Friday, December 29, 2006

Maybe I've got too much free-time*

These are the movies I’ve seen for the first time over the last two months, as best as I can remember them:

The Last King of Scotland. Much like the amoral, fictional and young Scottish protagonist of this story, this film lusts ‘em and burns ‘em. Which is representative of the colonialists’ approach to Africa that the movie highlights. Forrest Whitaker deserves an Oscar, if the Oscars had any balls about them. Which they don’t. So, I don’t care, except to say that his portrayal of prototypical dictator Adi Amin is brilliant, as is the Fela Kuti-inspired soundtrack.

Ice Age II: The Meltdown. I missed the first installment. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I had seen the first. The squirrel (what’s up with the squirrels in these anamorphic movies these days? Why are they all high-strung comic foils? And why do I fall for it every time?) and the primitive, volcano-worshiping slug tribe are easily the highlights of this meandering project.

Munich. I found this top-secret Spielberg-directed post-9/11 study on the wages of vengeance (appropriately based on a book titled Vengeance) to be more relevant to our world today than, say, United 93. No particularly riveting performance (With the sole exception of Eric “It’s the Hulk” Bana - No stars, thank goodness! I didn’t realize that Daniel Craig was the heavy until the movie ended.), only obvious and sad revelation after bloody and needless revelation.

The History Boys. It’s a good thing this gay love triangle talkie is tempered by a clash between old methods of teaching (as in, teaching for life and “burying our graves”) vs. the newer, administrative-directed and results-oriented methods (in this case, literally teaching to the test). Hence, the title’s two parts: the history of teaching history in the making and - as is the case with so much off-Broadway – boys who like boys.

It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown. (Ok, technically not a movie. But as "Boondocks "creator Aaron McGruder notes, these seasonal specials aren’t made anymore.) Much like Napoleon Dynamite and the strips that this tv special was based on, most of the four-panel stories only serve as loosely-themed vignettes. Still, even though Shultz’s schtick was wearing thin by the early ‘90s (I vividly remember bemoaning the recycling a few years before his death), minor Charlie is still a giant among mortals.

Monster House. I read a review that quoted another reviewer that chastised the male executive producers (Spielberg and Zemeckis) for creating a monster that’s basically an angry woman with an angrier ummm… hole. But credit also goes to the filmmakers (of which a minority of director/producers, if memory serves, is female) to making the first animated horror film for kids that I can think of – complete with a kiddie ending that takes most of the horror out of the rest of the movie. Which, honestly, is fine by me.

Happy Feet. A cute ugly-duckling fable is ruined by a too-cute, reductionist third act. But it got the little ones in the theater on the night after Christmas: SRO some three weeks after it was released.

Hoodwink’d. Hands down, my favorite animated movie of the last year. Maybe one of the best movies I’ve seen within the last year, for sheer force of energy and comic sensibility. Maybe I was just taken in by its cleverness (and significant movie in-jokes), but much like Shaolin Soccer last year, the lack of pretentious depth and ridiculous gags just kept me in high spirits.

*Then again, maybe not...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's cold outside. Why am I going out there?

Just coming back from Christmas with family. I'll be leaving shortly for a little camping excursion with the guys into the frigid and unforgiving northern midwest winter. In case I don't make it back*, these are some of the posts that I'm planning on releasing over the next week and a half:

Top 6 albums of 2006 (very little may be surprising);
A roundup of movies I've seen over the last two months;
A reflection on the overriding cynicism of Christmas/Holiday movies;
An essay on forgiving those who aren't forgiving and don't ask for forgiveness;
A book roundup of late 2006 (which may or may not turn into a Top 6 list).

*My wife and unborn Baby J get everything. Not that that's anything to brag about to anybody...

Monday, December 25, 2006

I guess L. A. Style was right...

Some fifteen years after the prophecy, James Brown is dead.

The Godfather is dead; long live the Godfather.

Everybody dance now!

I said, Hey! Evrybdy dance NOOO-ooooooooWWWW!

YEAHH! That's more like it!

In all seriousness, condolences to all. May you be the Hardest Working Man in Heaven now,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas means giving and getting - again and again and again, again

From the second Charlie Brown Christmas tv special (the one nobody watches):

Charile Brown: Would you like to buy a nice Christmas wreath?
Potential Customer: Oh, I see that you're adding to the commercialization of Christmas, Charlie Brown.
Charlie Brown: Not yet! I'm trying to.

I've always thought that the buying and giving and receiving and all that was merely a backdrop to the family gatherings, which I always found more fun and longer-lasting than the cheap RC race-tracks I used to get. I guess it's nice to think you're doing something for the ones you love, to show that maybe you know a little something about them, that maybe you're on to their tastes and sizes.

