Monday, August 21, 2006


Not sure how this movie has stayed out of my life until now, but I finally got around to watching 24 Hour Party People.


A 20-year (or so) odyssey tracking the rise and dissolution of Factory Records under the thoroughly honest, thoroughly neurotic and thoroughly human leadership of Tony Wilson.

Built around the twin story arcs of Joy Division and Happy Mondays, Steve Coogan covers all with his droll delivery. Danny Cunningham is a dead ringer for Shaun Ryder, but the early part of the movie is stolen by Sean Harris as a spot-on Ian Curtis doppelganger.

Great comedy, great music, great nostalgia.

Loved it.


Well, if there was any doubt about it previously, this weekend put it all to rest.

Despite a final round 74, Phil Mickelson's Top 20 finish in the PGA Championship at Medinah proved that he's surely the best player in the world.

Oh, wait a minute. That's not what this weekend proved. What was it?

Oh yeah, it not only proved that Tiger Woods is the best golfer in the world -- it proved that he is quite probably better at golf than anyone else in the world is at anything.

Translate Roger Federer's tennis into golf, and he'd lose to Tiger by a couple of strokes.

Translate LeBron James' basketball into golf, and he'd do a Luke Donald fade by the Sunday turn.

Translate George Bush's presidenting in golf, and he'd miss the cut at the Northeastern Pennsylvania Classic on the Nationwide Tour.

You get the picture.

Anyway, all you need to know about why this guy is so far beyond the Fat Kid and every other golfer in the world was written on his face on the 17th green yesterday. He had barely missed an 8-footer for par, giving him his 3rd(!) bogey in four rounds. The bogey dropped his lead from six strokes to five, with one hole left to play -- and he...was...pissed!

The guy strives for perfection in the most perfectionless sport on the planet, and he's gotten to the point where merely beating the hell out of the best field in the world isn't good enough.

Good luck against that, Phil.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


A couple of weeks ago I ran across this absolutely fascinating video on YouTube:

It was so intriguing that I ended up getting the full DVD from Netflix. If anything, the hour-long program (actually an episode of VH-1's "Classic Albums" show from 1999) is even better than just the clip.

Aja is pretty much the definition of "classic album," with all its connotations good and bad. The show goes into great detail about how the methods and madness of Becker & Fagen as they pieced together their ultimate collection. As their sometime guitarist Dean Parks put it, their quest was not for perfection. Perfection was just a first step on the way to perfection plus listenability. Play it perfectly, then play it naturally enough that people will want to listen to it forever.

The formula still works, and I highly recommend the DVD.

Trip To The Dark Side

Visited the heart of darkness yesterday, a.k.a., Wrigley Field.

Had some wonderful seats, just behind the visitor's dugout, courtesy of Curt & Nora (thanks, C'n'N).

The Cardinals were in town, as were many thousands of Cardinal fans. From the looks of it, the 40K crowd (listed, anyway, don't think there were that many asses-in-seats) it was split right down the middle.

The game itself went pretty much as expected: Cards 11, Cubs 3. It featured six Cardinal homers, including three in the seventh inning alone.

I really don't pay much attention to baseball anymore, but there still is a very special feeling associated with being at a ballpark -- one that always brings out a feeling of childhood deja vu. The smell of stale cigar smoke is gone, but the smell of stale beer and the green, green color of the field remain.

While the view of the game is great, the best part of having seats behind the dugout is the chance you get to see the players up close, and all the little things that go along give a flavor to the game. There is nothing quite like the utterly comfortable insouciance of a pro athlete in his element. Albert Pujols' endless fussing with his two-tone first-baseman's mitt. Ronnie Belliard doing his best "Turtle" impression with his hip-hop uni (dreads and skullcap under his cap, blousy shirt pulled out and folded over just so).

The game moves on, and the details may change, but the swagger of a big-leaguer never does.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Life On The High Seas: A to Z

Last week was spent at sea, and unlike the experience of some benighted souls, all went well.

