost feel George Lucas could've inserted the banality of dialogue and plot contrivances from his newer "Star Wars" trilogy rather easily here.

I admit Tom Hardy breathes life - no pun intended - into a solid villain, Bane. It makes us almost forget the atrocity that was Bane of "Batman and Robin." By no means does he surpass Ledger's Joker. Anne Hathaway does a great job as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but she still remains below a slinkier performance by Michelle Pfeiffer in "Batman Returns."

However, Bane and Catwoman's true motivations and machinations are muddy at best. Their decisions and revelations seem, at times, rushed and oddly out of place. Perhaps the bigger challenge/problem for the Nolans was to include so many great, strong individual performances in a grand-scale finale. But that's a dilemma common to most trilogy finales. (See "Spider-man 3," "Return of the King" and "Return of the Jedi".)

 There are a few moments of levity in TDKR. Very few. Fewer than I expected. Of course, I knew this film would be just that, a film with a scattershot of worthy peers, larger than life. TDKR is the perfect foil to the lighter, more amusing superhero/comic book blockbusters this summer, "The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider-man." But like with Alfred the butler reaching his limit to which he's willing to see a self-sacrificing Bruce Wayne, the last of the family he's served and loved nearly all of his life, there's a limit of drab that TDKR breaches.

"The Dark Knight Rises" is a spectacular piece of movie-making and the Nolans and David Goyer are to be commended for bringing this iconic version of Batman to the big screen over the past seven years. But at the end of this "film," I still feel disconnected from the psychologically nightmarish world that Ra's al Ghul and The Joker attempted to bring to Gotham City in the previous two films. Near-near-perfection is what I'll have to settle for.

Additionally, I don't know what to make of the Superman teaser, "Man of Steel." Half of geeks want Zack Snyder to succeed; the other half wants him to flop on his face. There is a risk in having other DC Comics heroes "Nolan-rised," as seems to be the case with this reboot of the Clark Kent origin story. "Superman Returns" under Bryan Singer wasn't horrible. Not at all. But be patient: Maybe in a sense, "Man of Steel" will be this generation's "Superman the Movie.” It might be our "Batman Begins." We can only hope.

And now I've come to the hardest part of my blog. Talking about "The Dark Knight Rises" here makes me recall monitoring Twitter early on the night of July 20. Looking for remarks from anyone who had seen midnight showings of TDKR. But sleepiness fast took hold and off to bed I went. I woke up late in the morning, about 9 a.m. That's when I saw my best friend's text messages about what happened in Aurora, Colorado just a few hours prior.

I didn't know Jessica Ghawi well. I wish I had. I had only talked with her briefly a couple of times in person, more so on Twitter. I loved her unbridled love for hockey and her humor. I enjoyed listening to Jessica's adventures/misadventures as she interned on Ticket 760 radio. Her microphone mishap at a Rampage game entertained me to no end.

 That's one of the many things that family and friends remember best about Jessica: Her lust for life. Even in a moment of self-proclaimed silliness or embarrassment, Jessica shook it all off, carried on and learned from her mistakes. She smiled and laughed. She was serious about her professional and personal dreams, about wanting to help others. Her enthusiasm for life, friends, family and fun was infectious. A force of nature, if you will.

On a family trip, I missed the memorial service for Jessica last weekend here in San Antonio, but I caught bits and pieces thanks to online live streaming and later news recaps. Through those summaries and the interviews with her brave brother Jordan and pals who knew her best, in the hours and days following the tragedy, it's unfortunate I didn't have enough time to get to know Jessica better. I wish I had.

But Jessica's friends and family are correct: We don't dwell on the poor excuse for a human being who's taken away 13 innocent lives and destroyed so many families. We can't let win through fear. We instead celebrate the lives of those lost. I'm choosing to focus, like Jessica, on a pursuit of happiness in life. I aim to do my best to efficiently spend every waking moment trying to achieve my dreams, to help others in need and enjoy all that I can in this life. Hope you will, too.

"Prometheus" is a masterpiece -- in a parallel universe where Ridley Scott's grand ideas actually go somewhere, are fully realized and converge in a beautiful dark way similar to the climax scenes of "Alien," "Blade Runner and "Gladiator."

But we live in this universe, where Bruce Jenner's daughters inexplicably are celebrities, jhorts are a fashion statement and "Prometheus" is a good popcorn film. But it could've been so much better. Then you realize the plot holes that lie expose as large as gashes across the Grand Canyon.

I should've figured it was too much to expect that the long-rumored "Alien" prequel would finally be revealed in all of its gooey glory. Sure, there are lengthy, indirect connections between "Prometheus" and "Alien," as you'll see in the final scene. But don't call it a prequel. In fact, it'd be unfair to even try to compare the two. It seems that, to some extent, Ridley attempts to gives us a 21st century version of "Alien," Except that silence and shadows and compelling, strong, believeable characters were key in "Alien." You could view it today and little of its fright, its shock value, has worn off since 1979. The movie was organic, free-flowing and competent.

But with "Prometheus," Ridley had to tease us with questions about mankind's origins. I'm not surprised screenwriters Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof fills our heads with philosophical thoughts about who/what created human beings. Was it God? Was it some other intellectually, technologically superior creature eons ago elsewhere in the universe? And if it were the latter, what happened to them?

Not that I totally expected to receive a definitive answer, Ridley's version of "Chariots of the Gods," about advanced beings from long ago traveling across the universe, eventually planting humanity's seed on Earth, to what ends we wouldn't know. The problem, however, is "Prometheus" tries to be everything to everyone: A surprising, dark sci-fi/horror film with the highest production values; a metaphysical tale exploring the ultimate questions of existence; a commercialism vs. science vs. religion morality tale. Audacious, yes, but the movie falls flat at all levels in the second hour.

There's an absence of originality and consistent pacing. Plot holes and implausibilities increase in number. So much time is spent exploring a dark, temple-like "cavern" that turns out to be something else (OK, fine, I'll spare you a spoiler), but this dark, oily stuff that appears to be alive, teeming with mysterious organisms -- is this the impetus for the giant, slithery, murderous, acid blood-filled xenomorphs that Ridley and James Cameron introduced us to in "Alien" and "Aliens"? Who knows? I don't think the writers knew. The temple-like cavern? I'll say this much: Leave it to the ornery captain of the ship Prometheus to pretty much explain the fate of the so-called "engineers" of the human race. And suddenly, in one fail swoop, one scientists tasks him to stop the engineers and save Earth. 

