Monday, June 30, 2008
53. "My Man Godfrey"
William Powell is the epitome of what a man should aspire to be, classy, quick witted, intelligent and, perhaps most importantly, carries himself with an air of respect that he knows he deserves. I want to be William Powell.
In this 1936 classic Powell plays a bum who becomes a butler but is from a well to do family. Whatever. It doesn't matter. The point is Powell gets to play the character that George Clooney has been trying to embody since his early years on "Roseanne." The man is a gift to cinema.
It's not as good as "The Thin Man" series, but it's pretty damn good. Since it's now public domain there's no excuse not to watch this film.
52. "King of California"
A remake of sorts of "The Tempest." The film stars Evan Rachel Wood as a 16-year old that has lived on her own for the last two years. She's dropped out of school, has no friends and works at McDonald's. Her father, played by Michael Douglas, is coming home from a mental institution. Once back he begins to search for gold. I'll leave it at that.
Michael Douglas is a great actor and Evan Rachel Wood is getting better with each picture. A solid piece of work.
51. "Word Wars"
Either I was oblivious to the popularity of documentaries, which I doubt considering my illustrious job history working in theaters and video stores, or the genre has increased exponentially in the last ten years. A search on Netflix in the documentary section will give you titles on seemingly every topic.
"Word Wars" follows four Scrabble players on their quest to become the National Champion. There's the incoming champ that practices Thai Chi, a neurotic white man in his late 30s that probably has Aspberger's, a part-time comic and an African-American that hates the white man and lives in a Baltimore ghetto. This isn't like the cast of "Spellbound."
The production value is reminiscent of a high school science video.
50. "The Motel"
When reviewers say that a film "looks like an independent film" they're referring to flicks like "The Motel." The dialogue is sparse, the lighting is dim and the location is rural.
Did you see "Chuck and Buck" and like it? You'll probably like this. Did you see "Me and You and Everyone We Know" and think it ushered in a new form of cinema? You'll love this.
The casting was spot on. The emotional tole the 13-year old protagonist endures is believable and identifiable. Though the film is only 75-minutes, it does have a slow pace.
It was good. Not life changing or worth watching twice, but a good, solid indie film.
49. "Two Days in Paris"
Julie Delpy's 2007 film is wonderful even at 6am.
Delpy (who stars in, wrote, directed, edited, produced and scored! (I think that does deserve an exclamation.)) and Adam Goldberg are a couple who are spending two days at Delpy's Paris apartment after two weeks in Italy and on the way home to New York.
The film is all about the dialogue in a wonderful "Annie Hall" way. Goldberg bitches for the majority of the film and Delpy confronts many French stereotypes. If either of those things turn you off, avoid this like the plague. If not, watch this film. It's realistic (Delpy's real life parents play her parents in the film), beautiful, funny and smart.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
47. "Meet the Robinsons"
Kelsey wanted to see this film because the trailer showed a dinosaur that said "I have a big head and little arms." That is a funny line, so we rented the film.
A Disney film about an orphan who wants to see what his mother looks like. He is science obsessed and keeps his roommate up doing his experiments. For an upcoming science fair he submits a machine that lets you look back at memories you no longer remember. This is when the villain comes in and the film picks up. Till this point the film follows the typical Disney formula. Once the protagonist goes to the future things get a little nutty. There's no good way to describe what happens without giving away too much, so I'll just say that the director has ADD or enjoys psychedelic drugs.
This film will not be considered a classic and will not influence kids to become scientists. For a $1 rental from Redbox, it's worth it.
Friday, June 27, 2008
46. "One Crazy Summer"
This is an awful movie. A decent cast can't save awful writing and a pointless, meandering plot. The only reason I didn't turn it off is because I started doing multiple tasks. Even as background it was disappointing.
28. Mary Roach "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers"
While "Stiff" is an excellent book about a subject that everyone ever can understand, it is not full of side-splitting laughs. Professional reviewers are liars or
have awful senses of humor.
The book is about what happens to cadavers that aren't buried or cremated. Dissection, crash test dummies, fertilizer and more possibilities each get their own chapter. Roach interviews multiple experts in their respected field for each section. By the end of the book the idea of being chopped up or liquefied isn't as disturbing as it once might have been. In a way, an excellent summer book.
45. "Iron Man"
A superhero movie does not have to stand on its own. It has years, decades of history behind it. The director can tell as much as he wants (I say he because to my knowledge, a woman has not directed a superhero movie in the last 20 years) of the origin. Therefore, there will be gaps. For example, how did Tony Starks' father start his company? Why would a billionaire playboy continue to perform his own experiments without a team of assistants? Why would a weapons company have to perform demos on enemy territory? Why do I care about these things when shit blows up?
