Monday, September 29, 2008

The Coen Brothers first draft

82. "Burn After Reading"
If the Coen Brothers hadn't made this film I wouldn't have seen it in a theater. I think that means I respect or admire the Coen Brothers. If the Coen Brothers hadn't made this film I would've given it a B. Since it is a Coen flick I'll give it a C, only because it's nowhere as good as "No Country For Old Men" or "O Brother". In other words, ignore this first paragraph.

"Burn After Reading" is 95 minutes of actors having a good time. The story is a device for pros to let down their guard. It's fun. It doesn't mean much, or anything. Films don't have to have a message or a story to be good. Then again, most films don't have Clooney, Pitt, Malkovich or McDormand. This film is like watching the 1992 US Basketball 'Dream Team' play a pick up game.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dumb smart

38. Steve Martin "Born Standing Up"
My friend did not enjoy this autobiography. She thought it didn't reveal enough of Martin's stand up routines. I thought it revealed just enough to gain an understanding just how the smart and the stupid combined in Martin's act, leading to him being the most popular stand up of all time.

It helps if you're a fan of Martin. The origin of his catchphrases, the arrow through the head and 'Wild and Crazy Guys' routine is revealed. You also get the story of the sad childhood which leads to the career in comedy but still sad and lonely existence. Sure, you know the story, but Martin tells it in an efficient manner. The book can easily be digested in a few sit downs.

I agree with all of the positive reviews. I don't agree with the price tag. Rather than spend $25 on the hardcover edition, buy the 26th anniversary edition of "The Jerk".

Friday, September 26, 2008

Due west

81. "North by Northwest"
This is the Hitchcock flick that has Cary Grant in a field with a plane trying to kill him. The one where he dives into corn. He's wearing a blue suit. The same one with the Mount Rushmore falls. You know it. Even if you've never seen it you know it.

It's great in a lot of ways. The story is surreal. The camera work heightens the suspense. The performances are legendary for good reason. It's hard to imagine any way to improve this film other than continuity shots.

When I'm watching a film with Cary Grant I don't care about the outcome. I just want to see the man talk fast with quick witted women. It helps if he's wearing a suit.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Starring Viggo Mortensen

37. Cormac McCarthy "The Road"
I shouldn't have bothered trying to read this novel during daylight. If I hadn't tried to comprehend a post-apocalyptic novel while sitting on the north end of the Lake Shore bike path I might have enjoyed the first half as much as I did the second.

Like "No Country For Old Men", it takes some adjusting to style in order to enjoy McCarthy's work. Once that hurdle is overcome, you're left with a sparse and beautiful work of literature. A wholly original work that will inevitably be taught in high school English classes within 20 years, "The Road" strips away most storytelling devices and leaves you with human conflict relateable to all, regardless of sex, class, age, etc.

The book is about a father trying to do what's best for his son. The two happen to be some of the last people on earth. Father and son are traveling down a road, to the ocean, hoping for, well, we're never really sure. That's it. Simple and beautiful and haunting.

Friday, September 19, 2008

There's talk of a statue on the West Side Grounds

36. Cait N. Murphy "Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History"
Murphy is the assistant managing editor at Fortune magazine. She has a background working in other financial publications. She's a smart woman and writes like a good NPR corespondent. The problem is that she writes like a good NPR correspondent. The prose gets a little too heavy. There are four pages about a female serial killer from Indiana pre-1908. While this data is supposed to help the reader paint a picture of what it was like to live in Chicago in 1908, it doesn't. Instead, we get four pages of well-written but heavy handed information that takes the reader out of the diamond and into the history lesson.

1908 was a crazy season. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. They played a game that didn't really count but changed the history of the game. Most games were called by only one umpire, allowing teams to run easily. Jerseys didn't include numbers so managers could hit out of order with small chances of being reprimanded. Games were played with one ball. Pitchers had arms that would go for hundreds of innings with n regard for a pitch count or future (think C.C. Sabathia's Brewer's 2008). Games lasted for about 90 minutes. In the era of dead ball, homers were rare. From Tinkers to Evers to Chance became a poem and a reason to induct the three to the Hall of Fame. In other words, Murphy had ample source material. She made the most of it.

