Mar 29, 2014

I am not some Johnny Come Lately in regards

To my support for Everton FC in the English Premier League (EPL).  I picked them as my team some time in the late-Nineties, probably just after I finished reading Nick Hornby's smashing Arsenal memoir, Fever Pitch.

Liverpudlian ladies model Everton FC's  kit.

I picked Everton because I did not want to support the super rich big city clubs in London like Arsenal, Chelsea, or Spurs.  My London club is Fulham (who right now are on the verge of being relegated.) And, I did not want to support Man U, as they were the hottest thing on the planet at that time, and everybody here in the States loved them.  (Now, most folks here in the States are madly enamored with Arsenal.  Yuck.)

When I found out there was another club in Liverpool, that was not nearly as wonderful as Liverpool FC, a club that was the underdog of one of the biggest underdog cities in the world, well, that was it for me.  It was just gravy on my chips when my favorite football player of all-time, Landon Donovan, had two loan spells with Everton, and the Liverpudlians really took to him, and loved him.

Everton are nothing if not consistent.  For the last decade and a half Everton FC have finished on the top half of the table every single season.  That is great except they have never finished fifth or higher.  If you finish in the top five of the EPL that means the next season you get to play in "Europe".  In either the Champions League, the greatest club football tournament in the world, or the NIT version of Champions League, Europa.

Everton always finished between sixth and tenth during that spell.  Not good enough for Europe, but still nowhere close to relegation, either.

But, this year something beautiful might just happen for the Toffees -- Everton's nickname.  Man U's Sir Alec retired after last season, and Everton's coach, David Moyes, took the job at Man U. Everton hired a very good young Spanish coach, Roberto Martinez, who had had a fair amount of success with some other lesser known Welsh and English football clubs.  The conventional wisdom going in to this season was that Man U would continue its winning ways, and Everton would probably end up on the bottom part of the table.

That has not happened.  Martinez has done a masterful job of incorporating a smashing counter attacking style, and has nurtured some very fine young talent, and judiciously used some loan players to give Everton their first real crack at going to Europe in ages.  Meanwhile, down the road in Manchester, David Moyes is probably receiving death threats, and is being lambasted every single day, as Man U have had -- for them -- a very rough season.  They will probably finish  in sixth or seventh place.

I think a fifth place finish for Everton is on the cards.  They are one point up on Spurs, but still have a game in hand.  A fifth place finish would get Everton in to the Europa tourney next year.

But, recently, Arsenal have been struggling, including getting shellacked by Chelsea about a week ago, 6-nil.  A few days later Arsenal gave up an own goal in the ninetieth minute against lightly considered Swansea, and were only able to muster up a draw.

So, there is still hope for Everton to finish in fourth place.  Everton have a big game tomorrow against Fulham.  It is a game they really have to win if they have any legitimate shot at making it to Champions League.  The game after that is against the team they are chasing, Arsenal, up at Goodison Park in Liverpool.

We will see what happens.  When I am in London a few weeks from now Everton will be facing Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland.  I will be in Paris when Everton square off against Arsenal the day before my birthday.


UPDATE:  Arsenal drew 1-1 against title contenders, Man City, in London today, and are seven points ahead of Everton as of this moment.  The big shocker in the EPL today, though, was Crystal Palace beating Chelsea 1-nil on a own goal by John Terry.


Mar 27, 2014

I had my first Travel Anxiety Dream last night.

Every time I travel overseas I have one or two Travel Anxiety Dreams (TADs) right before my flight. Usually, it is same dream every time.  That dream is one where I am at the airport, ready to board the flight, and I realize that I do not have my passport.  No flight for me!

But, last night, I had a new and different TAD.  I am extremely excited about finally visiting Abbey Road Studios while we are in London, and I guess -- after last night -- I am a little anxious about it, as well.

In my dream last night, I was by myself in the right neighborhood, St John's Wood, and I had a reliable map that told me where the studio and the famous crosswalk were.  But as I approached my destination I realized that the crosswalk and the studio were not where they should be. Instead I was suddenly in a very long, wide, and exquisite Belle Époque hotel hallway that was covered in beautiful gold from floor to ceiling.  The ceiling was beautiful, and had long rows of window panes that threw light on the hall.  As I walked up and down this beautiful hallway, I would constantly refer to my map to see where the crosswalk was.  The map told the tale that I was at my destination, but I obviously was not, and I began to get worried.  

Next, I left the beautiful hotel and came across a gorgeous dog legged outdoor lawn that stretched on for blocks.  The map said this was the Mall of Great Moves.  And there were giant chessboards set up on the mall with giant chess pieces, each setting an example of famous chess moves throughout history.  These boards and the mall seemed to stretch on forever.  Finally, when I walked the entire mall, the map said I had reached the crosswalk.  But, I was back in the hotel hallway.  I noticed a little maintenance room at the end of the hall.  The door was partially open.  I went in there, and finally saw the famous Abbey Road Studios outer wall, all covered in its adoring Beatles graffiti.  But, I could not get to the wall because there was a large metal grated door between me and the studio.  The door was locked.  So I could finally see -- barely-- the studio but could not go there.  I woke up.  I never did find the crosswalk.  


