Saturday, December 31, 2011

An Open Plea to Reality Show Contestants

Dear Reality Show Contestant:

I am writing this as a TV viewer who has subjected himself to far more hours of so-called 'reality' television than he cares to remember. It's not that I find this programming stimulating - it's simply that all too often there is nothing else on. I don't expect this situation to change anytime soon, and so it looks like we'll be spending time together in the future. As such, I have one piece of advice. Or perhaps a request. Make that a desperate plea...

Whether you're vying for a recording contract, an executive chef position, or simply a stack of money for winning some grueling obstacle course, I beg you to please make it about the competition, and not some background melodrama from your offscreen life.

I realize you probably have a loved one who is terminally ill, or has recently died from a terminal illness. But for crying out loud, please don't dishonor that person (or their memory) by turning them into some object of convenience for the sake of ingratiating yourself with the judges or viewers at home. I trust I speak for most people when I say it does nothing for us. We've seen this all before, and it is beyond boring.

While I'm sure you loved your Aunt Millie, and were by her side through her courageous battle against pleuropulmonary blastoma, please don't dedicate your onscreen singing, cooking or insect-eating to her. And even more to the point, please don't reference her at every opportunity, especially when you falter and think some more sympathy points will propel you to the next round.

The most blatant example of what I'm talking about was a recent contestant on the Food Network's Chopped. At the beginning of the episode, she was all bravado about her credentials as a Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts graduate. As the show progressed, and her fortunes sunk, she increasingly blamed her missteps on her sister having recently died. In one of the post-mortem on-camera interviews, she expressed bemusement that she wasn't given a leg up due to her fragile emotional state, and then looked straight into the camera, saying with defiant smugness (as well as a total lack of grief): "Hello! Death!"

In one fell swoop, I was left doubting not only her cooking abilities but also the sincerity of her 'loss', assuming she wasn't a paid actress to begin with. (If you miss your sister so much, then let her rest in peace and dignity, rather than defiling her memory for the sake of a ham-fisted attempt at saving face.) Even worse, however, is that such cheap theatrics don't make for good television, regardless of whatever you've been told or how you've been coached by your show's producers. It makes for painful television.

So despite whatever disdain I may have for your show and its ilk, you should nevertheless make it about your passion, intelligence and abilities. Full stop. That's all any viewer will ever really want from you, even those of us who tune in with such low expectations.

I'm sure Aunt Millie would understand.

Sincerely,
James Deagle

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Breaking the seal

This post constitutes a desperate effort to end a two-month literary drought. If I just start typing, perhaps something akin to writing may emerge, despite the objections of my inner Truman Capote.

It's not that I've had nothing to say, and it isn't that I haven't been bursting with the urge and intent to write...no, the problem has been at the bio-chemical level. The act of writing for me has usually been an act of capturing, harnessing and transcribing into words my mind's equivalent of fleeting musical notes -- all I've had to work with these days, however, is my mind's equivalent of a steady dial tone. O distant uncooperative muse...

There are times, however, when the only way to break the seal is to smash the bottle. This is one of those times.

Don't take the above as griping, however. The reason for my recent inability to focus on writing is that my energies and emotions have been drastically redirected due to the recent birth of my son. Those who already have kids need no further explanation, and for those without kids...there is no amount of explaining that can do the experience justice. With blogging being a solipsistic activity to begin with, I can only convey my own perspective on being a new dad.

For starters, it is like nothing I ever could have imagined. Being there with my wife through labor and delivery, going respectively from a sense of fear and helplessness to a sudden mind-shattering endorphin spike, and losing my heart to this new little person at first sight, represented a cataclysmic shift in my internal universe. I'm still the same ol' me, just an upgraded, massively sleep-deprived, and less trivial version. (Retro geeks can download an iso CD image of the previous me via a torrent at www.thepiratebay.org.)

So there you have it. A blog post from this keyboard after weeks of the author fearing it would never happen, hopefully followed by more of a less navel-gazing nature. Watch your step...those shards of glass can hurt.


