Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Daytona 500

I will admit that I am a NASCAR fan. It's more casual these days than it was in the late '90s and early 2000s.  Back then, I had a Dale Jarrett '88' sticker on my red Ford F-150 pickup and a list of radio stations that carried the race in my toolbox for the Sundays I could not watch live.

These days I watch the big races, especially the night races and the local races at Dover and Pocono. And I try not to miss Daytona. The first race I ever watched was CBS Sports first flag-to-flag coverage of a NASCAR event, the 1979 Daytona 500.  I was in my grandfather's living room in Brookhaven, snow piling up outside with not much else on TV. We watched the rednecks driving around the giant oval in Florida and as the race ended, the two leaders crashed out and got into a fistfight!  All their friends got into it with them!  All on national TV!

It would be a few more years before I watched regularly again, but I have had some pretty good memories of watching the Daytona 500.  My favorite was in 1993, when NASCAR legend Ned Jarrett, then a broadcaster, got to call his son Dale Jarrett home to the checkered flag.  My heart was in my throat and I wasn't even a father yet! 

In 1996, I visited Daytona and I was blown away by the sheer vastness of the engineering marvel the place really is. The three story high, steeply banked turns with hundreds of thousands of seats around them were pretty exciting even without 40 some cars flying into the turns at 200 miles an hour.

So I was pretty bummed when, with me sick and immobile on the couch, weather delayed the race until Monday. Then it was delayed again until night time and I was pretty happy I would get to watch.  So we were going to get the first-ever Monday Night Daytona 500.  All that was weird enough.  Then the race started.

And it was a pretty normal race for a while.  Big wreck on lap 2 took out Danica and some fan favorites.  Pit stops, commercials, cars running real close to each other in big packs, more commercials.  I was fading in and out of sleep.

And then all of a sudden there was a GIANT FIREBALL on the screen.  One of the safety trucks seemed to have exploded. How is that possible?

 

What happened was that some idiot put a bunch of FUEL TRUCKS towing JET ENGINES on the track at the same time as drivers going 200 miles an hour.  All this to blow debris off the track.  Umm guys?  Have you not heard of vacuums?  Wasn't there anything more dangerous to clean the track with?  Maybe something plutonium-powered?

Jesus Christ, who thought of this jerry-rig?  Take a military surplus jet engine and tow it behind a truck filled with JET FUEL??? 'Hey Jethro, run on down to the army-navy store and grab us some jet engines so we can get the track cleaned off in a hurry.  An' get some a' that duck tape so we can get the engine really tight on the truck!'

Anyway, I went to bed as they were trying to put the fire out, but I woke up to the coverage on every new outlet this morning. Apparently it was a pretty good race aside from the giant fire and no one was hurt. It will be a memorable race, but not one of the top 10 Daytona moments in my book.

Oh and Matt Kenseth eventually won the race.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Night - 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' - A Review

Well The Oscars are tonight and somehow I only got to see five of the nine films nominated for Best Picture.  Today is my final review before the big party tonight and one thing I can tell you for certain is that 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close' won't win Best Picture.

'EL & IC' has some seriously good acting in it.  Max von Sydow is OUTSTANDING as 'The Renter,' who shepherds young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) on a search for his father's legacy after 9/11. Horn, in his first-ever film, is able to carry off a tough role as a pre-teen with Asberger's Syndrome who is staggered by the loss of his doting father (Tom Hanks).  Sandra Bullock continues a series of breakout roles as Oskar's mother and is brilliant in understated way that contrasts starkly with her Oscar-winning role in 'The Blind Side.'

'EL & IC' is nicely shot, taking us on a tour of all of the beautiful places there are to film in New York City.  Central Park looks amazing, the boroughs and neighborhoods sing with authenticity and are a wonderful backdrop for Oskar's noble quest. Cuts in and out of Oskar's memory blend nicely with the locations and the great apartment set.  Stark footage of the Twin Towers burning is included, though probably not needed.

