July 31, 2010

Today's links are here in honor of the end of summer...

I'm kind of in favor of year-round school since it'll only cost me like a week of summer vacation...

No, I'm not bitter.  Why do you ask?

July 30, 2010

Pathetically late to the art installation

I'm casually down with the work of Shepard Fairey - they guy who did the Obama Hope (red/blue, you know the one) and the Andre the Giant Obey from long ago - and even own a pretty cool parody shirt thanks to the LebowskiFest guys.

So I was pretty surprised and pleased to happen upon a mural of Fairey's work on my travels through downtown Cincy this Wednesday.  It's on the side of a building right next to Piatt Park across from the downtown branch of the Public Library...kinda cool mural...


...and it's a big thing, probably twenty to thirty feet across and solidly ten to fifteen feet high.  Kinda cool.  Click the photo to the left if you want to know specifically where to look for the thing (photo source here, so I'm not Fairey-ing things)

Turns out that this mural is one of at least ten murals that Fairey installed in Cincinnati - check the map here to find 'em all - in conjunction with an art installation at the Contemporary Arts Center (it's there 'til August 22nd).  Apparently the murals were installed back in March - check Fairey's photos of the freezing installations here - and I'm just finally getting around to the right spot downtown to see one of them.

Pathetic how little I get downtown since I've moved out to the exurbs.

I only saw the bridge into the zoo for the first time this week, and it's apparently only about three years old.

Sheesh...

July 29, 2010

Maybe I'll get a tat...

Dig the ads for Pilot pens...tattooed Lego minifigs...

Oh, and the second round of Lego collectible minifigs are now apparently available in Europe...I want 'em all and won't be buying any of them...

And it looks like 2011 will see Lego expand to include Pirates of the Caribbean...intriguing...

July 28, 2010

Pretty posters...too late...

By the time I saw this post on Comics Alliance about the Sex Bob-omb posters being for sale, they were already sold out.

Sadness...

Reviews...more media...all summer long

It's the beginning of the end of summer, so I'm trying to fit in as much missed media as I can...

Zombieland - Surprisingly entertaining...it's nothing heavy or tense or serious, just an entertaining bit of fluff road movie in which four characters - three of whom are never given names more than the cities to which they're headed or where they're from before the zombiepocalypse: Columbus, Tallahassee, Topeka, and Wichita.  Things start off with our main character, Jesse Einsenberg, who does an entertaining job of narrating the film off and on as he recounts his rules for surviving in what he's come to dub Zombieland, wandering through Texas and being picked up by Woody Harrelson's Tallahasee a zombie killing machine who wants little to do with talking about his past and seems to be on a quest to find the last surviving Twinkies.  They get conned out of their car and gun by two girls - Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin - who eventually become the other pair in their cross-country jaunt, headed for Pacific Playland, the last remaining zombie-free enclave - according to Wichita, anyway.

The film has a speaking cast of no more than six people and must've been filmed on a fairly low budget, using CGI for most of its more gruesome scenes, but this low budget doesn't do anything to blunt the quality of the film.  There are a few slightly more emotional moments - revelations of the past, connections made between the characters - and a few tense moments - particularly the concluding sequence in which things at Pacific Playland go predictably wrong, but the film is primarily a chance for the four main characters to spend time together bonding and living in their new world.

Certainly worth matching...solid, not ground breaking stuff...Harrelson's most entertaining role in years...


The Road to the Dark Tower - The isn't anything to read until - unless - you finish the entirety of the seven-volume Stephen King Dark Tower series.  The meat of the book is a one-chapter per book recap of the series, helpful for me having finished up the series a few years back.  I was a little surprised to find tears welling up - allergies, I swear - when two of the four main characters died toward the end of the recaps, but that just tells me that the recaps were well-written.

The more impressive parts of the book for me came after the recap as Vincent explored the origins of the idea of Roland and the Dark Tower - coming from Shakespeare's King Lear and Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" as well as the chapter exploring the cyclical nature of Roland's quest.  The ending of the series was something that I'd struggled to understand - not to understand what happens, that's actually pretty straight forward - but to understand on a more emotional basis - why was this the correct ending, and Vincent's book did a wonderful job of helping that come to conclusion for me.

Strong recommendation...but only if you've read the full series already...

Scott Pilgrim 1 & 2 - They have actual titles, but those don't really matter, do they?

I'm a lot late in coming to the Scott Pilgrim party - the first book having been published in 2004 - and am really only getting there in advance of the movie's impending release and the fact that The Girl has all six books on reserve at the library.  They're coming in scattershot now - #5, for example, has been on her hold shelf since Thursday last week - but things are rolling along nicely enough in that volumes 1 & 2 came in within the first week.  Kinda helps that our library system is like the best in the world.

But I digress...

This thing is awesome.

The first two volumes are hilarious but filled with a hugely surprising depth of characterization for comics without much artistic shading anywhere.  The fight scenes in the first two volumes probably don't take up twenty of the combined almost 400 pages, so anyone thinking this might be all about the battles would be sorely mistaken.  It's a comic about a twenty-three year old guy trying to get through the world, maybe find a little companionship and falling madly, head over heels in love with an American in Toronto, a girl who rollerblades through his subspace dreams as a short cut to get her Amazon.ca orders to the customers in the shortest possible time.