But that's hard, and we spend a lot of time in a post-Christmas blue period at the return register. So, yeah, gift cards are a necessary evil. Kind of like voting. But at least we know what stores to buy from.

The new Over the Rhine Christmas CD, Snow Angels, is in the running for top of my year-end lists. It emphasizes best what I like about Christmas better than I can. Although every song on there is, as far as I can tell, a new composition, the songs are heavily borrowed - as in the remake of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that becomes simply "Little Town", the Guaraldi-themed shuffle "Goodbye Charles" and several themes from earlier OtR records (such as the downward bass slides found in abundance on their masterpieces Ohio and Drunkard's Prayer and here on "All I Ever Get for Christmas Is Blue" and the rollicking uptempo numbers from DP). This mix of familiar and novel leads to a fresh nostalgia, a living memory. And really, isn't that what Christmas is all about? Isn't there something wonderful about the words "incarnation", "hark" and "glad tidings of good news"? Isn't there something wonderful in retelling old stories and making them new a hundred times?

Or is it just me?
Merry Christmas from us.

It's Christmas, Babies

Love the ones you're with.

I'm going home to do that.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Posting Ad Hoc Ad Nauseum, Etc

I don't know what that means.

I haven't had much of an opportunity to do blogging recently, although I've been (lazily) working on a post about grace and forgiveness for the last month plus. I keep thinking that it's going to be this masterpiece, that the world will see true genius when they read my blog. Everyone will stop their partial and close-minded bickering and, in keeping with the spirit of the wise men, offer me lavish gifts. I would, humbly, graciously and self-consciously, turn them down. Frankincense and myrrh I could do without.

Yeah, I've been reading too much David Sedaris recently. Not that there's anything wrong with that.


The experiment now, though (since Christmas time is upon us and students are generally more jovial and less destructive), is to read large chunks of Sedaris' Holidays on Ice. So far, so good
The truth is, though, I'm often tempted to drink from the glass on the cover while I'm reading it.

Christmas break is upon us, folks. I'll be back shortly.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Random 10 - It's Christmas. Baby, Please Come Home.

Christmas Music edition. BTW, my wife asked me to download a bunch of Christmas music. Although she really wanted the more lilly-white traditional stuff, I was able to sneak in some extras. (Without equivocation, however, the Vince Guaraldi Trio's Charlie Brown Christmas is THE epic, the paramount. All others need to bow down.)

  1. "Linus and Lucy" - Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas (We love dancing to this ala Snoopy and the gang. Ready? Emphatically nod your head over your left shoulder while shrugging both your shoulders and knocking your knees together. After four beats, move your chin to your other shoulder.)
  2. "Glory to God / O Come All Ye Faithful" - Todd Agnew - Do You Hear What I Hear? (L-A-M-E. A soulless supposedly soul-ful rendition.)
  3. "My Little Drum" - Vince Guaraldi Trio - A Charlie Brown Christmas
  4. "Winter Wonderland" - Steve Taylor - Now the Truth Can Be Told, Vol. 2 (This hidden gem is mariache'd for your listening pleasure.)
  5. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Sixpence None the Richer - Collage (Delicious!)
  6. " Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" - Bruce Cockburn - Christmas (Yes, the grumpy one did a Christmas album some 15 years ago. Unfortunately, no songs about rockets.)
  7. "Christmas for Cowboys" - Jars of Clay - Maybe This Christmas Tree (While listening to this song this morning, I just realized how similar they are - in terms of bittersweet-ness, I suppose - to Death Cab for Cutie, who is also featured in this record.)
  8. "This Is All I Have to Give" - Todd Agnew - Do You See What I See (A good song from Mr. Agnew about the birth of Christ is called "No Room / O Little Town of Bethlehem". This is a really bad, theologically-incorrect, cheesy song about the birth of Christ. I'm sure the Christian music stations are playing the death out of it.)
  9. "In Like a Lion (Always Winter)" - Relient K - Apathetic EP (Not their cheeriest [btw, their Deck the Halls, Bruise Your Hand is a Christmas CD and is more goofily upbeat]; it's a Ben Folds-ian ballad inspired by Narnia during the White Witch's rule. I like to think.)
  10. "Come On! Let's Boogey to the Elf Dance!" - Sufjan Stevens - Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sunday Random 20

Another Sunday, another questionable Bears game.