Though her writing could get a little too academic for a baseball book, Murphy does an excellent job of putting you in games that happened 100 years ago.

My girlfriend has been giving me guff about reading too many baseball books. I think she wouldn't mind if they were all like this.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hula-Hoops and Frisbies

80. "The Hudsucker Proxy"
It's disappointing when a Coen brother's film disappoints. Maybe it wouldn't if I saw it before "O Brother".

"Hudsucker" is the story of a man who unknowingly becomes the fall guy for the "Hudsucker" corporation. On the small town boys first day at his new job in the mail room he ends up going to the 44th floor to deliver a feared 'Blue Letter' to the current VP. Through a series of wacky events, our guy becomes the new Pres.

It's very Frank Capra and that's intentional. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a reporter straight out of "His Girl Friday." Tim Robbins does his best Jimmy Stewart. The parts just don't add up.

Red Bull jokes

79. "Baby Mama"
The first Tina Fey project (that I can think of) that disappoints. It's like the new Raconteurs album.

Fey and Pohler have a lot of funny lines and Dax Sheppard proves that he's much better than his first impression on "Punk'd," yet the movie just doesn't deliver. It's predictable in a studio film way. I found myself laughing at things not in the movie, but lines that reminded me of "30 Rock." In other words, I should have watched Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan clips.

A disciple of the angry young men

35. David Mamet "Writing in Restaurants"
Mamet is an uber-successful playwright, author, screenwriter and director. "Writing in Restaurants" is a collections of essays, mostly about the theater and what needs to be done to keep it alive. I'm not in the theater and don't have much of a desire to immerse myself, yet I still enjoyed each of the pieces in this collection.

Mamet is a Chicagoan. He writes about his time working at Second City and developing plays at the Steppenwolf. He reminisces about long gone pool halls. Anecdotes about a Chicago childhood run through most of the book. He paints Hollywood and the theater through a Midwestern, cynical lens. Though it may seem like it would be hard to take so much negativity in such small doses (most pieces are 4 pages long), Mamet writes in a conversational way that makes it seem natural.

The title didn't tip me off, which makes me think I'm thick in the head

34. Billy Bean and Chris Bull "Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball"
Billy Beane is the general manager of Oakland Athletics. He was one of the first men in baseball to embrace sabermetrics, a system of judging baseball players on math alone. By ignoring old scouts advice about good feelings, he was able to construct first place teams with a fourth place budget. The book "Moneyball" is based around Beane's tactics and odd character traits.

Billy Bean was a bench-warmer for a few major league teams for roughly ten years. He happens to be gay. I mixed up the two men.

"Going the Other Way" reads like an inspirational speech for fifth graders. Bean advocates for equal treatment for gay baseball players, which seems like common sense because it is. The problem, well, not a problem, but definitely something that makes the book less compelling, is that Bean didn't come out of the closet for years after his playing days. While his personal decision shouldn't affect the story, it does. It's kinda boring and what you'd expect from a Lifetime movie.

Kate Bosworth played Spacey's wife and now, student

78. "21"
Yet another movie I watched because of RedBox. Yet another movie I shouldn't have watched just because of RedBox.

Kevin Spacey produced and co-starred in this kinda true story. It would've been better if it was exaggerated beyond belief or contained realistic dialogue and situations that actually happened.

Whatever. It's bad enough to turn off and not good enough to rent.

Ron Santo's most hated place in the world

I'm going to Shea Stadium for the first and probably last time on Monday to see the Cubs-Mets game. There will be no black cats.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Kelsey and I spin records tonight at Innjoy in Wicker Park. From 10-12 it's indie-tastic and from 12-2 it's all about Chicago. Since you probably know one of us since you're reading this, come at 9 for the hour long open bar.

The photo kinda sums everything up.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Art, schmart

77. "My Kid Could Pain That"
Marla Olmstead is a painter. She was four when this documentary was shot. Her paintings currently sell for $20,000. There has been some controversy surrounding the authenticity of her work. This 2007 documentary tells some of this story.

What started as a documentary about what is art turned into an issue of authenticity. It's good that I watched "F for Fake" a few months ago. I recommend both films.

