Friday, November 25, 2005
Of course, it's the Pixies.
They played the Across The Narrows festival this year on a bill with Gang of Four and Built to Spill and I was privileged to see them perform live for the very first time. I only had to wait 15 years and I am, nonetheless, truly thankful.
In all seriousness, the scene in which Mr. Miyagi finally reveals to Daniel-san what all the waxing, sanding, and painting was for...easily one of my five all-time favorites. It's right up there with Rudy getting on the field, Kevin Costner playing catch with his dad, Red seeing Andy working on the boat on the beach, and George Bailey getting thrown out of Nick's.
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, each and every one of you.
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago on Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and Fasha the dog. And livin' in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin' all that room, seein' as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn't have to take out their garbage for a long time.
We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the city dump.
Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across across the dump saying, "Closed on Thanksgiving." And we had never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving before. . .
The Club's concern is focused, instead, on his articulated intent to engender disruption and dissent off the field. May a coach consider these factors in deciding how to form and field a team? The answer must be "yes". It cannot be that a coach's discretion is limited to Sundays. Surely, the coaching elements of team management take place not only in the games, but in the weeks preparing for them. None of the parties to this relationship, it is fair to say, envisioned the prospect of an arbitrator reviewing a coach's decisions as to, for example, how many reps a player should take in practice, the particular squad to which he should be assigned or, indeed, whether he should practice at all. . . .
Mr. Owens and his agent threatened a campaign of disruption and implemented it through repeated acts, large and small, of disrespect, dissent and insubordination, culminating with a well-publicized verbal assault on the team and on the quarterback. The Coach could properly conclude that, however excellent Owens' performance was on the field, his off-field conduct and demeanor were seriously devitalizing the organization. Moreover, and this is important, there was ample reason for the Coach to conclude, in November, that the problem was by no means resolved. At the moment of his being warned of the impending discipline, Mr. Owens was, after all, willing to "sit" rather than attempt to work things out with the team. Indeed, even at the arbitration hearing, the Player made it abundantly clear that his contract issue -- the one that inspired his marked change in attitude during the current season- - was still alive. And, he made it clear, as well, that his view of his obligations to co-exist as a teammate had not changed: In his view, for example, speaking to his quarterback was still not necessary.
Significantly, this is not a case of a coach or a team responding to a discrete event by extending otherwise contractually limited disciplinary sanctions. Involved here was not simply past bad behavior but a current and ongoing threat of continued disruption. This was not merely a question of dealing with the Player's misconduct, a matter to which traditional concepts of discipline are applicable, as discussed earlier in this opinion. The Coach and the Club were faced with far broader issues, given the clear disruption that had occurred: Team unity, cohesiveness and morale are all elements that rest squarely within the wide range of concerns to which a coach is expected to respond.
To me, it all stems from a simple clause in Owens' contract: "(Player) agrees to give his best effort and loyalty to the Club, and to conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game."
Owens didn't. Game over.
I, for one, never look at which dairy my milk comes from, but need the name brand on trash bags.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
First, look at the list of people who got their first major starring gigs on the WB--Jamie Foxx, Keri Russell, Scott Foley, Scott Speedman, Amanda Peet, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, and Katherine Heigl. Add to that being the network that gave genius scribes J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, and Greg Berlanti their first major showrunning gigs--even if in Berlanti's case it was on Dawson's Creek.
The other is because, although they'll never get the Emmy love they deserve, the WB currently has arguably both the best drama and best comedy on television. Kim has written often about her love for Gilmore Girls, and I join A.J. Jacobs in his published in Esquire statement that it's also a great show for men, even beyond the opportunity to ogle Mmes. Graham and Bledel. More underappreciated is the wonderful Everwood, suffering from a horrid timeslot this season (though it's done well as counterprogramming), which has explored love, lust, forgiveness, death and dying, and teenage alienation perhaps better than any show since My So-Called Life. Even if the WB doesn't know how to market it, it's a real and authentic drama.
