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August 20th, 2014


12:13 am - August Action Movies
"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" (TMNT) and "The Expendables 3" have been advertised as blockbuster action movies for the summer of 2014. But can they be blockbusters if they are released in August? Critics have panned both (20% and 34% ratings, respectively, on RottenTomatoes.com).

When I saw my first TMNT trailer, I was already skeptical because Michael Bay's name was attached to the film. At least it was only in respect to producer and not director. Still, I'm sure he had plenty of input in how the movie turned out. One of my problems with TMNT was the action. When things are crashing and sliding out of control, there needs to be some plausible realism. I know, I know...6-foot tall talking turtles are not real. But a semi driven down a hillside avalanche while being chased by bad guys...the turtles sliding on their shells at the same speed as the driven truck...failed the test.

Another problem was the annoying turtle characters. They sounded like a bunch of teenagers. Oh wait, that's one of the adjectives in the title. Then, success?

The turtles themselves looked like they took steroids. And Shredder was more robot than human. Where were the fun characters of the animated series I remember?

I definitely preferred The Expendables over TMNT. Sure, a team of 10 Expendables is able to defeat/escape from an army of hundreds without suffering a single casualty. That's absolutely real. (Where is the sarcasm font?) Okay, it's not realistic. But yet it is believable...for some reason. The movie mocked itself on this point when Mel Gibson quipped, "How hard can it be to kill ten men?" (followed by these inexact quotes) "Can't you at least injure one? It's not that hard. See...[Mel shoots two guys in his control room.] I'll have to take care of them myself." So many lines like this. Funny lines because you can't believe they actually said it.

The Expendables was missing one major character: Chuck Norris. As a result, movie #2 will always be the best one in the series. Also, in a movie franchise that features washed up action stars, how did they choose to include Kelsey Grammer?

The Expendables was filmed at locations in Bulgaria. In case you didn't want to wait for the final part of the credits that thanks organizations that supported the film (which listed nearly a dozen Bulgarian companies and government agencies), you only had to read names of the film crew. It seems that 75% of the names ended in "-ov" and almost all of the rest ended in "-ev" or "-sky." Then they included a section of the bigwig names at Lionsgate Studio. No Bulgarians there. No turtles either.

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June 24th, 2014


11:33 pm - Waconia Marching Band Festival 2014
The third Saturday in June means it was the Waconia Marching Band Festival. Also, grad parties, Good Neighbor Days, and other summer activities. Sadly, my schedule was already ridiculously full when I learned that great-uncle Manfred passed away and his funeral would be Saturday morning. At least I was able to attend the visitation Friday night.

The first thing on the day's agenda was set building for "Les Mis" in D-C. Then I signed up to work the Lions hamburger stand in Howard Lake for two hours. I squeezed in mowing my lawn before heading to Cleo's grad party, a Buffalo student who was part of the "Little Shop" trio. Finally, I met Rhesa and three of her nephews for a ride to Waconia. We joined up with Jenny and Kelsey at the parade. Despite arriving later than planned, we found a perfect spot at the end of the first performance block...where I like to be every year.

As usual, I did my own judging, and my results did not quite match the official scores. Here are the results. My ranks and scores are in parentheses. I was surprised to see Park Center in Class AA instead of AAA, but their band was only about 50 members strong.

(The only ranks I know as of this posting are the winners of each class. The full results will be in the Sun Patriot, and I can't guarantee that they be posted online.)

CLASS A
(2 - 65) Henry Sibley Marching Band - winner
(1 - 66) Hutchinson Marching Band
(3 - 62) Winona Cotter Marching Band
(4 - 60) Dassel-Cokato Marching Chargers
(5 - 56) KMS Marching Saints
(6 - 54) Richfield Marching Spartans

CLASS AA
(2 - 77) Park Center Marching Pirates - winner
(1 - 84) Litchfield Marching Dragons
(3 - 70) Sauk Rapids-Rice Marching Storm
(4 - 67) Saint Francis Marching Band
(5 - 64) New Prague Marching Band

CLASS AAA
(1 - 86) 728 Cadets - winner
(2 - 83) Champlin Park Marching Band
(3 - 82) Mankato 77 Lancers
(4 - 81) Owatonna Marching Band
(5 - 68) Saint Cloud All-City Marching Band
(6 - 73) Blaine Marching Bengals

Best Winds
??