Which brings me to the point of how odd it must be to work at Abbey Road Studios, knowing that every single day you go to work there will be grown adults, right outside, acting like silly joyful children, writing mash notes on the studio walls, and furiously trying to set up photographs of folks crossing a very busy street over a nondescript 'zebra' crosswalk whilst Londoners just try to do their thing. 

I think it is a real testament to the absolute brilliance and magic of the Beatles that they could make so many regular folks feel so blissfully childlike again, and act on those beautiful childlike wishes.  It is an inadvertent Magical Performance Art installation that plays every day of the year.  

How flipping beautiful is that.

Mwah, ...

Mar 13, 2014

It is an absolutely awful thing

That happened in Austin last night, and I can not tell you how bizarre it is to hear news reports stating that "these are the first two fatalities ever at a SXSW Conference."

But, as terrible a tragedy as this is, and as much as I would like to see justice served, I would encourage folks to tone down the rhetoric somewhat.  The police chief has already declared that the suspect,  Rashad Charjuan Owens, will be tried for two Capital Murder charges.  I wish, of course, that the DA would let him do a plea deal so as to avoid execution, but that may not be possible.  Even in Lefty Central Texas.

And, I do hope that Owens gets a fair trial.  If that means a change of location, well, that means a change of location.

My heart goes out to all the victims of this horrific incident, and to all the great and wonderful citizens (past and present) of Austin, Texas.  Austin truly is one of the finest cities in the world, and no city deserves this kind of evil recklessness at a time of such civic pride and joy.


Mar 1, 2014

Feb 27, 2014

Alright, so Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

Well, holy heck and hoo-ray.  But, do not think for a minute that this tortuous decision of hers had anything to do with 'doing the right thing'.

She did it to save face for her neanderthal knuckle headed asshat representative body that passed the god-awful legislation in the first place, and because Arizona might have lost the Super Bowl! (She really did it for the latter reason.) Watch the Jon Stewart video from last night.  None of these 'public servants' ever once even hinted that the bill was wrong.  Nope, the bill was misunderstood, or misinterpreted, or could backfire on Christians, or was just plain bad for a healthy bidness climate.  Because that is all they really frickin care about.

So, I am not throwing no parades for Ms Brewer.  Especially since there are still other states out there with similar legislation in the pipeline.  And those states do not have a Super Bowl Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.


Meanwhile, this happened yesterday, too.  We are going to win on this eventually.  It is just going to take time.  And, honestly, I think we are going faster than I ever thought we would.

And, this is great, as well:  Senate candidate from Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, had this to say about her opponent, "And I think what people – not just Kentucky, but the nation – are seeing is that Mitch McConnell, kind of like heating a biscuit twice, never tastes good the second time, no matter how much jam or jelly you put on it. That’s my grandmother’s saying, by the way… "


Feb 24, 2014

Doctor My Eyes Don't Look Back and I'm Not There

Note:  Over the coming weeks I will be writing about the Oscars, giving you my personal, sometimes very idiosyncratic, picks on who or what should win (whether they were nominated or not), and then give you my opinion on who is likely to win from the nominees.  Today I am going to talk about  Best Actor and Best Documentary Feature

Are not all rock stars actors, actually? Certainly some more than others, and, of course, there are also a great many rock stars that have legitimately trudged Broadway's boards (Bowie), and Hollywood's sound stages (Bowie again, Leto, Sting, etc, ... ), but aren't they all actors, really?

One of my all-time favorite rock star performances would have to be Bob Dylan in Don't Look Back.  Don't Look Back was a cinéma vérité masterpiece, directed by DA Pennebaker, that documented Dylan's controversial and tumultuous UK tour in 1965.  The film showcases Dylan's 'acting talents' in a number of ways.  There is a monumental and masterful 'music video'; Dylan, naturally, is seen performing his music; there is the backstage documentary footage; and there are Dylan's enigmatic, elliptical, and sometimes hostile press conferences.  Three of those four types of film performance just mentioned are actual 'acting performances'.  The only one that would appear to not be would be the backstage chatter.  The getting in to limos, talking in hotel rooms, typing on the typewriter stuff, and whatever else have you.  But I suggest to you that even cinéma vérité (and nearly all 'reality' television) is actually really a performance.  Once the red light is on, and once the camera is rolling, as long as the 'actor' is conscious of the camera, it becomes a performance.

But can you not even take this cinema suggestion a step further? Are not interview subjects of documentary films ultimately just performers? Actors


I will come back to this question later. 

In the meantime, I would like to talk about the severely disturbing documentary, The Act of Killing. I had been extremely eager to see this film, which is nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category for the Academy Awards, and eventually bought it on iTunes.  I have seen it, and while recognizing its profound subversive ugly importance -- and admiring its repulsive beauty -- it is not a film I would 'push' or recommend for anyone to see, least of all my wife, Renee.  