The story is complicated but basically follows Oskar after he finds a key in his father's closet.  In an envelope marked 'Black,' Oskar finds a safe deposit box key and chronicles all the people named 'Black' in New Yor City.  His obsessive fixation on the quest, photographing and chronicling each visit is almost a road movie within the film.  His 'buddy' in the road film segment is a mysterious man who rents a room from Oskar's grandmother. 

Along the way Oskar learns what we suspected all along, that von Sydow's mute character is really his long-lost grandfather. Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter of the recent  Bond films) turns in an excellent appearance as the actual owner of the key.  In the end, all comes together and while Oskar's father is not miraculously resurrected, his mother is shown to be a true heroine, his grandparents re-unite, and just about everything else Hollywood can do to heal the 9/11 scars is thrown in as the credits roll.

Everything The Oscars love in a Best Picture right?

'EL & IC' won't win though, because there just isn't enough to the movie to be the first major film about the fall of the World Trade Centers and the horrible events of 9/11. It tries too hard to make us remember how hard that time was for us all.  The film doesn't just pull on the heartstrings, it yanks hard on them, ending up feeling exploitative rather than transcendent. It's one of the rare movies that I sat thought that I wish I had not seen.

Enjoy the Red Carpet, but skip 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.'


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friday Fantastic Four - Catholic High School Edition

While the Friday Fantastic Four is a day late, I have an excuse. Yesterday, pretty much everyone who went to Catholic school in the Philly area was watching our news feeds to see what the fate was of the high schools that a blue ribbon commission had recommended for closure.

The news broke yesterday afternoon and there was jubilation across the area as parents, students and alumni learned that all of the schools would be spared, though Prendie and Bonner will merge in order to survive. All of the FB posts, pictures of crying girls, biting commentary and emotion got me to thinking about my fore years at St. James in Chester.  And with those thoughts came today's fan four:

What were the four best things about going to Catholic high school?

  1. Being part of something bigger than myself - We had a network, a brotherhood and even today, 17 years after Bevilacqua shut us down, STJ lives on!
  2. Uniform skirts - Yes, I went to an all-boys high school, but whenever we could, we would get out early and shoot up to Cardinal O'Hara where the girls were!
  3. Knowing every guy in my class - I graduated with 180 other guys.  I can honestly say that I knew every one of them, and probably knew every guy in school by name.  I'm not unusual.  Many of us are still in touch, 25 years later.
  4. Having a celibate man teach us about the value of marriage - Phrases like 'allaying concupiscence' sure made us want to run out and get married, Fr. Brugger!

I feel great for everyone who helped save the Philadelphia area Catholic high schools from the chopping block, especially the Bonner and Prendie folks back home in Delco.  Congrats!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thursday

It was 60 degrees at lunchtime today, so I went for a walk instead of writing.  I likely won't be writing tonight either because I am going to a Flying Fish Brewing event at Philadelphia Bar and Restaurant in about an hour. 

Short story is that this is today's blog.  Enjoy it's brevity and prfound lack of content.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

War Horse

In my continuing reviews of Academy Award-nominated films we've come to Steven Spielberg's big budget, massive Christmas-release film about a boy and his horse, based on the children's book by Michael Morpurgo. It's Spielberg doing what he does best - a GIANT movie, with a multi-year time span, huge battle scenes, dozens of characters, hundreds of horses and an ending we all see coming a mile away.

The story is pretty straight forward.  Set in England at the dawn of World War I, a drunken farmer buys a racehorse instead of the plow animal he needs.  The farmer's son Albert, played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine, trains the poorly behaved horse to plow and names him Joey.  Unfortunately after massive rains, the farmer's fields are ruined and he is forced to sell Joey to the British as a cavalry mount.  Joey and Albert are tearfully separated and Joey heads off to France. 

Following an inept attempt by the British to take a German camp, Joey and another horse are captured and used by the Germans pulling an ambulance until they are taken by young German deserters.  After that adventure ends badly, a young French farm girl Emilie (played by another newcomer Celine Buckens) finds Joey and his equine sidekick.  When the German army plunders the farm for supplies, Emilie secrets the horses in her bedroom.