  • "Phone Conversation Interlude" - L.A. Symphony. It's an interlude. 'Nuff said.
  • "Worldwide" - Adam Again. One of my favorite songs from my favorite album of all time (scroll down), which I've bought several copies of. Starting with an acoustic intro and moving into full-on rock mode, and invoking the brutal killing of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder, Gene Eugene ponders a heartless world and, more importantly, a passive church: "Don't think I'll ever understand it / Don't think it matters if I do / 3 billion people in the world and I only know a few... But we all love that desert thunder / we put some stickers on our bumper / 3 billion nothings in the world and I only know a few... What about Headman Shabalala, does anybody care about justice / 3 billion people in the world and his Spirit weeps for all of us."
  • "Monkeys at the Zoo" - Charlie Peacock (and Mike Roe). I've also talked about this record before. I keep wanting to think that it's a counterpart to The Choir's "Yellow-Haired Monkeys", about playing around with your kids, but Peacock's kids were all grown up by the time he wrote this. "If you were to dig deep in my soul / would you find Jesus / or a gaping hole... Getting kinda stuffy in here ... like monkeys in a zoo."
  • "Symphony No. 29 in A Major, KV 201: Allegro moderato" - Alexander von Pitamic & Camerata Labacensis. Amadeus, Amadeus!
  • "Karma Police" - Radiohead. By my estimation, their best record to date. I love the cross between experimentation (which wasn't happening so much before this record) and accessibility. And, it rocks.
  • "I Don't Make It" - Deepspace 5. A story about a young, mature girl and her relationship with her parents after they find out she has cancer: "If I don't make it / I don't to cause you sorrow / please believe me, all we're promised's tomorrow / all we have to build on is yesterday / let's live for today... I don't want it all on me / trying my hardest not to cause you grief / trying to see the beauty in a fallen leaf."
  • "We Can Work It Out" - The Beatles. And they did it!
  • "How Long" - Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Because we can't talk about my music collection without referencing them twice!
  • "I Want Candy" - Bow Wow Wow. "Candy on the beach / there's nothing better." It melts, silly.
  • "City Scaping" - Deepspace 5. Hip-hop cocking about renewing your mind. A familiar theme for this collective.
  • "Mr. Brownstone" - Guns N' Roses. I love three songs on Appetite for Destruction. I hate the rest. "Brownstone" is representative of the rest.
  • "Hot Soft Light" - The Hold Steady. I don't get the hype around this band.
  • "A New Family" - Colour Revolt. The New Living Colour? Maybe. I wish. Mopey music needs The Cure.
  • "Terrible Mystery" - The Choir. From O How the Mighty Have Fallen. Which is funny, because this is actually a good album, though not nearly as good, methinks, as Circle Slide. The Choir excels in ethereal poetry-driven pop.
  • "The Boogie Monster" - Gnarls Barkley. I'm getting sick and tired of talking about this record and band. If you don't own it yet, too bad on you. This song is about, oh, check out the "I Want Candy" quote above. Only much more gross.
  • "Easy to Ignore" - Sixpence None the Richer. Their self-titled record was a work of melancholy and beautiful genius. Too bad all most people know of it is that poppy overplayed pre-teen fantasy movie soundtrack song, "Kiss Me". I guess they were right, they are easy to ignore. Too bad. Listen to the whole album as a cycle and light a candle.
  • "Insult Like the Truth" - Charlie Peacock (and Friends ). "I run my ship aground on the sea of self-control... There's no fever like desire... There's no killer like convenience... There's no gunshot like conviction... There's no insult like the truth /There's no cancer like ambition / There's no cure like crucifixion. "
  • "With the Tired Eyes of Faith" - Swirling Eddies. The Eddies were a sarcastic side-project of Christian "bad boy" Terry S. Taylor (also of Daniel Amos and the Lost Dogs) and assorted friends, some who played with other genius underground CCM bands that CCM didn't want to know existed (i.e., The Choir and Adam Again). Unlike most of their repetoire though, "Eyes" is a thoroughly sincere song that seems penned from Taylor's seeming mentor, Fredrick Buechner. "Glorious dregs" indeed.
  • "Lover, You Should've Come Over" - Jeff Buckley. Late to this one's bandwagon, I know. But a great singer-songwriter. Voice is something else - but not in the same way that Dylan's or Tom Waits' are.
  • "Doing Time" - MxPx. I remember being informed that it's not pronounced M-X-P-X, but M-P, the x's standing in for periods. I don't much care. But I'm starting to like these post-punk rawkers, as a type of early-era Beach Boys for the 90s teenager, singing about girls and angst, and ocassionally God. It's a minute and a half teenager in suburbia pop song.
  • "Beautiful Day" - U2. Let it be known that I don't care much for any U2 in the new millenium.
  • "Unsuccessful Dutch Missionary / Big Guns" - Swirling Eddies. So, a Dutch missionary goes into a remote village and tells the natives, in English, that he has "crossed the great waters and come in peace, Kimosabe". The next and final sound heard is a 'woosh' ending with a 'twanggg'. And then "Big Guns" begins. It was written in the height of televangelism and Cold War Reagonomics Against Heathenism. It could have been written now. "The dogs of war / drop a bomb on the White House lawn... We're gonna shed some blood / and spread the light / when we bring home the big guns tonight."