Friday, October 31, 2008
Studs Terkel passed away this afternoon at the age of 96. I almost met the writer twice in the last two years. He was conducting an interview at Standard Indian Buffet on Belmont in Lakeview. I whispered to Kelsey, "Is that Studs Terkel?" She thought so. I went to the bookstore two doors down, bought two of the man's books and hurried back. By the time I returned he was gone. Earlier this year he signed copies of his new book. In order to get an autograph and praise the man in person, you needed to buy the book from the museum for $30. I didn't have $30. I went home.
I've been reading Studs Terkel's work for the last seven years. I'll pick up "Working" or "Division Street" when I visit my mother in the suburbs. My current bedside reading is "And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey". I recently started a podcast inspired by Studs show on WFMT. I'm reading Nelson Algren books because Mr. Terkel made sure the controversial, legendary authors out-of-print books (all of them) would remain in print since the late 90s. I've been trying to get a hold of Terkel's television show "Stud's Place" since I learned about it at the Chicago History Museum. The man has done everything I'd like to do, did it well and didn't buckle during McCarthyism. I can't think of a better writer to look up to.
Terkel connected Hemingway to Algren and beyond. The man interviewed some of the most important musicians of the 20th century. He conducted interviews with the common man and made it clear that everyone has a story.
If any of my friends would like to read Terkel's books, send me an email and I'll gladly lend you mine.
Monday, October 27, 2008
43. John Pierson "Spike, Mike, Slackers, & Dykes: A Guided Tour Across a Decade of American Independent Cinema"
I began this book in 1997. I was 14 years old and wanted to direct films. I loved "Clerks" and "Roger & Me" and this book covered both. I read the chapters about each film but couldn't really enjoy anything else. 11 years later I was able to comprehend it a little better.
If you're not interested in independent American cinema from the 1980s and have no desire to make a film, this book is not for you. It's numbers heavy, name drops films and filmmakers you've probably never heard of and isn't a great story. It's definitly interesting, but not a great narrative. Pierson writes for aspiring filmmakers from the mid 90s. The info about how to edit a picture in your bedroom probably is different now due to advances in cameras and computers. I couldn't help but think of "Conversations with Other Women" during these parts.
It's difficult to find much information about Pierson's current work online. It would be nice to see what he thinks of current filmmaking.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
92. "A Fistful of Dollars"
Clint Eastwood is the Man with No Name. He looks out for few, makes money off everyone and has the best shot in town. You can trust him but you won't figure out the angle until it's too late. He's the disease that might make the plague disappear. He is the ultimate bad-ass.
Sergio Leone helped recreate the Western with the first of his "Dollars Trilogy". Yea, he was sued successfully by Kurosawa's for ripping off his film "Yojimbo", but it doesn't matter. It's like saying "Clerks" is a remake of "Slackers". Both films are hugely important. Both films tell similar stories. Only one film has Eastwood.
The score by Ennio Morricone is a classic for a reason. It's haunting, memorable and fun (that is possible).
The dialogue doesn't sync because most of the cast spoke Italian. It's distracting. After 30 minutes you get used to it. By this point in the film, it's about Eastwood staring ahead, thinking who to kill next.
91. "Bell, Book and Candle"
Thanks to the wonderful MeTV station in Chicago, us non-cable viewers get a chance to watch "classic" films at odd hours any day of the week. Since it's the season of scary films, this James Stewart and Kim Novak flick was pretty great for the first half and not so bad for the second.
It's difficult not to enjoy the duo. Sure, the film isn't scary and definitely not a comedy (though it was nominated for the Golden Globes Best Picture - Comedy in 1958) and doesn't really go anywhere, but the performances are great. Not a bad way to waste a Saturday.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
90. "Chicago 10: Speak Your Piece"
You might enjoy this partially animated documentary more if you have no idea about the 1968 DNC protests. If you live in Chicago and have a basic understanding of the Chicago machine, Daley 1 or the DNC, you'll probably already have an opinion on what happened.
Teenagers would love this film, especially ones that are into Rage Against the Machine. Film maker Brett Morgen liberally uses hard rockin' hits from the 90s to make all the cop/protester encounters seem like video game explosions. The computer animation makes the court room seem like the best theater you're not allowed to attend. Wherever you stand, this documentary looks and sounds excellent.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
89. "Eagle Vs. Shark"
Equal parts "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Me and You and Everyone We Know", this New Zealand based film is wonderful for people that are alone, read a lot, think they're smarter than everyone but are miserable and those that enjoy stop motion animation. It's good.