"Iron Man" is an excellent superhero movie. It preaches but not too much. Robert Downey Jr. is an excellent Tony Stark. It's believable that this guy fucks a lot of random women and drinks a lot of random scotch. The suit looks good and the effects are wonderful. All in all, I understand all the praise it has received. But give me "X-Men 2." Wolverine cuts some guys tendons! That shit was bad-ass.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I need a new job. Or cable. Something different. I'm running out of stuff to watch on Hulu and Netflix and haven't been able to sit down and watch anything on free television for months. The television is on if I'm home, but I can't pay attention. Some new show on NBC about teenagers taking care of kids is on. I'm half-watching. I'm also talking for my friend on Gmail and applying for jobs. I might be overstimulated and underwhelmed.
A girl on the show just locked herself in a bathroom and cried.
I remember a woman on a talk show crying. She had a baby. A live one. That she had to take care of. She was looking, well, not looking, but making sure that a gentleman that did not want to be the father was in fact the father. He was not. She cried some more.
The girl on the show that locked herself in the bathroom will take care of a child that is not her own. She will "learn a lesson." I need to learn a lesson. I still haven't changed the channel.
Earlier this week I watched four local news half hours from the same channel. I do not remember one story. I was ridiculed by my girlfriend. "Why would anyone watch local news when they could read the newspaper and get twice as much information in less time?" She did not know I had watched four local news half hours.
Since I work in a high school I share the schedule of a high school student. This means that I have some time from June to August to watch horrible television and contemplate the meaning of life. Rather than do anything productive, I'll stare with dead eyes at whatever glows at me. For better or worse, this does not include cable television. This limits what I let soak in. Since I don't have a child and am not that interested in cartoons, I'm stuck with 'classic' reruns (think "The Monkees"), court shows, talk shows, local news and game shows. I'll always watch local news. I'll sometimes watch game shows.
Today's news had stories on a shooting in Humboldt Park and other topics. I don't remember the other topics. I remember the shooting in Humboldt Park because I read about it. Will this make me stop watching the news? Probably not. It's better than the court shows.
"Merv Griffin's Crossword" is a new game show. Contestants are read a clue and see how many letters are in the answer. Simple. I enjoy this show. If this show constituted it's own network, I would watch. It would be on at all times. I can easily ignore the show and easily slip back in.
I should develop a new hobby.
I was never a Scrabble fan. I've played three games in the past two weeks, easily doubling all previous games of Scrabble I had played. I'm starting to like it. That might be work as a new hobby. I know there's a new Scrabble game you can play on-line. It's educational, right?
Baseball cards and comics filled most of my down time as a child. Maybe I could get into those again in a way that won't cost me a ton of money. Maybe I could collect cards and comics and not be extremely overweight and single.
The stock market could solve this. I'm thoroughly confused by the thing and have some interest. I'll listen to the NPR show about the stock market, the one hosted by Ty Risdol (sp?), and understand about half of what's said. I could make a lot of money. I could make enough money to buy all those cards and comics I had as a kid. I could make enough money to buy the network that airs "Crossword."
Maybe a new career is the way to go. A hobby might be too much. A new job will get me out of the house so I can avoid television all together.
Something not in the arts would be ideal. Maybe law would work. Sure, I don't want to be a lawyer and have no desire to go to law school, but there's a lot of money in that field. I could ski down mountains of cocaine! I could represent evil doers that have mountains of cash! I could buy a mountain!
Construction work runs in the family. Something with metal and a 5am wake-up call. My grandfather liked it enough to do it but not enough to do it past 60. He was always tired but somewhat happy. He was also buzzed on Old Style.
Bartending every night seems to be the answer, at least for now. I'll be too tired to wake up before noon, make enough money to play the stock market, be surrounded by drugs and lawyers and spend what little I'll make on baseball cards and comic books. Win-win.
Monday, June 23, 2008
44. "Heavy Metal in Baghdad"
Yet another example that Vice does have something positive to offer. (Read their issue devoted to the Appalachians. It's the best single issue of a magazine I've read.)
This 2007 documentary follows the only heavy metal band in Iraq, Acrassicauda. The group formed during the Saddam regime, played a few shows, played a few more shows during the beginning of the war and haven't been able to play much since 2005. The bands practice space is destroyed by a missile, band members move to Syria and by August 2006, it looks like Acrassicauda is no more. The other members flee Iraq and start over as refugees. It looks like the band has a future. The guys from Vice help the band record a demo. The band is happy, but poor, beaten and cold (literally). The post script offers no glimmer of hope.
The documentary does not give a fair and balanced look at what it's like to be an Iraqi that wants to rock. That's fine. A film like this has a message going in, rock and roll can save your soul. Since rock and roll is not really possible in certain areas of the world, what happens? The film is about what happens to the people who aren't soldiers, who don't pledge an allegiance to anything or one.
