...where distraction is the main attraction.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gone like Mo Vaughn

The beard is gone. This may not matter to some. But it's momentous to others. "Others" being "my face".

Here are the last known pictures of The Beard, taken on the morning of Thursday, May 22nd.

Here are the murder weapons.

Not much of an improvement, huh? Yeah. So I've decided that the chest hair stays.

Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm Not the Last Crusade / I Am the Crystal Skull

This has been a weekend of rest. Tons of sleep, a deep-pressure massage, muffin baking, ice cream making, more sleep, and some sincere movie watching. And I've earned every moment of it, as I try to wrestle my mind back from a corporate sinking ship.

Here are some brief thoughts on the films/movies:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- The most purposely silly of the Indy movies. The action sequences have largely aged fairly. Unfortunately, a lot of the acting has not. Someone made the choice to have Brody and Sallah act like parodies of themselves. The father-son bickering either works very well or is just goofy, which means that it never feels even. I realize now why Connery didn't want to make a second go at Henry Jones for the new film, because he mostly comes across like a daffy old man. Elsa pales against Marion's shadow, but is decently blond and skinny enough to work as a surrogate Bond-Girl. In the end the saga could have ended here. How could Indy ever one up the Old Testament and the New Testament?

Rome, Season 2, Disc 1 -- Awesome. Brutal. Starts off well, picking up exactly where Season 1 ended. This brief series is HIGHLY recommended if you can stomach sex, violence, and characters with endlessly challenging value-systems.

I Am Legend -- Not bad. But not as great as it thinks it is. There's little I can say because I'd give away too many spoilers. The first hour or so of the film is solid, but then after the most intense sequence in the movie, the whole momentum slides downhill quickly. The mannequins are a good touch. Sam, the dog, is great in a part more complex than a lot of other female roles that I've witnessed recently. I appreciate that the film shows Will Smith's character slipping away from sanity. But that's mostly it for the positives.

Two negatives stuck with me throughout. First, on a small note, the close and medium shots of empty Manhattan looked great. But the long shots looked flat and very effects heavy. The "night seekers" or whatever they're called looked CG heavy (read: fake) as well.

And that takes me to the second issue. Ignoring the lengthy credits, the movie falls under the 90 minute mark which is usually a good thing. But here it sacrificed depth, giving up many opportunities to make the protagonist's and antagonist's actions more meaningful. By writing off the bad guys as having "lost all human characteristics", the filmmakers have made them singularly bad. But while watching the Alpha Female strapped down and prodded with needles, it became impossible not to notice (through shot selection) her rather pneumatic feminine form. My mind started wondering about the Alpha Male who searches for her and I began to plug in my own invented story about his motivations and needs. The movie never supplies these because to do so would cause viewers to think too much about all of the torture and pain inflicted by the protagonist on dozens of "night seekers". It also wouldn't have hurt to show how the "night seekers" have developed or learned. We see them set a trap, but it ends there. The filmmakers choose to show them as marauding lunatics and that's where they lost me. They sacrificed a morally complex film for a one-sided movie.

Plus it's generally not advisable to bring God into a story with 10 minutes remaining.

(On a side note: I get Cruise and Travolta's involvement in Scientology. But with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith, two seemingly genuine hep-cats......am I the only one who's waiting for the other shoe to drop? Am I the only one expecting Will to say on E! "Ha Ha! Just kidding! I can't believe y'all really thought that we became Scientologists."? I dunno, maybe it's just me.)

I'm Not There -- My mind is still blown. There is so much Bob Dylan fact and lore in every single shot, that I'm still picking up the pieces. A number of great 8 1/2 references too. I think it may be years and a half-dozen viewings before I can even begin a schpiel about it. It's good. It's loaded. And it either means everything or nothing at all. Like our troubadour's lyrics.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- Yeah, I had to see it opening weekend. First off, terrible title. Say it out loud. Yeah, it's sound falls flat like The Phantom Menace (not providing a link for that film). Thank Spielberg that it's a better flick than TPM. Though that's not an achievement.

It's fun! Just try not to think too much while watching it. The action sequences are well assembled. You can actually follow what's going on in them. How novel. Mr. Ford is great. Nice to see him looking comfortable in a role again. Karen Allen returns as Marion, reminding you why there's no other lady for Indy. Shia LaBeouf comes across well, but I'm sure that's a debate that will last for decades. There are a few idiotic moments during the action that nullifies even Indiana-Jones-level suspension of disbelief. Some sluggish moments in the beginning. A new bunch of stereotypical baddies (Commies). My jury's still out on Cate Blanchett in this one after seeing her brilliance in I'm Not There. It will be interesting to see if this one holds up on DVD and millions of repeat viewings by us fans.