To celebrate their upcoming 50th anniversary, my in-laws took a Caribbean cruise -- and graciously brought their children and their families along as well. An early, early Sunday flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, followed by a quick cab ride, brought us within sight of the Adventure Of The Seas -- 15 decks high, more than three football fields long, and briefly described as "The Biggest Thing I've Ever Seen That Wasn't The Hoover Dam Or Something." 10 pm that night brought cast-off, and here is the cruise from A to Z.

A is for Aruba, the first stop after a day at sea. Prior to becoming known for the disappearance of an Alabama blonde, Aruba was known (at least by me) as a tropical paradise. Turns out, not so much. Although the beaches can be quite beautiful, most of Aruba is as dry as a desert. The north coast of the island, especially, is pretty much a moonscape on the edge of a heaving ocean. Harsh, desolate, and mostly inacessible except by jeep (which is what we used to tour it), it's almost the perfect antithesis of what you would expect from a Caribbean island.

B is for Balcony. Our cabin was at the stern of the ship on the 10th deck, which means our balcony afforded us a perfectly wonderful panoramic view of where we'd just been from about 100 feet above the water. Nice.

C is for Curaçao, our second stop, the day after Aruba. Although it certainly appeared to be quite a bit more lush and green than Aruba, we really didn't see much of Curaçao outside of its port/capital, Willemstad. Truth is, the day on Curaçao was by far the most hot and uncomfortable of the entire week, so we didn't do much other than walk into town and spend a couple of hours ducking into air-conditioned shops, staying on the shady side of the street, and eventually winding up at a riverside bar for an Amstel (not light, not bright, just regular Amstel) and a Polar.

D is for Drinking, which Noreen and I did quite a lot of on this trip. By my recollection, there were 14 different bars on the boat, and we managed to visit just about all of them at one time or another. Added to that, we had a 3-way wine package that brought 21 bottles of wine to dinner over the course of the week. Best drink of the week? Had to be the gin-and-tonics from the poolside bar on the first day at sea.

E is for Eating, the other half of the killer cruise combo. It's not the greatest food in the world, but it is pretty widely varied and it is available pretty much all of the time. Not easy to avoid when you can basically just walk up and start chowing (or call up room service, order, and then start chowing) any time of the day or night. Final result of all the eating and drinking? One pound (see "X").

F is for French Bistro, which we managed to find a very nice one of for lunch in Grand Case on St. Martin. While we didn't partake of the full hot lunch that the locals favor, the croques, french bread jambon et fromage, chocolate crossaint and cold, cold El Presidente. Sure, the beer wasn't French, but everything was awfully good.

G is for the GPS Channel, which turned out to be the most interesting channel on the cabin TV. Location, speed, lat & longitude, course, sea depth, bridge cam -- pretty much everything a geek would ever want to know about where you are when you're out in the middle of nowhere.

H is for Hurricanes, which we thankfully didn't run into. We did have some near misses of Tropical Storm Chris (now Tropical Depression Chris...sorry, Chris) which preceded us into St. Martin and the Virgin Islands (while we were in Aruba and Curaçao), making those islands pretty wet but thankfully not doing much to ruin our vacation.

I is for Irena. Not another Tropical Storm, but our dining room waitress for the week (well, I guess she was technically the assistant waiter, but anyway). One of the interesting aspects of the cruise was the very international nature of the ship's staff. The captain was Norwegian, our cabin attendant was Jamaican, our head waiter and waiter were Turkish, Irena was Bulgarian, etc., etc. Found out quite a bit about life on board from Irena -- 70-hour, 7-day workweeks for 6 months, followed by 2 months off. Her husband also works on board, and as a matter of fact was our waiter one night when we ate at a different restaurant. Both will head back to Bulgaria during their months off, and ultimately would like to open their own restaurant there somewhere on the Black Sea. Not sure what a Bulgarian restaurant would be like, exactly, but Irena will be a hell of a front woman for it regardless.

J is for Jazz Club, which they had one of on the boat. I know it was a little DisneyWorld-y, but each of the bars on the ship had some kind of theme. The jazz club was on the 14th deck with a view overlooking the pool and the ocean was one of the coolest places we found to sit and have a drink.

