Sunday, August 30, 2009

Before There Was Top Chef...

...there was Julia Child. And Julie Powell.

By now, the story of Julie & Julia is well known - a few years ago, Julie Powell decided to cook her way through "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," the cookbook that put Julia Child on the map and started her down the road to international stardom. Self described as "too old for theatre, too young for children, and too bitter for anything else," Powell set for herself the goal of tackling all of the book's 536 recipes in one year, while blogging about it along the way. And along the way, there were successes and there were failures - but ultimately she finished the project, secured a book deal, became pretty darn famous for a blogger, and is now the subject of the movie which bears her name, along with that of her hero and idol.

From what I've read, there is now a backlash in the blogosphere against Julie Powell, and many of the reviews of the film have criticized the portion of the film that tells her story, while heaping lavish praise on the "Julia Child" portion. For what it's worth, I agree with those who have argued that Julie Powell deserves all the credit in the world, because without her Julie & Julia would never have existed.

Having said that, I don't think there's any question that the Julia Child portions of the film are superior to the Julie Powell sections. That doesn't mean the Julie Powell sections are awful - they're not. They're entertaining, and they do a good job realistically depicting a marriage where both partners are determined to make it work, while having limits on how much leeway they're able (or willing) to afford each other.

What it all boils down to is that Amy Adams and Chris Messina are not Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. Which is not their fault; they're not bad in their roles. But Streep and Tucci are great in theirs, and Streep is a good deal more than that - she's amazing. I don't know enough about the art of acting to be able to describe what she does on screen, but suffice to say that she becomes Julia Child - voice, mannerisms, in the way she carries herself, and in her always obvious zest for life.

As I watched it, each time the Julie sections were underway, I found myself wanting to go back to Julia. But overall, it's a fun movie, especially for anyone interested in cooking - or blogging.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Great Conversation about Basterds

Before heading out for a few days, I want to point everyone to a great conversation that is taking place on a great blog - Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule - about "Inglourious Basterds."

Enjoy. And take note - the link is to just the first part of the conversation...for more, you'll have to head to the main page.


We'll be driving son #1 to college tomorrow. Given that I can remember just about every detail of the day that my parents drove me to college (September 1980, in case anyone was wondering), it hardly seems possible. It's a very strange feeling - one that I hardly know how to describe.

And if that wasn't enough, tomorrow is also son #2's 15th birthday. You can read the story of the day he was born here.

All of which has me feeling just a little old. But in a good way.

I May Be The Only One, But I'm Looking Forward To It

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer Reading Roundup

Capsule reviews of my most recent reads:

True Detectives, by Jonathan Kellerman. It's been a while since I've read a Kellerman book - I've enjoyed Kellerman's Alex Delaware books that I've read, but neither did I feel compelled to read every one of them - like I do with Coben, Connelly and Crais. This one features two new characters (though apparently they made a cameo appearance in the last Delaware novel), Private Detective Aaron Fox and Detective Moses Reed. The two are brothers, but couldn't be less alike - the only thing they have in common is their mother; their deceased fathers (one white, one black) had been LAPD partners, until the night that one of them was killed in the line of duty. Fox is flashy, Reed is dull. Fox bends the rules every chance he gets, Reed follows them to the letter of the law. The two come together, more or less against their will, when they find themselves working the same case - a young woman disappeared and presumed dead, months ago. They approach the case from different angles and with different styles, and eventually uncover a lot more than they had bargained for.

It's not a great book, but it's a good one, and well worth a summer read. Alex Delaware makes a cameo, as does Petra Connor, the protagonist of Kellerman's "Billy Straight."

The Brass Verdict, by Michael Connelly. This one brings back Mickey Haller, last seen in "The Lincoln Lawyer. " On Connelly's Web site, the book is billed as a "Mickey Haller and Harry Bosch book," but that's misleading. The entire book is told from Haller's point of view, and Bosch - though his role is important, if not critical - is simply part of the supporting cast.

The story picks up with Haller just beginning to get back into the legal game after taking a year off to battle a number of personal demons. An entire caseload literally falls into his lap when a fellow attorney is murdered, and Haller is named in the will as the designated pinch-hitter. Among the clients is a superstar film producer, accused of murdering his wife and her lover in a fit of rage after she demanded a divorce the day after the couple's pre-nuptial agreement had vested. As Haller gets deeper into the case, he begins to realize that little is as it seems. And while he's trying to focus on getting his client off, there's the little matter of the killer still being on the loose, and perhaps looking closely at him.