Best Drumline
??

Best Color Guard
??

Grand Champion
728 Cadets

People’s Choice
728 Cadets

Owat-onia Grand Champion of the Day
728 Cadets

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June 8th, 2014


04:54 pm - Bad Movie Experience
Considering how many movies I see each year, it's amazing that I don't have bad experiences more often. But even if I recalled particular occurrences, nothing could compare to what happened Friday.

A family of four came in looking for seats as the trailers began. They eyed a couple of locations but chose the row where I was sitting. The dad, Sam, sat right next to me and his 9-year-old daughter was next to him. The other two were not a factor in the experience. How do I know such details about these people? Read on.

So what happened? Constant talking, unnecessary outbursts, unrelated commentary...all while sitting amid a crowd. It was mostly Sam, but his daughter added her own reactions and comments. And at times Sam's outbursts were loud enough that someone in his group, usually his daughter, shushed him or otherwise told him to be quiet. The frequency was a problem. If I had elbowed him at each outburst, he would have ended the night with a large bruise on his arm.

The best part of the movie was 5 minutes when Sam left for a bathroom break and to get more pop. Too bad it didn't last.

When I finally had enough and told him to be quiet, why did I expect he'd listen? He tried to have a conversation and apologize. "I usually try to sit somewhere I won't bother people." I reiterated my point: Dude, just be quiet and watch the movie. The silence lasted about 10 seconds before his next exclamation. Sshhhhh...

Later during the movie he tried to give me $2 for ruining my movie experience. DURING THE MOVIE. I turned down his gesture and simply repeated my request that he keep it down and respect the people around him who came for the movie.

As soon as the credits started, Sam apologized again but also gave several excuses for his behavior: "My 9-year-old daughter is too familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000. Someday, you'll know what it's like to watch a movie with a 9-year-old." I know 9-year-olds can have difficulty concentrating on a 100-minute movie. But I recently saw Rio 2 and those kids didn't bother me. Also, I know MST3K consists of characters constantly running commentary and wisecracks throughout a bad movie. But those characters were the only ones "watching" the movie; it was not in a public theater.

The rest of his group left right away. When we were the only two people left, his daughter came back in and begged him to stop talking and leave. He shared his name, asked for mine, and shook my hand with these final words: "Someday you'll know what it's like."

Before Sam walked away, he briefly checked his pockets and looked at the floor but decided to leave anyway. I remembered hearing something hit the ground earlier, so I looked myself and found his cell phone. I caught him before he went too far. He responded, "Maybe there is hope for you yet." The words aren't exactly right, but that was the tone of his message. Wow.

Wow...wow...wow...wow...wow.... What else can I say? I took a seat and let the credits finished while I reflected on what happened. Most people respect those around them. He barely seemed to care. Of all the personal preferences present in that theater, I'm pretty sure everyone agreed that he was annoying and distracting. I hope he heeds the advice to act better next time, yet I doubt he'll actually do it.

As for the movie? I wasn't enchanted. Disney promoted it as a re-telling of the "Sleeping Beauty" from the perspective of the evil witch, Maleficent, and claiming she was misunderstood. How can the name "Maleficent" mean anything other than evil? Yes, Maleficent curses the infant Aurora, who eventually pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into a death-like sleep. But so many other parts of the story change. I wish they did the prequel in a style like "Wicked," which fit into the framework of the familiar story, "The Wizard of Oz." Also, I'm not a fan of Angelina Jolie's jarringly sharp cheekbones.

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May 25th, 2014


12:36 am - A Day in the Land of Lakes
Minnesota is proud to be called the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In one afternoon, I spotted several of them without even leaving the county.

The day started with a drive to Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park west of Monticello. My route passed Cokato, Mud, Granite, Maple, Cedar, and North Lakes. A hike in the park followed the shores of Bertram and Long Lakes.