Unfortunately, on her first ride on Joey, Emilie is found by the Germans, who take the horses and press them into service towing tanks.  Years pass and coincidentally Joey and his former owner Albert find themselves on the opposite sides of a terrible trench warfare battle.  Albert and his village buddies have somehow survived years of battle together and charge across no-mans land and take the German positions only to be gassed and blinded.

SPOILER

Joey, spooked by a tank and upset by the death of his companion, charges though no-mans land and is ensnared in the barbed wire between the two enemy positions.  A British soldier comes out under a white flag to try to help the horse and is aided by a German who actually thought to bring some wire cutters.  After the horse is freed, they argue over who gets to take him back to their trench.  Ultimately the Brit wins the coin toss and Joey heads back to the British trenches.  There, word of his heroic charge though the wire is told and re-told among the wounded until Albert hears it.

Albert, temporarily blinded by the the mustard gas, still somehow KNOWS this is his long-lost Joey and opportunely whistles for him just as Joey is about to be put down.  We all know how this one ends.

And despite the Hollywood ending, all the beautiful horses, the expansive scenery and chilling war sequences, the magnificent cinematography, and the soaring John Williams score, 'War Horse' somehow misses. It's a bit too dark, sad and violent.  Despite the attempts to show how strong, yet empathetic Joey is, I never really get a good feeling for the horse as a character. Again, despite Spielberg's attempts to give some dimension to the human characters, they are dwarfed by all that is going on around them.

As I said, it's a big film, ultimately too big for the rather one dimensional characters that live in it.  At almost 2 1/2 hours, there was time to get us to care about these people, but the story about Albert's dad,  the alcoholic farmer, and his service in Africa seems just too simple.  It might help if Irvine could act at all, but sadly he comes off as a bit dull-witted, and not in an interesting or happy way.

I think that this COULD have been a great movie, but the decision seems to have been made to try to re-make All Quiet on the Western Front in France, telling a story about how horrible World War I was to all involved, rather than telling the simple story about a boy who loses his beloved horse only to be reunited after years apart.  See 'War Horse' for what it is, a blockbuster movie about World War I that has a lot of horses, green pastures and muddy battles in it.  But don't take the kids, despite its origins as a children's book, this movies is not for the faint of heart.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The First Crocus of Spring

It's 39 degrees here in Medford this morning but this little crocus decided it's time to come out and tell us spring is on its way!


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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday In The Park

With all due respect to the band Chicago, today is a beautiful day to be out for a hike in the park!


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Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Fantastic Four - I Love Philly!

So a couple weeks ago my Fantastic Four was on Philly things that I don't understand.  This week, I was driving though South Philly and realized as crazy as this town is some days, there is so much I love about it. Soooo ....

image from www.flickr.com
What do you Love about Philly?

  1. The Italian Market - Seattle has Pike Place Market, New York has the Fulton Fish Market, DC has the Eastern Market, but none of them touches our own Italian Market.  Reeking of authenticity, this place has third-generation neighborhood shop-keepers alongside Amish purveyors and newcomers of all sorts.  The chaos makes this place worth a trip, even if you don't buy a thing.
  2. The Restaurant Scene - With our own celebrity chefs, Kitchen Nightmares and Michelin Star drama and 13th St. Empires, we've got it all.  I like the diversity here.  You can get great cheesesteaks and hoagies, you can go ultra high end, you can hit a BYO, enjoy America's best beer scene or munch on tapas.  And then you can head out tomorrows night and do it again, because these ain't NYC prices.
  3. City Hall - What's not to love about this place?  For years the tallest building in the city by gentleman's agreement, this is a COLOSSALbuilding.  We let protests camp at its base, watch Billy Penn pee when it rains, convince city councilmen not to jump from its heights and dress it up at playoff time.  Oh, and it's the center of government and a major city courthouse!
  4. Manayunk - One of the first places I ever hung out in the city, it was where all the college kids came to town for fun before Old City was Old City.  I still like going back to the 'yunk after all these years.  I love the food, the beer, the bike race, the music, and yes, even the shopping.  Even when it floods, Manayunk comes back and makes everyone happy again next summer!