Aside from inconsistencies in the story and screenwriting, and random actions with unclear motives, I'm disappointed in the lack of tension. The scientists neither sound nor act like scientists. That's particularly unnerving because they, along with a blue-collar piloting crew and a few hangers-on for security, are on a trillion-dollar corporation-led venture that is suppose to find the meaning of life on some planet light years away from Earth. 

The supposedly scary scenes? Some are gory but hardly shocking. And while it has an air of disbelief, perhaps the hardcore scene to receive some admiration is Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, the de facto heroine, who panics upon receiving news that she's pregnant -- with an alien fetus. And she's about to give birth right...about...oh wait! There's the newfangled plot device Dr. Shaw gushed over earlier in the movie, an otherwise cool do-it-yourself medical portal where she undergoes a very VERY fast C-section to extract her little bundle of squid.

Don't get me wrong. The special effects are wonderful, as they should be. Ridley Scott films are often visually arresting. The acting isn't bad. Noomi Rapace has come a long way in a short time, from antisocial cyberpunk Lisbeth Salander in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy to Dr. Shaw, who ultimately undergoes a semi-terrifying battle of wills and chills in the climax of "Prometheus." But by no means does Rapace's performance rival those of Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in the first two classic "Alien" films.

I expected more from the cold, detached corporate leader played by Charlize Theron. Her presence commands attention, and she does well, but is nearly wasted and is Idris Elba as the aforementioned ship captain. Perhaps the best performance comes from Michael Fassbender as David, the android. He's self-assured and emotes well with a mere flinch. He joins a small, exclusive family of solid android portrayals in previous "Alien" movies such as Ian Holm and Lance Henriksen. And Guy Peace as the really old multi-billionaire -- that's a mystery unto itself.  

But that's all there is. Methinks Spaihts, who gave us the craptastic "The Darkest Hour," provided the mostly uninspired action scenes. Of course, Lindelof of "Lost" fame probably provided the big philosophical ideas that eventually fall apart. "Prometheus" may be added to my private movie collection one day, but as filler, to kill two hours. It's, sadly, not the flick many of us thought we'd admire as the next great piece of intelligent sci-fi/horror cinema. 

A day before the domestic nationwide release of "The Avengers," Jason Stewart of The Jim Rome Show asked his Twitter followers why he, a 39-year-old guy, should go see it. The answer for me, a nearly 38-year-old, is simple. A good few non-geeks out there stereotype nerds as socially-inept, virgin, mouth-breathing, supposed geniuses who dwell in their parents' basements.

Fantasy and science fiction is just that -- escapism. A chance to dream of the incredible, to imagine the possibilities. It's fun. It's entertaining. Do I obsess over "Star Wars" or "A Game of Thrones" or whether DC or Marvel is the stronger of the comic book manufacturer, around the clock? Not at all.  But what a joy it is to escape my daily concerns -- a new house purchase in the works, family health matters, bills, job, cats' plans for world conquest -- by indulging in amazing tales of adventure, villainy and heroism.

This past weekend paid tribute to such an optimistic, fun-loving spirit that keeps alive the kid in each of us. This was the weekend, in early May, 35 years ago when the original "Star Wars" debuted. It was a game-changer in not only cinema but in popular culture. And it has been the weekend of Free Comic Book Day, a day for veteran comic book fans to celebrate this type of storytelling. It's a way to introduce the next generation to what we've enjoyed for years and decades.

Nothing wrong with staying young at heart. "The Avengers" shook my inner nerd/geek/child to the core. The entire experience of seeing the movie with my wife and friends at an advance midnight screening was the most fun I've had in a movie theater in quite awhile.

It was cathartic. Dozens of fellow fans and I squealed, yelled, cheered, cringed, suffered and laughed together. There was good reason for this kind of sustained reaction. "The Avengers" is that awesome. It doesn't matter that most of the people going to see "The Avengers," like my wife, have had until this point no real idea of the character backstories. Some of these moviegoers have never read a comic book, much less The Avengers or any of the individual members. Moviegoers realize something special has come before us.


It's amazing to see on screen what director/writer Joss Whedon has accomplished. It's astonishing to see what Marvel Comics and Paramount have pulled off in building up fans' hopes and dreams with the "Iron Man," "Captain America" and "Thor" movies, leading up to this moment. One silently screams in awe, "Oh my God, there's an 'Avengers' movie on the big screen. It's big budget, larger than life and it exists in my lifetime."


Whedon did well to exploit the flaws of each character early on in the "assembly" phase of things. The ego-driven bickering and arguments among Banner, Stark, Fury, Thor, Rogers and Romanova aboard the hellicarrier (which I want for Christmas, by the way) was a slow slimmer, a terrific build-up to Hawkeye's attack on the ship, which unleashes all sorts of beautiful mayhem.


We fans could nitpick all we want in story development and casting, but I found it pitch perfect. At this point in time, I can't imagine anyone else but Robert Downey Jr. bringing Tony Stark to life with such a devil-may-care attitude and scientific brilliance, where lines flow out of his mouth effortlessly. Chris Evans puts his firm mark as Steve Rogers. When Iron Man defers to Captain America in the insane final battle, you'd feel warm and fuzzy, too. Rogers was destined to be a leader on the battlefield: Brave, loyal, sturdy, straightforward.


Chris Hemsworth may have come from out of nowhere these last few years in American  cinema, but HE IS Thor through and through. And Tom Hiddleston perhaps has the most fun of anyone as Thor's mischief-making brother, Loki. He hams it up with a devious smile and a gleam in his eye. When Thor and Loki argue about the latter's desire to rule a race of people, Whedon deftly applies a human and philosophical touch to the proceedings. Since the comic Thor and Loki are based on mythical figures in our "real" ancient history, it's fitting these two demigods would argue in an forest at night, about their troubled kinship on Asgard and mankind's apparent hidden need to be subjugated.


It's a shame the previous two standalone Hulk movies have not lived up to the hype. I can't explain exactly why. We all have our theories. But I know this much: Mark Ruffalo dominates as Banner this time around. He channels Bill Bixby's tormented, fidgety Banner from the TV show better than Eric Bana or Edward Norton could ever hope to do.