Overall, it's a fine return to form for Connelly after "The Overlook," the Bosch book which felt a bit rushed (not to mention short). Apparently, Connelly needed a little break from Bosch to recharge his batteries, and he succeeded with "The Brass Verdict." I'm now looking forward to "The Scarecrow," another non-Bosch book released last spring (and featuring Jack McEvoy, who last starred in "The Poet" and has made several cameo appearances since, including one in "Brass Verdict").

Our Gallery at the 2nd Tee

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Want My Scalps!

(Spoilers ahead, although nothing you couldn’t have read in any review)

There’s little doubt that Quentin Tarantino is the most polarizing director working today. If you don’t believe me, just head on over to the Inglourious Basterds page on the Internet Movie Database, click on “external reviews,” and pick 5 or 6 of them at random. If you don’t find at least one reviewer who thought the movie was a masterpiece and one who thought it was an abomination, I’ll be surprised (hint: if you want to save time, just read Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan). And then there’s Slate, which decided to have its cake and eat it too, calling the movie “brilliant and reprehensible.”

Anyone who’s seen the trailer for Inglourious Basterds knows the general outline of the story – Brad Pitt, as Lt. Aldo Raine, leads “the Basterds,” 8 Jewish American soldiers dropped behind enemy lines in France to wreak havoc, spread fear, and “kill Nazis:”

My name is Lt. Aldo Raine and I need me eight soldiers. We're gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians. We're gonna be doing one thing and one thing only... killing Nazis. Members of the nationalist socialist party conquered Europe through murder, torture, intimidation, and terror. And that's exactly what we're gonna do to them. We will be cruel to the German and through our cruelty they will know who we are. They will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us and the German will not be able to help themselves from imagining the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, at our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the German will be sickened by us, the German will talk about us and the German will fear us. Nazis ain't got no humanity! They need to be destroyed. Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps... and I want my scalps!

Suffice to say that the Basterds pursue their goal with gusto, by means conventional (machine gun ambushes) and not (baseball bats). As Aldo Raine, Pitt proves again that he is at his best when he gets to set aside his good looks and have fun with a role. His Tennessee-born, part-Apache Raine is well over the top, but in a good way. In terms of the acting, the rest of the Basterds do their part, but none really stands out one way or another.

But Inglourious Basterds wouldn’t be a Tarantino movie if it didn’t have multiple plots at work. And as with several of his past films, Basterds is told in chapter format, developing several threads of a story that intersect only in the last act. Of the chapters, two represent film-making at its best. The first, titled “Once Upon A Time in Nazi-Occupied France,” begins with an idyllic setting, a farm on the French countryside. A rugged farmer works outside, with his beautiful daughters lending a hand. For a minute, you think you’ve stumbled onto the set of Jean de Florette. But then, the sound of a motorcar is heard, and it carries the Nazi known as “the Jew hunter,” Lt. Hans Landa. Landa is not your stereotypical Nazi goon – he’s polite, he’s charming, and he’s absolutely brilliant. In a seemingly innocent conversation with the farmer in his small home, during which the tension increases until it is almost unbearable, Landa deduces that the farmer is indeed hiding a Jewish family. The result of his discovery is unsurprising.

The portrayal of Landa by Christoph Waltz, an Austrian actor, is magnificent. Waltz captured an acting prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the role, and he should be a lock for an Academy Award nomination. By imbuing the character with charm, wit and intelligence, he creates a Nazi that in the end is more sinister, and more evil, than any I can recall seeing in any movie.

The second brilliant scene occurs when a suave British officer joins the Basterds in a plot which everyone hopes will result in the death of the upper Nazi echelon (including Hitler himself) as they’re viewing the latest cinematic “masterpiece” produced by Propaganda Minister Goebbels. The officer and two of the Basterds are meeting their contact, a German actress turned double-agent, in a small basement tavern. Alas, a group of Nazi soldiers (and one officer) is at the tavern celebrating one of them becoming a father for the first time. And, similar to the first scene, the tension slowly builds until it reaches a climax of sudden and brutal violence.

