Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Movie project

I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I'm doing with this movie project. Mostly trying to figure out what to write about the movie on this here blog. Are they really reviews? Should I worry about spoiling the movie or should I assume that the reader has seen it? Should I list the movies in advance so others can follow along? Does the FP Gal deserve a medal for putting up with this each week? (Probably yes.)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Grandma's 80th Birthday/Aunt & Uncle's 40th Anniversary

Yesterday, the FP Gal and I went down to Austin to celebrate some family events. We went to a combination 80th birthday/40th anniversary party. There was a very good turnout and we got to see large sections of my Dad's side of the family. And my hundreds of cousins once removed (or maybe second cousins, I get them confused). It was lots of fun.
Some of the highlights (from my personal vantage point): Every year we give my Grandma a gag gift. We usually find the ugliest last minute animal or toy. My favorite was a remote controlled snake. Another good one was a pinata and hockey stick to break it open with. This year was a stuffed animal tarantula puppet. She loved it.
We also discussed a new reality show called Adventures of a Narcoleptic Grandmother. Every week we'd drug Grandma's coffee and she'd wake up in a new location. She'd have to figure out where she was and how to get home. Hilarty would ensue.
Another highlight was being able to spend some time with my aunt and cousins from California. I didn't really get to know them growing up so it was wonderful to see them now. My cousins are both incredibly nice and have the family sense of humor.
We came home with standing invitations to Kansas City to spend time with one set of cousins, Cincinnati for a different set and northern and southern California for family out there. We're not a very centralised family and that's one of the things that makes these gatherings special.

Friday, March 25, 2005

And for the Friday cat picture. They look very close here. Posted by Hello

This is the prize winning costume. Upon reflection, I look pregnant. Posted by Hello

Surprise Vacation

A week from tomorrow the FP Gal and I take off for...somewhere. You see, my office takes Halloween very seriously. The week leading up to the big day is filled with activities and decorating. Last year we had a pumpkin themed bingo game, an office wide scavenger hunt and prizes for decorations and best costume.
Picture a couple talking late one night in September. Imagine that they're discussing Halloween costumes and brainstorming.

Me: I could be...the Morton Salt Girl, maybe?
FP Gal: I can make that happen.

A trip to a couple of thrift stores and a hardware store for yellow spray paint and we had our custome. Secrecy was kept. The day came and I dressed up. The ladies in the apartment office assured me that my wig was on straight. Careful driving kept me from being pulled over on the way to work. And voila! Voted funniest costume.
The prize was a pair of airline tickets. After some thought, I decided that something special was called for. So I asked the FP Gal if I could take her on a surprise vacation. She'd know when we were going but not where. We leave next week and she still doesn't know. Can't wait!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A Few Good Men - 1992

Another good movie. A very talented (and deep) cast makes this well written movie work well. The story involves the death of a marine at Guantanamo. The actions that led to this aren't really in doubt, in fact they're shown in the opening scene. The questions that the attorneys wrestle with have to do with who issued the orders that led to the death. Which is also revealed to the audience. This isn't a whodunnit as much as a how will they catch 'em.
The most memorable moment is undoubtedly Jack Nicholson's 'You want the truth?' speech. The idea behind this movie is the unhinged military man who has nothing but contempt for the civilians that he protects. This seems to be a common Hollywood figure. I wonder how common they really are though?
Watching this post 9/11, the thing that really stood out for me is the question of how legalised of an approach to war can a nation have and still effectivly fight an asymetrical opponent. It'd be nice to see a balanced movie about this set of questions.

U-G-L-Y, you ain't got no alibi...

Basketball players are the least attractive of the major sports. (The FP Gal wants me to mention that Michael Jordan is the exception.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


