Friday February 29, 2008
A little background.
The articles on this Web site that weren't written for publication were often written so I could retain my thoughts on a book or movie: not just what I felt but why I felt it. In a broader sense it was a way of preserving the past. So everything doesn't just...go.
But it still does. Last month a friend mentioned that Errol Morris' Fast, Cheap and Out of Control was one of his favorite movies, and I nodded, remembering some vague things about it. A few days later I was gathering material for this Web site and I came across my review of Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. And it's pretty in-depth. But it's like it's written by another person. Which it is. It didn't make me think, “Oh yeah, I remember that. ” It made me think, “Wow, I gotta see this movie sometime.”
Is that the main conflict? Between trying to hold onto everything...and just letting it go? Sometimes it feels like it.
I'm in a letting-go mood right now. Probably a consequence of reading over every crappy thing I tried to hold onto.
Friday February 29, 2008
The latest MSNBC piece — on Woody Harrelson — is up now. This morning I realized something I should've added. In Semi-Pro, not only is Woody not playing the dumbest guy onscreen; he's actually playing the smartest. Whole new territory for him.
Wednesday February 27, 2008
American Political prisoner?
The basics. Siegelman, a Democratic governor in a Republican state, was running for reelection in 2002 when word leaked to the press that he was being investigated by federal prosecutors; he narrowly lost that election to Republican Bob Riley. The investigating prosecutors were both appointed by Pres. Bush and one of them, Leura Canary, was the wife of Republican consultant Bill Canary.
Two years later, as Siegelman was gearing to run for governor again, he's indicted on charges stemming from an alleged Medicaid scam. The case goes to trial. And on the first day the judge throws it out. Says the government has no case.
Then the investigation expands. For eight months Leura Canary is heading it — despite the fact that her husband ran the campaign for Siegelman's opponent, Gov. Riley. The charge is now bribery. The jury deadlocks once, twice, then votes to convict. The problems? The chief witness against him testified in exchange for a reduced sentence on corruption charges. The smoking gun, a check, was actually cut days after the witness claims seeing it in Siegelman's hands. And the supposed quid pro quo of campaign contributions ($500,000) for political favors (the contributor being reappointed to a hospital board) was, according to Grant Woods, a Republican and the former attorney general of Arizona, not bribery at all; it was politics. Akin to putting the President of the United States in jail because he gave a contributor an ambassadorship.
Even so, Siegelman was sentenced to seven years and led away — literally — in manacles, something unheard of for white collar criminals, let alone a former governor.
There's more: He said/she said about Karl Rove targeting Siegelman in 2002. Allegations that Karl Rove directed the DOJ for political advantage.
Fifty two attorneys general of both parties have asked Congress to investigate.
Tuesday February 26, 2008
Q & A with Jim Walsh
Here's the latest HuffPost piece. My friend Jim Walsh and I talk about the Replacements, Dada and Minneapolis hootenannies. I try to keep up.
Monday February 25, 2008
And the winner is...
...Hope Putnam! All of 4 1/2 years old. She — with perhaps a hand from Dad, Mike — won our annual Oscar pool with 16 of the 21 categories correct. (We ignore the short subjects.) I came in second with 15, Brenda got 14, Tommy and Patricia 13, etc. etc., on down to Tim with 3. He picks with his heart.
It was a nice night. About 25 people, a lot of kids running around, a lot of crushed crackers on the floor afterwards. Wine, beer, bruschetta. At one point Rico threatened me but you know how architects are. I suppose I shouldn't have made his wife, Jolie, stricken with laryngitis, repeat herself unnecessarily but it seemed funny at the time. Now, too. It was great seeing Sullivan healthy and looking great. Mr. B kept score, as always. Tommy showed up in a porkpie hat, which not many people can pull off but Tommy can. Jeff S. remained pretty funny for a tall guy. His riff on the hot chicks (this year, Jessica Alba) always presenting the sci-tech awards was spot-on.
Our consensus — and despite Alessandra Stanley's opinion — was that Jon Stewart did a helluva job. He was funny, loose, stayed on message (movies, movies, movies...with some politics) and brought back the Once chick to complete her acceptance speech. That brought the house down. Our house anyway.
Looking over the list of acting winners it's all western Europe: Spain, France and two Britains. Loved all the French and Spanish — along with Jon Stewart's translation of the latter. Happy with all the choices. The movie that should've won, won. The actor that should've won, won. Wish the Coens could've gotten past their Minnesota upbringing and reveled in their moment of triumph a bit more. Or at all. Somewhere between them and Roberto Benigni lies a happy medium. Happy to see MN girl Diablo Cody win for best original screenplay and loved her shout-out to the other writers.
The women at the party loved themselves some Javier Bardem, the men loved themselves some Cameron Diaz. Everyone agreed that Helen Mirren looked stunning and sexy.