Lily works at a burger joint. She has a crush on the guy that comes in. His name is Jarrod. Lily works on an order for Jarrod on her last day at work. He gives her an invitation to pass along. She does. She ends up going to a party Jarrod is hosting. Guests dress up as their favorite animal. Lily goes as an eagle. Mark is a shark. There is a fighting game tournament. Jarrod wins. Lily lets him. They two begin dating. It's awkward. Quietly awkward. Lily and Jarrod go to his hometown so he can settle a score with the guy that bullied him in high school. That trip is also awkward.
A great film for a kid that's lonely in high school. If I find out any of my friends looooove this film I will worry that they are suicidal.
88. "War, Inc"
This 2008 Cusack written/produced/starring film only played in New York and LA. That is because it is not good. In fact, it is very far from good. It's part "Grosse Point Blank" (it stars both John Cusack as a assassin for hire, Joan Cusack as a secretary undercover and Dan Aykroyd as a boss figure), part "Idiocracy" and bad satire of war in general. It paints broad strokes but none of them make much sense. It's a failure in every sense of the word.
Mr. Cusack is sent to Turaqistan to both lead a conference of sorts for US PR and to assassinate the made up country's current leader. He falls in love with journalist Marissa Tomei, takes shots of hot sauce because he's haunted by the death of his wife and daughter and blah blah blah. It's really boring. The jokes aren't funny and the speeches are preachy. If it wasn't coming from the guy who wrote "G.P.B." and "High Fidelity" I would have turned it off within the first 20 minutes. Instead, I kept on insisting to my girlfriend that it had to get better.
Was it the direction? The acting wasn't awful. Was it the story? It never gelled. Was it the editing? Something had to go wrong.
I feel a little bad for Hillary Duff. I would sign on to a project that would appear to be "Grosse Point Blank 2".
Monday, October 20, 2008
The Christian Broadcasting Network is airing an interview they conducted with Gov. Sarah Palin tomorrow evening. In the interview she says that she would like to see a federal ban on gay marriage. While this isn't shocking I did chuckle when I saw the location of the photo that Yahoo! News ran with the story.
42. Lily Burana "Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America"
This memoir about stripping is better than Diablo Cody's but not nearly good enough for me to recommend to anyone not already interested in the sex industry.
Burana spent the ages of 18-25 stripping in New York City and California. Unlike Cody, she did it as a career, not as a hobby that turned into a book. The reader learns about her time at multiple clubs, eventually teaming up with a former stripper to demand independent contractor rights from a San Franciscan club. We read about alcohol policies, Champagne rooms, costumes, rituals, piercings and other stripper territory.
One part of the book reads like a travel journal, reminiscing about the younger days while updating the reader on her current stripper tour (hence the title of the book). These are the interesting entries. The rest of the text gets bogged down by pseudo-feminism philosophy, zine-like rants and contradictory inner monologues. After spending four years as a women's studies minor, I've read much better.
If Burana stuck to one thesis, "Strip City" might have been cohesive. Instead, we get a 328 page book that is 100 pages too long.
I have never been to a strip club. After talking to friends about their experiences and reading two memoirs about the industry, I have no desire to step foot in any. I'm not sure why I've read and will probably read more books about stripping. My only guess is that I'm waiting to read something that justifies all the pro-stripping essays about female empowerment I read for class.
The book ends with the author visiting her older sister who happens to be a minister. The author tries to fin religion or something like that. It's awful and reason enough not to start the book.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
A lady's brother died in a car accident. The lady was in court today. The lady said that her brother is in heaven, watching down on her. The lady said this while looking into the camera. The lady did not look in the camera before or after this statement.
If you want to talk to people that are looking down on you from heaven, you have to look directly into the camera.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
41. H. E. F. Donohue and Nelson Algren "Conversations with Nelson Algren"
I've been appreciating the works of Algren the more I drink, the more I age and the more I walk down Division St. This work gives a glimpse of the Chicago bred author in the way any good biography should.
You can enjoy this work regardless of your knowledge or interest in Algren or his works. The back and forth between the two men reads like a good episode of "Fresh Air". When Terri Gross follows up with good questions and let the interviewee respond with no regard for time, you seem to learn something. If you are a fan of Algren you'll want to read this. Rather than get bogged down with rumors or half-truths, this book doesn't allow time for lies, unless they're from the horse's mouth.
87. "Pineapple Express"
While I knew that this film was mostly an action film going in, I figured it would be like "Hot Fuzz," mostly a dark comedy with uber-violence. It was not. It was more action than comedy and would probably be a lot better if you were high.