If I may digress for a moment, the Bertram Chain of Lakes Regional Park contains four lakes with undeveloped shorelines. How could land in this area still be so pristine? Easy...the YMCA owned these 1,200 acres known as "Camp Manitou" in its entirety. However, they were considering the possibility of selling land to get funds to invest in other YMCA facilities. The City of Monticello and Wright County began a cooperative effort with the YMCA to purchase the land for long-term preservation and park use. Three levels of government (State, County, and City) have contributed to the acquisition costs and currently own nearly 500 acres. The agreement allows the YMCA day camp to continue for 99 years.

The other two lakes (Mud Lake and First Lake) in the chain are not part of the park yet. While Mud is a common name, I found First to be an odd choice because it looks to be the last lake before the chain drains into the Mississippi River. Perhaps the person who named it was canoeing up the creek from the river.

When I left the park, I got a better view of Beaver Pond, which flows into Long Lake, as I drove into Monticello for a movie. Then I continued to the east end of Monticello and headed south. When I hit a 'T' at Pelican Lake, I turned right and passed Holkers Slough. Deciding that I wanted to drive around the other side of Pelican Lake, I looped back on a road that cuts through one of the many unnamed lakes/ponds I saw.

Finally on the east side of Pelican Lake, I discovered a good reason why the DNR wants to lower the water level. Besides making it more suitable for waterfowl, the water approaches the roadways in many areas. I suppose flooding is unlikely because it would take a lot of water to raise Pelican Lake by an inch, but it is unnerving to drive that close to water.

I reached another 'T' intersection on the north side of Beebe Lake. I took a left and went around another Mud Lake, then passed Steele, Wagner, and Martha Lakes. Time for a few errands and supper in Buffalo.

Then the drive home: Buffalo, North and South Berthiaume, Abbie, and Wolfe Lakes.

Finally, a stretch of dry land.

I discovered that northeast Wright County is basically a giant swamp, Pelican Lake included. The water levels are still high in many swamps and ponds across the region. But I only want to count official names.

So what is the total? 20. That's a lot of water...in a state full of water.

*Names of lakes and other bodies of water are courtesy of Google Maps, Wright County Parks Maps, and MN DNR Lake Locator.

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April 26th, 2014


01:34 am - Draft Day
What entices Kevin Costner to act in sports movies? Baseball (For the Love of the Game, Field of Dreams, Bull Durham), Golf (Tin Cup), and now Football (Draft Day).

(Another common category for Costner is Western: Hatfields & McCoys (TV), Open Range, Wyatt Earp, Dances with Wolves, Silverado. But that doesn't matter because I'm writing about the movie I just saw.)

In Draft Day, Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the GM of the Cleveland Browns during the 2014 NFL draft. There are lots of phone calls between team leaders, agents, and players as the biggest day in the NFL offseason plays out. Add in conflict between Costner and (insert character here) to make a interesting, suspenseful plot. Sonny's father died a week before the draft. His mother arrived hours before the draft to spread ashes on the practice field named after Weaver, Sr. On the morning of the draft, his coworker and secret girlfriend informed him that she's pregnant. Certain players want to be drafted by Cleveland. The fans, the owner, and members of the war room want to pick undisputed #1 pick QB Bo Callahan. But Cleveland started the day with the 7th overall pick. They also had a hole at RB and Sonny really liked a particular defensive back. How could he rebuild the team and make a splash that would inspire hope for the future? It would be a very eventful day...and a happy ending, of course.

One thing about sports movies is how they blend truth and lies into the plot. For example, Cleveland could reasonably get the 7th pick after a poor season. However, Seattle starts the day with the 1st pick, which goes to the team with the worst record in the prior season. In reality, the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, which gives them the last pick of the opening round.

Another area they stretch reality is the size of trades accepted on draft day. Yes, teams are actively trading picks and players to improve their roster. But Sonny first gives up three first round picks (2014/2015/2016) to Seattle to move up from #7 to #1. Then he trades three second round picks (2014/2015/2016) to Jacksonville to get #6. Finally, he bluffs Seattle into a trade that gives Cleveland their original three first round picks back plus a punt returner. Seattle gets the QB they could have had at #1...for $7 million less, and Cleveland gets two top players they desired.