Sure, I can't even try to defend 7th Heaven, One Tree Hill, or Living With Fran, but there are additional joys to be found--the cheese of Related, the suprisingly honest and heartwarming Beauty and the Geek, or repeats of the late, lamented Felicity. So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the most underappreciated network in terms of quality on television--the WB. (I'm on the road and will be offline for much of the holiday weekend--enjoy your turkey and your family.)
I speak not of iTunes or Amazon or Borders or Netflix or even the Internet, but of a single source I tap on an almost daily basis: my public library. When I moved to the suburbs from Chicago about two-and-a-half years ago, I worried about all the great things I was leaving behind, but little did I know what a treasure trove I would find in my impossibly well funded suburban library. At any given time I average about 50 items on my account. For instance, among the items I currently have checked out are movies such as The Aviator, Rize, Kinsey, Layer Cake, Team America World Police, Riding Giants, Eight Men Out, and Chariots of Fire; books such as The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios by Yann Martel, the new Mike Wallace autobiography, the new Beatles biography, a Sam Cooke biography, Murmur from the 33 1/3 series, the new Vonnegut book of essays and the Best American Sports Writing 2005; CDs like the soundtrack to No Direction Home, Death Cab for Cutie's Plans, and Coldplay's X&Y; plus a bunch of books and DVDs from my kids. The cost of borrowing all those items (some of which, such as the CDs, I do more than borrow, cough, cough), comes to $0.00, as long as I return them on time.
I have worked the art of getting things at the library to a science. Monday and Thursday mornings are the best days for new DVD releases. The teen section is where movies like The Hitchhiker's Guide and Batman Begins routinely show up a week or so before they do in the A/V room. Always browse the new book section for unexpected finds. The minute I hear about a new book or CD I want, I look for it on the library's Web site and often am able to pre-reserve items on order so that they are held for me before they even make it on the shelves (such as the Beatles book). You can check out back issues of magazines like Vanity Fair and GQ, but not Rolling Stone. On Thursdays and Saturdays they have used book sales where you can pick up library copies of hardcovers for just 50 cents. On other days, they have two shelves of books for sale (paperbacks are just 25 cents).
When time permits, I ove still getting lost in the library. Just yesterday, I happened upon a book about my town's centennial in 1976 and finally confirmed a suspicion that I my street (Gray Ave.) was in fact named for Elisha Gray, a former Highland Park resident and the man who many believe actually invented the telephone. His factory was once located a few blocks from my house.
I could sing the praises of my local library--The roaring fire in the periodical room. The free wi-fi. The extensive graphic novel section. The summer reading programs for kids and adults. The outdoor story times in the summer. The display case for kids' collections (my son was so excited to show off his Lego creations)--but I have a DVD I want to go watch.
For fans of the comedy of The Amazing Family Travelogue, however, it was a fun episode. From Bart! to Rolly's Luke Duke impersonation to a whole lot of anti-Weaver snark by the editors, you got your smile quotient in.
But other unlikeable teams in the race before -- Jonathan & Victoria, Colin & Christie, Mirna and Charla, Team Guido, FloZack -- they all had solid, even impressive racing skills. The Weavers have nothing redeeming about them whatsoever.
When it came time to cast JJ Abrams' newest show, only one actor didn't have to audition. JJ had written the part of Locke specifically for him. Upon being offered the role, the actor talked it over with his wife, held a garage sale to sell off their possessions from their Maryland home, and moved to Oahu. A tabula rasa, he's called it in interviews. From Lost's first episode onward, he's been the soul and spirit of a show that's full of lots of souls and spirits. It pains me to watch his flashbacks -- nothing happy ever happens there -- and I eagerly await the trademark twinkle whenever he sees into the truth behind someone else's pretense. We haven't seen much of him these last few episodes, but I suspect that's going to change once Locke meets Mr. Eko (or is it Mr. Ekcol?).
All of this is more or less by way of background to my actual thanks. Some time ago, I was noodling over a couple of things to write about, and happened upon the Fuselage, a sort of officially sanctioned TWoP for Losties. There's a section of the board where one can pose questions directly to the various actors (as well as anyone else involved with the show, from writers to producers to production assistants). Most of Lost's actors have answered a few questions here and there, but there's only one who takes the time to respond to every single posting by a fan. (Now that I think about it, there are two -- Jorge Garcia does an impressive job as well.) And it's obvious from what he writes that he is deeply grateful for the opportunity to be involved in a television phenomenon that has elevated him from HITG! status. In a world where fame and celebrity often seem to fall upon the most undeserving of people, it is gratifying to see it happen to someone who both deserves and appreciates it.