What do you love about the City of Brotherly love?

Have a great weekend!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

And so it's Valentine's Day again this year. Things are a mite different than last year! I was fully prepared post about the rampant commercialization and media over-hype of the holiday, but my black-hearted anti-VD rant was deflated this morning when my daughter told me that February 14 is her favorite holiday.

'Why?' I grumbled.

'Because you get to tell everyone that you love them,' she said plainly and sweetly.

Indeed.

So I thought about things a bit this morning, and I am left agreeing that Emma's basic sentiment is a sound one. There really should be a day where it's ok to remember how much you love everyone and to let them know. I still think the $275 dinner and Champagne 'deal' at 10Arts tonight is a bit excessive, but a simple call to mom and a card or fresh flowers for your significant other isn't.

So my advice is to keep it simple.  Skip the jewelry and tacky lingerie, avoid the ridiculously expensive momentary delights and concentrate on what makes your life important. Who do you love and why? Make that the focus of today.

We'll be out tonight as a family, enjoying a place we all love and each other's company.  For you it may be Chinese takeout, a bottle of Riesling and a movie on the couch, or a local dinner out at a favorite spot, or just a night where you think about the people who make your life special.

So for everyone in my life who make me feel so well-loved in so many ways, and for those who make my children's lives special every day, thank you and happy Valentine's Day.

And thanks especially to my littlest valentine for reminding me why today is important!


Monday, February 13, 2012

Thoughts on Smoke

Today as I headed in to work, I walked behind a a beautiful young woman for a block or so. The scent of her perfume mingled with cigarette smoke in a decadent mix that completely scattered my thoughts and forced a coffee run to help me get down to work. I'm not a smoker, but I have smoked at times in the past. As I stirred my coffee, I mused for a bit on how powerful smoke is and how different smoke scents have their own places in my life.

If I am indoors, cigarette smoke is not something I welcome. It makes me cough and my eyes burn and I hate the smell on my clothes later. As a New Jerseyan, I was shocked to walk into a suburban Philadelphia restaurant/bar a few weeks back to be confronted with a stinking wall of haze from the 3 bar patrons cheerlessly puffing away. I had completely forgotten that there are exemptions to the smoking ban.  I walked out.

But, as noted earlier, my relationship with cigarette smoke is more complex than that. There is something about very intriguing about a woman who smokes.  I guess it's and example of the age-old truth of being drawn to a bad girl. (Right up until you kiss her after she's been smoking and then ... blech!) I have picked up a few packs of cigarettes in stressful times and have been calmed by the ritual of smoking, but ultimately I hate that I know how bad it is for me and I throw the rest of the pack away.

Cigar smoke I associate with my Grandpa Neely and golf and winning basketball games. It's a full, mature smoke that smells of accomplishment and relaxation.  In my 20s and early 30s, I smoked a couple of cigars a month, sometimes with Scotch, sometimes with brandy, sometimes with fine Bourbon, but always with good friends. I always woke up with the feeling that something had died in my mouth, but until my kids came along, it didn't stop me from firing up another a few weeks later!

There are other powerful kinds of smoke.  Nothing says 'suburban summer Saturday afternoon' like the smoke from a charcoal grill. Rarely smelled these days, I occasionally catch the scent of a good burger grilling the old-fashioned way and I am brought back to thoughts of my father obsessively fanning the Kingsford briquets in his Weber kettle, looking for the right mix of orange glow and gray ash before dropping the food on the grill.  While the smell of a streak grilling over a gas grill is just fine, the missing element of the charcoal smoke makes it just a bit less interesting, no matter how perfectly the steak is cooked.

Speaking of food and smoke, I am not really a big fan except for the aforementioned backyard grill. Smoked food (and beers or cocktails for that matter) always seems to be just a bit over the top with the smoke, hiding anything else going on in the dish.  Add to this the offense of 'liquid smoke,' and I think I'm just going to pass most of the time.