For anyone that's ever been in band and has thought getting a show or finding a practice space has been an excuse to quit should watch this film.
27. Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Stephen Colbert "Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not"
I flipped through this book a few times when it was released and wanted to pick it up but the $23 price tag made me put it down. I found it a few weeks ago at a local coffee shop on sale for a dollar. It's worth somewhere between the two prices.
Wigfield is a fictional town that's less than a mile long, features multiple strip clubs and used tire shops and is the home to a wonderful, colorful cast of characters. The town is going to be destroyed by the city. A damn that was built for no purpose other than to line pockets is going to come down and the tiny little town's residents don't want it to happen. Well, they kinda want it to happen because they'll get some government payouts. But they're not a town. See...I'm giving too much of nothing away. The book is funny. It's easy to hear the voices of the three authors when reading accounts of the fictional characters.
Read the book is you like "Strangers with Candy." I can't promise you'll like the book if you're a fan of "The Colbert Report."
I've spend the last two hours looking up recording artists home town.
Kelsey and I went to some garage sales yesterday and found two crates of 45s for $30. I talked the guy down to $23 with a guitar pedal too. I like going to garage sales.
The first thing I do upon receiving a large amount of music is separate Chicago artists from the rest. Then I alphabetize the Chicago acts. The artists that aren't from the Windy City go in their own pile. The artists I'm not sure of make up the largest stack. It is these artists that I'm looking up. I am having a good time. I am thinking about doing a podcast about this kind of thing, researching relatively unknown bands and artists.
I did this with baseball cards. My mom likes to remind me of the time Harry Caray was reading off the Cubs roster while I was organizing my cards. He would repeat certain players names and I would lose track of who would go where (I had an elaborate system for all of my sports cards. Baseball had the most confusing. I would pull the cards of my favorite players, Andrew Dawson, Kirby Puckett, Greg Maddux and Ryne Sandberg, first. Next would come the card company. For example, Topps 88, Donruss, 89, etc. Then the doubles of those cards would go in binders. One for the American League, one for National League. Those would be divided by teams. The triplets of cards would go in shoe boxes to sell to the local card shop or to trade.) After ten minutes or so, I gave up and stomped out of the room.
I'm adding another goal to the New Year's Resolution. In addition to the reading of 52 books (on schedule), watching 102 films (slightly behind) and making 6 videos (way behind), I will attempt to post 52 columns on this thingy. A column will qualify as anything I write that's at least 800 words. I'm going easy on myself. The point is to take the things I already write in notebooks and napkins and flesh them out. Should be simple. I've spent too many nights watching episodes of "Friends" and "Will & Grace." I don't like "Friends" or "Will & Grace."
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
26. Jose Canseco "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big"
Sure, it reads like the diary of a 12-year old boy, but is that such a bad thing? Jose Canseco isn't the best writer or guy that talks into a microphone and has someone else write for him, but he does stick to his story. The man's story is simple, his dad pushed him too much, he was never loved as much as he should have been because he's Cuban, he loves steroids, there's nothing wrong with steroids and he is shy. The end. That's the whole book.
Though Canseco doesn't say much, he does make sure that linear storytelling is not present in "Juiced." The book reads like a monologue from a drunk wronged by his job, wife and the heavens. Once again, not a horrible thing.
I don't recommend this book for any non baseball fan. Hell, I don't recommend it to anyone that cares about the steroid controversy. I would recommend it to someone like me, someone that remembers the Bash Brothers, Canseco on the cover of Beckett (the baseball card price guide magazine) and dingers. Canseco hit a whole lot of dingers.
Monday, June 09, 2008
25. David Sedaris "When You Are Engulfed in Flames"
I take David Sedaris for granted. When asked about favorite books or authors, I never bring up his name or works. I should. Sedaris' newest collection of essays is just as good as his previous work and yet another reminder that he's the best at what he does.
"When You Are Engulfed in Flames" is not as good as "Me Talk Pretty One Day" but much better than "Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim." I have no idea why. I laughed just about the same amount through all three works, but found myself connecting more with this one. For example, in the long form piece about quitting smoking, I found myself laughing out loud and proceeded to read a paragraph to my girlfriend. It's that kind of book.
David Sedaris is the writer that everyone thinks they can be. They can not. Augesten Burroughs is a good example. His memoir "Running With Scissors" is more well known, partly because of the feature length film, but not nearly as good. It seems forced in every way. Sedaris does not. His voice is wholly original because he's not the most articulate or beautiful writer. His quips come from experience as an art school grad that poured pudding on his head and called it art. Unless you follow those footsteps, I doubt you'll sound like a member of the Talent Family.