For all of this, I am thankful this Thanksgiving for Terry O'Quinn. Long may he walk the Island.
As it turns out, it was the perfect Townes album for me. For one thing, it was stripped down and intimate, the way I still like to hear Townes. For another, it was a great survey course. Being younger than the Willie Nelson generation, I didn't know "Pancho & Lefty," and Jay Farrar had not yet recorded "Rex's Blues." All in all, an absolutely great album of modest folk songs suffused with regret and melancholy. It's still in my top ten, if we're allowed to have compilations on that list.
After I bought L&O, I learned a bit about, and followed, the Townes story. He was born into a wealthy Texas oil family (Van Zandt, Texas is named after his family) and he struggled all his life with depression. He lived an alternately hermetic and itinerant life. I read in one magazine that he was the rightful heir to Hank Williams's Texas troubador title. I also read a very sad story in No Depression about a concert in which he was trying to preview some new material but suffered a complete breakdown, ultimately setting down his guitar and just reading the lyrics in a panic to a sympathetic audience. One day, while taking a break in a law library, I picked up a few-months-old copy of Rolling Stone and learned that he died suddenly in his deep-woods cabin with his family around him.
I like a lot of artists who don't need thanking. They are rich, popular, and surrounded by friends. Van Zandt was a bit of a loner and saw others have more success with his own very personal songs. Small music demands smaller gratitudes, I guess, so here's mine.
Monday, November 21, 2005
I've asked this site's contributors to just say a few words to thank someone or something in the sphere of pop culture, and you all are welcome to do the same in the comments as we do this throughout the week.
I suppose it would be appropriate to start off with Ted Koppel, who leaves the air Tuesday evening after twenty-six years of Nightline.
Now, mind you, I haven't actually watched the show in years. I just liked that it was out there, presumably doing Important Television, and that it was hosted by a man willing to taunt his network as he did in an NYT op-ed when the Letterman rumors were omnipresent:
I have one complaint -- and that is about the anonymous suggestion from one of our corporate executives, quoted in The Times, that ''Nightline'' has lost its relevance. Another unnamed executive implied that the program is no longer competitive or profitable -- both assertions are demonstrably untrue -- but relevance is a more subjective matter. I would argue that in these times, when homeland security is an ongoing concern, when another terrorist attack may, at any time, shatter our sense of normalcy, when American troops are engaged in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen and Georgia, when the likelihood of military action against Iraq is growing -- when, in short, the regular and thoughtful analysis of national and foreign policy is more essential than ever -- it is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, malicious to describe what my colleagues and I are doing as lacking relevance.
There are excellent business reasons for Disney to pursue the Letterman program. But when ''Nightline'' is gone from the ABC schedule, and should the occasion arrive that our work might again seem relevant to the anonymous executive, it will not then be possible to reconstitute what is so easily destroyed.
Indeed. And while there will be new anchors for the show come next week, they're not taking over Koppel's original show. As Peter Lassally had to explain to David Letterman in convincing him to reject NBC's late offer of taking over Leno's Tonight Show a year later, the show Koppel began simply doesn't exist anymore. Oh, sure, there's going to be a half-hour news show on ABC after the late local news (until the Next Big Talk Show Host becomes available, at least) . . . but it won't be Nightline.
- "Insightful writing about relationships, emotion, and life in this modern age."
- "Main characters who were by far the least interesting people on that show."
Now, I'm not sure that I'd agree with the latter category for Herskowitz and Zwick (Angela Chase was a fascinating character in her own right), but I think you can't disagree that How I Met Your Mother is hitting both of those points. Two points for discussion:
- Are there other shows that suffer from Herskozwickitis?
- Are there other creators whose shows share a similar series of symptoms? (David E. Kelley is the easiest--starting off solid, and then turning loopy, often with a late saving grace in the form of an added actor--Robert Downey, Jr. and James Spader leading that last.) Is there "Bochcoitis?"