The other main story thread involves the lone Jewish survivor of the first chapter, who now owns the small cinema where the plot is intended to become explosive. She meets a young Nazi soldier who is a hero for his exploits but also a film buff; he becomes smitten with her and talks Goebbels, his mentor, into moving the premiere of the film (in which he stars as himself) from its original site to her small cinema. And it is in that small cinema where Tarantino pulls off his most audacious move. Unlike some reviews I’ve read, I’m not going to give it away. Go see the movie, and find out for yourself!

Like all Tarantino films, Inglourious Basterds is an exhilarating roller coaster ride. And once again, Tarantino proves that he is a master of dialogue as much as a master of violence. But like an album with one great side, it’s difficult to figure out exactly where in the pantheon it should fall.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Blog!

Well, leave it to me to forget the third anniversary of this here blog, which began on August 14, 2006. At the time it was known as "Apropos of Nothing," which helps explain to anyone who might have wondered about the strange URL.

1,400 posts later, I like to think that "Stuff Running 'Round My Head" is still going strong, and hopefully will continue to do so for a long time.

Thank you, regular readers!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Top 25 of the 2000s - Honorable Mention

Honorable Mention - A Bigger Bang, Rolling Stones

When considering The Rolling Stones in this day and age, one has to adopt an appropriate set of expectations. You just have to know that when you buy the new album, you're not gonna get Beggars Banquet. You're not gonna get Let It Bleed. You're not gonna get Exile on Main Street, or Some Girls, or even Tattoo You. Sure, there was a time when the Stones really were the greatest rock and roll band on the planet, and each of their albums held the promise of becoming a landmark in rock history - or at least within shouting distance of that standard. By my reckoning, that time ended around 1973, with the release of Goat's Head Soup.

So we've established that the standards need to be lowered. Having said that, I think it's fair for the consumer to expect that they're getting some value for the $13.95 or so that they're shelling out for a CD. And for quite some time, the Stones couldn't even meet that expectation. Sure, they released a pretty cool live (almost unplugged!) album in the 1990s, but their recorded product, Bridges to Babylon and Voodoo Lounge, was wholly unmemorable. Sitting here writing this, I literally cannot think of a single song on either album. Sure, if I ran over to the CD player and threw one of them on, I'm sure that something would catch my ear. But why bother?

But I'm nothing if not loyal, and when A Bigger Bang came out in 2005, I bought it. And I'm happy to say that, for what it's worth, it was the best album the Stones had released in over 20 years - probably all the way back to Tattoo You, from my college days. It's a very good, even excellent, album - the production by Don Was is crisp, Charlie Watts sounds great as always, Keith and Ronnie produce a dual guitar attack that hasn't sounded this good in decades, and even Mick sounds like he is trying. It's not in the same league (hell, it's probably not even on the same planet) as some of the legendary discs mentioned earlier, but it sounds really good, and it's the Stones.

Sometimes, that's all you need. It doesn't quite break the Top 25, but A Bigger Bang is definitely worth an honorable mention.

District 9 Provokes Horror, Thought

The first half of District 9 may be the best, most thought-provoking piece of film-making released this year. The second half is more conventional, but still light-years beyond much of what passes for summer fare in this day and age (although I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed the movies that I’ve seen this summer).

The basic premise is simple enough – twenty years ago, a gigantic spaceship “ran out of gas” above Johannesburg, and eventually the survivors were transported down to the surface, in what at the time seemed like (and probably was) a humanitarian gesture. The aliens look a little bit like an upright lobster, and they communicate with an odd-sounding clicking language. Their human hosts quickly tired of their presence, invented a derogatory term for them (“prawns”), made fun of their dietary habits (for some reason, they absolutely adore cat food) and generally did everything they could to ensure that the aliens were confined to District 9, just outside of the city.

Fast forward to the present day, when the distaste for the aliens has reached the point that a plan has been developed to transfer them to District 10, even further away from the city, to put some additional space between them and the human residents of Johannesburg. The move, which is “voluntary” in name but in fact nothing of the sort, is akin to moving the residents of the Warsaw Ghetto to a concentration camp. There is a reason that the movie is set in Johannesburg (other than the simplest one, the fact that the film-makers are South African) – the parallels to apartheid are obvious, and make even more affecting the easy cruelty with which all of the residents of the city treat the aliens.