______


Acknowledgement


This post did not occur in a vacuum. I had no idea of what to write about until after talking on the phone to Peter, comparing notes about writing as well as new fatherhood. Some of the material above came about verbally during the give-and-take of that conversation. Additionally, communing with a kindred literary spirit in of itself is always good for stimulating the writing gland.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review - Kung Fu, the Invisible Fist (1972)


Plot: Lee Chang is a police captain sent to Shanghai (with his second-in-command, Su Dong) to investigate Lin, an underworld figure running a white slavery racket. Meanwhile, this same racket has also been infiltrated by Jian Tai, a Japanese operative (nicknamed "The Hungry Tiger") who is using his newfound position as a henchman of Lin's as a base from which to relay maps and information regarding Chinese naval bases to his superiors back home. Tensions mount as Lee Chang and Jian Tai begin to suspect each other, leading to an inevitable showdown.

If you watch enough old chop socky flicks - especially those from Hong Kong (HK) - you learn to hope for the best and brace for the worst. So much of the 1970s HK output was a blur of muddled and incoherent storylines, unimaginative fight choreography (from the Jump In Front of the Camera and Wave Your Arms Around school), and a seeming attitude of total indifference towards the audience. In short, even the most ardent kung fu maniac often reaches a point where they ask themselves: "Why do I watch this shit?"

Thankfully, a movie like Kung Fu, The Invisible Fist comes along to restore your faith. While nothing earth-shattering, it nevertheless comes across as a solid and sincere attempt at being an all-around good movie, while also delivering the genre goods. In a field marked by stylistic excess at the expense of substance, this one has everything the average viewer should expect in the right proportions.

Although Lee Chang is the hero in this tale, his sidekick Su Dong provides the heart, as he shows compassion for the story's marginalized figures. (He frees Anna, a white slave girl from Russia, and makes himself a friend and guardian of the lowly dock workers employed by Lin.) While Lee Chang becomes increasingly concerned with national security, Su Dong acts with an obvious concern for social justice. Because he truly cares about the people in this movie, so does the viewer.

Because of the above, the inevitable elements of kung fu cheesiness and unintended laughs are welcome - even endearing - rather than irritating. Witness the following snatches of ludicrous dialogue:

Su Dong: He was bragging about his karate. It's no good. I can't stand it!

Or, as hero and villain square off just as the climactic fight gets underway, some down 'n dirty trash talk, HK-style:

Jian Tai: You know, in Japan, what they call me there? It's "The Hungry Tiger".

Lee Chang: Oh really? I have a nickname too, "The Crazy Dragon".

And while I'm not one to find mirth in human trafficking, a scene where struggling slave girls are being forcefully stuffed into wooden crates comes across momentarily as an oversized game of Whac-A-Mole as they randomly stand up only to be shoved back down. Guilty snickers, indeed.

All-in-all, a well-made and engaging film with a welcome dose of humanity and competence.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A skeleton picked clean by the vultures of neglect



The following is cross-posted from this blog's secret twin over at wordpress.com,
James Deagle's Great Big Blog, a neglected little creature that has been sitting idle for quite some time. Ergo, the post below is simply a message for any lost souls who end up there by mistake.


Yes, those are tumbleweeds you see rolling by, and yes that is a lonesome wind whistling through the weathered wooden boards of this ghost town’s abandoned remains. This blog is a skeleton picked clean by the vultures of neglect.

Or maybe not so much neglect as distraction. The real fun — if you can call it that — is happening at what has become my primary blog, www.jamesdeagle.blogspot.com, established in 2009 as a political/social commentary blog. Before long it veered wildly off course and turned mainly into a creative writing venue.

Meanwhile, my woefully-indecisive mind is agonizing over what to do with the blog you're reading now. Do I simplify things and pull the plug altogether, or do I set it aside for some specific purpose? Such as political/social commentary? Ack!! I feel like I’ve been down this road before!

In any case, I think I’ll hang onto it for now, if only to maintain ownership of “jamesdeagle.wordpress.com”, as I’m hardly the only James Deagle on the web. Those running around with my name include:

With competition like that, this piece of real estate needs to be fiercely guarded.