There's a magic here that's hard to describe but would be amazingly easy to grab hold of since the reading of the two volumes combined didn't take me an hour but that I'd like to revisit because the level of detail in the comics is impressive, and I'm thinking there's a lot of stuff there that I missed.  For example, when Scott's sister shows up and asks how he met Ramona, Scott answers "read the first volume".

It's a trip, man.

Highest possible recommendation all around.  Grab 'em cheaply over at Amazon - less than $43 for the full series.

Yeah, it's tough to get dark brown hair in their avatar maker.  Shut up...

Batwoman: Elegy - Collected Editions has been raving about the Batwoman character and story for a while now, and I noticed that the library - did I mention that pretty much 90+% of the media I intake comes thanks to good of PLCH? - had finally gotten Elegy in so I went for it in a heartbeat.

The initial feeling that I had was absolute shock at how impressive the artwork on the series is.  JH Williams takes the comic page and absolutely blows it up in a way that we haven't seen before.  His layouts trade in the typical squares and rectangles for arrows, lightning bolts, and irregular shapes guiding the eye clearly while providing an amazing sense of movement.




I'll admit to a little initial trouble identifying the out-of-costume Kate Kane (seen above with the ghostly white skin and the blood red bob) as Batwoman and not some freakish Joker-esque new villain when I first saw her, but this actually plays well into the revelation of the new Big Bad of the story arc.

I'd heard all the news coverage of the initial announcements of the new Batwoman character being a lesbian, and that's a very clear, strong part of Kane's identity - something briefly but importantly explored throughout the series - particularly in the second half of the arc when Rucka reveals the background of our Batwoman and her reasons for putting on the cape and cowl.

Another really strong recommendation here.  It's not the best comic I've read, but it's one of the finest strong female protagonists that we've seen in comics.  I'd actually put her above Wonder Woman in terms of quality of the current ongoing series.

And far better than what I've heard about the new Batgirl.  Blech...


Across the Universe - I'd seen this one in the theater a while back - reviewed back here - and found it a muddled mess, but I gave it another try and found pretty much the same thing this time.  The first half is entertaining.  The second half was watched with one finger on the fast forward button.

Some entertaining musical numbers, though...







July 27, 2010

Alphabet game: P is for artists

51162a

The Letter P has some fine songs in it...check 'em out this week...

July 26, 2010

Lonnieburger Baskets: VanZandt Restaurant & Tavern

I know, not on the original list, but we've been modifying things somewhat now that we have the Cincy mag list, too.  It was an easy Saturday night; we didn't feel like driving all over the Queen City for a burger but didn't want to hit up the local Five Guy's so we headed to College Hill and the #5 burger in the city (according to Cincy mag): the VZ at VanZandt.

For those of you in the local know, VanZandt is on Galbraith (pronounced GALL-like your gall bladder-bruth) Rd which was - according to this article - originally known as Vanzandt.  It's the converted Budna Tavern and comes with the recommendation of having the former chef at Trio as its owner.

Here's what Cincinnati mag had to say about VanZandt...
#5VZ Classic
VANZANDT RESTAURANT AND TAVERN
$10
►Once known as Budna Grill, VanZandt has quickly garnered a reputation for some solid pub grub and familiar comforts. Chef/owner Chris Hoeweler—a former chef at Trio and a College Hill native—builds burgers with well-seasoned beef procured from neighboring Humbert’s Meats, imparts a good charbroiled flavor, and serves them on a sturdy herbed bun or onion-flecked foccacia. One of four designer options, the VZ Classic comes draped in American cheese and grilled onions with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. / 1810 W. Galbraith Rd., College Hill, (513) 407-6418
So we went in knowing that and pretty much nothing else.

Initial impressions of the place we that it was weirdly laid out with a covered, semi-outdoor seating area (seen to the right of the picture that I got from their Facebooking page), a bar spanning the length of the main area (behind the windows there to the left) and an odd little entry/hallway/restroom area breaking up the flow of the restaurant.  On the night we were there, the rear seating area was taken up by a 1960 North College Hill High School class reunion dinner kinda thing, so the odd arrangement of the seating in our area - mostly two- or three-person high tops around the edges of the room and tables for four sort of crammed into the middle of the bar area - could have been abnormal.  Dunno about that.

Our order was taken by the bartender who was working the full bar - initially a bit crowded with folks dining - and a couple of tables.  No worries as he took pretty good care of us, staying entirely behind the bar except when he brought out our food.

About the food then...


Burger
  • The meat is good, nothing terrific or stunning.  The burger was loosely constructed, leading to a burger that was nicely tender and had a soft chew - thankfully not smooth and sausage-like as Sammy's but certainly lacking any toughness.  We'd ordered our burgers medium-well, and it did show up with the slightest pink center, something that I tend not to cook burgers to at home but that I default to in a restaurant anymore (primarily for health reasons).  I would've liked a more well-developed crust on the burger, something to provide a bit of textural distinction.  I didn't notice any particular spices in the meat and ended up adding a little salt to mine.  It's a good burger but nothing to right home about.  Burger - 7