All in all, a fun night. Thanks, everyone. Let's do it again next year.
Monday February 25, 2008
Yep, no shortage of Oscar noms
More on the Oscar party later but for now add Jeffrey Lyons to the “Everybody deserves an Oscar nom” list. In his HuffPost piece on the Oscars, he writes: “Nice to see Josh Brolin as a presenter. He and co-presenter James McAvoy were overlooked for nominations which they deserved.” No word from Mr. Lyons on who gets cut.
Sunday February 24, 2008
What's the first thing you read in the Sunday NY Times?
For me it's Frank Rich's column, and this week he's got a good one. (You can read it here.) It's another of the “What went wrong with Hilary's campaign” pieces but it's smarter than most. He compares the strategy of the Clinton campaign with the way Pres. Bush handled Iraq: Assume victory and then flail about when you don't get it. Hilary assumed she'd be victorious by Feb. 5 — she said so much to George Stephanopolous in late December — but had no back-up plan when that didn't happen.
The most telling stats show how disorganized her campaign is. “In Kansas,” Rich writes, “three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.” In Wisconsin she put up ads six days after Obama, and she had only four offices to his 11. She still has no offices in Vermont while he has four. She didn't know the Texas primary system was “so bizarre.” All this from someone who claims she's ready to lead from day one.
The most dispiriting part of her campaign is the attempt to marginalize Obama's supporters — a task that grows increasingly difficult as he wins state after state. Some in her campaign are even trotting out the whole “latte-drinking” insults. Obama's supporters, according to one speechmaker preceding Mrs. Clinton onto an Ohio stage, are little more than “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” C'mon, can't they come up with something more original? I'm an Obama supporter. How about “Honda-Civic driving?” How about “bike riding”? All those elitists who ride their bikes to work and listen to Joe Henry and read The New Yorker and eat chicken. Chicken eaters. Jeans wearers. Book readers. Baseball watchers. Air breathers.
Saturday February 23, 2008
Everyone deserves an Oscar nom - again
Entertainment Weekly has a piece about the 100 greatest Oscar snubs ever — you can read it here — but once again they're adding without subtracting. That's like governing without taxing. Grover Norquist would be proud.
The list is made up of actors and actresses who weren't even nominated for what we now consider classic performances. At no. 24, for example, we get Denzel Washington in Philadelphia. EW writes that Tom Hanks deserved his Oscar for the same film but “Washington, as the ambulance-chasing homophobe, had the harder task. He had to coerce audiences, ever so gently, into realizing that his character represented our own ignorance, and then drag us on his path to enlightenment.”
But EW ignores its own harder task. If Washington gets a nom in 1993, who doesn't? Daniel Day-Lewis for In the Name of the Father, Laurence Fishburne for What's Love Got to Do With It?, Anthony Hopkins for Remains of the Day or Liam Neeson for Schindler's List? Who does EW snub?
It's bad enough that they're doing this from an historical perspective that allows them to seem smarter than the Academy by touting classic film roles — Rita Hayworth in Gilda (no. 21), Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange (no. 17), Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (no. 9) — but add some teeth to the argument. Add some hand wringing. I thought their no. 6 choice was inspired: Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham. I thought: Yeah! Great performance. Totally bought her in that role. Then you look at the other best actress nominees from 1988: Glenn Close in Dangerous Liasons, Jodie Foster in The Accused, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Meryl Streep in A Cry in the Dark and Sigourney Weaver in Gorillias in the Mist. Now it's a little tougher. For my part, I'd pick Sarandon over Griffith or Weaver but EW doesn't want to make any hard choices, just easy ones.
Aren't these lists disposable enough? Make them about something. This list could be about how overlooked performances tend to come from genre films (horror, comedy) while the nominated performances tend to come from overserious dramatic films. And of course this is still going on. The Academy is still doing this. Talk about that and at least you're talking about something slightly relevant.
Friday February 22, 2008
My Oh My!
One of my favorite people I don't know personally, Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Seattle Mariners since 1977, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week. About effin' time, I say. He's real baseball. He's given me more moments of pure joy than most people I do know personally. Fans in the Pacific Northwest know what I'm talking about. Below is an article I wrote about him in 1996. It's partly nostalgic — Kingdome, Junior's 199th career homerun — but most of it is still true:
THE VOICE OF THE M'S
Between the second and third decks of the Kingdome, up a flight of stairs from the press box and surrounded on all sides by luxury suites, sits a narrow, blue-carpeted, three-tiered room. Because each tier holds a thin table equipped with headphones and swivel chairs, the room is reminiscent of a tiny lecture hall. Except no students are present, while the would-be professor sits at the bottom tier with his back to the room, looking out over the artificial green of the Kingdome's vast interior. He wears headphones and talks into a microphone held in place by duct tape.