Even the CGI'd Hulk, this time around, is the best adaptation yet. Banner and Hulk are slowly, surely, learning to co-exist. When Banner quips toward the end, "I'm always angry," you can't help but smile and Hulk/Banner's universe makes more sense. And when Hulk beats the tarnation out of Loki, you can't help but cheer and laugh. Everybody in the theater did.


Whedon is known for highlighting kick-ass heroines. He did Scarlett Johansson and her Black Widow justice compared with her bit role in "Iron Man 2." She has her moments of glory in battle, to be sure, but her psychological battles are more impressive. Romanova sharing the pain of her bloody past with Jeremy Renner's Clint Barton/Hawkeye, also, was key. It balanced the otherwise sheer fun, colorful excitement. Whedon was great in how much attention he paid to each hero, but it wasn't at the expense of the total package.


Alas, this was a true Avengers movie, not a SHIELD flick. Samuel L. Jackson is his usual self as Nick Fury, but maybe played down a tad from the previous lead-in movies. Clark Gregg had his moment to shine as Agent Phil Coulson as did Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill. (OK, she got the short end of the stick here, but methinks she'll be higher profile in the sequel.) Even Stellan Skarsgard had nifty moments as Dr. Selvig.


If there's any real letdown, for lack of a better term, it's Loki's rented alien army, the Chitari (which to some extent, are Skrulls). Sure, they're a plot device. When it's time for them to attack Earth via New York, the battle could've been more epicer. Epicier? The army seems overwhelming, but nothing Earth's mightiest heroes - after they've finally put aside their differences - couldn't handle within a relatively compact piece of Manhattan real estate.


Ultimately, Whedon achieves what many thought was impossible -- assembling prime time comic book, heavyweight superheroes in a sprawling epic. But not one is larger than the moment. The heroes complement each other with help from Whedon's strong, smart script. The movie is fast-paced, humorous, adventurous, brilliant.
There's technobabble, but it's so quick that the viewer isn't hit over the head and made to feel stupid. There's a hint of tragedy, but so maddeningly sad. Even the post-credit scenes...well, I won't give anything away, but one makes comic book fans sit in awe to think of the fun yet to come. The other scene, simply, is a hilarious throwaway gag, but it's worth the stay.


Another shortcoming is the music. Yes, lately theme music in most superhero movies have lacked the gravitas of the original "Superman" movies or even Tim Burton's "Batman" flicks. Nothing terribly memorable here. Not even the new song from the reformed Soundgarden. Gotta do better than that, Chris Cornell and company. All the geek exuberance contained in Whedon's past works - "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Firefly," "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog," "The Cabin in the Woods" (I'll be honest: meh on "Dollhouse") - is present in "The Avengers." This is how a superhero/comic book hero movie should be done. If possible, the right characters can be brought to life in a big, splashy way, in the right hands.


Is it right to compare "The Avengers" with "The Dark Knight"? No, it's apples to oranges. Can't and mustn't be done. Christopher Nolan's vision via Frank Miller has been a perfect way to tell Bruce Wayne's Batman story. Is it right to call "The Avengers" a game-changer, perhaps "Star Wars" for our generation? Too soon to tell.


Is it greedy for me to wonder what this "Avengers" film could've been with Spider-man, Wolverine, Ant-Man and Wasp, possibly any of the Fantastic Four, dropping in to take their shots at Loki and his army? A nerd can dream.
"The Avengers," big budget as it is, stands out as my top geek film of 2012, albeit with close competition from the Whedon-produced "Cabin in the Woods" and "Chronicle."


But three things are for sure: One, I don't know how DC Comics and Warner Brothers could ever hope to get their stuff straight and mount an equally triumphant Justice League of America, big-screen movie, in our lifetime. Two: "The Avengers" -- as in secret agents Emma Peel and John Steed from the lovely '60s TV series turned failed '90s movie -- could we try and do better on that? Three: I can't wait to see "The Avengers" at the theater again. Me and repeat viewings at the cinema don't happen very often except for special occasions. Thanks, Joss Whedon, this is indeed special. My inner child is smiling.

So here we are - my favorite time of year. It's not because this is a time of reflection upon the year past or a time to pour out your heart in a season of giving, cheer, f amily togetherness, lights, trees, decorations and holiday tradition. It's because I have now a perfectly good excuse to revel in excess of holiday parties -- office potlucks, house shindigs, perhaps being a guest to a full-on corporate bash, which I hear still exists in some quarters.

No, rather I get to double-up on "special" hot chocolate and essentially empty my supply of Bailey's Irish Cream and Kahlua in eggnog. The pies! Look at all the pies! Look at the tamales! IHOP provides reason No. 2,742 why the terrorists hate us -- all-you-can-eat gingerbread pancakes.

There's countless airings of traditional holiday flicks such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "Miracle on 34th Street" and "A Christmas Story" paired with newer classics such as "Bad Santa," "Scrooged" and "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." Or if you're feeling really cinematically adventurous, check out "newer" holiday classics such as "Die Hard" (the original and first sequel), "Gremlins" and the original "Lethal Weapon." Nothing says ho-ho-ho like gunning for European terrorists (oh, sorry, Hans Gruber...high-class thieves), a Mogwai's malevolent offspring and drug dealers. You're not livin' the yuletide festivus mood until you've seen Christmas episodes of "The Boondocks," "Moral Orel," "Metalocalypse" or "Futurama." (Gracias mainly to Cartoon Network and Adult Swim!)

Traditional holiday tunes are on a loop. You can have your "Jingle Bells," "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and "White Christmas." I'll happily take "Santa Claus and His Ol' Lady," the McKenzie brothers' "The 12 Days of Christmas," "There's Something Stuck Up in the Chimney" and "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

You're practically encouraged to dress up your friends and loved ones -- two- and four-legged -- in ill-advised outfits (pictured). Shiner Bock's seasonal Shiner Cheer. A craving to consume mead. And best of all this year? As of today we're 364 days left. For everything and anything. Then the calendar of the ancient Mayans (they who knew what was up and what time it was) will end in a cataclysmic orgy of volcanic eruptions, massive tsunamis, subduction of the Earth's crust and general dismay and disenchantment worldwide. It's safe to assume that not event John Cusack in a speeding limo or RV won't be able to save us all.