Toppings
  • The VanZandt menu doesn't say much about what comes on the burger as you order it, but ours came with a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce, and three excellent, kosher dill pickles - all on the side.  They list a number of toppings that can be added in for a small charge.  I went with cheddar ($.50) and bacon ($1).  The Girl went for cheddar ($.50) and onion straws ($1).  The bacon was good stuff, well cooked but could've been crisper.  I don't particularly like that the two crossed pieces extended off the burger requiring me to break them before eating.  The cheese in both cases was well melted but not oozing into the nooks of the burger (as it was at Terry's - seriously, I've deleted that phrase four times already in this post).  The Girl was particularly fond of the onion straws on her burger, and I can attest from my taste that they were a great addition.  The buns are baked fresh every day and were excellent, sturdy, dense, fresh rolls with a touch of sweetness, sturdy enough to hold up to a fairly juicy burger.  In VanZandt's benefit, I'm going to include the bun as part of the Toppings score.  Toppings - 8 - but there's a little something else to mention that'll come up in the other stuff section.
Yeah, deal with that teaser, folks.

Teaser!

Ambiance
  • VanZandt has a solid neighborhood bar feel but lacks any sort of character.  It's like it just opened up last week with the walls a little too empty, the floor a little too plain linoleum, the bar a little too polished.  And the middle entry/hallway thing totally throw off any flow that the restaurant could possibly have.  It could be an architectural/structural thing - as The Girl postulated - but it's just weird to me.  The closest I could come to describing the feeling of VanZandts is that it felt like a hotel bar/restaurant to me.  It's pleasant but kind of anonymous.  I know the place has been open since at least last December - from this neighborhood posting - so I'm thinking that this isn't something that's just because it's been recently dropped fresh from the sky, so it's a little disappointing to me.  Thankfully, there aren't very many televisions in the place - only two largeish ones behind the bar and none around the rest of the restaurant.  So at least it's got that going for it.  Ambiance - 4 meh...
Fries
  • You can see 'em there on the plates next to our burgers.  Middling thin fries, well cooked and served nicely hot but not mouth burning.  We couldn't tell if some of them had a very light battering, but it wasn't anything to bother The Girl so it must've been incredibly light if so.  No real special seasoning or anything here, just good, well done fries. Fries - 7
Cost
  • $10 for bacon cheeseburger, fries, and the drink is the standard.  Get within fifty cents of that, and you get a five.  The plain VZ burger was $8 + $1 for bacon + $.50 for cheddar cheese (a couple of other kinds are an extra quarter) + $1.75 for a diet Coke = $11.25.  Cost - 4
Other Stuff
  • Fresh, tasty, hearty buns earns an extra point for me.  +1
  • According to that neighborhood post, they don't have any major domestic beers on tap.  The Girl asked what their VZ Red beer was, and the bartender said it was an Anheiser-Busch red of some sort (she can't remember right now) that sounded pretty macrobrew to us.  +/- 0
  • The corner - sadly, no photo of it - is decorated with a mural painted by NCH high school students, NKU students, and a couple of church youth groups according to a submitted article in the Enquirer.  I give 'em props for that, and it looks pretty good, too.  +1
  • Here's where the teaser comes back to gecha.  The Girl asked for a side of barbecue sauce for her fries - something that's pretty common for her as she likes that with her fries.  The barbecue sauce came out in a little ramekin and was amazing.  It was made in house, and the waiter wouldn't give us even a hint as to the recipe and even offered that they don't sell it in jars.  The sauce had a sweet, smoky, sharp kick with a good dose of black pepper, garlic, ketchup, and lots of other flavors in there.  We were guessing at molasses, vinegar, some kind of herbs.  In general, the sauce was outstanding.  I ended up dipping the last of the hamburger bun into it.  The girl spread it on her burger after dipping her fries into it.  Wow.  Best part of the meal by far and the reason that we're going to be headed back to VanZandt. +2 easily

So, overall score...34 points.  That's behind Terry's 45 but ahead of Quatman's 32/34.5 and Sammy's 26.

Man, I still need to write up Kuma's Corner.  Later this week, Katydid.  I promise.

Oh, and here's the Metromix review of VanZandt.

July 25, 2010

Comic-Con

Lemme add another reason that I never want to go to San Diego's Comic-Con: this blog entry about long lines being all that seems to exist at the Con.

Instead, I'm happy to hang out at home and see stuff like this come out on the intertubes...



(from Daily What)


The assembled Avengers cast...from all over the web...



(from Comics Alliance)

USA! USA! USA!

USA vs Canada softball today...interesting ending...wish I could embed the video...

July 24, 2010

Happy 24th of July! Woo-hoo!




I need to get back to burgers...

    July 23, 2010

    A little pomplamoose

    Ah, pomplamoose...interesting covers of songs you probably already know...







    And a few originals here and there...





    Plus a few side projects...





    And solo work...







    July 22, 2010

    Things that matter: Mixtapes



    There was a time, an era if you will when mixtapes were a big thing.

    I'm sure the mixtape era lasted longer than I remember it - people clearly had cassette tapes and recorders before 1990, but I didn't start making mixtapes until I was in high school, until The Girl came into my romantic world.  Before that, I'd been content to play music in whatever order had been prescribed to me by a DJ in Louisville or by an artist in some distant land, sequencing their own songs in whatever way they wanted me to listen to them.