In charge of this horrifying enterprise is one Wikus Van De Merwe, a bureaucrat will little sense and even less sensitivity for the job he has just been handed. It quickly becomes apparent that Wikus has no empathy for the aliens and the squalor in which they live (where their few neighbors include dangerous and ruthless Nigerian gangs), and the film’s most horrifying moment comes when Wikus stumbles across a “house” where alien eggs are being cultivated, and with glee on his face and in his voice, sets the house on fire while comparing the sound the eggs make to that of popcorn popping.

Up to this point, the story has been told in part-documentary fashion, with key figures from Wikus’ life (wife, parents, father-in-law, co-workers) telling his story. All along you know that something is going to happen to him, and eventually it does, when he accidentally sprays himself in the face with an alien liquid and begins a slow, painful transition to becoming a “prawn” himself. It is at that point that the movie becomes more of a standard action picture, as Wikus slowly comes to grips with his fate and eventually teams with one of the aliens and his son to retrieve the liquid, which as it turns out is fuel to allow this particular alien (“Christopher Johnson”) to return to the mother ship and get it running again. Shoot-outs and action scenes commence, all of which are well done (the baddest of the bad guys all get what’s coming to them), but none of which quite approaches the brilliance (or the bleakness) of the beginning.

But taken as a whole, the movie is a terrific debut effort for director Neill Blomkamp, and a triumph for Sharlto Copley, the actor who portrays Wikus. A science-fiction action picture that gets you thinking – can one really ask for more than that?


I suppose we should all just enjoy this for the entertainment value that it's sure to add to this NFL season. What comes to mind is how Bill James always reacts when someone asks him whether it's crazy for _________ (fill in the blank) to come back for one more season when it's painfully clear that the guy's best years are long past. His reply has always been along the lines of, "Why the hell is that any of my business? If the guy wants to keep playing and some team is willing to pay him, more power to him."

So I'm going to make a pledge here (one that I may not be able to keep) that this will be the last Brett Favre post for the entire football season.

And since that's the case, I just want to go on the record and say that in my opinion, Favre is an idiot for what he's doing, and has done more damage to his reputation in the last 18 months than an athlete can do without breaking the law and/or using performance-enhancing substances.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Showing Off Its Best Side

What happens inside may be horrifying, but nothing changes the fact that it is an impressive looking building from the outside.

Taken from the 5th story of the parking garage at 10th and L Streets, downtown Sacramento.

The Morning Life of Cats

Gimme some sun, baby.

Live Saves the Day

Today was the first day of high school, meaning that son #2 and I got to resume our "what's the first song on the radio?" game. The first song of the day can ruin the entire day, you know, and when today's first song was something by Rush - a band I hate more than any other - I was really concerned.

But then this song came on, and things immediately got better. I've never bought anything by this band, so I've never heard the song anywhere but the radio. But I always thought it was a great song.

Thank you Live, for saving me from a Rush day.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Worst Great Season in History?

As is his custom, Tiger Woods has won more golf tournaments this year than any other player. There is no doubt that he is the world's best player. But the standards that apply to Tiger Woods - self-imposed, in large part - do not apply to anyone else. Give all due credit to Y.E. Yang for his historic win, but make no mistake about it - Yang did not win this PGA Championship as much as Tiger Woods lost it.

In the first two majors of the year, you could chalk up Woods' 6th place finishes as the result of the rust from his long, surgery-imposed layoff. But I would imagine that right now, Woods thinks that his performances in the second two majors of the year - missing the cut at Turnberry, and now blowing the 36- and 54-hole leads at Hazeltine - are the worst of his career.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - there are few things as painful to watch as Tiger when he is playing poorly. There's no Nicklaus-like stoicism in play here. Tiger dies a bit with each bad shot, letting the expletives fly and letting the bad body language take control, as if he were possessed by the soul of a weekend hacker who's had one too many (or too few, as the case may be) beers.

Tiger probably wishes that he could jump into a time machine tonight, onto the grounds of Augusta National on the second week of April. He will enter the majors in 2010 with a grim determination, and his self-imposed standards will be higher than ever - because with the U.S. Open being held at Pebble Beach and the Open Championship at St. Andrews, Tiger probably thinks that anything less than three major victories will be a failure.