At the end, Steve, George, and David Koepp really make it feel like Indy's hanging his hat up, showing more of his family and emotional side. Though, the final scene rung flat with its abrupt cut and strange lighting. And we really don't need Mutt Williams and the Holy Underwear of Joseph Smith coming out in 2010.

To conclude, I had a dream last night that I was about to fight Anderson Cooper. I regret to say that I woke up too soon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


We can't expect the Titans of previous generations to live forever, but it's necessary to have them here with us to remind of better times. And it's inspirational to see them still working hard defending the human in public, making it known that it is our bodies that are broken in order to run the business of the state, so we deserve more in return than murder, insult, and paranoia.

In this dark night of ours there are so few stars left in the American sky. So, I am sad to see the news of Senator Edward Kennedy's ailment and I wish him peaceful time in the days that remain.

Within 24-hours of this announcement came John Lester's truly human accomplishment. In 2007, having survived a battle with lymphoma, Lester had returned to pitch in the majors. Less than a year later, on Monday, he pitched a no-hitter. I'll take inspiration from wherever it comes, even Boston.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Temple of Cloverfield

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears. I come not to praise Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but instead to freaking bury it.

I will admit that consumer culture got the better of me as I was led to purchase the Indy trilogy a couple weeks back. We watched Raiders first. Most of it still holds up, especially the humor, the action, and the editing. And Karen Allen.

Then I watched its sequel (but actually a prequel), T.O.D. -- as the fanboys call it. And now I almost regret it. 32 hours after watching it, I still feel like I need an enema.

Maybe that says more about me than the movie.

Watching T.O.D. was almost like watching the Star Wars prequels after viewing the original SW trilogy. You know, it looks like an Indy movie. It kinda moves like an Indy movie. And there's the "Indiana Jones" in the title. But it's not the same.

Gone is any hint of the occasionally shy scholar, who could talk and charm his way out of things, who would almost rather talk and charm, before cracking heads. Unless the situation involves Nazis. The Indy of the first and third films had room to muse and think. And gave H. Ford an opportunity to hone his patented sly humor. But in T.O.D. the script allows no humor, subtle or otherwise, from Dr. Jones. He's more sinister (and George-Hamil-tan) from the start. Why would he trade an artifact for a big diamond? Why does he talk about "fortune and glory" like he actually wants it? Where'd that come from?

Since this serious butt-kicker has no room for humor it's left to his stereotyped sidekicks. Young Jon Ke Quan is used for the same "it's so funny how he talks in his broken English" hoots that he would later bring to Goonies. But to be honest, he knows what works and does provide some great moments during the poker game and the bridge scene.

(Full Disclosure: I used to work with Jonathan's brother at an agency in Santa Monica. He was very cool, very fun, and laid back.)

Then there's Willie. I think that the bashing of Kate Capshaw has to stop for the most part. Much of the fault is in the script and direction. Why would one choose to have an ultra independent, hard living, strong willed woman as Indy's love interest in one movie, then have a whiny, ditzy, needy, spoiled tag-along for his lady in the next? Lining Marion and Willie side-by-side is not complimentary to the latter at all. On top of all her grating flaws, she's also supposed to be the comedy relief. I think. She's supposed to funny, right? That anachronistic perm she wields is a riot. Some ponder if she was given the part due to possible romantic entanglements with Steven S. (her future husband). But I'll be honest, he really didn't set her up to succeed. So I care not to shovel anymore dirt on her. You might want to reference the filmmakers there.

Like the other Indy flicks there's little or no character behind the characters. Sometimes that works well. But in T.O.D. everyone is sort of a blank meat puppet waiting to get beaten down. Even the bad guy -- Telly Savalas? -- is only scary because he rips hearts out of chests. Okay that's scary, but so is the fact that Indy suddenly knows a bunch of Thuggee fire chants at the end of the movie and I didn't catch that plot hiccup (nor the one where Short Round somehow knows how to wake up a Thuggee slave with fire) until 24 years later.