Would you pay a few thousand dollars for an abstract painting? Would you be upset if you found out the painter wasn't who you thought? Would it make the painting less worthy?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Column 3 "American Jesus"

1. You don't talk about politics and religion. I was reminded of this on a daily basis in high school and the first couple years of college. Why wouldn't you talk about politics? It's the one thing that impacts all of us. Why not talk about belief or lack thereof belief in god? It seems like everyone has a view on god. Hell, some high schoolers have one view and that's how god is keeping them from using their forbidden parts. Anyways, I liked writing about politics and religion more than anything else. This got me in trouble. I was picked to be editor of my high school newspaper the first month of senior year. Before that, I would write about music, film and general pop culture stuff for the paper. This soon changed. The first issue I oversaw featured negative op-eds about the schools mandatory religious retreat, positive reviews of Kevin Smith's "Dogma" and how the Catholic church needs to completely overhaul their views on gays and lesbians. When the paper was released during the last period of a Friday, I was quickly called down to the main office to explain why I printed each story. By the next Friday I was relieved of the position. By the Friday after that I had begun my first zine, Foul Issue 1.

2. I wrote about politics at 17 because I figured going into politics would be the best way to change the world. Sure, punk bands are cool, but they don't solve world issues, that's up to politicians. In retrospect I was a naive teenager, but I wish I still held those naive beliefs. By the second year of college as a political science major, I learned what I already knew, that business and money control most of everything. Following politics became like following celebrities. I went back to writing just about music, films and pop culture for the college newspaper. I'd write some columns about politics, like my Vote or Pie campaign (think P. Diddy's Vote or Die but more delicious), but for the most part, I was done. I did get the chance to see Obama's 2004 senate campaign up close, but I was more of a spectator than a journalist, recording interviews for radio work.

By the time I hit drinking age, politics were boring. Hell, I understood why people voted for Bush, that guy looks like a lot of fun. He might make everything I ever wanted to happen harder to happen, but that's cool, he just wants to party.

"The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" went from scathingly funny to my main news source. Checking reliable news sources on a daily basis stopped soon after the 2004 election cycle. In the last year I've been getting back into the political swing of things. I listen/watch "Bill Moyers Journal" weekly, get consistent political emails or links from my girlfriend about stories she thinks I'd like, read Thomas Frank, subscribed to NPR podcasts and made sure I knew the stance most presidential candidates took. But I still don't talk to most people about politics and religion. It's just rude.

3. McCain's VP pick is Sarah Palin. She's an NRA member. She is pro-life. She has a newborn and a teenage daughter that's pregnant. That's all fine and good. But hypothetically, if Sarah Palin is attacked by a male wielding a gun, rapes Palin and Palin becomes pregnant with the rapists child, would she change her stance on abortion? On guns?

I realize that because of this writing I will probably be checked out or monitored by the Secret Service or something. I don't want Palin or anyone to be raped with a gun to their heard. In fact, I'm not cool with non-gun rape and I'm not cool with guns. Yea, I take hard stances on difficult issues.

McCain's VP pick Sarah Palin spoke last night at the Republican National Convention. She said:

I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a "community organizer," except that you have actual responsibilities. I might add that in small towns, we don't quite know what to make of a candidate who lavishes praise on working people when they are listening, and then talks about how bitterly they cling to their religion and guns when those people aren't listening.

Since hearing this sound bite on the news last night, I might be as passionate as I was at 17. I worked with a community organizer in Chicago. He is underpaid and overworked. He resides in the community he works. His responsibilities include keeping under aged at-risk children in high school, helping gang members get out of gangs, helping former gang members receive job training, helping parents of children in the community learn English, help get guns off the street, help the elderly get to their church service and, maybe most important of all, be a living example of how someone with a college education can go back home and do something positive. Palin said a small-town mayor has more responsibilities. If you think I'm misinterpreting what she said, look up on paragraph. I used a quote.

4. I work in a bar. I've learned many valuable lessons in what not to discuss. Politics and religion are on that list. But fuck it. After seeing Kathy Lee Gifford this morning say that she just wants everyone to like everyone in politics, I'd like to get back to my roots. Today I will listen to Bad Religion and start pointless fights with people that don't agree with 100% of the things I say.