    And then came dating...I needed to say something...I didn't entirely know what that something was, but it was definitely something, and I needed to say it.  Only I didn't know how, so I searched for songs that already said it for me.  Then I started making mixtapes.  I don't know that I had codified the rules quite as well as Nick Hornby's Rob ever did, but I knew that the song choice mattered but so did the order of the songs.  There had to be a flow, a rhythm, a sequence that somehow added to whatever it was that I needed to say.

    So I made mixtapes, keeping notebooks of possible songs, sequencing them in my head, playing them through on my little portable stereo, on my parents' larger stereo, recording a song, recording another, rewinding and rerecording something else because the flow wasn't right, the something wasn't being said correctly by the songs in that order.  Things had to be switched.  Songs had to be taped in the other way because otherwise that something wouldn't get across with the listening.

    There had to be enough songs already known to resonate with The Girl - things that she knew and loved but that said that thing well enough, songs would tell her that I was cool enough to recognize the music she already liked, that would put me into the group of people who already got the good music.  But there also had to be songs that she'd never heard before because I couldn't just parrot her tastes right back to her.  I wanted to be able to introduce her to new music that she would love, that we could come to enjoy together.   The lists of possible songs kept growing and growing, longer and longer, only rarely with songs getting crossed off because either they ended up saying the wrong something or because they'd been chosen to step up to the big leagues and be used on a tape.

    But then, when, the mixtape was as perfect as it could be, it would become finalized.  The songs would be patiently written on the tape cover in pen - pencil was too temporary for something of this import.  Pen was the only way to go, and the penmanship had to be at its finest and most mistake-free.

    When the mixtape was given isn't something that I remember.  I don't remember ever passing mixtapes in the halls, but I'm guessing that it wasn't something handed over in any momentous ceremony, either.  The mixtape was supposed to be something given casually, as though it didn't take any effort to make, no biggie, just something I threw together without any subtext of needing it to say that something that I couldn't manage in my own words.

    Whatever I needed those first mixtapes to say, they must have said well enough because there were more mixtapes after that first one.  There were the ones that I made for The Girl...


    There were the ones that she made for me...


    You'll notice that most of the mixtapes have picture covers.  That's something that I'm thinking The Girl came up with.  I might've been the first there, but I doubt it.  It meant that each tape had a name - Knitting Girl, Fleas Navidog, Booster Gold, Licking Dog, Golden Star, whatever, and each would be referred to by name.  We would be talking on the phone and would ask what the other was listening to - "Oh, Knitting Girl right now."  It was an easy connection across whatever divide there was - three blocks back in The Hometown or a couple hours drive between Crawfordsville and Bloomington.

    The mixtapes faded, of course, as did the use of cassette tapes - pretty much at about the same time.  I haven't played any of the tapes in a few years now, only pulling them out from time to time for nostalgic reasons.  I don't know that I would go back into a burning building to save them, but I do know that it somehow reassures me to know that they're around, that I could listen to them, that I could play them again to know where I first learned about "Wholly Humble Heart" and why "Crimson and Clover" is supposed to follow it every time.

    When the first post-college computers showed up, I made a cd mixtape for The Girl, but it just wasn't the same.  It was too easy to rearrange the songs, too nice and tidy to print up a cd cover, and I didn't need to say that something any more.  We were living together.  I'd said it.



    To give you an idea of what a mixtape was, here are the playlists from a few of the ones in the photos...

    Knitting Girl...from her to me...
    • "Hound Dog" by Willie Mae Thorton
    • "Shake a Little" by Bonnie Raitt
    • "If I Had a Boat" by Lyle Lovett
    • "The Sweater" by Meryn Cadell
    • "Wholly Humble Heart" by Martin Stephenson
    • "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James & the Shondells
    • "Angel" by Jimi Hendrix
    • "The Violin" by Brian Dewan
    • "What'll I Do" by Nat King Cole
    • "Boom Boom" by John Lee Hooker
    • "Blood in My Eyes" by Bob Dylan
    • "Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand" by the Beatles
    • "Skinny Dip" by Garrison Keilor (the beginning of side B)
    • "Fields of Gold" by Sting
    • "Thank You" by Led Zeppelin
    • "Crash Into You" by Dave Matthews Band
    • "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies
    • "Her First Mistake" by Lyle Lovett
    • "I've Been Loving You So Long" by Otis Redding
    • "East of the Sun" by Billie Holliday
    • "Lover Lay Down" by Dave Matthews Band
    So many of those are specific memories for me...listening to A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evenings in her apartment...her taking an entire three-credit class on the Beatles at IU... her introducing me to Lyle Lovett...her beginning to mix in older songs thanks to her two three-credit History of Rock courses...