“It's been a wild, woolly, Pier 6 brawl, and the bullies so far have been the Kansas City Royals,” he bellows.
It is from this enclave, in these unassuming surroundings, that Dave Niehaus makes Mariners baseball come alive for 400,000 radio listeners.
“He's the best broadcaster in baseball,” Rick Rizzs, Niehaus' broadcast partner for 10 of the last 13 years, mentions before gametime. “He can set the scene, he can bring you in, he can make you feel it, smell it, touch it, and be a part of it.”
Tony Ventrella of KIRO-TV concurs. “He's got such great knowledge and — the thing is — stories. He's got a story attached to everything. And he's a great storyteller. Some people know the stories, but they don't tell them as well.”
In conversation it doesn't take long for Niehaus to reveal these talents, whether he's talking about Gaylord Perry's 300th win or his preference for outdoor baseball.
“You go to Fenway Park in Boston — which is my favorite park by far and it was built in 1912 — and you can smell it, you can smell the baseball. You look at the ladder that comes down The Monster, you look at the Yawkey's names written in Morse Code right by the ladder, you look at that seat 502 feet away in right field where Ted Williams hit the homerun off Freddie Hutchinson. There's so many things there for a baseball nut like I am.”
On the air Niehaus often recounts his childhood in Princeton, Indiana: sitting on the porch, sipping lemonade, catching fireflies and listening to Harry Caray broadcast St. Louis Cardinals games. Yet as a child he never thought of becoming an announcer. “Subliminally maybe,” he says, “[but] I was going to go to dental school. And then I woke up one morning in college and said 'I can't stare down somebody's throat at nine o'clock in the morning the rest of my life,' and I wandered by the radio and television school there and changed my major.”
He worked for the Armed Forces radio network, broadcasting baseball and basketball and hockey. From 1969 to 1976, along with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale, he was the voice of the California Angels. Then came an offer from a nascent Seattle organization, and Niehaus was on hand to help launch The Good Ship Mariner on April 6, 1977; it almost sank off the dock.
“Frank Tanana shut us out,” he recalls, “and Nolan Ryan shut us out the next night. I was beginning to wonder a) whether we would ever score a run, and b) whether we'd ever win a ballgame.”
It wasn't until 1991 that the Mariners even finished above .500 for the season. Meanwhile, Niehaus, his reputation growing, was getting offers from bigger markets with outdoor stadiums, but he didn't budge. He liked the Pacific Northwest. And he wanted to be here when Seattle baseball turned around.
Last year he got his wish.
The story is familiar by now. Thirteen games back in August. One exciting come-from-behind victory after another in September. The one-game playoff with California to clinch the A.L. West title. Losing two games in New York and then coming back to the Kingdome to win three in a row. It was some of the most exciting baseball people had ever seen, and much of it was imprinted with Niehaus' voice: the smooth, low tones that tend toward capital letters when the action heats up:
“And Junior right down on the knob of the bat, waving that black beauty right out toward Pavlik; has it cocked and Pavlik is set. The pitch on the way to Ken Griffey Jr. and it's SWUNG ON AND BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD GRANDMA, IT’S GRAND SALAMI TIME! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! ONE SWING OF THE BAT, THE FIRST PITCH, AND KEN GRIFFEY JR. HAS GIVEN THE MARINERS A 6-2 LEAD OVER THE TEXAS RANGERS. MY OH MY!”
This mixture of adult professionalism and youthful enthusiasm has helped turn Niehaus into a local icon. He is so popular that in Seattle's first ever post-season game, he — not the Mayor, not the Governor — but he threw out the first pitch. He is so identified with the Mariners that in the book A Magic Season: The Year the Mariners Made Seattle a Baseball Town, his profile is included among the players. Fans leaving exciting games wonder how excited Niehaus must have been during this or that homerun, or this or that astounding catch. Some don't have to wonder; they bring their radios with them.“He's a fan of the game,” says Mark Bitton of Aberdene. “He's not just being a broadcaster. You can hear it in his voice. He's excited about it, too.”
“I brought the radio because I came with my son and his four friends,” Peter Maier of Seattle mentions, gesturing to several boys roaming the third deck aisles while the Mariners fritter away another lead. “So Niehaus is my adult friend.”
Almost directly below Maier, in the broadcast booth, Niehaus holds nothing back. “This is an ugly, sloppy ballgame,” he tells his listeners. He confers with producer Kevin Cremin. Both keep score. Cremin hands him notes, advertisements, and Niehaus smoothly segues into them between pitches. His observations are quick, his word choices evocative. Speedy Tom Goodwin hits a “soft, little dunker” that he turns into a two-base hit when Buhner merely “lopes in on the ball.” He finds humor in the Kansas City catcher involved in a hit-and-run: “Big Sal Fasano was just lumbering down the line toward second.” Between innings he shows off the sealed envelope in which Ken Griffey Jr. has predicted the day he will hit his 200th homerun. “Knowing Junior's sense of humor I'll probably open it up and it'll say 'Today',” Niehaus laughs.