How's that for an unfair standard?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lurking, Waiting...

Sometimes when it feels like someone is watching you, it turns out that you're right.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Random Thought

I am convinced that more than half of the 18-wheel truck drivers on the road today (at least on I-5 between Elk Grove and Sacramento) never learned how to drive an 18-wheel truck. Either that, or they take great pleasure in creating life-threatening situations.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sure, We Can Keep A Secret

In his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King has a section he calls "Factoids of the Week that may only interest me." Among this week's factoids is the following:

When five current and former NFL coaches (Tom Coughlin, Jeff Fisher, John Harbaugh, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher) journeyed to Iraq earlier this summer to visit the troops, they spent the morning of the Fourth of July in a top-secret Battle Assessment Meeting, where looming combat plans were discussed. Before the meeting began, the coaches had to sign anti-treason forms, saying if they disclosed to anyone what was discussed in the meeting, they could be tried on federal treason charges.

It is interesting that the coaches were required to sign anti-treason forms, but the question that comes to my mind is - why would you allow five NFL coaches into a top-secret meeting where combat plans are being discussed in the first place?

Strikes me as pretty odd.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Top 25 of the 2000s - #24

#24: Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 and Solo Acoustic Vol. 2, Jackson Browne

For Jackson Browne, the past decade has been a time to enjoy the benefits that accrue from having had such a long and illustrious career. In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by none other than his own rock hero, Bruce Springsteen. In a sometimes wordy, sometimes funny but always heartfelt and generous speech, Springsteen talked about the qualities that made Browne such an important artist:

The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, they gave us California as paradise and Jackson Browne gave us Paradise Lost. Now I always imagine, what if Brian Wilson, long after he'd taken a bite of that orange the serpent offered to him, what if he married that nice girl in Caroline No, I always figured that she was pregnant anyway, and what if he moved into the valley and had two sons? One of them would have looked and sounded just like Jackson Browne. Cain, of course, would have been Jackson's brother in arms, Warren Zevon. We love ya, Warren. But, Jackson to me, Jackson was always the tempered voice of Abel. Toiling in the vineyards, here to bear the earthly burdens, confronting the impossibility of love, here to do his father's work. Jackson's work was really California pop gospel.

Listen to the chord changes of Rock Me on the Water and Before the Deluge, it's gospel through and through. Now I always thought that in our fall from Eden, besides the strains of physicality and the bearing of earthly burdens, our real earthly task was that an unbridgeable gap, or a black hole was opened up in our ability to truly love one another. And so our job here on earth, the way we regain our divinity, our sacredness, and our general good-standing is by reconstructing love and creating love out of the broken pieces that we've been given. That's all we have of human promise. That's the way we prove ourselves in the eyes of God and facilitate our own redemption. Now, to me Jackson Browne's work was always the sound of that reconstruction. So as he writes in The Pretender: We'll put our dark glasses on, and we'll make love until our strength is gone, and when the morning light comes streamin' in, we'll get up and do it again. Amen.

In the early part of the decade, Rhino Records finally released the compilation album that Browne deserved. In 32 songs, The Very Best of Jackson Browne covered all of the different parts of his career, and if you listened from start to finish, it began to dawn on you that even as his popularity waned after its late-1970s height, his artistry continued to grow. Songs like “In the Shape of a Heart,” “Sky Blue and Black” and “The Naked Ride Home” weren’t just as good as the early gems that began to make him famous – in fact, they were better. And even if the politics at times teetered on the strident, they were always brave. But for me, Browne was never just about politics – as Springsteen noted in his speech, the politics was just another means by which Browne could explore the intricacies of human relationships. As Dave Marsh wrote in the liner notes to Very Best:

All hearts beat alone. The task of the artist is to bring us together, which is a way of saying, to remind us to love, at whatever the cost, because that is our only true path home. At this task, Jackson Browne succeeds from beginning to end.

During the past decade, Browne released two extraordinary albums, but they weren’t the two studio recordings of original works. Both The Naked Ride Home and Time the Conqueror were solid albums, featuring some excellent songs, but neither approached the consistency of earlier Browne classics like Late for the Sky and I’m Alive. No, the two extraordinary albums were the live recordings, Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 and Solo Acoustic Vol. 2, both of which were exactly as advertised – Browne singing through various parts of his songbook, accompanied only by himself, either on guitar or piano.