The movie never hit. There are some funny things on paper but they never gelled, like Rogen's character dating an high school senior.
The fights were kinda funny, kinda over the top, but once again, never gelled. The fights in "Step Brothers" were funnier.
The first Rogen film that disappointed.
86. "Step Brothers"
I underestimated this movie. It is excellent. It's absurd, like "Freddy Got Fingered" with one great actor and one funny man.
The plot is dumb. Two 40 year old males still live at home. They become step-brothers. They're stuck in a state of arrested development. That's it. Nothing much happens. It's great. Ferrell and Reilly never break character. They beat the shit out of each other. They act about 11 or 12 and do not learn a lesson. Great.
Ferrell's best film since "Stranger Than Fiction".
Monday, October 13, 2008
85. "Run Fatboy Run"
Sure, I've seen worse, but why couldn't Michael Ian Black and Simon Pegg make something good? "Stella" is a great TV show. "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" are great films. This seemed like it would be great on paper. It wasn't. It's clear from the first 10 minutes how the last 10 minutes are going to play out.
I bet the same people that liked "Dan in Real Life" would like this movie.
"Rounders" is one of the films I always meant to rent during the high school years I spent as a video store clerk. I just never came around to it. I'm not sure why. Maybe I would have liked it a lot more as a 17-year old.
Matt Damon and Edward Norton are excellent actors and it's a pleasure seeing them on screen. The story seemed like a device to talk about poker. It's better than "21" but far from a good film.
Monday, October 06, 2008
40. Dashiell Hammett "The Thin Man"
"The Thin Man" is one of my favorite films. Hammett is one of my favorite writers. Yet it took years for me to read one of his most well-known works. I guess I was afraid the book wouldn't live up to my expectations. I was wrong. The book is wonderful, darker than the film and different enough to both read and see the work.
Hammett's reputation is earned. His prose is stripped to the bare essentials. The dialogue is full of quick witted quips. There isn't room for too much thinking, not when there's drinking to do. And don't forget the murder. Hammett always makes sure the pages run red.
For those that love "Mad Men" and think smoking and drinking belongs to 1960, read any of Hammett's works. He married vice, excitement and class long before Madison Ave.
83. "Dan In Real Life"
What family acts like this? The men vs. the women in a crossword challenge? A talent show? A morning workout session? An impromptu sing-along? No fighting?
Why did Juliette Binoche take this role?
The Sondre Lerche score was nice. The setting was pretty. The story was weak. Steve Carell was good. A movie that fans of romantic comedies and happy endings would enjoy.
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
In 1906 the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox faced off in the sixth World Series. The Cubs coasted into the post-season, clinching the pennant with weeks to go. The Sox dragged it out, winning the pennant in the last week. The Cubs were unbeatable on paper, they had more wins than any team in both league for the regular season. The Sox got lucky and snuck in with the worst batting average in the AL. The Cubs were guaranteed to win, with papers all but calling the series a lock. The White Sox won the series in six games. The two teams haven't been in the post-season until now, this week, 102 years later.
The Cubs clinched the NL Central with a game and two series to go. The White Sox dragged it out, losing a 2 and a half game lead in the last week of the season only to regain it in a one game playoff. The Cubs ended the season with the best record in the NL. The Sox were lucky enough to be in a division where the first place record was worse than the wild card record. The Cubs are the NL favorite. The White Sox will be lucky to advance to round two. In spite of all of this, it wouldn't surprise me to see another Crosstown Classic.
In my ideal world, the Cubs and Sox trade off World Series trophies yearly, the Bulls are consistently in the playoffs, the Bears defense is menacing, the running game is solid (even in my picturesque world the Bears don't have a great QB, I'm not crazy) and all the Hawks games are actually on television, not Hawkvision. Chicagoans should be thrilled both baseball clubs have made it this far. The Cubs accomplishments aren't diminished by the Sox success and the Sox are getting just as much coverage as they would have if the Cubs remained loveable losers.
Let's hope that both teams win the pennant and meet off the Red Line later this month. Since god (I'll start believing in god if the following happens) may read this, I'll give you my ideal 2008 World Series.