Even after all these years, when I catch a whiff of pot smoke, I still think back to college. The House 6 and 7 guys trying to keep the party to a 'dull roar,' the elicit smoke wafting though the house as Van Morrison and the Grateful Dead boomed. It's far more prevalent now that it used to be.  It's no longer unusual to smell pot smoke at a Phils game, and it's darn near unusual to be at a concert where someone doesn't fire up a joint.  Heck, it's darn near legal in some states!

The exhaust smoke from a diesel engine reminds me how hard work and life can be sometimes. Whether it's a tractor with its PTO engaged and driving a pump, a trackhoe digging a ditch, a SEPTA bus pulling away from a line of commuters or a generator keeping the air compressors running and work lights on, diesel smoke always makes me feel tired and gritty and desperate to get home and put my feet up.

I lived in a house in the woods for a few years and I swear I can smell the acrid smoke of a forest fire or controlled burn from 15 miles away.  Far nastier than the smoke from firewood, this stuff seems to carry with it the fear of everyone in its path.  I never had to evacuate, but I know a few folks who have and even the relatively benign amount of smoke generated by the controlled burning of underbrush makes me cringe a bit.

The smell of firewood smoke in the outdoor air is a totally different thing.  Woodsmoke always makes me think of family and home and all of the good, conservative values things that get Republicans elected. Never mind that I didn't have a fireplace growing up and don't have one now; this is a powerful scent and evokes these feelings instantly.  Oddly, the scent of woodsmoke on my clothes just makes me think of camping and makes me want a shower.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled day.  I'll bet you think the next time you smell some kind of smoke!


Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Fantastic Four - Grammys Edition

Sunday night is the Grammys, probably my least favorite show of the Awards Season.  It seems like there are too many average artists nominated and too many performances.  I know, the performances are supposed to be better than actually hearing these folks speak, but sometimes, I'd rather hear the speeches.

My list this week is heavily influenced by being in the car an awful lot with 11 year old boys and 8 year old girls.  We hear a lot of heavy-rotation, Top 40 stuff.  Thankfully, this was a great year for big-label, big artists with Britney Spears in a comeback, Pink showing more and more (musically), Katy Perry hot all summer, LMFAO party rockin' and soulful Adele on at least one of the stations 24/7.

What are your four best songs of 2011?

  1. 'Pumped Up Kicks' - Foster the People - This one was everywhere last summer. Great lyrical story hidden behind the beautiful, haunting musical arrangement. I can't wait for more from them.
  2. 'Rolling In The Deep' - Adele - Surely the most beautiful vocal performance of the year. I chose this one over her other mega-hit, 'Someone Like You' because it's not quite as needy.
  3. 'The Edge of Glory' - Lady Gaga - Maybe the best '80s song ever. Even I try to dance ot this one.  Clarence Clemons' last performance is breezy and pulls it all together in the end.
  4. 'Forget You' - Cee Lo Green - Funk Lives!!! I loved this song, both for it's unabashed homage to the 70s funkmasters, but also for the message.  Gotta love the lyrical nod to Mr. T as well. (Video is the clean version)

Everyone enjoy the music and the weekend!


Thursday, February 09, 2012

'Locked On' by Tom Clancy - A Review

In honor of National Read in the Bathtub Day (I looked for the only known picture of me in a bathtub, but alas, was unable to find it) we've got a book review for you today.  I'm sure you're way more interested in the review than the photo anyway.

'Locked On' is the latest in the Jack Ryan lineage, and includes all of the old gang of Jack Clark, Ding Chavez form the early days as well as newer faces like Jack Ryan, Jr. and cousin Dominic Caruso. The elder Ryan is pursuing a White House bid against a liberal who has gutted the CIA and the younger Ryan and the rest of the gang are running a privately-backed paramilitary group (The Campus) in Northern Virginia.

I have read all of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books and a few of his others, including Red Storm Rising, one of my favorites of all time, but this might be my last one. Written 'with' Mark Greaney, this book has three main plots that converge so that Ryan's buddies can save the world. Each has its own impossible elements and combine in the end for a climax that would make Hollywood's worst action movie directors wince in incredulity.