Part of what makes both of these albums so special is the intimacy which Browne achieves with his audience. On both volumes, the program becomes one long, extended conversation between Browne and his audience. He takes requests, he explains the background for some songs, and above all he is genuinely funny, never taking himself as serious as some of the songs he is singing – self-deprecating, generous, and genuinely warm. And in one case, absolutely hysterical, when he talks about singing The Eagles' "Peaceful, Easy Feelin'" at a recent concert, and forgetting the words.

Browne’s voice today sounds better and stronger than it ever has, and the intimacy of the setting allows him to delve more deeply into the songs than he probably ever has before. From “These Days,” written in the 1960s when Browne was 16; to “Fountain of Sorrow,” one of the early 1970s songs that made him the star he is today; to “Somebody’s Baby,” the hit single that younger generations have continued to discover on the soundtrack to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High;” to “Lives in the Balance,” perhaps his strongest political song; to “The Barricades of Heaven,” the songs all feel of one time and place – they fit together beautifully, even though they were written in very different times and in all likelihood Browne was a very different person when he wrote them.

Forced to pick between the two volumes, I’d probably cast a vote for Vol. 2, if only because it features, consecutively, what I think are three of his very best – and underappreciated – songs: “Sky Blue and Black,” “In the Shape of a Heart,” and “Alive in the World.” But for the purposes of this list, where I make and break the rules as I see fit, the two volumes are one entry, and finish #24 on my list of the Top 25 Albums of the 2000s.

Read my original review of Vol. 2 here.

35 Years Ago Today

Richard M. Nixon's farewell speech to his staff. We had celebrated the night before (and I was allowed my first drink of champagne, at age 14), but even then this was difficult to watch. The "you won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more" speech is more famous, but this one is where Nixon really rips the core out of his soul and bears it for the entire world to see. And it is not a pretty sight - all you have to do is look closely at his face to know that Nixon was not a well man on August 9, 1974. The comeback and rehabilitation was far away.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Anyone of or around a certain age (mine, to be specific) will remember the first time they saw this, as if it were yesterday.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Top 25 of the 2000s - #25

#25 – Vampire Weekend

When I first reviewed this album in April 2008, I wrote, “Like the meringue on a lemon pie, the music on Vampire Weekend tastes good, but you’re not sure if there’s any substance there.” I went on to say that while the songs sounded great, the jury was still out on whether they – and the record – would stand the test of time.

A year and a half later, I’m pleased to report that Vampire Weekend has survived some heavy, heavy rotation on my MP3 player, and that I enjoy listening to it today as much (if not more) than I did at the time of its release.

Is it authentic? That’s for someone wiser than me to decide. Is it calculated? Sure. But in the end, does that really matter? All I know is that every time “A-Punk” comes on, all I want to do is jump around, or practice my air-drumming. And if it comes on when I'm running, I never fail to gain a little spring in my step.

I recently read in Rolling Stone that the band is putting the finishing touches on its second album, and while I look forward to hearing it, I also wonder whether this is the classic set-up for a sophomore slump. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, let’s just say that Vampire Weekend was a great debut album, remarkably consistent, and without a truly weak cut. It sounds good, and you can dance to it.

My original review can be found here.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Free Advice

In the (highly) unlikely event that the man waiting at the bus stop on the corner of 15th and Broadway is a reader of this blog, I just wanted to let him know that hitting the bus stop sign with all your might does not make the bus arrive any faster.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A New Feature: Dumb NFL Quotes!

I'm inspired by something I just read to begin a new feature - "Dumb NFL Quotes."

From this week's Monday Morning Quarterback column by SI's Peter King:

Saturday, 11 a.m. (Eagles camp) In practice this morning, new cornerback Ellis Hobbs -- acquired for two fifth-round picks from New England on draft day -- deflected a long ball down the left side away from a receiver and exulted, pumping his arms and exciting the crowd. "That's the first time I celebrated with pure emotion in a long time,'' said Hobbs. "In New England, they believe in keeping your emotions down. It zaps the life out of you. I remember standing on the sidelines in my first playoff game, home against Jacksonville, and getting all excited and I'm jumping around, and I feel this touch on my shoulders. I was told, 'Calm down.' I'm thinking, 'Wow, my first playoff game. Let's enjoy it.' But that's not the way it's done there.''