I've already mentioned other movies where Kevin Costner appears. How about other actors? Jennifer Garner has been in plenty, but I don't associate her with a specific character. Denis Leary, Terry Crews, and Sean Combs are recognizable names. It's the lesser actors that matter. Bo Callahan is played by Josh Pence, who was one of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. Chadwick Boseman became the overall #1 pick Vontae Mack after portraying Jackie Robinson last year in 42. And Tom Welling, Superman in TV's Smallville, played the veteran QB Brian Drew, who didn't want competition from a rookie as he comes back from a knee injury in 2013. There are also lots of cameos from football players and announcers.

Last thought: When was the script written? Bo Callahan played college football at Wisconsin and gets drafted to be QB at Seattle. In reality, Seattle was led by Russell Wilson, their 3rd round draft pick from 2012 out of Wisconsin. Coincidence or not?

Worth seeing? It ranks below Field of Dreams, but that film is a classic. Still, I enjoyed this one.

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December 5th, 2013


09:46 pm - Am I Qualified
I once told someone I direct a church choir. That person asked, "What makes you qualified to do so?" I responded with several answers that made him go, "Yes, but...no. What else?" Consider some of my qualifications:

+My mom is a church organist and choir director.
+I attended Luther College...to major in accounting and math.
+I participated in music ensembles at Luther. Four years in band but only two and a half in choir.
+I sang "The Messiah" in a mass choir under the direction of Weston Noble.
+Several clustermates majored in music, including one who regularly practiced his conducting in front of a mirror with the door to his room wide open.
+I can count to four and wave my arms in a pattern that indicates four beats.
+I've been part of many other choirs and learned directing skills from my experiences, applying what I like and dislike about other directors.

Maybe his question should not be approached with "what makes me qualified" as much as "why am I qualified". Then it's clearly because I'm in charge and people have to do what I tell them. Of course, no one really watches the director. So let me close with this final thought: I like to make great music and express the meaning of the song. That's what makes me qualified to direct a church choir.

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September 28th, 2013


01:42 am - Rush
Ron Howard is a great story teller. Of course, when he directs a movie based on actual events, a viewer has to question the accuracy of the script. Certainly parts of reality are twisted for the purpose of entertainment. Still, some stories write themselves onto the big screen.

"Rush" follows the rivalry of Formula 1 drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s, particularly 1976 when Hunt won the Grand Prix World Championship and Lauda nearly died in a fiery crash. It gives an interesting perspective on racing during that golden age.

Auto racing these days focuses on safety. We see all of the features installed in the cars and the tracks to prevent major injuries in even the wildest crashes: roll cages, HANS (head and neck support) devices, soft bumper walls, catch fences etc. According to the movie, quite a few people claimed locations inside the guardrails (camera men trying to get great photos, officials along the track with caution flags, the checkered flag waved from a position on the track). The guardrails weren't much protection for the spectators lining the track, especially if debris went flying. The open cockpits on the cars provided no protection in a crash. At least the drivers wore some sort of fire suit and fire mask.

I looked up information about the rivalry and found out that it was much friendlier in real life than the movie portrayed. Still, the drama of a champion driver returning from a near-death experience and his rival pressing toward a championship of his own makes for a good movie.

Let me finish with a quote from the movie. First some context. Hunt supposedly slept with more than 5,000 women. But he did get married to one Suzy Miller, who later divorced Hunt to marry Richard Burton (of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fame). In the movie, Miller makes a very profound comment about Hunt's lifestyle. Now ignore the context and just consider the quote: "You're just who you are at this point in your life."

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September 24th, 2013


08:28 pm - Having Fun with Telemarketers
If I put my phone number on the Do Not Call list, my landline would rarely ring. As it is, I'm rarely home to answer any calls. Why not have a little fun when the timing works.

"This is U.S. Patio Systems. We do patios, decks, and other outdoor living spaces. Do you have a deck or patio?"

"Nope."

"Would you be interested in a free estimate?"

"Nope. Would I be interested in having my name taken off your call list? Yup."