U.S. Cellular Field
Mark Burhle takes the mound for the South Side. Alfonso Soriano hits a lead off home run. Burhle retires the next three. Zambrano retires Cabrera, gives up a solo shot to Alexi Ramirez and proceeds to get out the next two batters. The teams' two fastest pitchers, both in terms of speed of pitch and time between tosses, make this game the quickest in World Series history. The teams are tied 1-1 until the 9th. Both starters remain in the game until the 9th. It's a pitchers duel. A classic match. The Sox bring in Jenks. Jenks does his job, striking out Theriot and grounding out Lee on a sharp hit to third (the first of many amazing plays by Juan Uribe). Aramis Ramirez is not as easy. After getting the count to 3 and 2, Ramirez begins to hit foul ball after foul ball. After five or six fouls, Jenks losses a little control and Aramis makes the most of it. Home run. Cubs up 2 to 1. Soto is up next and grounds out to Konerko at first. Surprisingly, no fights break out. The Cubs bring in Wood for the bottom of the ninth. Wood almost gives up a home run to his first batter, Jim Thome, but thanks to the fielding of Jim Edmonds, a home run is averted. The next two batters go down easy. The Cubs lead the series 1-0. There are no fights inside or outside the park.
U.S. Cellular Field
Mayor Daley throws out the first pitch. Ryan Dempster takes the mound for the Cubs. He gives up six home runs over seven innings. Since we're talking about the Sox, five out of six of these home runs are solo shots. The Sox win seven to four. It's a relatively uneventful game. No close calls, no collisions at the plate, no drop third strikes. The series is tied 1-1. There are no fights inside or outside the park.
This one is for the golden oldies. Jim Edmonds and Ken Griffey Jr. have landmark games, with each center fielder going 3 for 4 with a walk. Ted Lilly and John Denks throw well, but the wind is blowing out and Wrigley Field is ecstatic to see it's first World Series game in over 60 years (The 1908 Cubs played at the West Side Grounds and the 45 Cubs only won one home game against the Tigers). The game is tied 10-10 in the eighth when the Cubs blow it out of the water. Lee leads off with a double. Ramirez is walked. Soto bunts to advance the two to third and second. With one out, Jim Edmonds hits a double, driving in both men. Daryl Ward pinch hits a single, making it 13-10. Wood gets the save. The Cubs lead the series 2-1. There are no fights inside or outside the park.
This is the game baseball analysts will talk about how this is truly the first World Series game that uses the word 'world' correctly. Kosuke Fukudome, Alexi Ramirez, Aramis Ramirez and Orlando Cabrera are breakout stars, making daredevil catches and hitting superbly in clutch situations. Cubs mid-season pickup Rich Harden pitches a complete game, giving up hits to only Ramirez and Cabrera. These happen to be home runs. The Cubs win the game 3-2. The Cubs lead the series 3-1. There are no fights inside or outside the park.
Presidential hopeful Barack Obama throws out the first pitch. He does so wearing a White Sox hat. He gets a standing ovation. Carlos Zambrano takes the mound for the Cubs, Burhle for the Sox. The two veterans again go til the 9th. Zambrano gives up solo shots to Konerko, Thome and Dye. Burhle is the victim of home runs by Lee, Ramirez and Theriot. The Cubs lead 5-4 going in to the 9th. They bring in Wood. He gives up a lead-off single to Juan Uribe. He strikes out pinch hitter Nick Swisher. Lead-off hitter Orlando Cabrera singles. Men at third and first. One out. A.J. Pierzynski hits a ground ball to shortstop Ryan Theriot, he goes to second with a throw to Fontenot who turns the double play to Lee. From Theriot to Fontenot to Lee does not become a poem ala Tinkers to Evers to Chance, but the trio do record the last two outs for the Cubs. Lee gives the game ball to Wood. The White Sox shake hands with the Cubs, like they're all in Little League. Ozzie and Lou hug each other. Aramis Ramirez is named series MVP. The Cubs win the series 4-1. There are no fights inside or outside the park.
That's it. I don't think it's too much to ask. The Cubs have to win it all sooner or later, so it might as well happen in Chicago, on the North Side, without any fights. Also, the good people at Fox will not show any footage of frat boys on the North Side or white trash on the South Side. No stereotypes. In fact, the only crowd shots will be of children 10 and under and the elderly 65 and older.
39. Chuck Palahniuk "Choke"
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I think I stayed away from it for so long because all of my classmates in college that had read it called it sexist. It's kind of sexist. It hates both sexes, so that's sexist, right?
The book is about a guy that may be a descendant of Jesus Christ, is a sexaholic, chokes in order to save people and make money. A wonderful premise done well. The comic timing is great. The ending is lackluster and makes you feel cheated but it should make you feel cheated.
The same people that said this book is sexist said it was written in order to one day be a film. It probably was. It should make a great film. I'll be seeing that film soon.