    Booster Gold...from me to her
    • "Since You Been Gone" by Weird Al Yankowicz
    • "Love Me Do" by the Beatles
    • "Nobody Like You To Me" by Harry Connick
    • "Stand By Your Man" by Lyle Lovett
    • "Killkelly" by Mick Moloney
    • "Memories are Made of This" by Johnny Cash
    • "Morning Song" by Jewel
    • "Emotionally Yours" by the O'Jays
    • "Tangled Up in You" by Bob Dylan
    • "Happy Christmas" by the Pogues
    • "Freakers' Ball" by Bunion
    • "Close to You" by Stevie Ray Vaughn
    • "Cruel Spell" by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (starting side 2)
    • "If God Sends His Angels" by U2
    • "Emotionally Yours/Winterlong" by Bob Dylan
    • "Where You Lead" by Carol King
    • "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees
    • "Save Your Kisses for Me" by the Brotherhood of Man
    • "Satellite" by Dave Matthews Band
    • "Meet You on Monday" by Carrie Newcomer
    • "Never Mind the Strangers" by the Saw Doctors
    • "Eight Days a Week" by the Beatles
    Clearly - to me, anyway - this was made after I'd gotten back from Scotland...I first heard "Killkelly" with The Girl at a Celtic concert at Wabash and was in tears by the end of Mick Moloney's performance of the song, balling my eyes out in Wabash's new performing arts center...we saw Jewel opening for Neil Young in one of our first concerts together after my return...Bunion was a cover band that I heard a number of times when I was in Scotland...Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was one of the many nuvo-swing groups that were popular at the time...

    I want to try to get all of these songs digitally so I can make a couple of 8tracks playlists for myself.  Sometime, perhaps...


    There was one other person with whom I traded mixtapes, a friend with whom I never had any romantic connection.  This was the other Kristin that I met in Scotland, Kristin Reichow - now Kristin Butler.  She and I became fast friends in Scotland and continued to correspond and visit each other while she was in the Midwest - at Kenyon College in initially and then visiting the flyover states a couple of times - but have since lost touch.  While we were still in contact, however, she and I traded mixtapes back and forth. 

    These weren't quite so fraught with emotion as I was only trying to come up with music that I thought my friend would enjoy not music that would say that something.  Here are the mixtapes that came my way from Kristin the Red...


    The one in the bottom middle was a collection of U2 rarities that she made for me.  The one to the left of that was a recording of the aforementioned Bunion, a band that played at our favorite bar in Scotland.  I see three others there that were all Celtic music, a love that she had before going to Scotland and one that I developed while I was there.  The other two are true mixtapes, jumbled and unsequenced in everyway.  I love them all.

    And they all matter to me...

    July 21, 2010

    The media goes in, this blog post comes out

    So, there's been a bit of media in this hazy, hot, humid summer that we're having in the Queen City...here's what I've thought of some of it...

    Inception - I'm not nearly as sold on it as some of the reviewers (Katydid and Ebert, for example) have been.  The build up and expectations - for me the big advance deal has come from awesome trailers, Nolan's direction, Levitt's acting - have been admittedly huge for this one, and the early reviews have been largely positive and occasionally fawning and hyperbolically reverential.

    Yes, it's good.  It's very good, in fact.  The plot is tightly wound.  The action scenes are marvelously well filmed.  The internal logic seems flawless.  The ending is expertly left open to viewer interpretation.  The character names are symbolically perfect (maybe except Cobb...I don't get any symbolism there).  The building action produces the needed amount of tension by layering on four simultaneous action sequences, all of which have to end with just the right timing.   The acting is spot on.

    But the whole thing is cold.  I found it emotionally vacant.  There was nothing for me to connect to in the least.  I felt like I would looking at a beautiful but plastic, cold, vacant woman.  Yes, all the parts are there, and they're put together nicely and all, but I'd rather have something with a little personality, a little humanity instead of the ice princess.  I've found a few reviews - Slate and Salon, in particular - that agree with me more or less (Salon a little more harshly perhaps).

    Here there be spoilers...

    Some reviewers had issues with the need for Ellen Page's character to be a newbie, necessitating the other characters explaining what was happening to her and hence to the audience rather than allowing the complexity of the situation to be decoded by the viewer.  I'll admit that I did think there were a few times that Page's scenes seemed a little awkward - sometimes the lines she spoke, sometimes the lines being spoken to her.

    I dig the ending, by the way.  I appreciate that Nolan didn't tell us for certain whether Cobb was back in the real world or still in a dream.  I've read a few interpretations- Cinematical has a nice post on six possible interpretations - and I'm impressed that Nolan's film has been able to generate this much discussion about what is and isn't real in the Inception world.  One of the things that I appreciate about a film is the power to generate discussion and draw viewers back into the word by providing reward for repeat viewing. 

    I could speculate on which of the interpretations I feel is correct, but the truth is that I think each one can be supported by various details within the movie, and the one that each viewer chooses to believe probably says more about the viewer's hope for the characters in the film - reflecting on the viewer's hopes for their own lives - than it does on what actually happened within the film.  If you want Cobb to have regained his happy, bucolic life at the end, then it's probably something that you hope for within your reality.  If, on the other hand, you feel that Cobb's bucolic ending was really some form of a dream, it might say something about your belief in each of us attaining true happiness.  I would think all that if I were the kind of amateur, rookie psychologist that Ariadne plays within Inception.

    I will say that one comment that I read on the Cinematical article rings most true to me...
    Clearly, Nolan is also making a meta-comment about all filmmaking as a form of inception -- the filmmaker is architect, and we are sharing the dream.
    This feels the truest to me.  I know that I often become so involved, so enveloped in the world of the movie that the return to reality upon the ending sometimes feels like a jolt - a kick in the parlance of Inception - to me and sometimes leads to a moment of disappointment at leaving the magical world and returning to the world of my reality.  In that commentary, perhaps Inception is most successful to me.