In fact, the film is so upsetting to me, that I may never watch it again.  The Act of Killing tells the story of the butchers of an Indonesian genocide.  The filmmaker, Joshua Oppenheimer, not only elicits confessions from these murderers, but also -- as the killers are all huge Hollywood fanatics -- gets them to restage and re-enact the bloodbaths, complete with cheap make-up and effects.  

The filmmakers' irony is nearly completely lost on these villains, who swan through busy city streets as heroes.  And, there is something so unseemly and revulsive about the filmmakers story telling here, that almost makes them complicit in these atrocities.  I barely made it through the film, to be honest.  It is that nerve wrenching.  

As 'good or important or great' as The Act of Killing may be, it is certainly not my type of film. And not one worthy of such a prize as Best Documentary Feature.  It is a cheap trick played on the thousands that died -- the dead were considered commie pinkos, of course, and deserved to die for that alone -- and on us, the audience.  The Act of Killing is an ambitious effort to bring to light the 'banality of evil', but yet falls so horribly short of its goal as to make it a cypher, a film no one wants to see.  (Watch Hannah Arendt instead.)

As unsettling as the film is, however, it does play with the notion of 'actors' in a documentary. These extremely unreliable narrators are without a question actors in this gruesome tale of murder.  

It is possible that The Act of Killing might win the Oscar.  But, I do not believe it will.  The Academy will give the prize to The Square, a documentary about the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt.  I would have absolutely no problem with this decoration, even if it is not how I would parcel out the prizes.

If I were King Academy Award, I would have two films share the award, West of Memphis, and The History of the Eagles.  The former,  was directed by Amy Berg, and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh; and the latter,  was directed by Alison Ellwood, and produced by Alex Gibney.  

West of Memphis tells the tale of the West Memphis Three finally being released from jail for murders they did not commit.  It has been a very long, tough journey for not just the three inmates, but for all those who took up their struggle.  And, it is wholeheartedly one of my finest experiences in film gazing this year to see their release in to the world.  It also has some of the most breath taking and thrilling filmmaking I have seen in ages, building up to its climax as masterfully as Hitchcock would have done.

Obviously, The History of the Eagles is an extremely idiosyncratic choice, but one I make with no regret.  This aptly lengthy film, which also contains a fantastic precious document of the band at work at the tail end, is an excursion in to a land that I barely thought possible for me.  Before I saw this film I thought these guys were sell out poseurs.  They are not.  There is a reason these guys are amongst the greatest selling rock artists of all-time.  Even if I do not particularly care for much of their music, I came to appreciate the extreme dedication and passion that they brought to becoming the beloved legends that they are.

Everyone in the band has to sing.  You party after the show.  Everyone has to do their 'party piece' in concert because you owe that to the fans.  Everyone has to be fully committed to the band at all times.  No slacking.  No half assed attitudes.  Changes to the band are all carefully considered and weighed amongst the group.  (My favorite was them considering adding Joe Walsh to the group.  The positives were the Rock Attitude and Style he would bring; the negatives were his limited singing ability and his hotel trashing lifestyle.  They made the right choice.) The film does a wonderful job of showing how fucking hard it is to write a song.  How being a rock star of that magnitude is such hard work -- believe it or not -- and that it is not just groupies and eight balls all the time.  

The Eagles will never be one of my favorite groups of all time, or even close, really.  They are too earnest.  The things they write about are not my cup of tea.  Plus, they wore their politics only in public life, and not in their art.  Not my thing at all. And, although I love the singing and their dedication, and admire their songwriting craft, they are just not my bag.  But, that a film could make me appreciate a buncha rock star millionaires is pretty damn impressive to me.  


Which brings me back to the top of this post.  If I were King Academy Award, I would give the 2014 Best Actor Oscar to Glenn Frey.  I can not tell you the presumptive perjorative and cynical notions I had going in to watching The History of Eagles.  And, yet, coming out of it, Glenn frickin Frey had convinced me what a great, dedicated, passionate, hard working, honest man he was. Are you kidding me? He is an interview subject on his own band.  And, he was still able to charm and convince an old Rock Snob like me.  Now that is a flipping performance worth a bushelful of awards, as far as I am concerned.

Now, Matthew McConaughey is most likely to win Best Actor for his performance in Dallas Buyer's Club.  I am all in favor of this coming to bear, and will root heavily for him next Sunday. (And, like my friendface friendie, Scott S, has pointed out, it does not hurt that McConaughey has a weekly advertisement of his acting abilities running every Sunday on HBO in the brooding True Detective series.)