The violence is the goriest here. And often unnecessarily so. It wasn't the heart-ripping that bothered me, but rather the length of time spent on detailing the suffering and burning to death of the innocent victim. It was so intricately executed, that it became a strange sort of sadism on the part of the viewer to keep watching.

And speaking of exploitation, how about them Spielberg children? Indiana's going into the temple, partially, to free the exploited children from the Nike factory, er, rock mine. But yet, aren't the beaten children being exploited by the filmmakers so that their peril creates pathos? Something struck me as hypocritical when the single escapee collapses in Indy's arms at the beginning of the movie. We see his bone skinny arms and malnourished face. Don't tell me he wasn't especially chosen by Casting for his for his real starved, sickened features. I hope you Vultures actually fed these people after you exploited their conditions in order to show the Great White Man saving their lives.

I'm done with my bit here. Writing this is pissing me off.

On a more positive note, I watched Cloverfield this weekend too. Not as bad as the critics tried to paint it. Not sure what they were expecting. It's Godzilla shot Blair Witch-style. The execution of the idea was entertaining and as unique as a hybrid-ized stolen thesis can be. Ignoring the bland, generally unlikeable (weren't you just waiting for --- to die?) characters who do the ridiculous things that only monster-movie-people do, the ride was fun. And graciously short. It can also be seen as a study of our culture's need to experience things not with our eyes but with our gadgets. Note all the cell phones and cameras taking pics throughout the video. Whether it's believable that someone would keep running the video camera through the entire ordeal, or that the battery didn't die, or that a 300-foot monster who's being bombed by the Air Force could just sneak up on someone......well, there it is. That sentence fragment speaks for itself.

Friday, May 16, 2008

What's my motivation?

Is money really the great motivator? I asked some people at work, "Once you received a raise, did that motivate you to work harder, just as hard, or less?". Four out of five said, "What the f%$& is a raise?" The fifth person said "A%&hole". So maybe that study didn't work out as well as I'd hoped.

How about when it comes to sports? Do you think baseball players are motivated by new contracts? There has been much discussion about the increased productivity that baseball players have in their 'contract year'. (The 'contract year' being the final year on their current contract. If they perform well, then they are rewarded with a larger contract once the season has finished.) The crew at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN have dug into this subject well.

But what happens once the player signs his lucrative contract? What happens to his performance then? I've decided to take a look at what has happened this year to all of the MLB players who had signed, re-signed, or extended their contracts before the season began (with their new money beginning this year). I'm going to narrow the study down to those lucky 22 batters and 23 pitchers whose new contracts average over $7M a year.

Below are two tables (in picture format because the HTML kept screwing with my spacing). One for the batters, one for the pitchers. It'll work best if you right click and open them as a new windows or tabs.

For all players, I've listed their final 2007 stats and their projected (using stats from 5/15) final 2008 numbers. Batters show home runs, runs batted in, and production (OPS, or on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), plus various miscellaneous stats. Pitchers show earned run average and walks+hits per inning, plus the "misc" column. If the numbers go up for the hitters, it's a good thing. If the numbers go up for the pitchers it's a bad thing.

Oh yes, and you'll notice they're color coded too.



You may notice a lot of red and a tiny bit of blue.

Red = Large decline in production or serious injury (20 or more days) during season.
Pink = Small, but noticeable decline in production.
Gray = Generally equal to previous year.
Light Blue = Small, but noticeable increase in production.
Blue = Large increase in production

So let's run the numbers.

Pitchers: 2 had a large increase, 1 had a small increase, 6 remained similar, 3 had a small decline, while 11 had a large decline. 48% large decrease, 61% noticeable or worse decrease.

Batters: 0 had a large increase in production, 3 had a small increase, 2 remained similar, 3 had a small decline, 14 had a large decrease. 64% experienced a large decrease, 77% experienced at least a noticeable decrease.

(Now some may question the logic behind all of those reds in the pitchers section, since many of them are for injuries. Here's my answer, if you pay someone $8M and he can't even show up to the game, that is a decline in production.)

It looks like pitchers are a less horrible investment. Let's look at those batters results again. Technically no one has excelled beyond their contract year and less than one out of four have been able to reproduce it. But almost two-thirds of them have experienced a massive falloff. Even including the pitchers, 56% of the players receiving massive new contracts have experienced immense decreases in their production. Only 31% have even been able to reproduce what they were signed up to do.

So why is this? Four factors come to mind.