An inning later, Junior hits number 199; but the game is lost, part of a disappointing homestand for the M's. Niehaus, however, is as philosophic about such losses any veteran player.
“I've done well over three thousand games — and that's just for Seattle — and I've never seen two games alike. Of course you want the club that you work for to win. But I just enjoy the aesthetics of the game, the artistry of baseball. I look at one game like it is: 1/162 of a season.
”There are times when you get in an eight or nine game losing streak and you think 'Will this ever end?' It will. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but it will.“
Sure enough, the next night the M's pitching settles down, the big bats come out, and Dave Niehaus' voice rises as quickly as the trajectory of Paul Sorrento's latest homerun:
”The pitch to Sorrento BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! UPPER DECK TIIIIIME, YES! A two-run homerun by Paul Sorrento and the Mariners are up 7-0! Fly Away!"
Thursday February 21, 2008
Netflix gets it right
Minor thing, but I'm glad Netflix has changed alphabetically listing, say, the films of Martin Scorsese or Tom Hanks, and are going with the chronological approach. The arc of a filmmaker or movie star is chronological not alphabetical. For me, it's easier to find what I want.
Yeah, I know, I alphabetized the reviews on the film page but even this seems wrong to me. Just go to the S's and you get Sanger fran andra vaningen followed by Saving Private Ryan and the original Scarface. And then? Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Weird. Some things just shouldn't hang together.
Monday February 18, 2008
“60 Minutes” ran a piece last night called “And the happiest place on earth is...” A British study determined (how we're not really sure) that this magical place is ... drumroll ... Denmark! My peeps! The country I'm one generation removed from.
So as Morley Safer's story began, I kept wondering why we ever left. Even after they mentioned that herring was the national dish, I wondered. Then Morley & Co. gave me a bit of an answer as to why the Danes are happy; it also helped answer, maybe not why we left, but why it wasn't necessarily a bad idea.
Apparently the happiness there is less a matter of bright sunshine than low wattage. It's a culture of low expectations. If things turn out fine, great, but if they don't, well, who thought they would anyway? At least we won the UEFA futbol championship in '92. Now eat your herring.
There's more to the answer, of course, and the piece seemed designed less to talk up Denmark's happiness than the U.S. lack of. Danes are protected from birth to death by a large social safety net. There's no great disparity between rich and poor. Even middle-income wage earners pay 50 percent in taxes, and all of that money goes to cover health care, free education, maternity and paternity leaves, etc., throughout your life. As opposed to the U.S. with its shrinking social safety net and grandiose ambitions (and accompanying stress, and accompanying disappointment) for everyone involved.
Denmark's social safety net is fine; it's the low wattage that concerns me. The lack of casual conversations. The highly developed body language. The right not to be talked to. Danes go to southern climates and everyone seems happier: people are out in the streets, making noise, having fun. In a cultural sense anyway, I think I'd rather have the ups and downs, the blue skies and thunderstorms, than the overcast skies with a constant chance of drizzle.
So can you have a strong social safety net and grandiose ambitions? Or does a thick social safety net inevitably impinge upon ambition by handing you what you would otherwise strive for?
I do know this: I want to visit Denmark soon. Not to get all Alex Haley on everybody but it seems a shame I've never been.
Thursday February 14, 2008
Everyone deserves an Oscar nom
Lord knows I’ve had my complaints about the Oscars over the years but lately I’ve begun to have more complaints about Oscar’s complainers. A recent “Must List” in Entertainment Weekly is indicative. They subtitled it “Snubbed by Oscar Edition” and listed off 10 of the snubbees, including two for best actress (Keri Russell for Waitress, Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart), two for best actor (Christian Bale for Rescue Dawn and Ryan Gosling for Lars and the Girl) and two for best director (Joe Wright for Atonement and Sean Penn for Into the Wild).
All fine. But you’re not dealing with an infinite number of spaces here. So if you’re going to say Wright and Penn both deserve director nods, tell us who didn’t deserve them. Julian Schnabel? Jason Reitman? Tony Gilroy? Angelina Jolie was great. So choose her over who? Ellen Page? Cate Blanchett? And really? Christian Bale and/or Ryan Gosling over Tommy Lee Jones or Viggo Mortensen or Johnny Depp or George Clooney or Daniel Day-Lewis? If you’re adding, you gotta subtract. If you’re going to bitch about the Academy, you’ve gotta play within their parameters. Otherwise we’re back to grade school and everyone deserves a gold star.
And that’s my first petty bitching about other people’s petty bitching.