(My five favorite History of the Eagles moments:
  • Their first producer, Glyn Johns, telling them to forget going in a more rock direction, because The Eagles were not a 'rock band'.  "The Who," Johns said, "Were a real rock band.  Not you guys."
  • Frey, infuriated at fellow band member, Randy Meisner, when Meisner balked at singing his 'party piece', Take It to the Limit one night.  Frey told him, "Think of all the thousands of fans you would be letting down tonight.  Some of these folks came just to hear Take It to the Limit.  How do you think I feel? I am sick to death of singing Peaceful Easy Feeling every night, but I do it!"
  • Frey, infuriated (again) at fellow band member, Don Felder, who had snubbed California US Senator Alan Cranston at a fundraiser the Eagles had headlined, counted down the songs on stage until the end of the show when he would presumably beat Felder up.  Felder split in a limo before that could happen.  The band broke up and did not play live together again for fourteen years.
  • Just the absolute joy and excitement of Frey's face during his freedom from the Eagles, pursuing acting and solo music careers.
  • Frey telling the story of living beneath Jackson Browne, and hearing how he wrote songs.

Yowza, that is it, y'all!
Have a great great Monday,


Feb 13, 2014

Triple Axels and Double Toe Loops in February

DAN PATRICK:  We have seen so much drama already today.  What do you two expect for later tonight?

JOHNNY WEIR:  More and more and more drama! This is figure skating, folks!


One of the best films that I have seen so far this year is The Price of Gold, a 30 for 30 ESPN documentary about the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan controversy.  

Ms Kerrigan declined to be interviewed for the film, but is well-represented by her coaches, some friends, and her husband.  

Ms Harding, on the other hand, gives what appears to be a very lengthy interview, which, I dare say, makes this documentary seem as if it was told from her side of the story.  Fine by me because that makes this an even more scintillating and thrilling tale.  The three stooges, who actually carried out the 'hit', had nothing to do with this film, either.  

The Price of Gold does a masterful job of setting up the differences between Harding and Kerrigan as skaters, and as people.  Of course, whatever the media or filmmakers try to sell you can be a bit oversimplified.  For instance, Ms Kerrigan was certainly not rich by any means.  But she was from a much more stable home environment than Ms Harding was, to say the least.  

It is also true that Harding was the more 'athletic' of the two skaters.  Ms Harding was the first woman to ever land a triple axel jump in a competition, and lived for those big flashy jumps over a more composed elegant graceful style as favored by most women skaters (and judges).  Still, to say that Kerrigan was not an athletic skater would be wrong.  Just as, obviously, Harding had more than enough 'grace' to win numerous competitions, and earn a fourth place finish at the 1992 Winter Olympics.  

Kerrigan was able to book time at an ice rink in her part of the world, while Harding did most of her training at an ice rink in a shopping mall outside of Portland.  Harding, who had almost no money whatsoever, and an abusive mother, would sometimes make her own costumes.  Kerrigan never had that problem.  Harding would often fight her coaches, insisting to wear her hair a certain way or blue nail polish or whathaveyou.  And, Harding sometimes could pick incredibly inappropriate music for her programs.  Kerrigan, on the other hand, did appear more elegant.  She often wore her hair up.  Her costumes were very tasteful, mostly from a palette of whites and blacks and Vera Wang designed her Olympic costumes. Harding, meanwhile, liked turquoise and hot pink! Harding drove a truck, knew how to fix cars, and loved driving fast.  After the 1992 Olympics when Kerrigan won the bronze medal and Harding finished just off the podium, endorsers lined up in droves for Kerrigan.  Harding was offered nothing.

I am sure there is a wealth of feminist scholarship about Kerrigan and Harding.  And, I am ready to dive right in to it, and read whatever is available.  And, I will be honest.  Even though I concede that The Price of Gold is far from a truly objective documentary (and bravo for that -- truly objective documentaries are an enormous bore), I have to confess that I am much more sympathetic to Tonya Harding than I am to Nancy Kerrigan.

Wow.  Why? Well, call me a sucker, but I do not believe that Harding knew about the attack before it happened.  Also, remember that the only thing the DA even got on Harding was a deal for hindering prosecution.  Naturally, Harding and her lawyer knew a jury trial would not go well for her at that time.  But that the DA would be willing to deal for such a wimpy charge (Harding received three years probation and a hefty fine) indicates to me just how little the DA had on her.  The Wife does not agree with me, but I believe that Harding's husband, Jeff Gillooly, cooked the whole thing up with his two moronic friends because he saw his wife as the ultimate meal ticket.  If Kerrigan was pushed out of the way, and Harding ended up on the podium in '94, Gillooly would become very wealthy very fast.  Yes,  Harding was guilty of hindering prosecution.  Because I believe that that was the first time she heard anything from her husband about a plot.  She had to get her story straight then.

Plus, I just have a soft spot in my heart for the hot pink dresses and the blue nail polish.  (There is a fabulous moment in the film where we see a look of absolute disgust from Harding, trying on a black dressy costume.  "But, it's pretty," her coaches say.) I feel for her that she had such a terrible childhood; that she moved from an abusive parent to an abusive husband at such a young age.  I adore the exhilarated, joyful, and supremely satisfied look on Harding's face when she landed that first ladies triple axel.   All of Harding's triple axels are amazing to behold.  I like that Harding practiced in a mall.  I like her truck.  I like that she appreciated that she could be perceived as having 'rough edges'.  