In the Plot One, a shadowy former Warsaw Pact informer turned liberal American billionaire (A thinly-disguised George Soros) seeks to scuttle Ryan's presidential bid.  The plot involves the world's most wanted terrorist, a liberal civil rights group, a deputy director of the CIA, a convenient French detective with a million amazing contacts, a former Soviet spy and his Russian diplomat son.  And a few dozen other characters with connections and motives that are incomprehensible.  Executed properly, there is enough in just this plot for an entire novel. Sadly, it's executed horribly.

In Plot Two, we've got the insane Pakistani general trying to overthrow his own government by creating a conflict between India and Pakistan. This guy has multiple identities and has been causing trouble in the Indian sub-continent for a decade but no one knew who he was until Jack Ryan, Jr. got on the case! Thankfully Jr. and Cuz zip over to Pakistan to defuse a stolen nuke, kill the plotting general and head back in time for the Inauguration.

And in the Plot Three, a Russian billionaire space tycoon finds out he really isn't Russian, but actually a Muslim, and buys an extra stolen nuke from the Pakistani general to take his revenge on Moscow and force the release of a separatist military leader. Of course, he has 3 former Soviet ICBMs at his disposal and manages to take control of an entire Russian space launch facility to carry out his dastardly plan.

The Rainbow organization of Clancy's middle period has been gutted by lazy, left-leaning Eurotrash governments and can't handle the task of saving the day.  Thankfully, a 64-year old John Clark is fresh off being shot and tortured at the hands of the Russian diplomat from Plot One and is available to train up his old Rainbow organization overnight.  With the help of his trusty sidekick Ding, who is now also a super-sniper and helo jumper, the hostage crisis is averted and with only minor damage to Moscow, the terrorist plot is foiled.

Even at 853 pages, there are glaring plot holes that you can drive a truck through. Ryan, Sr. is running for president as a far more conservative hawk than the moderate who resigned the presidency four years before.  We never hear the reason for his resignation or the startling run to the right. A love interest, Megan Kraft, is introduced to Jr. by old family friend and super spy runner Mary Pat Foley.  We have a few pages of her Kraft's inner thoughts and misgivings about the CIA early in the book.  By the end of the book, those inner thoughts have apparently been forgotten by the authors and Kraft is a duplicitous agent trying to dig up dirt on the Ryans for the CIA.

There are a few saving graces for the book.  It's pretty well written, if not by Clancy himself, then by barely-credited ghostwriter Mark Greaney.  The action is well-written and paced and the switches from plot to plot are solidly done.  As is true with any Clancy book, the technical aspects are perfect.  WIth a wide array of vintage and ultra-modern weaponry, the Jane's addicts will be very happy.  There are also a million new technologies mentioned and used, showing someone is keeping up on what makes counter-terrorism work these days.

In the end though, this book is a mess.  It's clearly designed as a pre-cursor book to a future Ryan, Sr. presidency book where all the world's evils with be righted with a super-robust CIA and techno-superior military. The three plots are just too over the top, the super-human characters to able to do just too much, the villains just too able to enmesh their own separate agendas to make this book remotely believable.

Sadly, I don't care where the series goes from here.  It's been killed by lazy writing, a lack of editing, and obviously greedy publishing.  It's a shame, because there is still some degree of interest left for me, especially in the Jack Ryan, Jr. character.  But there's just too much other crap going on in the last few books to make me think the next one will be worth the time to read it.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Moneyball

The third film in my review series of movies nominated for Best Picture, Moneyball is really the first one I think was worth of the nomination.  Oh I know that there are some out there saying, 'Oh sure, he likes the SPORTS movie!' But this is the first movie I thought had it all as a film.  It was well-cast, had a great story and was well-acted. I am sure several of the films I have left to review will score in all these areas, but Moneyball is the first so far.