I've been meaning to talk Purple for awhile. Most offseasons have found the Vikings with money to spend but no desire to part with it. Big name free agents have gone to other teams and we've relied on the draft. With an ownership change in the works, this year looked like the same old thing. And then a week before free agency, word came that Randy Moss was on the move. I've talked about him here. Free agency opened and the Vikes went out and got one of the top players on their wish list: Pat Williams. Hopes are that he'll anchor the defensive line and help against the run. Next up was Fred Smoot, regarded as one of the best cornerbacks available. With last years pick up of Antoine Winfield, that gave them their best pair of corners since...I don't know when. At least the best pair in the Metrodome era. But they weren't done yet! Next up was former Packer, Darren Sharper. He's lost a step maybe, but he's still an improvment. To fill the gap left by Moss, the Vikings turned to Travis Taylor. He's a highly drafted receiver who has been something of a disappointment in Baltimore. Let's hope that the quarterback makes the receiver in this case. In the midst of all of this they also resigned tight-end Wiggins and brought back Brad Johnson to backup Dante. Still not finished, last week they traded a seventh round draft pick for linebacker Sam Cowart.
Add it all up and Vikes have added five new starters to their pitiful defense of last year. The secondary has gone from weakness to strength and they now have depth in nickel and dime situations. Last year's linebackers were awful. Now they are...different at least. And vetran expierienced.
So what else do they need to do? They have two picks in the first round of the draft this year, the 7th and the 18th. There's talk about taking a top receiver and a linebacker. Which would be fine with me. Assuming they do so, their biggest problems will be depth on the O-line and (please, God, please) a kicker. A new head coach couldn't hurt I guess. Most years in March, I'm focused on baseball. This year the Vikings have stolen the show.

NCAA Tournament followup

So, how did my theories work out? I only went 22-10 over the first round and 8-8 for the second round. Three of my final four teams are still alive and I've got a shot at winning my pool. That's better than most years have been for me.
My theory about fewer upsets sure sounded good when I was writing it but fully half of the sweet sixteen field had to beat higher ranked teams to get there. Oh well!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

March Madness

This is the high point of the sports calendar. I thought I'd share some thoughts from a casual college basketball fan. I don't follow basketball throughout the year. A few Gophers games, but that's about it. I couldn't tell you if the rankings throughout the year are fair or not. But following sports for many years teaches you some things about how the sports world works.
1) The 'storylines to watch' rarely work the way we think they will. If you're hearing about a potential matchup of teams that have a history, it probably won't happen. Duke and NC as a final four game this year is the one that jumped out at me. The greatest rivalry in this sport playing for a spot in the championship game? Great story, but unlikely.
2) Trying to pick the big upset is satisfying, but costly. For instance, every year a 12 seed beats a 5 seed. Picking that right gets you an early point. Pick it wrong and miss the upset that actually does happen and you lose two early points.
3) This is a theory of mine that I'm testing this year. As more and more information is available about distant college teams, being able to seed them 'correctly' becomes more likely. This is pretty straightforward market theory, but I haven't seen this theory anywhere else. As a result, I'm picking many fewer upsets this year.

My picks for the final four? Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky and Wake Forest. North Carolina to win it all.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

The Best Picture winner and I have trouble imagining a better one. This is truly a great picture, though at times difficult to watch. Mom, if you're reading this, you may want to skp this flick. The acting is top notch. Morgan Freeman won his long deserved Oscar with this film. Clint Eastwood is masterful and Hilary Swank is simply incredible. The story is well told and has the impact of daisy-cutter. A kleenex salesman would have cleaned up.
***Spoiler Alert***

And I'm not kidding. If you mean to see this movie don't read any further. I'm serious. Ok? The movie is interesting in a triumph of human nature kind of way. The first two acts are very good and in a lesser movie would have been enough. Swank plays a woman who wants to be a boxer. She's come from the trailer courts and hopes that boxing will give her an oppurtunity to make something of her life. She wants Eastwood to be her manager because she thinks he can make her the best. He refuses, not wanting to train (or manage) a girl. She persists and with the help of Freeman begins to learn and improve. Eastwood finally comes around and begins to train her. In a short period of time she becomes a young Mike Tyson (except sane). She moves up the ranks until she's offered a shot at a championship. Eastwood is cautious by nature and doesn't want to push her in over her head. He finally sets up the title fight. Swank's opponent is a notorious dirty trick girl. Swank's raw force is enough to knock her out and the ref calls the fight. And then the third act. The dirty trickster blindsides her on the way back to the corner and she falls, breaking her neck on the stool. She regains consiousness in the hospital to discover that she's paralysed from the neck down. She can't even breathe on her own. We're shown how awful a spot she's in. Skin ulcers form because she can't shift her position. One of her legs is amputated because of blood clots. Boxing was her whole life. She's had little education and no real interest in having more. She's trapped and she wants out. Eastwood tries to talk her out of it but can't. She even tries to commit suicide by chewing up her own tounge but she's stopped. Finally, he gives in.
The movie handles the subject with great gravity. The best argument is given to a priest who tells Eastwood that no matter what guilt he's already living with, this would be something unforgivable. But...what can you say to someone who's trapped in an impossible situation? What can you do for them? This movie has come under fire for it's apparent lack of respect for life. I think that sells it far too short. In some ways it reminds me of 'Unforgiven' (due up in my project soon). In both movies Eastwood is a man who must make the hardest of choices. He must commit the worst of sins to right some wrong. This isn't a pro-assisted suicide movie. This is a story about dealing with tragedy. And the wants of people who think they have no way out.
On a personal note, the hospital scenes were gut wrenching. I couldn't help but think back to my time in ICU. I came through in one piece and in good spirits. Well, some of the pieces needed reconnecting but you know what I mean. I couldn't help but think of how much worse it could have been. I've told people that losing an eye isn't that big of a deal and it really isn't when compared to paralysis. I'm thankful that it wasn't worse. I count my lucky stars for it. This movie drove all of that home for me.