1. Money (or Losing the Love or Collapsing Under Expectations?)
I'm of two minds here, and it really doesn't feel like the cliche. Observe.

I am all for more equal distribution of wealth, but something seems to happen to public figures when they get their big payday. I used to call it "selling out" back in my school days, but it's not as simple as that. Musicians, artists, and writers often go through a large change, not necessarily when they make their breakthrough, but when the big payments start coming in. I'm not being romantic when I say that struggling through poverty is its own inspiration. What many musicians/groups write after their succe$$ is irrelevant and/or passionless.

What does Bono have to say (that he doesn't already say in public) musically once he's worth over $100 million dollars? What does Chris Martin have to say about love now that he's married to Gwen P? What new thing do the Rolling Stones have to say about anything? The heart of rock and roll stops beating when you can comfortably obtain anything you desire. At least back in the 60s and 70s a lot of popular musicians hit rock bottom with carloads of drugs which then inspired them to at least spew out something weird.

And don't get me started on filmmakers. That's a separate all-day rant. The best films have come when their directors are at an emotional crossroads (Fellini, Scorsese, Coppola, Kurosawa). I'll have to remember to post about that sometime too.

But that's the communist in me. And he wonders, what happens to those players who have put up career years at the exact time that is most beneficial for their banking account once they've gotten paid for it? Is the passion still there?

And then there is Hank Steinbrenner. A complete blowhard buffoon. He embarrasses himself every time he berates his team and the mythical press eats it up. But recently his rant about the Yanks not playing like they're actually earning their money got me thinking...

I've been a manager of an office team. And if you, reader, have too, think about where he's coming from. If you give one of your employees a 10-20% raise due to great performance and then his work performance drops precipitously, what would you think? What if you TRIPLED her salary and her performance crapped out? And what if that was your money you were giving away? How would you respond?

Some folks, like many MLB owners and GMs would bring down some pressure. Or, optimistically, I believe that some of the young players would put pressure on themselves to earn that great money. Like maybe, Robinson Cano? But that still doesn't explain Andrew Jones. Or Eric Gagne. Or Gary Sheffield. Or Eric Byrnes. Or Tom Glavine. Or Dontrelle Willis. There goes the optimist...

2. HGH/Steroids (or Wow, there are a lot of 800-lb. gorillas in the room.)
Okay, let us just get it out there. There are a lot of names on those above lists that were either on the Mitchell Report or rumored (during this offseason) to have been on some sort of chemical support. And it's likely that those names we've heard are barely the tip of the roidberg.

Let's take the contract-year scenario. You're a young player who is convinced that you're not earning a competitive salary. Your contract is ending and you could get signed up to a new one when the season is over. It's time to perform your best. The season is long and you're feeling achy and rundown in August already and you're only 26. And maybe this is your one chance to get to a better team and get what should be coming to you. The guys around you are taking things, including a bunch of future Hall of Famers. And no one even knows how to test for this stuff yet...

There's the temptation.

A similar situation arises with the veteran player. You not only want to stick around longer, but benefit from the buyers' market that you agent keeps telling you about. And your body's having a difficult time even making it to the All-Star break.

And now that you've gotten your new contract and due to all of the movement towards new testing...Maybe it's time to get off the juice. Funny things seem to happen when you withdraw muscle building chemicals from your body. Injuries. Decreased stamina. Less strength. Erectile dysfunction.