    Once Upon a Time in America - I firmly believe in coincidence rather than synchronicity.  I had this film in the queue to review before going to see Inception but am intrigued that both deal with a question of what is and is not real within the movie's framework.  I'll get to that in a bit, however...

    First, the film as a whole is a huge weight of impressive filmmaking.  ...America is clearly director Sergio Leone's career-capping film - not necessarily his finest work, but the work on which he spent decades preparing (necessitated by the interminable time it took to secure the rights to the story), the work that feels the greatest heft of length, the work that explores that longest spread of time, and his final production.  Clocking in at three hours, forty-seven minutes (the version that I saw, anyway) and exploring the 1920s, 1930s, and 1960s, ...America could be viewed as one of the films to firmly capture the mythical spirit of the yet-unwritten Great American Novel.

    Told in non-chronological fashion, the film's story begins with five relatively poor but industrious Jewish youths in 1920s Brooklyn.  The five become fast friends and work their way up from petty crimes - burning down newspaper stands, mugging drunks - to more serious crime after blackmailing their neighborhood police officer.  Once they establish themselves as integral members of the local crime family, they make a pact to share equally all proceeds of their efforts, one of the crew is shot, and the main character goes to jail for eleven years in retaliation.

    When Noodles - our main character, played by Robert DeNiro - is released, he finds that his friends have become hugely wealthy through their efforts during prohibition days and that they are now traveling in much higher circles, drawing the attention of criminals from other cities, local politicians, labor bosses, and businessmen.  In this new world, Noodles struggles to find his place while also pursuing the girl that he left behind.

    The framing device of the story sees 1960s Noodles returning to his Brooklyn neighborhood for the first time in three decades as an initially unknown message from the past writes to him, bringing him back to find his old neighborhood largely unchanged but the financial success of his friends' time together entirely evaporated.  The growth through hard work (if admittedly illegal hard work), troubles with success, reflection upon past times is a classic story arc that Leone works beautifully here.  DeNiro's character is initially the leader of the entire operation then finds himself usurped by his best friend upon his release from prison, and the relationship between the two comes to a conclusion in the movie's final act.

    Leone's film is an absolute masterwork in cinematography - according to DVD documentaries, Leone had thought through the entire film shot by shot before beginning production - showing us the glory that was equally with the pain and loss that came about as a result of that glory.

    The reflections upon Inception come in the form of the framing device for the whole of the ...America story.  The film opens with gangsters searching for Noodles in 1933 Brooklyn.  We find Noodles drowsing in an opium den hoping to escape the life that has been made for him.  At the end of the film, we return to Noodles on the same opium den bed, smiling bucolically into the camera.  One possible interpretation of the film is that the 1960s scenes were nothing more than an opium dream of the 1933 Noodles in light of the situation in which he finds himself - his best friends gunned down after he backed out of one final job.  Leone himself even supported this as a possible interpretation.

    I don't know that ...America is Leone's finest film - his other five set an awfully high standard - but it is clearly a worthy capstone to the great director's legacy.

    Once Upon a Time in the West - Well, if I'm going to see Leone's final film, I might as well take the time to see the films leading up to it, the loose trilogy of ...America, this film, and Duck, You Sucker!.  All three were - as always - procured from the Cincinnati Library.

    Where ...America explored the lives of Jewish Brooklynites bettering themselves through organized crime, ...the West sees the same search for a better life played out against the backdrop of the biggest scenery that this country can offer - Monument Valley.

    The film opens in typical Leone fashion with a trio of gunslingers waiting wordlessly for a train.  They terrorize the two townfolk working in the dilapidated station before stepping toward the arriving train.  As the unnamed main character - called Harmonica throughout much of the film - steps off the train, the film begins.  This opening scene itself is an absolute masterpiece...



    From there we find out that one of the people in the town has bought land where he expects the railroad to have to go, has ordered the supplies to build a new railroad station and town around the expected train stop, and has sent for his new wife to come join him from New Orleans.  Set against this we have the wealthy railroad baron and his hired guns.  Into this conflict, Harmonica comes looking for revenge against the blackest-hearted of those hired guns.

    The story is actually two very small ones: man against man for money, man against man for revenge.  Leone's film, however, slows down the pacing, zooming in for drastic close-ups on the faces of the men in conflict, and tells these two tales as though they were the grandest stories in the world, archetypes for every conflict that ever can and ever will be.

    It's been a few years since I went through the Dollars trilogy, so I won't say whether this is a greater film than those, but I can say clearly that this is one of - if not the - finest Westerns ever made.

    Duck, You Sucker! - Well, obviously if you're going to see the two Once Upon a Time in... films, you have to finish off the Leone oeuvre with this one, right?

    I found this to be easily Leone's most comedic film, laughing out loud in at least three scenes.  The fish out of water character of James Coburn's Irish mad bomber drops right into the world of survival and banditry of Juan Miranda and turns everything entirely upside down.  Where Juan lived only to feed his 'children' by robbing stagecoaches and dreamed of robbing the bank in Mesa Verde, Coburn's John leads Juan into the bank and the unwelcome roll of hero of the Mexican Revolution when Juan finds the vaults filled with political prisoners rather than gold.

    Throughout the film, the friendship between Juan and John develops by fits and starts, each man's motivations running counter to the other but finding themselves heading down the same paths no matter how hard they try.