(And, Kerrigan's crumby behavior after winning a silver medal at the '94 Olympics really rubs me the wrong way.  Kerrigan and her folks feel she was jobbed, and took away from Oksana Baiul's moment.  That was not classy, at all.)

Do not get me wrong.  Tonya Harding is a hot mess, and probably not a very nice person, at all.  I hope she has finally truly gotten her life in order and is alright.

If this played out again, this kind of rivalry between two athletes, without the attack, I would certainly root for the one from the trailer park.  I guess that is just who I am.

All my love, 

Feb 12, 2014

I keep going back and forth on this song.

Most of the time I think it is insanely dopey.  But right now I am very fond of it.  I am getting this vibe these days from Morrison's vocal of such insolence and disdain; like he cannot believe that anyone (him) could ever write lyrics this trite and silly.

Totally works for me right now.

Feb 11, 2014

I love everything about this video!

I love the supremely pumped-up and satisfied look on all these women's faces after they nail the triple axel.

And, say what you will about Tonya Harding as a person, it is her triple axels that I like the best.

(And the Ronettes for music does not hurt, either.)

Mwah, ... 

Feb 10, 2014

The Academy almost always messes this stuff up.

Note:  Over the coming weeks I will be writing about the Oscars, giving you my personal, sometimes very idiosyncratic, picks on who or what should win (whether they were nominated or not), and then give you my opinion on who is likely to win from the nominees.  Today I am going to talk about Woody Allen, Cate Blanchett, and the Academy Awards, in general.

Take for instance that William Randolph Hearst and his media empire intimidated Hollywood and the Academy enough that Citizen Kane was nearly 'deleted' and/or destroyed before it was released, and that every single time one of the many nominations for Citizen Kane came  up, it was roundly booed at the Academy Awards.  Citizen Kane won only one award, for best screenplay, and that was really for Herman J Mankewicz, a recognition for all his significant contributions to building the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Or, let us talk about the Academy giving Elia Kazan a lifetime achievement award.

I would not be the least surprised to hear boos when Woody Allen's name is called at the Academy Awards next month.  Academy members are allowed to express their opinions, certainly.  Allen, himself, will not be there.  He never attends award ceremonies.  But, I am curious to see if Academy members will  boo Cate Blanchett or Sally Hawkins.  I would hope not, but like I said, the Academy almost always makes the wrong choice, or does the wrong thing when it comes to controversial issues like this.

And, I think we can pretty much forget any chance of Ms Blanchett winning Best Actress this year.  (I really do not believe Ms Hawkins had any shot at winning in her category, Best Supporting Actress.) Which is a real shame.  Ms Blanchett's performance in Blue Jasmine is certainly deserving, and is the type of performance the Academy generally adores.  But her association with Allen will likely prohibit her from taking home the Oscar.

Instead, I think, this year's Best Actress Award will go to Amy Adams.  (Much to my Wife's chagrin, who believes Ms Adams should win the Academy Award for Most Acting While Not Wearing a Bra.  When will that category be created?)

Yet, if I were King Academy Award, I would give the Best Actress Award to Barbara Sukowa for her mesmerizing, slinky, and seductive performance as Hannah Arendt.

Still, King Academy Award and the Academy could very well be agreeing with each other regarding the Best Supporting Actress category.  As elated as I am that Ms Hawkins (one of my absolute favorite movie stars right now) received her second nomination -- she should have won Best Actress for Happy-Go-Lucky! -- I think that Jennifer Lawrence and Mickey Sumner (as Sophie in Frances Ha) should share this award.  Ms Lawrence in American Hustle reminded me so much of say, Judy Holliday's sterling performance in Adam's Rib.  Or Jean Hagan's performances in Singin' in the Rain and Adam's Rib.  Or Ruth Hussey in The Philadelphia Story, etc, ... Meanwhile, Ms Sumner gave one of the richest and most complex performances I have seen this past year; an exquisite study of female friendship.

As for Best Original Screenplay, notwithstanding the controversy, Mr Allen is deserving of the nomination, but will not win.  I imagine it will go to either Bob Nelson for Nebraska or Eric Warren Singer and David O Russell for American Hustle.

If I were King Academy Award, however, I would give the prize to Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha.  Seriously, for just this passage alone:

Frances: It's that thing when you're with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it... but it's a party... and you're both talking to other people, and you're laughing and shining... and you look across the room and catch each other's eyes... but - but not because you're possessive, or it's precisely sexual... but because... that is your person in this life. And it's funny and sad, but only because this life will end, and it's this secret world that exists right there in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about. It's sort of like how they say that other dimensions exist all around us, but we don't have the ability to perceive them. That's - That's what I want out of a relationship. Or just life, I guess.

All my love,

Feb 6, 2014

My gosh.

No one is exactly covering themselves in glory here.  And gossip might truly be the new pornography.  And Twitter (and friendface to a lesser but still significant effect) is the new bathroom wall of the internet.

There is nowt a objective voice to be heard.  Instead we get  the sound of axes grinding over the tumult and shouting of a family's tragedy.