Unlike, say, Order of the Phoenix, Goblet of Fire includes a certain narrative backbone that must take place in a particular order -- selection of the champions, three tasks, and the graveyard. Everything else is just windowdressing. I approve of every choice Newell made as to what to cut and what to keep. Ditching the house elves? Amen -- perhaps even Hallelujah. Reimagining the cast of characters present for the opening scene so as to make the core plot flow more quickly and smoothly? No problem. Keeping the Quidditch World Cup but making it last all of 3 screen minutes? Absolutely necessary.
Interestingly, what with all the slicing and dicing, the Yule Ball remained a lengthy and detailed set piece. I think this was necessary if there was to be any advancement whatsoever of the interpersonal relationships in this installment, as there was absolutely nothing else going on at Hogwarts in this story except the Triwizard Tournament.
Three other observations. First, my sole directorial quibble: who decided it was a good idea to render Albus Dumbledore a waffling, uncertain old man? Second, seeing a non-matinee showing of a Harry Potter movie during its opening weekend remains one of the few great communal movie experiences. One group shared a bag of Bertie Botts' Beans before the movie started, another circulated all sorts of themed paraphernalia -- it was generally an exuberant crowd who had obviously been awaiting this night for some time.
Oh, and third: among the many (MANY) previews was a trailer for King Kong. I have no interest in King Kong the Man or Monkey as a general matter of policy, but wow, did it look like a good movie. I can't think of the last time that a trailer actually moved me from a NO to a YES, but this one did.
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Also, for those of you wagering on whether "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons would first be profiled in the NYT Sports section or what my wife calls the "women's sports" section, Sunday Styles, we have a winner.
And if you are really inspired by this, be sure to run down that 1982 David Carradine - Linda Hamilton classic, TAG: The Assassination Game.
- The length. Like its recent forebear Ray, Walk The Line runs about 2 and a half hours, and feels fatty--a lengthy opening "childhood" sequence could probably be cut in half, and the cycle of "kick the pills/relapse" is repeated at least one too many times.
- The singing. Witherspoon acquits herself quite well as a singer, and I would certainly consider buying an album from her. Phoenix fares far less well, largely because he's been placed in an impossible place, he can't "do" Cash's inimitable voice, and if he tried to, it would seem he'd be criticized for that.
- The over-promotion. From an acting standpoint, both Witherspoon and Phoenix are fine (and Ginnifer Goodwin, in her first major dramatic role, continues to make a case as to why she deserves far more work), but not by any means revelatory. Those of us who've seen Witherspoon's prior work (Election in particular) already knew she could act, though she's made efforts to try and get us to forget that. It's nice to see Phoenix play a less simpering character, but there's no revelation that was on the level of "Dude, that's the guy from Booty Call?" as we did with Ray. I can think of at least three better lead actress performances I've seen this year (Joan Allen, Cameron Diaz, and Toni Collette) than Witherspoon's.
- The failure to integrate songs. With the exception of "Ring of Fire" and "Folsom Prison Blues," the songs and performances (while excellent) don't really advance the plot. We move from plot to performance and back again without the two ever melding together effectively.
- What's missing. One of the most fascinating things (IMHO) about Johnny, June, and their relationship is the role religion played in their lives. There's almost no reference to religion in the film, which could have been used to provide much tension and depth rather than another generic Behind the Music-esque biopic, which is what we've got here.
Still, worth seeing, and I won't be ticked should Phoenix and Witherspoon get Oscar nominations, depending on how some of the later films this year come out.
One thing we do really well in this town is suffer. We have a threshold of pain that extends into the heavens. Our capacity for hurt is matched only by our capacity for loyalty. We keep standing there on the street corner certain that one day, some day, just you wait and see, there'll be another parade to happen along. Like the man said: "I bleed Eagles green... I just wish I didn't have to bleed so much." This town endures, you see, and its people keep coming back for more. How can you not fall in love with that?
It is a shame he has to leave, but it's a great summing up of what he calls the "rare treasured moments in sports when the human spirit gives off a light brighter than a thousand suns."