Until the end of the world -- Merry/Feliz/Happy Christmas/Navidad/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Solstice and enjoy 2012 -- all 355 days of it.

I was correct! I got at least one chance to blog by the holidays. More like remembered I have a semblance of a blog. Not much to report at Casa Ortiz/Wallen except for the warm fuzzies Mindy and I felt watching "The Muppets. According to social media, we're not alone, waxing nostalgic about a weekly TV show that many of us Gen Xers adored and a few Gen Yers have seen in syndication or by other second-hand means.

 

Memories of Muppets movies past - the good and mediocre ones - cascaded over us. Random visual cues made me giddy like a little gurl: A Kermit the Frog wristwatch (you remember wristwatches, right?). I had that as a kid. A stuffed Kermit the Frog. (I had that, too.) The disco dance floor and screen frame for Amy Adams' diner song. And of course, "Rainbow Connection." It helped that a fervent fan Jason Segel co-wrote the script. The musical numbers and overall writing, for the most part, are fun and clever enough to help established fans reconnect with the past and to link newcomers, raised on YouTube and Radio Disney, with a once proud franchise. The joy of seeing seemingly pre-destined Muppets toiling in their post-"Muppets Show" real-lives.

 

I don't pretend that the Muppets' voices and characterizations are a little "off." After all these years, why wouldn't they be? Today's Muppets are Jim Henson's enduring legacy; they aren't the original Muppets I worshipped in the late '70s and early '80s. The cameos - also bridging the generation gap - work. The plot for this particular "re-imagining" of a classic franchise succeeds. We could debate the particulars -- whether there was too little of the adults or too much of them -- all we want. But "The Muppets" met my and Mindy's expectations of revisiting a wonderful part of our childhood in such an entertaining manner.

 

The rest of Thanksgiving weekend was pretty easy-going — separate fulfilling meals with Mindy's family and my family. (Tamales and ham got into the mix.) There was the miracle of the Longhorns and Cowboys winning the same day. The rest of the time was spent merely lounging around the house, watching sports and staying practically glued to my chair while fighting any remote temptation of exercising or checking work email. (OK, I lie. I did check my work email on my mini-staycation. You thought I went to the gym on Turkey Day weekend - ha! You know that's unpossible!) Inevitably, so much holiday weekend time spent at home meant I was exposed to the daredevil spirit constantly displayed by our felines, such as Tubby the cat.

 

I also can’t forget a San Antonio College mass communications student named Stephanie who interviewed me just prior to Thanksgiving, at the office, as part of her class assignment. Ah yes, I recall that SAC mass comm assignment — interview a local professional journalist. For my assignment, I dressed up (as if I were going in for an actual job), went to WOAI radio and interviewed a reporter. Jim Forsyth, if I’m not mistaken. Can’t remember, it was 20,000 years ago. Comparatively speaking, Stephanie did great. She was well prepared, articulate, had plenty of questions/follow-up queries and I gave her probably way too much info. Funny. I’m a soft-spoken, social wallflower, but actually talk to me for a few minutes and, before you know, it can’t stop gabbing. Well, that or an adult beverage or 3.

 

But perhaps the best part of my chat with Stephanie, beyond the obligatory media industry takes and advice, was anecdotal. I shared with her how so greatly enjoyed co-creating the San Antonio Scene alternative newspaper. (A-ha, a few of you locals perhaps saw our attempted challenge to the S.A. Current, lying on a newspaper rack somewhere around town.) Journalisting friends Raul and Martin (along with pals Diosdado and Daniel) and I produced a few issues on a shoestring budget, from our own homes, over the course of a year. It flamed out gloriously and I’m still in debt from that endeavor. But it continues to rank among the most fun profession-oriented activities in which I’ve ever been a part. I miss you, San Antonio Scene, vaya con Dios!

 

Stephanie’s interview also sparked another heartworming childhood memory, which actually makes things here come full circle. (You’ll see in a second.) The student asked when and how writing and journalism may have first entered my life. At age 10, I was an information junkie. At that time, being an info junkie – for me – was having my mother buy subscriptions to Astronomy and Time magazines. You read right…I SUBSCRIBED to Astronomy and Time at age 10. It was pouring through BOTH of San Antonio’s metro dailies. (Ours was a S.A. Light familia). It was reading copies of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics that my grandfather had stacked near his living room recliner. It was viewing the Weather Channel’s Atari-like radar screens and weather maps and the greatness that was the original CNN Headline News, when they actually had 30 minutes of national and world news around the clock, not the tabloid- and pundit-laden crap “HLN” has now. A shell of its former self. A shame.

 

But also at that age, while I didn’t literally envision myself being a future journalist, the way newspapers were produced piqued my curiosity. So much so that I asked my aunt Yolie, who worked at a paper company, to bring me home reams of dot matrix computer people (two sheets together roughly equaled the size of that era’s broadsheet newspaper page. I cut out pictures and articles from the Light, pasted them on differently sectioned “pages” of my “newspaper,” applied markers in different colors to various pages and – voila – I had my own “newspaper.” I had my own masthead, but sure, another publication’s copy and artwork. Somewhere in a closet at original Casa Ortiz lie Polaroids of me proudly showing off my mock dot matrix sheet newspaper. One of those pasted stories featured -­ you guessed it – The Muppets.

 

The more things change, you know the rest.

I've again fallen behind on my cinematic reviews. But to recap my late summer viewings, I enjoyed "Captain America" and "Cowboys and Aliens" more than I expected, more than what others should've anticipated. I joined the growing chorus of individuals who see "Captain America" as the best comic book film adaptation this year, not some gaudy, action-bloated romp. Plus it provides a fun link (along with the end credits trailer) to next year's release of "The Avengers." "Cowboys and Aliens," meanwhile was a thrilling adaptation of the graphic novel -- a risky hybrid that understandably could turn off a variety of Western fans and sci-fi geeks. But the movie somehow works. It's disappointing yet not shocking it didn't get bigger box office returns.

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes," too, was better than I had hoped but it also stopped short of epic. It nearly wiped out the nasty taste in everyone's mouths left by Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake, and ROTPOTA also gives well-intentioned nods to the classic flicks. If you can get past the wooden lead acting performances, you find a compelling albeit unoriginal story of man's attempt to overcome and even control nature. Yet, the movie's climactic action piece feels rush and incomplete, even with the reveal through the end credits of how mankind finally gives way to simian rule on Earth.