This is no good, and is factually incorrect in spots.

This is disgusting, and should never have seen print.  Ms Saunders is obviously using this family tragedy as a political football to apologize for the GOP's legitimate War on Women.

This, like so many others, presumes through statistics, that anyone who might disagree with her is blaming the victim.

Which brings me to this column, which Ms Valenti links to, which is one of the worst yet.  It is appalling to me that someone could suggest to have it both ways, stating, "The second reason it’s okay if I’m wrong is that I’m probably not wrong. It’s much more likely that I’m right." Who says? This is your gut speaking? You have absolutely no bonafide or serious information to back you up on this issue.  That someone pays this gentleman to write is an abomination.

This piece, reviled by the Farrow camp, and nonetheless actually full of hard facts about the case, is not be trusted due to conflict of interest.

This is not so bad, but still faintly smells of advertising and marketing.  (And, let me say this:  Any public carping that the NYT is selling right now about whether or not they should publish Mr Allen's response right now is reprehensible.  It is only an excuse to sell newspapers.  Allen's response will be in the NYT for sure.  And, I am also disturbed by the notion that Nicholas Kristof and the NYT were the vehicle for Dylan Farrow's statement.  As much as someone would like to chastise Mr Allen for being wealthy, white, and powerful; it is also good to point out that the Farrow's have a powerful media figure to proclaim their stories, as well.)

This is crap.

This is crap, too.

And, there is still so much more crap out there for all of us to enjoy!

But, this one by Molly Lambert for Grantland has got to be the absolute worst one of all.  Ms Lambert needs to stick to her witty recaps of Mad Men.  Seriously!

This was shitty.  And, he did apologize.

The best thing I have seen on this issue was on Jezebel.  Which many in the Farrow camp would be angry with because Jezebel said that Allen's marriage with Ms Previn should not be an issue in this case.  (It is a massive difference between legal creepy and pedophilia.  That is mds speaking.)

The next best thing I have seen on this is our nation's news leader, The Onion's, take on this:  Boy, I've Really Put You in a Tough Spot, Haven't I? Of course, many in both camps probably see this faux editorial in bad taste.  I see it as by far the most relevant conversation to the topic.

Say what you will about the justice system, but the only objective parties for this issue decided that there was no case to pursue.  And, these allegations occurred during an extremely public and incendiary custody battle.  Which makes this argument a matter of faith.  I know where I stand on this question, and I respect the many others that might disagree with me.  I sincerely hope that those that disagree with me would fashion me the same respect.

All my love,
Michael David Spitler

SF Ballet's Giselle was one of the finest theatre experiences I have had in ages.

And, made me miss my old theatre days back in college.

Maria Kochetkova

I have seen a fair amount of ballet in my lifetime, but this was the first time I had seen this kind of world class talent before.  The Nutcracker (even by SF Ballet) just does not count.  It is a different thing altogether.

Giselle is basically the oldest classical ballet that is still a part of any company's canon of works. And, Helgi Tómasson, SF Ballet's Artistic Director and Principle Choreographer has made a special point of staging Giselle a few times now.  Moreover, Tómasson has consistently chosen to play the Giselle tragedy straight, without setting the tale in say, an insane asylum, or tacking on a happy ending.  Which satisfies me immensely.

All too often, folks that have perhaps a cursory knowledge of ballet, forget that ballet is theatre. Those dancers (in front of their exquisite and carefully rendered sets, and wearing their exquisite and sensibly built costumes) have an actual acting responsibility in addition to their dancing performance.  And, I believe, that Tómasson understands this, and relishes the fact that a piece such as Giselle also gives his dancers an extra layer of depth with which to communicate to an audience.

Maria Kochetkova's acting performance, as Giselle, was as exemplary as her sterling stunning technical prowess on display.  Which is what moves you.

But there were other splendid performances, as well:  Taras Domitro as Albrecht; James Sofranko as Hilarion; and (especially) Sofiane Sylve as Myrtha.  The corps de ballet had their moments, too.  The corps performing as the Willis spirits righteously earned three rounds of applause three separate times executing a swan like turn as a group.

Even though I had never seen this kind of ballet excellence before, it still left me with the feeling that I should just see more dance, period!

The SF Ballet is prohibitively expensive for the Wife and I.  It is a special treat.  Giselle (and the hotel, and the restaurants we ate at) were an Xmas present for her.  Renee was so thrilled from the experience that she expressed a desire that we see another SF Ballet program next month!


I used to root for the home team.

I can not tell you how much tooth pulling it took for my mother to get me to go see Ballet Austin back in the day when she used to work for them.  But, once I got to meet the dancers, and learn their stories, and see their stagings and performances, I was enthralled.  An actor by birth, I was immediately sucked up in to the whole theatre of it, and instantly became a balletomane for life. (Albeit one with lapsed tendencies.  I am certainly not in a latent phase re the ballet now.)