Scent of a Woman - 1992

This is a very good movie about a man who thinks the world has no place for him any longer. Al Pacino is a retired Lt Col who was blinded by an accident with a grenade. He decides to spend one last weekend of pleasures and then blow his brains out. To do this, he takes advantage of a prep school student who's been hired to watch him over Thanksgiving break. The student, Chris O'Donnell (the 'O' stands for "Ohmigod, I'm out of my league"), spends the first half of the movie being cowed by any and every person that he speaks to. And he also has a problem at school. He doesn't know if he should tell the headmaster which students pulled a prank on his new Jaguar.
The blend of world weariness and youthful idealism blend well as both of them help each other out. Pacino's acting is very good and he won an Oscar because of it. The tango scene is a masterpiece and he sells being blind very well. O'Donnell fills space and probably says all of the correct lines at the right times.
The thing that most caught my attention was Pacino's speech at the big disciplinary meeting. The headmaster is suggesting that an attack on his car, a gift from the trustees, is an attack on the school as an institution. Pacino counters by suggesting that at least he isn't a snitch. This may have been a good argument on the playground at the age of 8, but it falls a bit flat here. This goes a bit above to tattle or not to tattle. Defacing a Jag is probably a felony level offense.
One other note, the box for the movie seems to think that Pacino won the Best Actor award for 1993. This scared me into thinking that I'd misread the year it came out, but the Oscar site says 1992 so I'm going with that.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Here's Roxane with her hundreds of toes. Posted by Hello

How I Spent the Weekend

The FP Gal went out of town this weekend so I've had the house to myself. It's been a nice bit of time and space. A chance to unwind and kick back. So what did I do?
Well, firstly, and despite jokes to the contrary, there were no strippers involved. Only one striped cat.
Friday night after work, braved the slippery roads and high winds and hit the video store and a footlong from Subway. Nothing but craziness for me. Home to the cats and the couch. Much yelling about feeding time (this was kind of a theme the whole weekend).
Watched the third of the Matrix movies to finish the trilogy. It was disappointing. The special effects were nice but the story was meaninglessly convuluted and the ending falls flat. (Spoiler.) Neo negotiates a peace with the machines in exchange for tackling the out of control Agent Smith. This occurs as the machines are set to wipe out the last tribe of free humans. The machines all stop in their tracks and the humans cheer. "War is over!", shouts one and they all cheer. They won't all be slaughtered and I can understand that happiness but there isn't even a moment where they mourn for their fellow humans doomed to a life of being cattle. (End of spoiler.)
Saturday featured a basketball game that showed why this is the high point of the sports calendar. The game featured Memphis and Louisville, two teams that I don't care about, playing for their conference championship. Louisville is a highly ranked team that would make the NCAA tourney field regardless of the games outcome. Memphis is a bubble team. They might make it on their own strength but it's doubtful. The winner of the game gets an automatic bid to the big dance. In other words, Memphis needs this game much more than Louisville. The game is close and hard fought, but the ending is what made it special. The final play had Louisville up by two with a Memphis player taking a three-pointer. He was fouled and the shot missed. Time ran out during the shot. So with no time left and trailing by two he heads to the free throw line to shoot three free throws. If he makes all three, his team wins and gets into the NCAA tournament. Two will put the game into overtime. Any fewer and they lose.
He heads to the line. No one else is near him. He's all alone and the weight of his world is on his shoulders. The first shot is good. The anouncers suggest that the pressure should now be off of him. The second shot...misses! Overtime is still possible, but he needs to hit this last shot. And he misses again. He crumbles over at the free throw line. You can't write drama of that scope. (Or so I thought. More on that later.)
Next game up was the Gophers. They played well, but they were up against the top team in the nation and they lost by eight. They look good enough to make the tournament for the first time since Clem was here and I'm looking forward to cheering them on.
Saturday night's movie was 'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow'. This movie is made to look like an old 30's serial. And that part of it works well. But...Gwyneth Paltrow is like an anchor here. She's just too slow to make this work. Worth watching if it's on but don't make too much of an effort.
Sunday morning opened with 'Scent of a Woman' the next movie of my movie project. I'll give this it's own post of course. This afternoon, I went and saw 'Million Dollar Baby' and I think I'll give it it's own post too. Let me just say that it made me change my mind about what level of drama a movie can attain.
Soon, the FP Gal will be home. It's been quite nice but I'm ready to have her back.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Random note