As for "Contagion," I'm relieved to report it isn't a loose remake of "Outbreak." It's a quality thriller for our times, reflecting fears of how an infectious virus could easily become a global plague. Director Steven Soderbergh seamlessly weaves points of view of various characters, portrayed by an all-star case, together into a not-so-sentimental story of human survival. It's neither brilliant nor tremendously provocative, but serves as passable entertainment.

Late summer television-watching has been topsy-turvy. The fourth season of "True Blood," coming to an end, has been a wild, wacky ride, one that makes me guess what kind of fabled supernatural "villain" could next become the focus of a whole new season of episodes. Vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, fairies, and now, witches and mediums. Whatever dangerous charms of vampirism from the first 2 seasons have faded into the background, used more now as plot devices. Hopefully the fifth season will feature a bit more focused story development.

Oh, how I really wanted to love "Torchwood: Miracle Day." (Spoiler alert!) From the get-go, it was a difficult task to top the previous "series" of "Torchwood." "Children of Earth" was so immensely badass. The minute it was reported that Americans and the Starz Channel would anchor a new season of "Torchwood," I'm sure many of us fans had our doubts. Indeed, whatever beautiful "Britishness" the show has died a slow death. It was a contrived mess, all told, with some troubling performances (I'm looking at you, Bill Pullman and Lauren Ambrose) and weirder guest star casting (Mare Winningham? Wayne Knight? Frances Fisher?)

Away from BBC's supervision, the Americanized "Torchwood" went with some uninspired subplots, lame attempts at humor and, shockingly, full-on sex scenes. And we're talking man on man action. We knew about Captain Jack Harkness' preferences and have seen tiny bits of his flirtatious demonstrations, but never did I imagine seeing him go at it with a guy. Not once but twice. Whoa, nelly.

It's too bad. "Miracle Day" held a philosophically intriguing premise -- what if everyone on Earth simply, inexplicably, stopped dying one day? People "dying" would have to be categorized, quarantined in some way and even "dealt with eventually." A new layer of bureaucracy had to be developed. There'd be no more murder or suicide. As the population grew, there'd be a run on basic resources across the world, from food and water to medicine. Religions would have to rethink their concept of death and the beyond.

While Jack and Gwen Cooper got to kick some ass, they got sucked into American machismo realized by CIA agents. They also got sucked into this narrative storyline reflecting modern-day concerns about government and capitalism run amok. As one Twitterer commented: "Imagine you want to make a sci-fi show, yeah! Imagine nobody dies anymore, yeah! Imagine a mysterious, malevolent corporation being responsible for it all, yeah!"

And alas, thanks to roughly 15-20 minutes of deux es machina in the final episode, all was explained and it wasn't a mere mysterious, malevolent corporation behind "Miracle Day." But it wasn't an extraterrestrial nor supernatural thing responsible for it, neither. In fact, nobody -- not even the writers -- could explain or destroy it. The nefarious subplots featured in the earlier episodes made more non-sense in the end. I'm still a "Torchwood" fan, but unless BBC takes it back totally under its control, I fear for its future. (OK, end spoiler alert.)

Now that "True Blood" and "Torchwood" are concluding for another year, I look forward to new episodes of "Boardwalk Empire," "Squidbillies," "South Park," "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," "Superjail," "Archer," and the usual Sunday night Fox fare. I'm waiting for "Doctor Who" to really ramp things up during its remaining few episodes in 2011, and I applaud "Futurama," "Wilfred" and "Death Valley," The latter two shows, particularly, are so overwhelmingly "wrong" yet hilarious in their execution.

Regarding new shows on the broadcast networks, I may give "Terra Nova" and "Persons of Interest" a try, but I've been burned the last couple of years by "FastForward" and the "V" reboot, so I may just have to lean only on "Fringe" for broadcast network non-cartoon TV entertainment this fall/winter. Additionally, I'm steering clear on the broadcast network's efforts to rip of "Mad Men," namely "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club." If you need "Mad Men," just wait for its return in a few months after AMC rolls out a new season of "The Walking Dead." Be patient. A new season of soul-deadening Don Draper will be here before you know it.

I know you're busy today. Church. House chores. The first Sunday of the NFL season (i.e.The Campaign for Indifference in 2011 for Dallas Cowboys fans.). And I'm sure many of you are observing this historic day. Maybe a friend or loved one or colleague died on September 11, 2001. Perhaps you know of someone directly impacted by that day's happenings. Maybe you weren't affected but feel heartened by all that took place on that fateful Tuesday.

What today really means. What does it mean to you? I'll spare you the mushiness. It is simply for me, above all else, about appreciating what I have in front of me. Life. I woke up at a decent hour on the morning of September 11, 2001, but was literally oblivious to the world while I showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, read the paper and prepared for another typical long Tuesday at the office. I hadn't turned on the TV or radio. I hadn't checked my email yet. It was a crisp, beautiful morning here in San Antonio, blue skies, really couldn't have been any better weather-wise.

Then my cell phone went off. The number came in from my family's house. At that time, I was apprehensive anytime I got a call or email from my family's house here in town. I was cynical enough to think any such call or email would be about my mom or grandfather or some other close immediate family member being sick -- sick enough suddenly to warrant a trip to the ER. My mother, specifically, was a diabetic, dealing with circulation problems in her legs, arthritis and anxiety (she had been a manic depressive). Upon answering the phone, I heard my mother. She was inconsolable.

"They're bombing the World Trade Center," she cried. I thought to myself, "Who? Why? How? What's this? Is she exaggerating something?" This self-proclaimed news junkie had absolutely no clue what was happening that morning until maybe 9:30 local time. I turned on the TV. To show the gravity of the situation, no matter what station I flipped onto, the images were the same. Giant columns of smoke rising from Manhattan Island. Both towers had already collapsed. Firefighters were tending to the Pentagon. Cable TV news screen crawls had already become permanent fixtures. I pulled out blank videotapes and just began recording away, thinking...who knows what I was thinking then.

I drove to my family's home to see my loved ones. It was there for the first time I heard someone - my grandfather - utter the words "this is worse than Pearl Harbor." One of my aunts thought maybe this was the start of World War III. My mother lay in bed, still sobbing in a dark room. I told her everything would be fine. I did my best, as a loyal, loving son, to console my mother. We didn't know anyone who died that day. We really had no personal connection to it. But seeing the tears in my mom's eyes, I knew that something horrendous beyond scope had taken place and shook us all to our very core. I told my mom the people who truly loved her were still here on Earth with her and that, despite the attacks, we'd be fine. We, as a family, would be together strong and well.

I worked a long day and night helping to lay out the newspaper while monitoring the pre-social media Internet and whatever televised news I could find on the job. Once I got home that night, around midnight, I collapsed onto the floor and cried. Don't know why, really. Maybe I felt there was a need to sob with everyone else in the world.

I went outside briefly, sat on my porch and looked up into the night sky. I figured tomorrow, September 12, was another day. Mindy and I traveled to the northeast three summers ago, including a few days in New York where we briefly visited Ground Zero, where work crews were then busy prepping the solemn site for new construction. We reflected on the place, the remnants of a true American landmark. It was a cathartic experience.

Whereas 3,000 people who had plans with their families and friends and jobs September 10 no longer existed, the rest of us remaining on Earth have had to carry on and make the best of our lives. To love and find purpose in this world. To ensure that the level of hatred which drove the terrorists can never surpass our capacity for love, compassion and understanding. Some things have changed the past 10 years. What makes us positively human, for the better, haven’t.

That's all the seasonal blog updates for now. Peace out, amigos.

“We’ll kill all of them.” It’s a line, asserted so assuredly by a pissed-off Optimus Prime, in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon, that makes geek fans go giddy. Considering everything that typically goes into a Michael Bay movie, maybe perhaps for once, we have not a perfect “Transformers” film, but a good one. Way, way - there’s no other way but up – better than “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and possibly on the verge of topping the original.

Of course, this has never been about character development, scripting or story line. (However, model Rosie Huntington-Whitely is considerably a marginal improvement over Megan Fox as the hottie by Shia LaBeauf’s side. (Hell, drywall would be an improvement over Megan Fox in the “acting” department.)

This is about special effects. This is about blowing up stuff real good. This is about all sorts of Autobots and Decepticons in an Earth-based battle of apocalyptic proportions. Humans die left and right to a greater extent in “Dark of the Moon” than in the previous two flicks. Los Angeles and New York get some bumps and bruises in the first two movies. Here, Washington D.C. and, especially Chicago, one of my favorite towns, gets destroyed up and down like nobody’s business. And visually, it’s rather epic.

With all the Autobots about to die, with Sam, his girlfriend this round, Epps and Lennox in perhaps the worst peril they’ve ever been in, and with all Earth hanging in the balance, there’s finally a darker, more thrilling aspect of cinematic “Transformers” in Part 3 than Bay and Steven Spielberg brought to the table in Parts 1 and 2.

Seeing that this perhaps Bay’s final “Transformers” movie as a director (too bad not his final, final movie ever), it’s a neat little sendoff.  Is my ‘80s childhood for the better after seeing Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy. Not necessarily, but to some certain degree, Bay redeemed himself from the carelessness of Part 2.

Now he’s free to make “Bad Boys 3.” Good luck with that.

So this is what it feels like to be 21. Ok fine. Barely 30. Alright, alright. 37. A few weeks into this age...now wholly into a markedly different age bracket... your must be curious as to whether I truly am that much closer to being perennially cranky. Whether I'm wearing nothing but jumpsuits and sneakers 6 days a week. Whether I'm shouting for kids to "get off my lawn!” even if said kids have neither a connection to me nor are playing on a lawn. I don't even have a lawn.

But never fear. I strive to maintain a careful balance between maturity, "acting my age" (whatever that really means), and preserving some semblance of a youthful, playful outlook on life. Sure, I'm still snarky. But I'm that way out of love. That's how my sense of humor rolls. I'm also learning to be a husband and step dad. I'm learning to better embrace my career. I'm learning to better envision an even brighter version of my future and that of my family. But I also strongly retain my inner geek, one that joyously holds dear a vibrant sense of nostalgia, and a continuing desire to envision an exciting array of life's possibilities.

Except for the part where last week, thanks to Craigslist, I sold off a gigantic chunk of sports cards -- 20,000 of them --- which I had accumulated mainly in my middle and high school years. I also recently sold off my remaining old-school Atari-era games. How old school? We're talking not just classic Missile Command, Pac-Man, Space Invaders or Pitfall, but Yars Revenge, Combat, Barnstorming, Haunted House and, inexplicably, two copies of Megaforce, based on one of the genuinely terrifically bad - no, horrendous - action flicks of the early '80s of the same name. Oh how I fondly remember going with my mom and aunt to Sears to get cartridges for my Atari 2600 system in the early '80s. Oh how I cried endlessly after selling off my sports cards and video games last week.

Funny that Mindy, one night out a few weeks ago, couldn't exactly recall how long she and I have known each other. Come this September, it will be five years. Five of the greatest years of my life - so far, of course =) It wasn't long before I Mindy that I experienced several personal "jolts," including the death of my mother and almost losing my cat Topaz to a sudden illness. Being with Mindy -- this first marriage and instantly becoming a stepfather -- is grand life-affirming event. I guess you could say the fun is just beginning. My bucket list is expanding by volumes. Speaking of my inner geek being alive and well, I'm doing my best to keep track of Hollywood popcorn cinema. I'll spear you detailed, meandering individual reviews of films you've already seen for yourselves (in some cases, weeks or months ago) or even reviewed to marvelous ultra-snarky effect. So, here are my bullet-point reviews:

High scores for "X-Men: First Class," "Thor” and "Super 8." Director Matthew Vaughn's previous films "Layer Cake" and "Kick-Ass" were superb, so in that vein and by comparison, "First Class" was a vast improvement over "X-Men: The Last Stand" and "X-Men Origins: Wolverine." After all, we're kinda pretending those last two movies didn't happen. Like, you know, Superman 3 and 4. Comics-to-cinema-continuity be damned! However it was fun to see Kevin Bacon chewing up scenery as Sebastian Shaw, Michael Fassbender and James MacAvoy submit entertaining turns as young Eric Lensherr and Charles Xavier, Jennifer Lawrence making feel tingly as Raven Darkholme, and January Jones basically channeling Betty Draper in her performance as Emma Frost.

"Thor," ultimately was a fun popcorn comic adaptation. Not one of the greatest ever, but definitely not polarizing like the “Hulk” or “Fantastic Four” franchises or “Daredevil” or “Ghost Rider.” Definitely not on par with the likes of “Jonah Hex” nor “Elektra” or “Catwoman.” It's a nice set-up for next year's "The Avengers" and is serviceable as a standalone, big-screen introduction for audiences not so familiar with the source material. I'm a bit biased, being a Kenneth Branagh fan (sans the "Wild Wild West" misadventure), but he brought his epic Shakespearean touch to bear upon the specific set pieces exhibiting Thor's arrogance, Loki's scheming and a gamble to make Thor powerless in his descent to Earth. It works for the most part. It's entertaining for the most part. The acting is good as can be expected from such grandiose mainstream comic adaptations nowadays, although Tom Hiddleston was a solid winner as Loki, and doesn't Jeremy Renner's shadowy preview of Hawkeye send a few shivers up your spine? It had better. And it all makes up for the lack of chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman.

Amazing some of reviewer comments out there about "Super 8" -- that it was unoriginal. That it was overly melodramatic. Maybe a little whiny. You got the memo, right? It's homage! It's a J.J. Abrams' tribute to Spielbergian films (and similar family sci-fi fantasy) of the late 70s and early-mid 80s, perhaps a mini-golden era for us Gen X geeks. Don't deny having gotten warm fuzzies when E.T. bid farewell to Elliott. Or when Richard Dreyfuss boarded the mother ship. Or when Steve and Diane Freiling went into the light, fought noisy ghosts and yanked their Carol Anne from lost, bitter souls. You thought it was actually awesome when The Goonies, despite all their arguing and inanity, actually did all that crazy, heroic stuff. You thought it was cool when Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix and the other kid soared above suburbia to another part of the galaxy in an instant in their homemade spaceship. Queue the inspirational John Williams scores. All of them. Some people love Abrams. Some hate him. (Ok, the guy trip me up a few times with "Mission: Impossible III" and several episodes of "Lost.") Having said all that, you can't help but be mostly and positively nostalgic with "Super 8." Sure, it has flaws. What films don't nowadays? All things considered, the acting is pretty on par (particularly Joel Courtney and Dakota Fanning's sister Elle), the special effects are sound, the geek and era references are fun to point out (i.e. Dick Smith's monster makeup handbook, zombies via the Romero corporation, the Space Shuttle interior poster, overnight photo development), and -- oh my -- lens flares. Glorious lens flares!

"The Hangover, Part 2” -- I'm still on the fence about this. As hard as it was to envision how such a sequel could ever hope to top its predecessor, there’s the desire to actually like or even love it. I liked “Hangover Part 2.” Didn’t love it. Of course, it’s exactly the same format as the original flick. We knew that going in. But expectations went up. Like they did when filming for “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” kicked off. And there’s the curiosity factor, to see what hugely over-the-top antics these man-boys could find themselves in. Questions arise in your mind. Would such antics be as funny if not funnier? Would such antics garner the coveted title of “oh so wrong yet oh so irresistibly hilarious”? Would such antics be as polarizing as those in the first movie, if not more? After one viewing of the sequel, I could safely say it’s equally funny and entertaining, but not as satisfying. I’ll wait for the DVD extras and make up my mind then.

My mid-level rating for “Bridesmaids” is rising as time goes along. I’m a fan of Kristen Wiig. Her “Saturday Night Live” work aside, Kristen’s turn in “Knocked Up” was among the top 10 funniest things in that movie, and I took a liking to her characters in “Whip It” and “Extract.” And who wouldn’t be a fan of Maya Rudolph? Responding to comments by other reviewers…yes, “Bridesmaids” is cliched, but it wasn’t meant to be strictly a “The Hangover” for women. It’s how you deal with such cliched characters and elements, and Wiig, as the script writer, did well. With help from producer Judd Apatow, “Bridesmaids” turned out to be a full-on adult comedy with a heart, occasionally bordering on the raunchy but never explicitly crossing the line.

“Green Lantern,” to me, is harder to accept than Thor. It’s not dreadful nor is it great. It’s just there. It is difficult to adapt more than 50 years of comics into a two-hour, introductory mainstream flick. You’re torn between fanboys who desire pure translation, and an audience that is either mostly unfamiliar with the source material or has little patience for the most fantastical elements of the comic books. This movie is, essentially, a very loose adaptation of the Green Lantern: Secret Origin series. Ryan Reynolds looks the part of Hal Jordan (probably just as much as Kyle Rayner, but that’s another story). Mark Strong very much looks and sounds the part of Sinestro, perhaps the film’s strongest adapted character. The planet Oa looks just as CGI-astonishing as Asgard does in “Thor.” But Blake Lively adds little to the proceedings as Carol Ferris, and Peter Saargard’s Hector Hammond, just like in the comics, is a wasted quasi-villain. And suddenly it hits me how the Guardians of Oa and the film version of Parallax look like the titular character from “Megamind.” (Haw haw.) Don’t get me wrong. At times, “Green Lantern” looks like a truly comic bookish adaptation – colorful, swift with shreds of cheese thrown in for good measure.” But even as an introductory comic book movie, it leaves me neither overwhelmed nor excited.

Regardless, all of these summer flicks – in addition to catching up with the terrific the maybe-it’s-not-totally-a street art documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” Joaquin Phoenix's inexplicable "I'm Still Here" and the adequately fun popcorn flicks “The Losers,” “Red” and “The A-Team” – have given me the strength to get past the gaudiness and excess that apparently pervade “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” What, no “Pirates 4” review? Nope. I survived the previous three movies with half-interest, waiting to see two of them on DVD/pay-per-view. I can wait a little longer to see “On Stranger Tides.” Amazing how producer Jerry Bruckheimer managed to enthrall movie-goers with a cinematic mythology based on a Disney amusement park ride. But outside of Johnny Depp’s performances, I couldn’t fully embrace this franchise. What, no recap for “Cars 2”? Nah. The first movie didn’t do anything for me. But call me if Disney and Pixar commit to a sequel (or even prequel) to “The Incredibles.”