Adapted from Michael Lewis's 2003 book, the movie stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland A's, whose use of new statistical analysis tools transformed baseball in the first years of this century. Doesn't sound like much of a movie in that description, which is probably why it took three writers, three directors and 7 years to get the production off the ground.

Ultimately, Aaron Sorkin, of 'The West Wing' and 'A Few Good Men' fame, penned the final draft of the screenplay and turned this into a story of the little guy fighting against the mega-franchises of Major League Baseball.  Beane is liberated from being a numbers-obsessed geek by Jonah Hill's quiet, excellent portrayal of Beane's protege, Peter Brand.  Sorkin adds a depth to Beane that I have never felt in his interviews or in the book, showing him to be a caring father, doting mentor and person of great conviction.

The father angle is ultimately important because it gives the film some chance at a Hollywood ending.  Based (at times loosely) on the 2002 A's season, there is no real life parade at the end of the story.  The A's, while successful, did not achieve baseball's Holy Grail.  In fact, Beane is still waiting for his World Series trophy.  For Beane to have a human, rather than professional, reason to remain in Oakland at the end of the film makes all the difference.

I'm no Brad Pitt fan, but I have to admit he is perfect as Beane, the former MLB washout turned sabermetric GM.  He's got the loose-limbed, easy manner of a ball player and the casual intensity of a sports executive nailed in the 133 minute film.  The rest of the cast is solid as well.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as usual as Beane's foil, crusty manager Art Howe.  Jonah Hill's portrayal of a composite character is perfect and 'Parks and Recreation's' Chris Pratt is credible playing a big-leaguer, something numerous others have failed at.

Moneyball is not a perfect movie.  There have been more than a few criticisms of the factual leaps the film takes.  I will chalk that up to poetic license.  The movie also lacks visual appeal at times.  There are a lot of concrete hallways and meeting rooms.  The baseball scenes are pretty pedestrian stuff.  I know it's a true story guys, but it's not a documentary.  We don't need to see the actual stretch of barren hallway where the deal got done.  You could film it at a beach side restaurant!

There are no women to speak of in the movie unless you count Beane's daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) or the momentary appearance of Robin Wright as Beane's ex-wife. Guys, if you're looking for eyecandy, move along. It's also a touch too long. There is a lot of time spent building up the tension between Pitt and Hill and the baseball establishment. The failure of Beane's playing career is inserted a few times too often with no real apparent need. We get what you're doing guys, you don't need to beat us over the head with it.

Ultimately this film works, though, becasue we never really think of Brad Pitt as anyone but Billy Beane.  We forget that he's Angelina Jolie's husband and that he was Benjamin Button or the Devil.  He's living inside Beane's skin, spitting in his dip cup, mouthing all that great Sorkin dialog.  The other actors help him along, but this is the Brad Pitt show.

My brother was a huge fan of the book years back and asked me recently what I thought of the movie.  I thought for a moment and said, 'One of the best films I have seen in a while.'  You'll love 'Moneyball' even if you hate sports movies.


Monday, February 06, 2012

The Worst Super Bowl Ever

There was really very little about the Super Bowl this year that intrigued me.  I likened it to a cage match between Idi Amin and Hitler.  Two thoroughly unlikeable teams in a matchup where, by rule, someone MUST win is not what I am generally looking for in a championship. Put the game in a craphole town like Indianapolis and you've got the worst possible confluence of events. They should have just canceled the thing.

Sadly, the game was played despite my misgivings.

After the initial excitement of Tom Brady brain farting his way into a safety, I was pretty much bored out of my mind.  I caught myself checking out ESPN's counter programming of 'The World's Strongest Man,' where giant freaks of nature pulled trucks with their teeth. Despite New York trying to give New England every chance to win, Tom Brady threw behind open receivers all night and Rob 'Jesus' Gronkowski could not haul in the desperation heave as time expired. 

Thus, Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning have been guaranteed enshrinement in the ever-more-mediocre Football Hall of Fame.