while watching old reruns of America's Funniest Videos. The cat videos should always win. We now return to your regular blogging.

1991 - Review

This was a better year for the Oscars than 1990 was. Links for this year's movies:

Beauty and the Beast
Silence of the Lambs
Prince of Tides

'Silence' was clearly the best of this group and clearly deserved the Best Picture it got. I suppose I'd rank 'JFK' next with 'Beauty' and 'Tides' to follow. 'Bugsy' is pretty pedestrian in comparison. Both Warren Beaty and Barbara Streisand are in what can only be described as vanity roles. Nick Nolte is able to save 'Tides' but 'Bugsy' is beyond even Ben Kingsley's abilities. 'Beauty' was the first animated film to be nominated, in part because of the computer graphics added to it. Today it doesn't look as good, but the music and story still hold. 'JFK' was very well put together, but should be demerited for it's loaded conclusions.
Altogether, not a bad set of movies.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Prince of Tides - 1991

This is a movie about a South Carolina family. And about the southern way of dealing with pain. Nick Nolte plays a man whose life is falling apart and he doesn't know how to put it back together. Upon hearing that his sister has tried to commit suicide, he flys to New York to help give her shrink some background to help her out. Let me split this review into two different pieces.
Nick Nolte is very good in this movie. The story he tells is compelling and convincing. At times his anger is almost over the top but not quite too much. But any slight acting sins are made up for in his confession scene. His quiet admission of shame is probably what earned this movie a Best Picture nominee.
Two other good pieces of this film are the performance of George Carlin as the sister's concerned neighbor and the musical score. Carlin pulls together a quiet supporting role that helps painting the picture without a hint of 'Hey, Look at ME' that some other comedians bring to their roles. And the score is lush and effective.
And now, for what didn't work. This movie tries desperatly to convince you that Barbara Streisand is the most attractive woman in the world. The script is a constant barrage of compliments to her. Nolte practically trips over his tounge from the first time he sees her. Her camera shots are sometimes fuzzy as if to show off her angelic nature. Unfortunately, her eternal beauty doesn't translate onto the film.
What makes all of this worse is that she directed this film. This part of the movie is a valentine to herself. This is almost 'Dances with Wolves Redux'. Damn your black heart, Barbara Streisand! Still...the movie works and works well. This is a good but not great movie.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Spring training games have finally begun. Here's a picture from Arizona last spring. Beautiful ballpark and a wonderful trip.  Posted by Hello

Cat blogging is something of a Friday tradition. Here's Calypso looking mysterious. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Speaking for where I'm at

I try to start my morning with a quick visit to James Lileks and this morning's post is a good demonstration as to why. Give it a read.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

This is my moth fighting garb. Before the FP Gal saved me. Posted by Hello

Silence of the Lambs - 1991

One of the pleasures of this project is being able to persuade (force) the FP Gal to see some movies that she hasn't already seen. This is one of them. This becomes an excellent way to judge how these movies have held up over time. This was one of these. Actual FP Gal quote, "It was good. Not as scary as I expected it to be. But if you're afraid of moths, terrifying." That last part refers to me and a certain phobia of mine. One of her duties is to protect me from moth home invasion.
Back to the movie, this picture really establishes just how amazing Anthony Hopkins is. Hannibal Lecter is one of the creepiest villians in movie history. Stylish, ghoulish and completely in control of every situation he's in. Jodi Foster is a very good foil for his work. Together they make this movie work. Solid storytelling helps too. And a pair of night goggels. (The FP Gal gasped.)
I also think this movie launched the facsination with forensic science. The CSI shows owe this movie an awful lot.