Gosh, it's a real shame those New England players have to keep those emotions down. I bet it's really made their play suffer.

What? Three Super Bowl wins this decade? Undefeated regular season? Team of the 2000s? Oh, never mind.

Mr. Hobbs, I have a feeling there's been quite a lot of emotion coming from New England in recent years. I hope you have a great season, and congratulations - because of your idiotic statement, you become the first ever player to be featured in "Dumb NFL Quotes!"

This Post Intentionally Contains Content

How you ever noticed how many high-falutin government think-tank type reports contain blank pages that say "This page intentionally left blank?"

What's up with that? Does the agency that wrote the report think I'm not smart enough to figure that out on my own?

And if you really think about it, once they stick that phrase in, the page is no longer blank.

And why all the blank pages in the first place? Aren't we supposed to "go green?" How about filling up those pages with some juicy content for us to devour?

Just some things that occupy my mind from time to time.

Monday, August 03, 2009

"The Hurt Locker" Sets New Standards for Tension

As “The Hurt Locker” begins, a bomb-defusing unit is investigating a suspicious pile of garbage sitting on a Baghdad street. A remote, robotic device is used to confirm that yes, the pile contains a bomb. Another remote device is sent to remove pieces of the pile, so that the bomb can be approached by a technician who will then proceed to defuse it. The remote device fails. The technician puts on his protective suit, and begins a slow walk towards the bomb. The other men in his unit are watchful, and tightly wound. People begin to watch from the rooftops. A man comes into sight. He is carrying what could be a detonator. It could be nothing more than a cell phone. The technician is now close to the bomb. The scene quickly descends into chaos as fear overtakes the men in the unit.

In most movies, that would be the climactic scene. In “The Hurt Locker,” it’s just the beginning. The tension ratchets up from there, and it never lets up for the next 130 minutes. By the end of the movie, regardless of what you think about U.S. involvement in Iraq, you feel an appreciation for what it’s like over there (or was like in 2004, when the movie is set). This is not a movie that has time for sentiment, or one that tries to steer the viewer into a rigid opinion about the war in question. It is a movie about men with a job to do, and then it is up to each individual viewer to decide whether they respect those men, or are appalled by their actions.

Off the top of my head, I cannot think of another war movie that maintains the level of tension that is felt throughout the entirety of “The Hurt Locker.” The soldiers in this movie don’t spend their evenings in the bar or talking with each other about what their lives were like back in the states. No, they release their tension by hitting each other as hard as they possibly can – which may help them, but doesn’t do much for the person watching the movie who is wondering whether this is the scene where one of the main characters buys it.

Two scenes in particular stand out. The first occurs when the bomb unit meets up with a band of “contractors” (i.e. mercenaries) out in the desert. The scene begins tensely, as the two units try to figure out if the other is friendly. And then they come under fire from an Iraqi unit, which cannot even be seen at first. Where the scene becomes almost too tense to watch is when an Iraqi sniper and a member of the American unit find each other in their sights – but the shot is a long, difficult one. Whoever makes the shot first will live to tell the tale. The other one will be dead.

The second scene occurs when William James, the bomb technician played by Jeremy Renner, blunders into an Iraqi home where he believes he will learn something about an Iraqi boy who has been gruesomely mutilated and killed. When he comes into contact with an Iraqi man and his wife, the situation quickly descends into chaos, and as it does you feel totally helpless – you want desperately for things to calm down, but it’s far too late for that. Getting out alive is the best one can hope for.

The movie is directed brilliantly by Kathryn Bigelow, and the cast is superb. The men of the unit are played by Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. None are household names, but all should be after “The Hurt Locker.” Renner in particular is amazing – his performance comes with a brute force not unlike that which Russell Crowe demonstrated in “L.A. Confidential,” before anyone had heard of him. Also outstanding in supporting roles are David Morse, Ralph Fiennes, and Guy Pearce – even though I have to admit I didn’t realize it was Guy Pearce as I was watching.

It’s a great movie – but certainly not one for everybody. If it doesn’t receive an Best Picture nomination next year, with the number of nominees increased to 10, it will be a grave injustice.

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Sir Paul, in his recent appearance on Letterman, his first return to the Ed Sullivan Theater since those heady days of 1964: