Blog Archives

The Road Geek Returns

US 101

With a familiar highway in California

This week has seen a sudden return to my “old habits” of geeking out about road related matters, specifically road signs. I’d love to know when and where this attraction originated… but it’s been a fascination as long as I can remember, most notably with a long-running childhood project of drawing exit signs.

In this regard it’s exciting to live in Michigan, with its oh-so-slightly different standards of signage to the rest of the US – if anything, more close to European standards than you find elsewhere in this country. Some examples of this include the angular directional signs that are sometimes seen on highways going in different directions (one good example being here on the way into Ann Arbor) and a general penchant for smaller, angular signs that say what they need to say in a more compact orientation than one might find in another state. Finally, those same signs often don’t indicate the cardinal direction of the route, as I memorably captured in the photo below at an earlier point this year.

IMG_1222

BUT, all of this interest in signs somehow generated itself from growing up in Massachusetts, which has its own infamous system of highways that were designed one way and then went another, courtesy of the freeway revolts of the 1970’s and a (rightly) growing sentiment that the region shouldn’t be decimated by a ring of urban highways tearing apart neighborhoods.

The highway to my hometown in Massachusetts

The highway to my hometown in Massachusetts

So this renewed fascination has taken me onto a few highway forums, most notably this one, from which I learned that Massachusetts plans to belatedly convert all of its highway exits to mile-marker based, as opposed to sequential, over the next year or so.

I feel like there should be more to say about my home state catching up to the rest of the country in this regard. But … it’s all well and good. And I’ll believe it when I see it.

Sometimes the time is right for a trashy film, and that time is usually January

Last night, a planned excursion to see Brighton Beach Memoirs for the first time ever instead became a trip downtown to the RenCen4 cinema to catch new release The Boy Next Door. Because it was that kind of Friday night, where I had a late realization of needing to blow off steam and do something more mindless instead of being verbally and intellectually stimulated.

As I walked into the Renaissance Center, I suddenly realized that I was also paying homage to Boy Next Door star Jennifer Lopez’s best film role (IMO), Out of Sight, which I discussed in a blog entry a year or so ago and features a key sequence (visible on YouTube and slightly NSFW) set right at the top of the RenCen itself. As I said in that prior entry, I felt that Lopez showed more potential in that film than in any of her pre-music film roles and would be interested to see a parallel universe representation of a world where she only focused on film acting.

But this is 2015, and Lopez is, of course, a multi-hyphenate entertainer and now “celebrating 20 years in the business” (more than that, really) according to at least one promotional article I saw about this movie. I do wonder what today’s teenagers must think of her, and if they even consider that she’s had a movie career. In contrast, I first saw her on film when I was 11 in one of my first R-rated movie in-the-theatre viewings.

Lopez also served as a producer on The Boy Next Door, and spoke in the press of feeling resonance with the script. But I wondered how much she saw in it actually made it into the finished film.

The story immediately zeroes in on Lopez portraying Claire, a separated mother of one teenage son, Kevin, and a literature teacher at her son’s high school. Claire is navigating the feelings of being in her 40’s and wondering what comes next. Her husband, played by John Corbett, comes around occasionally to see their son, but the mood is uneasy (and hastily explained!) between the spouses after a recent cheating scandal by the husband. It’s the perfect situation for nice new neighbor Noah (Ryan Guzman) to make an entrance and assume the role of kindly neighbor, mentor to Kevin, and initial lust object for Claire. The film’s trailer (and nearly all of its marketing) is highly transparent about where things go from there, and so I’ll leave my synopsis at that, except to add that stage star Kristin Chenoweth makes a rare screen appearance in a supporting role as Lopez’s BFF and senior administrator at their high school.

Lopez brings a mostly bland presence to the central role, although she certainly still looks good, and seems to be having fun with a few moments in the story. The plot detail of her being a classics teacher allows the script to inject a few bits of thoughtful and winking intelligence, particularly around The Illiad. Chenoweth adds some sweet and tart character-filled spice to her scenes before getting pulled into a predictable closing arc. Guzman possesses the swagger of his character from the first scene onward, but adds little acting nuance. Veteran Corbett isn’t allowed to make much of an impression.

It seems clear that the film has a future as a camp classic, and that’s exactly the lens that I chose to view it through. There wasn’t really any other option, since plot twists fly in and out like the wind, characters disappear and reappear at random, and there were several examples of very abrupt jump-cutting from one scene to the next. One case in point: the film decides that it wants to have the three men in Claire’s life all hang out together. But they just get one short scene to do that. Director Rob Cohen, a veteran in the Hollywood industry, shows that he hasn’t lost his action movie skills in several random but well-staged car chase sequences. I particularly enjoyed the initial setup for the film’s finale, in which one character thinks they are tailing the other, but that is not the case, and Cohen reveals the truth with a taut panning shot worthy of a Hitchcock movie or more nuanced mystery. The film shows its modest budget at times in the staging of scenes with few extras and not using a huge variety of locations.

If not for Cohen’s steady grip on the lens, this film would likely be even more forgettable. It’s good to see Lopez back on the big screen and tackling an age-appropriate type of role. I can’t view the film strongly due to its cluttered narrative and cheesy plot. But ultimately it fits right in to that DVD discount bin of films that are kind of fun (if you don’t want to admit it and/or think too hard) and perfect for a particular moment when you want to sit back, relax and enjoy a new project from a familiar star.

MY RATING: **

An appropriate addition to San Francisco culture

Just got word of this on a list serve. I wouldn’t mind joining!

Adventures in Geek Therapy  
A New Group that Engages the Wisdom of Geek Culture
Launching June 3, 2014
Tuesdays 7:00-9:00pm

What can we learn about mindfulness from Star Trek? What lessons about prejudice can be sought in Battlestar Galactica? What can Batman tell us about the potential effects of trauma on one’s identity? What can the building blocks of Minecraft teach us of coherence? How may we embrace the simple wisdom in the Tardis illusion fromDr. Who?

This highly experiential adventure group will use geek culture as both map and compass and employ drama therapy and expressive arts techniques. 

The group’s mission is:

  • To foster engagement, participation, collaboration, insight and creativity.
  • To explore identity, aspirations and personal responsibility.
  • To cultivate wisdom and tools to navigate human (and non-human) relationships and life transitions.
  • To honor non-conformity and build empathy.

Each month will bring a new theme, these will be the territories for our ongoing mission. The themes will come from Sci-Fi, Superheroes, RPGs, Midnight Movies, Comics and Technology.

We will begin with a Star Trek theme in June.

What: Weekly 2 hour group sessions to include group discussion, reflective writing, role-play, cosplay, games and art-making.

When: 7:00pm-9:00pm Tuesdays

Where: Central San Francisco Location

Cost: $40/week, payable monthly 
Enroll before May 23 – Save $40! First week FREE

About the Facilitator: Doug Ronning is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (MFC 51086) and Registered Drama Therapist. He is a produced screenwriter and a life long geek. 

 

No geek experience necessary.
All are welcome!

For more info: 415-902-5638 

People are People & Work is Work

Curiosity and boldfaced names have drawn me over to the 2013 Motor City Comic Con today. For a few of my preteen years I was an avid follower of these types of events, mostly in the form of Star Trek conventions, getting to meet (briefly) Mr. Data himself, Brent Spiner, and partake in various fan activities.

I also have a ticket for a special reunion Star Trek convention in Chicago in June, and might have to post a follow up entry on that experience.

My point in recording sensations from today’s event is to note that the feeling is different. No longer awestruck, I’m now… Curious. And sympathetic. And admittedly still entertained.

I think it’s a side effect of working in the business that I wonder what it must be like to be on the “vendor”/”talent” side of these events … Nod knowingly at a fellow vendor you saw at a similar event, maybe in a different state. Crack a joke with a former actor colleague you haven’t seen since… that one film you both are best known for. Pay close attention to the words of your fans – that may be reverential – and give them your undivided attention, even though economics and livelihood dictate you might be charging them a fee for a picture with you.

I probably just overthink it all. I see a lot of smiling faces at this event. I just might inhabit that fan role myself to speak with Ms. Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi) because there’s no time like the present.