3. Complete coincidenceIf you take a close look at individual circumstances you might be able to find separate situations that are causing each problem, thus rendering this possibly overreaching theory meaningless.
Some of these gents may be switching leagues, from American to National or the other way around. This means they face all new pitchers, new strategy, and lineup structure. Sounds good right? It happens sometimes. So, out of how the 22 batters, how many switched leagues? 1. Out of 23 pitchers? 4.
Switching teams. This means new teammates, new managers, and a new system. It takes time to adapt. That's always factored into reasonable expectations. Out of 21 batters (having subtracted Cabrera who'd switched leagues), that's an entirety of 5. And out of the 19 remaining pitchers, that makes 4. We're still left with 73% of the batters and 65% of the pitchers were resigned by their same team. With the same manager.
But they're getting older! One year older. But that's a good point, Imaginary Reader. And we'll look at that with #4.
4. An idiotic bunch of signingsOK. This is the core of it to me. Many of these signings were downright bizarre. Not necessarily the fact that these guys were picked up, but the amount of money offered.
Let start with what we can politely term the super veterans.
Tigers - Todd Jones was never particularly reliable, even when he was reliable. He has no power, he's been losing his control over the previous several years, and he's stopped keeping the ball on the ground. Gary Sheffield has been injured non-stop for the previous three years. His shoulder's been held together by an act of will as he whips through the most violent swing in the majors. And, oh yeah, they expect him to play in the field too. Kenny Rogers. Kenny Rogers? Most folks expected him to have retired this season. He's an old 43. The three of these guys combined are getting 29M a year.
Braves - Glavine and Smoltz. Both injured. Who's surprised? Glavine fell apart last year so the signing seemed to be romantic good will to return him home. Smoltz has been pitching on borrowed time for the last two years. Must be why they signed him for only one year. But for 14M?!
Sox - Did anyone expect Curt Schilling to play this year? He luckily escaped a potential suit from the team when he showed up injured right after signing that contract. That's a free 8M that he gets for the bloody sock.
Now I'm just going to go through the rest randomly --
If I say "Jake Westbrook" and you say "Who?", I say "Exactly". It might sound mean, but this is important. One of the aspects (as the A-Rod contract drama taught us) behind paying a guy big paper is that he'll bring asses into the seats. He'll sell t-shirts to men and women. Bibs for babies. So, I say, "Jake Westbrook"?
Andruw Jones -- Wow. This one is no fun to watch. Maybe if he'd signed with Boston it would have been a little amusing. The guy wasn't one of the top 50 outfielders last year and wasn't in the top 20 the year before. Why in the world would you pay him more than all but 10 players in the league? He's not getting any younger or leaner. Admittedly, no one thought it would get this bad.
Eric Gagne -- See "Andruw Jones".
Dontrelle Wills -- The Marlins are starting to look like the smart ones as they sit in first place.
Eric Byrnes -- I suppose one All-Star year gets you 10M. And with six you get eggroll.
Jose Guillen -- I don't even know what to say about that one. He's being paid 10 times what he's worth. Maybe one day, he'll beat up that one Royal fan and they'll have to move the team to Vegas. That would be worth some money to somebody.
Posada and A-Rod -- Yankees got swindled on both, but there's arguably no better option around. But that's still more money being spent on them than the entire payroll for 4 different teams.

So there's a catch to this whole long post, which will completely negate most of what you've just sat through. Two catches actually.
One, a visual trick. The shade of red used is the most vibrant color and stands out more than any of the other colors. The way it bleeds together makes tables look more negative than they actually are. Except for Andruw Jones.
Two, a small sample size. They're a quarter of the way through the season. Some of these guys will pick it up over the rest of the season. Except for Andruw Jones. And I'll need to come back to this same group at the end of the season. Ichiro will hit over .300. Ryan Howard will go yard 40 times. A-Rod might even do both. Smoltz will be converted back to a great closer again.

It's difficult to say how I actually feel about all of this and about baseball in general right now. The big money and the numbing PE Drug issue push me away. The NBA's beginning to look interesting now. Heck, maybe I'll follow the NHL next year just to spite MLB. Actually, that's pretty sick. Forget that one.

I'll check back in with you about this at the end of the year. Maybe, I'll have to eat my words with a side of crow. And I'll regret all the things I've said about all of these guys. Except Andrew Jones.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Disclaimer 01

A note on my previous post. You know, the one about Jack White. I had a co-writer on that one. Johnnie Walker. In his green label suit, he thought it was terribly important to publish that post last night.

As an apology to those readers who found it silly or ill-structured, and expecting something more highbrow, I have written a haiku:

Behold my haiku
Completely self-reflexive
Words made of letters


The New Rock Giant

The following is not based on any empirical nor scientific evidence but instead is backed by hubris and bluster:

Thanks to the speed of the news cycle as well as the overmarketing of assumed 'cool', our culture has a great deal of trouble permanently defining an active entertainment or art figure as a great, legend, or giant. We see a movie that we like, but then we watch it shoved down the populace's throat on the internet, TV, billboards, and trailers. It gets covered in People, Entertainment Weekly, and that annoying color section in the Sunday paper. We see this gorgeous girl in that movie and suddenly she's on the cover of InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Esquire, and GQ. Then the movie winds up tanking at the box office or the director is revealed as a pedophilic shoplifter. The girl backs into a mailbox with her Mercedes and the cops find two guns and an eighth of blow in her glove box.

But I'd like to buck this trend. Not the cocaine in the glove box trend, but rather the slaying of giants. In my previous post, in my highly critical way, I billed Daniel Day-Lewis as a giant. And now I'm here announce another one.

Mr. Jack White.

I have always been a fan. The first four White Stripes albums have provided so much joy in my life as I sit through traffic, slog through work, run on the treadmill, and daydream on the weekend. After Elephant, I labelled him a Genius. Then the next two White Stripes albums were released and the first Raconteurs album came out. I still held him in the same high regard, knowing that there's no one else out there who wields a bluesy ax and cinematic songwriting skills like he. But nothing really blew my hair back.

Then The Raconteurs' Consolers of the Lonely was released in March. And I have changed my mind. The man is a giant, standing astride North America and Europe, rocking the Atlantic and, by proxy, the Pacific.

Yes, he has been dubbed brilliant by way too many rock writers and pundits. And he recently was on that dreadful Rolling Stone cover with the aged Jagger and Richards. But I don't care. He is not attractive yet he gets magazine covers. That is awesome. Can I get a "what-what!" from my fellow Homelies?

You see, after numerous failed “Would you like to make the sex with me?” advances on the ladies, some of us men realize that it would all be so much easier if we were hot. So some of us (Group 1) sharpen our drunken wit, cultural banter, and facial hair. Maybe use a little more soap under the pits. Others (Group 2) apparently grow blue eyes, wear tight pants on stage, and obtain music skills from the gods. Group 1 calls Group 2 jerks and thieves, unless of course Group 2 can rock. And then all is forgiven, until they start collecting our, er, Group 1’s girlfriends. Jerks.

Anyway, I am not one to listen to albums, new ones especially, more than once a day. Afraid of numbing myself to the brilliance, I limit the love. But I just can't help myself with this one. Consolers of the Lonely is the first album I've been excited about and listened to endlessly since American Idiot. Green Day are also giants, but that's for another blog and when I am more sober.

How did I know that it was love at first listen? Well, I knew that it was good when I found myself rocking out in my office, with the door open. And I wasn't even remotely self conscious. But when I was rocking out, I wasn't doing the air-guitar thing. Now that I've seen other people air-guitar, I've realized how stupid it looks. So instead of that, when I drop my pants and jump on my desk, I play the air-Jews'-Harp. That doesn't look stupid at all.

To sum up my thoughts about The White Stripes briefly. Brilliant. In more depth? I saw them at the El Rey in '02 and realized that I finally found a white guy who can cop blues tunes and not be boring or annoying, but rather add something to the blues tradition. His version of Son House's Death Letter Blues is powerful and exciting to behold. The White Stripes are just two, he and Meg White. On the drums, Meg frames his art. She makes him muscular. By being tiny, their sound is tremendous.

So when he started this Raconteurs group, I was not entirely comfortable with this shift away from minimalism. It's a whole band. With a co-writer, co-singer (Brendan Benson) too. But because Jack is a giant, it works.

Here he is with fiddles, organs, keyboards, horns, cowbell (or is that a spoon in an empty glass on that one song?), and backing vocals. And a bass guitar. Their first album is a whisper but this new album is a bellow. They conjure up the entirety of Classic Rock Past and do it better.

On a side note, since when is Ron Jeremy coaching the Orlando Magic? It's nice to see him get some work, though. Wow, this economy is weird.

So with Consolers of the Lonely I won't bore you with a review of every song. I'll just list the highlights.

Consoler of the Lonely - I kept hearing the last minute on the radio, 3 times in 3 days, and was like, “Will someone PLEASE tell me who this is?! When did 98.7 start playing classic rock?” The whole song is good but that last minute is one of my favorite rock minutes ever.

Hold Up - Remember how exciting it was to hear U2 actually rock out for 20 seconds on "All Because of You" (or maybe you don't because the other 3 minutes were poo)? Well the Racs actually sustain that very rock-out for an entire song.

Top Yourself – Should have been called “Tup Yourself”. Spellcheck seems not to know “Tup” but Iago of Othello-fame certainly does. Great relationship-breakup lyrics.

Many Shades of Black – They do an Aerosmith-type ballad BETTER than Aerosmith.

Rich Kid Blues – A real highlight. Why? Because it goes BIG. REALLY BIG. And check out the second verse when Jack shreds his voice to the point that he sounds a lot like the young Bono.

Carolina Drama – Reviewers have referred to this as Dylan-esque. Well. If every well written song gets referred to as “Dylan-esque” I’m fine with that. But this one does have structural hints of his Desire album with the swampy mood of Time Out of Mind. Aside from specifics, the intensity of the story makes my heart beat out of time even after a dozen listens.

All of the other tracks of high quality as well, especially the second single Solute Your Solution which sounds like White Stripes with a bass guitar. Now I do realize that Benson is part of this team and he does help bring a different angle to the songwriting. But the sound is all about Jack.

I promise I'll ponder Benson's influence a little more. But only if they release a third album.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Daniel Day-Lewis has been in only 5 films over the last 15 years. And maybe that's a good thing.

He has a screen presence like no one else alive. Its very intensity and power threatens to overwhelm a film because everyone and everything else pales next to him. In There Will Be Blood the fabric of the universe ripples around his every move. Other characters are pulled towards him or ejected away. He's in every scene because he must be.

His being is well used in Gangs of New York as well, since no one in their right mind would ever expect tiny Leo DiCaprio to survive him. You expect Bill the Butcher to eat him right there on screen. Swallowing him without chewing.

His Daniel Plainview, an oilman, threatens to consume the entire film in Blood. But he doesn't. The film is technically sublime. Johnny Greenwood's (of Radiohead fame) score is excellent and unusual. The editing is sharp for a 160-minute film. And the Cinematography is stunning, even drifting towards the experimental in the humbling derrick fire sequence. Under PT Anderson's grip, Day-Lewis does what he needs him to in order to fulfill the script (very loosely based on Upton Sinclair's Oil!).

But what is the script exactly? Is it a story or a stunt? In the very first sequence, Plainview is at his most sympathetic and in the final sequence he has become unbearable. And every scene in between, sequentially, pushes him further and further down into darkness. Almost a reverse character arc. A graph to illustrate:

The result? For me it was a direct emotional reaction. After a while, I didn't care what happened next. That can be argued as a success, in that Anderson got such a reaction by carefully constructing a monstrous character. Or it can be argued as a failure. A story needs two sides to exist, the writer and the audience. If the writer turns away his or her audience, then one's left with just a guy shouting at the wind.

I hesitate to qualify the final product as a success or not. The very fact that I couldn't care less about where the film was going (after the final scene with Henry), doesn't chalk up as a good thing to me. But Day-Lewis's strong depiction of Plainview as a paranoid narcissist -- mixing all of the feared (projected?) qualities of the real life two Dicks (Nixon and Cheney), along with a crippling whiskey habit, and a self-perpetuating need to bludgeon the small and weak -- proves excellent. Also, Anderson's continuing exploration of father-son struggles has become more detailed with each new film. Finally, the aforementioned exemplary craft that went into the film creates a detailed small universe unique to modern cinema.

But of what worth is a lavish dinner if it loses all flavor before you're done eating? This goes for the performance behind Planview as well. The sheer power and skill illuminates his character far beyond what can be written on the page. Yet as he descends to the almost ridiculous (I believe Variety referred to it as "slapstick") ending, this viewer was propelled away like so many of the film's characters. And I was left desiring one of those milkshakes that Plainview talked about.

And I didn't want to share it with anyone...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Where in the world is thekrav?

Hey, whoa! A post!

I’ve been getting a lot requests for pictures so here are two.

That must be what you're looking for, right?

To review the last four weeks: I’ve been doing a lot of working for The Man. I keep going to the gym and keep injuring myself in unique ways, though I’ve now gone two days without new hurts.

Let’s see, what else has gone on? I’ve shared my zombie script with a German director-buddy. It’s been so effective that he’s stopped talking to me.

Actually, that’s probably not entirely true.

I’ve been sitting in a lot of traffic, listening to a lot of good music. Not watching too many movies. Not much writing going on. The neighborhood is still annoying. It’s Mothers’ Day next Sunday. I ate pancakes this morning.

Hmm, nothing exciting.

I wonder what I should post…

Wait a sec. I WENT TO EUROPE!

Ah yes, the land of the metric-system. (Have to keep in mind mL, cL, and L when buying liquor.) The weather was largely predictable, London was gloomy, but not that much rain. Amsterdam was rain-free.