    At heart, then, this is a buddy film set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.  John is on the run from British police, wanted for his part in the Irish Revolution and telling Juan that he's had enough of revolutions for his life - but still finding ways to help out the Mexican revolution with his talent for and stock of explosives.  Juan, on the other hand, wants only to rob the Mesa Verde bank and live out his life in comfort with his 'children' - youthful banditos six of whom he appears to have actually fathered - and thinks that each of John's choices is really a start of a scheme to become wealthy, only to find himself tricked into helping out the Revolution at nearly every turn.

    In the end, the relationship between the two men is far more important that the explosions and the gun fights.  To this end, the film fights itself at times, inserting action scenes, shootouts, explosions that would be very much at place in a more seriously-toned film and juxtaposing those scenes with John's casual warning to "Duck, you sucker" every time he surprises one of the characters with an explosion and Juan's constant announcing to John that he's been screwed yet again.

    This isn't Leone's finest film, but it is a fun ride.  Leone's weaker effort here still makes for a pretty good film - a seven out of ten rather than the nines and tens that all of his other films manage.


    Sandman - Dream Hunters - Gaiman's full run of Sandman is among the finest creations of Comicdom, and on the tenth anniversary of the first Sanman, Gaiman wrote a tale of a young monk keeping solitary watch over a small, nondescript temple in Japan and of the two animals that try to force the monk from his adopted home.

    Gaiman wrote the story in the style of ancient Japanese tales, including Cain and Abel, the three witches, and the King of Dreams himself and added a postscript in which he fancifully told the history of the tale as though it had been a real and ancient Japanese fairy tale.  The tale was published as a novella with accompanying painted illustrations, further cementing the tale as a real and ancient fairy tale.

    Ten years after that initial publication, then, the tale has been adapted again into comic book form. by Craig Russel who also adapted the graphic version of Coraline that I read last year.  Russel's gentle artwork fits the story beautifully, residing halfway between the comic book world of the original Sandman series and the source material's Japanese 'origins'.  This would likely have fit marvelously into the original series as there were a number of issues telling ancient or exotic tales of Morbius's past actions.

    The tale was initially a welcome addition to the Sandman canon.  This graphic adaptation retells the same tale is a gorgeous - not better, but different - form and is an easy recommendation for anyone - those who know the Sandman story arc already as well as those who simply love a gorgeous, mystical tale.

    Whoa...

    I'm tired after having just watched all the dancing in this new clip from the Kleptones...thanks, to DBP for the posting...


    Kleptones - Come Again (Beatles vs Rare Earth vs Beaties vs Daft Punk vs Cypress Hill vs Boston) Video by Crumbs Chief from The Videotones on Vimeo.

    Five by five plus one: Bonds


    My five favorite movies with Sean Connery...easily the strongest list...
    1. Highlander
    2. Time Bandits
    3. The Hunt for Red October
    4. Diamonds are Forever (not the finest of his Bonds but the most enjoyable for me)
    5. Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade
      honorable mention: Darby O'Gill and the Little People mostly for this scene


    My favorite movies with Roger Moore...
    1. Live and Let Die
    2. The Cannonball Run
    3. The Spy Who Loved Me
    4. The Curse of the Pink Panther 
    5. The Man With the Golden Gun

    My favorite movie with George Lazenby...
    1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (in spite of the awful dubbing on Sir Hilary)


    My favorite movies with Timothy Dalton
    1. Flash Gordon
    2. Toy Story 3
    3. License to Kill
    4. The Living Daylights
    5. The Rocketeer
    My favorite movies with Pierce Brosnan...
    1. The Thomas Crown Affair
    2. After the Sunset
    3. Goldeneye
    4. Tomorrow Never Dies
    5. The Lawnmower ManAbsolutely last on the list - even below the last two awful Bonds - Mrs Doubtfire
    My favorite movies with Daniel Craig...oddly, the second strongest list for me (but I've only seen these five with him)...
    1. Casino Royale
    2. Layer Cake
    3. Munich
    4. Road to Perdition
    5. Quantum of Solace

    And Daniel Craig is only 5'10"...

    July 20, 2010

    Alphabet game: O is for artists

    Here we go 'round and 'round with the letter O this week...

    July 19, 2010

    The pipes, the pipes

    Danny Bhoy...no, that's not a typo...that's the comedian's name...














    July 18, 2010

    Update: Alvin Greene's first speech

    Alvin Greene has apparently been cleared to continue to run in the fall general election as South Carolina's Democratic nominee for the US Senate.  The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division stated that "[d]uring the course of the investigation, SLED determined that monies spent for Greene's filing fee were the candidate's personal funds and therefore, no laws were violated in association with Greene's payment to the South Carolina Democratic Party."

    So Greene celebrated by giving his first public campaign speech, a very halting effort in front of - as CNN writes -  "a friendly audience."

    It's atrocious...

    Things that mattered: Illusions

    In a song that I came to know thanks to Lyle Lovett, Guy Clark once wrote a song about the objects that surrounded him and how little they might mean to anyone other than him.  The Lyle Lovett version is titled "Step Inside This House" and includes the following verse...
    Here's a book of poems I got
    From a girl I used to know
    I guess I read it front to back
    Fifty times or so
    It's all about the good life
    And stayin' at ease with the world
    It's funny how I love that book
    And I never loved that girl
    The song is a beautiful one, something that speaks to me.  That verse in particular speaks to me of today's object that matters to me.