I heard a cheerful tone in the caller's reply: "Yup."
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June 21st, 2013


11:50 pm - Waconia Band Festival 2013
On a busy Saturday, I managed to squeeze in two grad parties before the Waconia Band Festival. There was some fear about the status of the parade as a wave of rain approached the area. It brought strong winds to my first grad party and rain to my second grad party, but the skies cleared quickly for a beautiful evening.

Tara arrived before me and claimed seating space in the first performance zone. Actually, based on past experience, Tara seemed to have a good idea by sitting just past the intersection where the bands perform. However, this year every band finished right in front of our normal location. Before the parade, an official handed us sheets for "People's Choice" voting. I already do my own judging. This time it counted for something. Here are the results. My ranks and scores are listed in parentheses before the band name.

CLASS A
(1 - 65) Henry Sibley Marching Band – 65.70
(3 - 60) Winona Cotter Marching Band – 64.30
(4 - 57) Richfield Marching Spartans – 59.30
(2 - 62) Saint Francis Marching Band – 54.40

CLASS AA
(1 - 75) Litchfield Marching Dragons – 73.30
(2 - 74) Sauk Rapids-Rice Marching Storm – 71.60
(3 - 73) Champlin Park Marching Band – 70.40
(4 - 68) Maple Grove Marching Crimson – 65.90

CLASS AAA
(2 - 77) 728 Cadets – 82.70
(1 - 79) Mankato 77 Lancers – 79.80
(3 - 75) Park Center Marching Pirates – 79.50
(4 - 74) Owatonna Marching Band – 68.10

Best Winds
Winona Cotter – A
Litchfield – AA
728 Cadets – AAA

Best Drumline
Henry Sibley – A
Sauk Rapids-Rice – AA
728 Cadets – AAA

Best Color Guard
Henry Sibley – A
Litchfield – AA
Park Center – AAA

Grand Champion
728 Cadets

People’s Choice
728 Cadets

Owat-onia Grand Champion of the Day
728 Cadets

(Leave a comment)

11:35 pm - Good Timing
Having an open evening, I knew I'd be seeing a movie tonight. It had been a month between visits to the movie theater because of graduation parties and vacation. I made a stop at Guitar Center after work and then headed to Delano for food and film.

The radar showed a powerful, fast-moving storm approaching from the west, and it reached Delano soon after I was safely indoors. The faint sound of sirens blaring an alert for a severe thunderstorm warning could be heard just before the previews began. The movie volume levels overshadowed any noise from the storm itself. We completely ignored the weather as we watched Brad Pitt fight zombies.

The ground was clearly wet after the movie, but nothing was falling at the time. Yet before I left the parking lot, the siren began to sound again. This time a small cell was moving north. The sky was very dark to the south when lightning wasn't illuminating the clouds. Again, I stayed dry as I drove west.

Did you know the Delano Muller Family Theater is getting new pavement in their parking lot? It's about time. Maybe the new asphalt will have good lines painted. The previous markings: a single yellow line down each row. Since it faded over the years, parking was generally awful. With the current setting as a gravel lot, the parking was unbelievably worse tonight. The lot was quite full, which is good business news for a theater that I generally choose because I can expect a quiet screening of the movie of my choice, but the cars were so misaligned that one area looked triple-parked.

When I reached Howard Lake, I had to pay extra attention because people were crossing Hwy 12 in two places near the municipal bar and liquor store. Yet I was surprised a minute later when a Howard Lake police car passed me near the Sinclair gas station using the center turn without turning on his flashing lights. He passed a few more cars in the same manner near Littfin and even stayed in the left lane as he went up the hill into a No Passing Zone. Finally, he turned on his lights and pulled over an SUV at the right turn lane to County Road 5. This vehicle must have been targeted because a Wright County Sheriff was waiting in the next gravel road.

Speaking of driving stories, I nearly had a collision near Guitar Center. The road has two lanes in each direction. A driver in the right lane was slowing to turn right into a parking lot. A vehicle exiting the parking lot started to pull out even though I was in the left lane. I slammed on my brakes and squealed my tires as he noticed me and stopped himself. Then he sheepishly backed off the road as additional vehicles drove the street behind me.

I'd say I had good timing all night. Otherwise I'd have to come up with a different title for my stories.

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