K is for Karaoke. Not that I've seen or done much karaoke, but easily the worst I've ever seen was in one of the lounges onboard this ship one night. Maybe it was just bad luck, but each of the first several songs were awful ballads (after which we high-tailed it), and when the second song is a complete nine-minute version of "Paradise By The Dashboard Light?" then you've got a problem.

L is for Liverpool, one of three soccer shirts I found for 20 bucks in Willemstad, which were pretty much the only thing I bought all week that wasn't in a glass.

M is for ManU, one of the other two.

N is for Never mind.

O is for Oh get a life, Dick.

P is for Pannenkoeken, the Dutch pancakes we had for lunch on Aruba. I had apple and bacon, and it was awesome. Slices of both are fried right into the large, thin, crepe-like pancake. Great sweet-and-salty combination.

Q is for Quarterdeck. The quarterdeck of the Adventure of the Seas has a basketball court, a climbing wall and a putt-putt course. You could look it up.

R is for Rolling Seas, which we encountered almost none of. In fact, I have to say that the sailing was so smooth that most of the time at sea you could barely tell that the ship was afloat and moving at all.

S is for St. Martin, our third island stop. Not a large island, but big enough to essentially be split down the middle by the Dutch and the French. The ship docked in Philipsburg on the Dutch half, but after renting a car we spent most of the day in the French half (see "F" and "O"). St. Martin was probably the most tropical of the islands we saw, certainly the greenest, and probably our favorite stop (see "O" again).

T is for George Takei, who seems to have taken the same cruise as us a couple of years ago. Oddly, though, given George's lifestyle, he seems to have left the nude beach to the Star Trek fans.

U is for Ultramarine, which was the color of the water on the beaches we went to. Sweet.

V is for the Virgin Islands, specifically St. Thomas, our last stop before returning to San Juan. As was the case with Philipsburg, the port of Charlotte Amalie is on an absolutely beautiful harbor. Our experience on the island was pretty much limited to wandering around downtown for a while shopping (this happened to be the only day that it rained during the whole trip). The best part of the day, however, turned out to be when we left port. The maneuver was basically the same as backing your car out of the garage, only your car is a thousand feet long and 15 stories high. Pretty cool.

W is for Water. It's a fact that the ocean is filled with water. Lots and lots of water. Really, a lot of water. And it's very, very blue. That bit about "the ocean blue" is right on, man. It's blue.

X is for eXercising (I know it's a reach, but what the hell, how much junk on a ship starts with an "X"?). The ship had a great workout center -- lots of treadmills and ellipticals and weight machines -- which was very fortunate. Otherwise, "D" and "E" above would have had us looking like ... well, looking like a lot of the people on the buffet line. Interesting thing, though. Beginning of the week, gym is packed. End of the week, mmm, not so much.

Y is for Yummy, which describes the desserts we had every night at dinner.

and Z is for Zero, which describes the number of times I didn't enjoy myself on this trip. Thanks, Norb & Kay and Happy 50th!


In what is surely a death knell for one of the stars of internet commerce and one of the paradigmatic exemplars of "the long tail," I finally signed up for Netflix.

Oh, look, Mr. Death is reaping on the horizon now.

Well, regardless it did seem like a good time to join the rest of the human race and leave Blockbuster behind -- not that I've gone there more than a couple of times in the past year.

Recently received, watched, and returned my first two movies: "You Can Count On Me," and "Bottle Rocket."

The verdicts?

YCCOM is a showcase for Mark Ruffalo, but even more so for the great Laura Linney. Given a great script to work with, she delivers a typically nuanced performance as a single-mom whose carefully constructed life starts to come apart a little bit at the seams when her no-goodnik brother shows up to sponge some cash and ends up staying for a few weeks. Highly recommended.

Bottle Rocket is equally a showcase for Owen Wilson, with typically more uneven results. Wes Anderson's first feature, it bears traces of the respective shticks of both -- Wilson's rigidly contained bubbling mayhem and Anderson's visual quirks and infused soundtrack -- but without being fully formed just yet. Not bad, but not great.