I was hopeful that the commercials would at least be a respite from the bad matchup.  While there were a few bight spots, I was left thinking that this was the weakest set of Super Bowl Commercials in the modern era of commercialdom.  While I think that the animal commercial era has had it heyday and is in decline, I did I enjoy the Doritos 'You Didn't See Nuthin' spot. I thought the Seinfeld/Leno spot for Acura was very witty and well-done, but was surprised to see it twice,

Some of the big ads fell flat for me. I felt like the Budweiser Prohibition ads were just 30 second versions of 'Boardwalk Empire' with no guns or nudity.  The Honda commercial with Matthew Broderick re-living his Ferris Bueller role was too long and really did nothing for me as a fan of the movie.

Halftime show? Even if you believe Madonna wasn't lip-synching that performance, what is this? 1987? I loved the Material Girl as much as any red-blooded american teen in the 1980s, but who's next?  Rick Astley? The lame additions of current 'stars' did nothing to add energy ot the show, but DID add some controversy

I did enjoy the company as an impromptu scheduling change left me available to hang out with my brother and his buddies.  The debate over Trey vs. Keith Richards in a guitar death match and the needling of Alice lent a bit of fun to the atmosphere and wrapped up a very good weekend.

13 days 'til pitchers and catchers!


Saturday, February 04, 2012

20 Years of Mr. Greengenes

 

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Mr. Greengenes opened its 2012 schedule last night with a full house at PJ Whelihan's in Cherry Hill.  As I watched Bryen and gang plug in and warm up, I was struck that I had been watching these guys (or some incarnation of them) pack bars and clubs since I was in college. They led us bar to bar at the shore like pied pipers in the summers of my young adulthood.  My bachelor party culminated with me singing on stage with the band in West Chester.

Later on, after my marriage broke up, and I was looking for things to do on summer weekends without kids, MRGG brought me back to the Delaware beaches, rocking The Bottle & Cork and reminded me how much fun Sea Isle had been as a kid.

There we were when the Phillies won it all in 2008, at the Bike Race in Manayunk, the Hair o' the Dog, and Thanksgiving Eve. I've seen Harry leave the stage, play acoustic and make a triumphant return.

But last night, early in the first set, I leaned my tired 40 something year old body against the the wall behind the sound board and sipped a soda. The lights blasted through the smoky haze and '99 Red Balloons' gave way to 'Sweet Child of Mine' and 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' and I was taken further back than all that.  To a time when we were just out watching our buddies play in the cigarette smoke of The Old State Tavern, or in a fraternity house basement, or in a high school gym in Garnet Valley.

Back then it was still Bryen leading the show, but Harry was on the keys before Joe, Rob was playing lead guitar, Timmy wasn't behind the kit yet, no one had wireless mics and Chicken had probably helped do the load out. Most of the people at PJ's last night weren't even out of diapers yet back then, 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' wasn't an oldie, Carlo still came out to see the guys play, and my name was the answer to a ZBT initiation quiz.

As the first set wrapped up and my soda was empty and my legs were aching, I decided that my night of nostalgia was over and headed home early.  As I walked across the parking lot, a 20 something young woman called to me from a car where she was putting on eye makeup. 'Is it really packed in there?' she asked.

Yep.  Twenty years later it's still really packed and everyone is still having a good time.


Friday, February 03, 2012

Friday Fantastic Four - Weird Philadelphia

I have lived In the Philly region my whole life and I have to admit there are some things I just don't understand about my hometown.

What are the top four weird things about your home town?

  1. The Mummers - I just don't understand the fascination.  Drunk, crossdressing union guys and banjo music?  What am I missing here? 
  2. Wing Bowl - I wentto this bacchanalian event a few times as a young man, but I really didn't understand the draw of getting drunk at 5 am and watching guys eat so many cold chicken wings that they throw up.
  3. Parking In South Philly - By all means, just stop your car in the middle of Shunk Street and run in to the deli to talk to Tony about that thing. Everyone will wait for you!  No problem!
  4. Scrapple - Ugh.  Gritty processed pig parts.  If the diner grease wasn't enough to make you vomit, the texture of this Philly Phavorite sure will!

So what makes your home town special?  Everyone have a great weekend!