And Ballet Austin also reminded me of my own few walks across the boards as an actor in the Austin theatre scene.  And, how Michael Barnes, at that time the theatre critic of the Austin American-Statesman taught me that you should reserve your harshest criticism for the truly spoiled and enriched artists, and cut the little local guys a break; accentuate the positive, if you will, for the home team.

Which is why I told the Wife I would like to start seeing local dance companies perform, such as Diablo Ballet.  She said, "But did you not just tell me how amazed you were at finally seeing some truly World Class Talent?"

Sure.  But, the theatre-ness, the magic of art is not wholly exclusive to those of the greatest talent.  In fact, you can find it in a warehouse in Oakland, or a garage in Liverpool, or in a tiny space in Walnut Creek.  There are magical and mysterious experiences of art everywhere you look.  If you make a point of searching for them.


Even one of my heroes, Susan Sontag, eventually,

In her later years, came around to the belief that content could be as important as style.

Susan Sontag (1933 - 2004)

I have not reached that point yet.  The sensuousness and erotic power of art still hold more sway for me than form or content.

But, I wonder.  Is Ms Sontag's progression and 'conversion' one that generally happens to most people? Is it akin to 'finding religion' or becoming more conservative politically in your later years?

Will this happen to me?

Before Lorde there were the Finn Bros.

(And the Dead C, and The Clean, & others, etc, ... )

I am also happy to report that Ms Yelich-O'Connor's long form birth certificate has finally been produced. She was born in '96, folks.  Seventeen going on eighteen.

And, she has listed The Big O, Otis Redding, as one of her all-time favorite recording artists. That is one hip Kiwi lady!

Feb 4, 2014

Forty years ago today Patricia Campbell Hearst was abducted

By the United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army in Berkeley, California.  The abduction took all of a few minutes, and happened right in front of Ms Hearst's fiancé at the time, the twenty-six year old, Steven Weed.  Ms Hearst was an art major at the University of California Berkeley, but became a target for the SLA due to the fact that she was the granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst, and an heiress to one of the largest fortunes in the world.  Plus, the Hearst family at that time were still in charge of the largest media empire ever built.

Patty Hearst, robbing the Hibernia bank.

This is a story that captivated the nation for over a year, and was full of so many twists and turns, that it became nearly impossible to believe.  I will give you one spoiler, though.  Eventually Ms Hearst ended up an actress in films by John Waters.

My interest and fascination with this abduction tale started in the early 90s, at a time when I was certainly at my most truly "radical" and "revolutionary".  Not that I ever was a radical revolutionary, but Hearst and the SLA hit squarely in the sweet spot of my youthful leftist political leanings.  Are we ever more likely to put actual activism, and possibly violence, behind our passionate political rhetoric than when we are in our early twenties?

Even though my political fervor became more subdued, and far more pragmatic -- though I still have my moments! -- this story only got better and richer as I grew older.  First, I saw the excellent documentary on William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles, The Battle Over Citizen Kane.  This gave me context on just how daring (or insanely foolhardy) Welles and Mankiewicz were for taking on the Hearst empire.  Also, it taught me just how awful Hearst and his newspapers were.

But then about a dozen years after seeing that, I saw Guerilla:  The Taking of Patty Hearst, an explosive, and fascinating and superb documentary on Hearst's abduction by filmmaker Robert Stone.  That is when it all came home for me.  Literally.  By this time I was living in sedate suburban Walnut Creek, California.  The SLA's hideout at the time of the abduction was on Sutherland Drive in nearby Concord.  And, two SLA members had been arrested after a shootout with Concord police before Hearst was taken.

It was stunning to me that that kind of daring and truly radical revolutionary behavior could have its roots in the sleepy Lamorinda corridor of the East Bay.  But, hey, times was different back then.

There are so many fascinating things about Guerilla that I could never cover them all in a blog post.  Plus, this film comes so highly recommended by me that I do not want to spoil anything for you.  Just see it.

But, I would like to point out the absolute perfection of the SLA's target, Ms Hearst.  Ms Hearst's voice does not reflect her California upbringing so much as it does money.  It is the lazy drawl of the super rich untitled aristocracy.  It was shocking to hear this voice proclaim herself as Tania the Urban Guerilla, in love with her fellow revolutionary, Cujo.

Also, the chain smoking SF Chron reporter who is a witness here for this film, is an absolute treasure.  A complete no bullshit sympathetic yet objective journalist with real insight in to the  era and both the Hearst family and the SLA.

And, make sure to listen to Stone's directors commentary.  His film seems to have come out more sympathetic to the SLA than perhaps his real feelings are.

Finally, the ending of the film is perfect.

In a perfect world, I would suggest that on every February fourth from now on, a theater would show a triple feature of Citizen Kane, followed by The Battle Over Citizen Kane, followed by Guerilla:  The Taking of Patty Hearst.

It is a story that will always fascinate me, forever.


Jan 31, 2014

I just had the coolest experience with a customer.