As far as television geekdom goes, I’m settling in for another off-the-walls season of “True Blood” and trying to give “Falling Skies” a serious chance. Can’t wait for the Doctor Who fall season premiere, teased in the spring season finale with the glorious title “Let’s Kill Hitler!” And I grow more cautious with Starz’s Americanized version of “Torchwood.” While I’m anxious to take my step kids Cody and Emily to see “Transformers,” "Cowboys and Aliens" and “Captain America” on the big screen after their return to S.A. this coming weekend, I’m looking equally forward to the inanity of “Horrible Bosses” and “The Change-Up” (sorry, kiddos, those aren’t for you). The “Fright Night” remake? Ehh, ummm, someone may need to hit me from behind with a blunt object and drag me there. I don’t have a problem with the basic idea of David Tennant being a great vampire hunter, but he’s miles and miles from Roddy McDowell’s epic performance in the original. Not that I need to get into it here with this “need” to further ruin our collective childhoods with remakes/reboots of 1980s flicks. That’s another blog altogether.

Speaking of which, apologies for the infrequent blog updates. I shall endeavor to conjure up mid-to-late summer cinema reviews. Otherwise, my next full-blown blog update won’t come out until the winter solstice, at this rate. So whether it is catching The Spazmatics in a Rackspace concert or celebrating my dog Dixie’s 18th (you read right) birthday, it’s been a milestone yet fast-paced spring and early summer. Can’t wait to see what the rest of this summer has in store. Only at that time would it be prudent to expedite preparations for the end of the Mayan calendar.

Man, the end of March and this is, what, my first blog of 2009? How disappointed all your faithful readers must be. All three of you. So much to say, yet not enough time or energy to elaborate. So here's a scattering of thoughts... * It is a curious feeling to have survived a round of massive layoffs at a newspaper company. While very fortunate for the time being, there is pain and remembrance for those who were forced out and a sobering reminder of how our once-vibrant industry was. I've always considered myself lucky to be doing what I love and be paid for it (well, some there is a relative semblance of compensation ;-) I am not naive to not realize what stubborn perils and outdated business models have brought newspapers and magazines to the breaking point (and total death for some that have been around for more than 100 years). But to say print periodicals are a thing of the past is, too, myopic and ignorant. For your consideration: The Canmore Leader in Alberta, Canada ran a story about the industry's state, poking holes in the theory that the Web is the only way to go nowadays. "The ad revenue scenario no longer only applies to print publications, the 'State of the News Media' reports says. Ad revenues for online publications were down 48 per cent in 2008," the Leader article stated. The article goes onto the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which just closed as a print paper and went totally online: Very little original reporting is online and not much professional/objective reporting is done for the Web. The Leader story continues: "Supporters of community journalism can find a seed of hope and should know that they are the backbone of a cure. The results of a recent Globe and Mail online poll suggest that readers care. Around 10,000 people, 72 per cent of those polled, said itís important to have local newspapers. Only 10 per cent said, 'No, I donít read my local paper.' Only 18 percent said, ďNo, online media can fill the gap.Ē It didn't help matters that, as a David Sirota column explains, money-bleeding newspapers cut down on strong local reporting - the key to garnering and maintaining loyal audiences - in favor of cheaper national "news," much of which is sensational/quasi-celeb crap that sometimes contains a thinly veiled bias. Leaving the future of print journalism solely to the mere idea of subjective bloggers and so-called "citizen journalists" is not appealing to me as a purist. And I'm sure many other readers, advertisers and media practitioners feel the same way. A Globe and Mail story puts it this way: "...nobody has been able to explain is how the Internet will be able to fund the extremely expensive and often dangerous work of reporting. Nobody has been able to convince surfers used to a completely free Internet that they should pay for news stories. And online advertisers pay their hosts very little for the space." A senator's proposal to have the federal government allow newspapers to operate as non-profits really won't help. After all, as critics say, that could invite (ultimately) government control. It's not a cure in any way. All that could happen - and it'll take time - is for newspapers to resize, restructure and reevaluate their business practices, advertising marketing strategies and reporting priorities. Remember that it has always been up to your local newspaper -- be it the major metro daily or the small town semi-daily or the suburban weekly -- to serve as your main source of reliable, accurate, updated news and human interest features in an array of fields. It is your newspaper who gives you stories about what your children achieve in school or what corporation is dumping toxic waste in your backyard. For a purist reader or writer, there are few things better than waking up, checking your email to see if anything's blown up or a war started the previous night, drinking a coffee (or breakfast shake) and browsing through the morning edition. A tangible publication (of usually news you can use) you can take with you anyplace. You can't really do that with the Web. (And no, not even your iPhone or clone will really ever be an apt replacement. So newspaper haters/misunderstanders -- suck it!) OK, now with the "real" scattershot of thoughts: * Mindy and I enjoyed our quick New Orleans trip. The town is slowly but surely getting back to that same ol' Crescent City I've come to know, love and hazily recall through alcohol-fueled weekends. * My NCAA tournament bracket went kablooey. Pitt, Memphis, Louisville -- anytime you all really wanna play hard enough to reach the Final 4, let me know. I'm now going for a Villanova-UConn showdown. Oh well, otherwise I guess I'll look forward now to the Frozen Four, the new baseball season and someone knocking off the Lakers. * It's a year my inner geek looks forward to so many cool, titillating flicks -- a year that has begun with Watchmen, Monsters v. Aliens and I Love You, Man. A year that will include a reenvisioned Star Trek prequel/sequel, X-Men, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Terminator, Inglorious Basterds, something about 2012, Seth Rogen needing a chill pill and...holy crap, someone is suggesting Naked Gun 4! My inner geek runs giddy with joy. * Farewell, Battlestar Galactica. The finale was incredible. Not totally satisfying, but an awesome attempt nonetheless. Hey, someone (a Star Trek: Next Generation alum, no less) was bold enough to create a not-so-cheesy sci-fi show that boasted plenty of grit, bleak action and philosophy. It was a cool homage to a TV childhood favorite of mine and game-changer for current fare. So say we all. (Caprica -- eh I'm not so sure of yet.) * I feel we're getting close to seeing the final Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, but where the hell are my final Pushing Daisies episodes, ya bastards?! * Michelle Bachmann and Glenn Beck, sit down, shut the hell up and chill the f#$@ out. * Newt Gingrich. New Catholic. Muhahaha! Yes, our church really welcomes a guy who had an extramarital affair AND who told a hospitalized wife not once BUT TWICE she was dumping her.
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