London is fantastic. Like NYC, the city has a never-ending, over-whelming, roller-coaster, edge-of-your-seat, feel-good-romp, hyphenated-hyperbole amount of things to do. And most of them are free! Like LA, the place is humongous. If I hadn’t already been to Scotland, then I’d wonder if there’s more to UK than London. Of course Londoners don’t think so.

Lots of great food: Italian, Greek, French, Middle-Eastern, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, and American. Note the missing “British” listing. Speaking of which, when you’re in London go to Paul, the French bakery next to St. Paul’s Cathedral. No I’m not asking you to go. I’m telling you. It’s a real French bakery, do you need any other reason to go?

Amsterdam, easy to get to lost, easy to get hit by girls on bikes, difficult to get any sleep. Jason and I stayed in a “hotel” that’s likely a nominee for one of the worst in the world. At least one of the worst in Europe. Hotel Rembrandt Square.

It’s probably not the fact that the water-heater shakes the entire floor every time someone in the building washes their hands that affects my opinion. Nor that the staff unlocked our door to let the next sucker into our room an hour before check out. Nor that the guy at the counter offered me four other people’s drivers’ licenses during checkout before he found mine. Maybe, we held it in such low esteem was because of its location. Maybe? I dunno.

See, the building was built somewhere around the 18th century or so. And though sometimes a business has to go with whatever structure currently exists, who thought it was a good idea to put A CLUB on the ground floor of an old wood building? And who the crap thought to put A HOTEL on top of the club in the 200+ year old building? This is what I thought about that person:

The club spins tunes from midnight to 3am during the week. We stayed on the top (5th) floor. We could have held the dance party in our room it was so bloody loud. Like someone had their stereo speakers right up against our windows. So there was no sleeping until 3:30ish and in the morning-ish we had to share a shower with a half dozen other people. Not literally of course, because that would actually be kinda fun. But it becomes an issue when a stranger is planted on the toilet, powering out their morning constitutional, then takes a steamy shower and then…one probably would decide to skip the whole morning shower idea. Hey it’s the Dutch, so who needs to bathe? You can’t smell much in the coffeeshops…….er…library in the early afternoon anyway.

Oh yeah, Jason and I went into Club Smokey (the 1st floor club) and guess what? IT SUCKS. Yeah that’s right Club Smokey. You suck. Stop playing your music loud. You’re nothing but a low rent over-priced cigarette-smoke-filled straight sausage festival that scares off any female standing upright. Jerks.

Okay, I’m done with that. Amsterdam was really fun aside from the hotel debacle. The food was awesome, including some great Turkish/Lebanese grub. The architecture is lovely, but occasionally tilted sideways when close to the canals. Maybe the buildings took too many trips to the coffeeshops. Not that I would know anything about Amsterdam coffeeshops, besides the fine music that they seem to have played inside.

The Van Gogh Museum was excellent and, actually, very moving. Its design leads visitors through Vince’s life and by the end one gets a really good idea about what was coursing through that amazing noggin of his. In one of the Old Kerks (or New Kerks, there are a lot Kerks in that town) there was an amazing Afghani art exhibit that was smuggled out under the Taliban’s metaphorical nose.

The Red Light District is still there and was a real highlight. Don’t take any preconceived notions to that place. Just see it and take it in for what it is, fellas.

Overall, it was great. The dollar sucks, but we should all just get used to that now. I had a lot of great drinks, including the sweet nectar of Absinthe (yum) and killing Scotch with JK (that was a separate night and don’t mix Absinthe and Scotch, I’m serious and lucky to still be typing. This happened on a separate trip to Scotland, but I’m going to stop typing now because that is a tangent and this parenthetical has gone on way too long). Heard some good dance tunes, including at 2:55am when I was trying to sleep and…okay, I’ll stop. We attended a great play, The God of Carnage. We attended great dinners and Passover Seders that went on for hours. Got to sightsee and be idiot tourists, while ogling women from foreign lands – I mean, c’mon we’re Americans. I was able to be far away from home, but so close to the pulsing breathing World. And I got to hang with my ultimate homey, my bro.

That’s it. Here are some more selected pics.

Sometimes Amsterdam looks like this:

Often Amsterdam looks more like this:

Journeys can sometimes be sources of wisdom:

We like the night life. We've got to boogie. With Greeks.

London is beautiful. I'd like to go back there someday.

And more pics:

I'm ready to go back. Who's coming with me?