I was pulling up a wine stack, as I am wont to do around here, and a customer asked me where she could pick up her cheese platters.  She said she was working for Diablo Ballet, and that the Walnut Creek Food Hole had donated two cheese platters for a fund raising dinner for the ballet company.

I took her over to where the platters were, and then said, "You know, the Wife and I are going to see SF Ballet's Giselle tomorrow."

"Oh, how lovely," she said.  "I went to the Gala Opening last week!"

"You lucky duck," I said.

"Our company director got me the tickets.  It was marvelous.  It was my first gala."

"What fun."

Then she asked, "Who are you seeing tomorrow?"

I knew that she meant who would be playing Giselle tomorrow, and I said, "I think it is Sarah Van Patten."

"Oh, she was wonderful last week at the Gala!"

Sarah Van Patten
"I was kind of hoping to see Maria Kochetkova," I said, "But I think she is dancing tonight."

"Oh, well she is wonderful, too!"

She loaded the platters in to her basket, and we said our goodbyes, and I told her that I hoped she had a great time at her fundraiser.

Maria Kochetkova
I just loved that two strangers could have a conversation about the ballet and two ballerinas as if we were speaking about the Oakland A's players and chances this season.  It was a delightful treat.

The wife and I are v excited to see the ballet tomorrow.  It will be a splendid date for us.

And, here is a link to Diablo Ballet.

Everybody have a wonderful and safe Super Bowl weekend.  I love you all,

Jan 30, 2014

TCM will be showing Dodsworth at 8:00 PM (EST) on Sunday, February 9.

And, I know Sundays are a riot of television riches right now, and all our dvrs are on the verge of catching fire, but do yourself a favor and make some room for this 1936 film, starring Walter Huston (John Huston's da), Ruth Chatterton, and Mary Astor.

Ruth Chatterton and Mary Astor in Dodsworth (1936)

Dodsworth, which is based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis and a play version of said novel by Sidney Howard -- Howard wrote the screenplay -- is about as bracingly fresh, adult, and sophisticated on the subject of marriage as any film you are ever likely to see.  And, in one very important respect the then recent reinstatement of a now no longer toothless Production Code certainly worked in the team's favor:  All those separate beds for Huston and Chatterton's married couple? Makes perfect sense.  There is no way that married couple sleeps together anymore.

Howard's script time and again brilliantly evokes the type of conversations that real married couples have.  There is nothing phony or artificial about the way Huston or Chatterton or Astor express their desires for marriage, happiness, or social standing.  And, Hollywood legend Rudolph Maté's use of deep focus, combined with director William Wyler's immaculate and meticulous scene blocking only enhance the drama; placing the viewer inside the film itself.

There are performances to die for here.  Huston, who did the Broadway Dodsworth role before the film, and Astor, in particular.  Astor has two moments in the film that are both so simple and understated, yet splinteringly evocative.  Ms Astor was never more beautiful, as well.

Dodsworth is a sophisticated and honest film for grown-ups about grown-ups.  It is as relevant today as it was in 1936.  And, it is organized and produced so perfectly that you can tell that every single member of the production team -- actors, writers, design, and technical crew -- absolutely gave it their all to make the finest film they could.

There are no spoilers here because I am recommending this masterpiece about as highly as I can recommend any film.  See it for yourself.  You will not regret it.

All my love,

Jan 29, 2014

2 quick things:

Am I the only one who believes that the most recent installment of Sherlock, entitled The Sign of Three, and which is the eighth "film" of the series, was their finest one yet?

The Wife and I practically wanted to applaud at its conclusion.  At home.  Moreover, I believe that Sherlock's absolutely brilliant best man speech will be talked about at weddings, and copied, or referenced/nodded to for the next ten years or more in both the US and UK.

Television on Sundays right now is sick with amazing greatness.


And, quickly, and completely unrelated to television or Sherlock Holmes, I would like to say that David Thomson's most recent book, Moments That Made the Movies, is vastly superior to his previous book.

Thomson picks about seventy moments from different films and writes around five hundred words on each one.  He touches on Don't Look Now, Pandora's Box, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, The Red Shoes, etc, and etc, ...

The real big highlights for me personally were his thoughts on Mary Astor's stunning acting choices and execution in Dodsworth (I swear, I will write about Dodsworth tomorrow! I swear!), and his thoughts on Celine and Julie Go Boating.  Where he sums up a delicious cinema paradox for me that I have personally been dealing with for years now.

I quote,

"This film has not yet been put on DVD in America, and I like it all the more for that. So, it is hard to get at, elusive, difficult to see -- and its length has always put it in some box-office peril. Still, we should not not be deceived by the chronic availability of DVDs.  We need to know that there are unattainable things, or films that we must search for.  Or wait for.  There is no desire without that frustration.  The ability to dial up any movie on our computer or our inner eye may be useful, and it will surely come to pass, but it is one of the things that may drain away the quality of desire in the medium."

So flipping beautiful and right.  Thank you Mr Thomson.  Again.  (The emphasis in the quote is mine.  I hope he will forgive me.)

One of those movies that really can change your life.  Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974)

Mwah, ...