    I've only ever been in relationships with four women, one of whom gave me this copy of Richard Bach's Illusions.  She was a student of Alma College in Michigan but was spending the second semester of her junior year at the University of Aberdeen where I was spending the entirety of my junior year.  I'd dated only The Girl when I headed to Aberdeen but had spent time with two other American students during my first semester, settling into a relationship with one of them when Kristin (or Kristen - sad that I can't actually remember the exact spelling of her name - I'm sure I could check the numerous hand-written diaries that I kept throughout that year) arrived on the northeast coast of Scotland.


    I met Kristin (that's the spelling I'm going to go with for the remainder of today's post) on her first or second day in Aberdeen having been asked to assist with the campus and city tour for the group of students who were joining the program for the second semester.  She mentioned to me later that she'd noticed me initially but that I'd been dating another American student (Jenn "Ffej" Willis) at the time.

    Things between Jenn and I went south not too long after that, and I found myself spending a bit of time - and eventually dating - Kristin.  The word love was used between Kristin and me.  At the time I felt right in using the word, but in looking back from my vantage point a decade and a half later, I know that the word was used far too early and far too easily by both of us.  We were together throughout the end of our time in Scotland and promised to see each other once we both returned to the States - she to Michigan, me to Southern Indiana - but never did.  I'm the one to blame there and wasn't willing to simply break things off cleanly when I started dating The Girl once I got back to the US.  The way Kristin was forced to end things between us isn't something that I am proud to have forced - through my inaction, admittedly - but it is something that I am able to acknowledge now.

    I took only three books with me to Aberdeen - one of them I'll write about later in this series - and was looking for new reading material a few weeks into the first semester so I wandered to the local book store and purchased Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach and Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.  The Thompson was because I'd read and enjoyed many of his works but hadn't read his first book.  The Bach was almost on a whim because I remembered the book from my parents' book shelves at home.  I didn't know anything about the book other than that I recognized the seagull imagery from those bookshelves that were then separated from me by a couple thousand miles.

    Both of those book came back with me when I left Scotland.  They're on the downstairs bookshelves, but they're not the ones that matter.  Jonathan Livingston Seagull (JLS) did, however, lead to the one that matters to me.  In perhaps the most unlikely of outcomes, I very much enjoyed JLS, reading its slim length two or three times through.  The book is generally seen as a motivational book, a self-help, discovery, vaguely Christian tale - all characteristics away from which I would normally steer but which spoke to me for some reason.

    I mentioned this to Kristin somewhere along the way, and she gifted me with Bach's follow up: Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah.  Inside the front cover, she wrote an inscription to me.

    At this point in the story, I should quote that inscription.  It spoke of her hope that I would enjoy the book whether she and I would be together.

    But I can't quote the inscription.  I planned to do that, but I cannot because when I went to look for the book, I found that it wasn't on the bookshelves anymore.  So I went through the house looking for it and found nothing.  I also looked back at my post about those shelves and saw that the book wasn't in its place then, either. The book is gone.  I can't imagine that I would ever have gotten rid of it, but I just might have loaned it out to a friend.  If so, it hasn't come back yet.

    I'd read its slim length- 192 pages - a dozen times before it disappeared from me.  I loved the words, and I loved the feeling that I got from the book, and I loved my memories of how the book came to me.

    It certainly mattered to me.

    Playing around...again...

    Yeah, new template...may stay, may not...

    Since the computer crash of a few weeks back, I don't have Fireworks at home, so I'll have to get that before I start playing around with the header again - probably back to the random rotating header before school's back in session.

    Feedback if you wanna.  No biggie...

    Pick your colors

    So, The Girl just bought a three-ring binder and hole punch.

    The sticker on the three-ring binder, however, had something that bugged me.

    They had color suggestions for the various subjects, and they just feel wrong to me.

    I'm curious as to which school subjects you'd put as red, black, yellow, blue, and green.

    Feel free to copy and paste this list into your comment and suggest the correct colors for the various subjects.  I'll put my choices after the jump.

    Red:
    Black:
    Yellow:
    Blue:
    Green:


    July 16, 2010

    The goggles do nothing...nothing...

    Good to see John Daly back in contention at the British Open.  He's had a rough go for a...

    Oh My God!

    My eyes...my eyes...













    For some reason, I'm hungry for skittles now.

    Oh, and if anybody's curious, John Daly's fashions are courtesy of Loudmouth Golf, and I'm particularly fond of this print which also comes in a sports coat.

    A nearly perfect periodic poster

    I picked up the hardcover collection of DC's Wednesday Comics, collecting the fifteen weekly issues of old-school full-page newspaper style comic series.

    The stories are mostly hit or occasionally miss - Superman's awful as is Hawkman; Metamorpho, Batman, Teen Titans, The Demon/Catwoman, Flash, are all excellent.

    One two-page spread in particular stood out for me, however, as Metamorpho and Element Girl have to shift their way through all the natural elements of the periodic table.

    Now I just want this spread as a poster in my classroom.

    I'm pretty sure, however, that Gaiman switched the lanthanides and actinides on his table, however...