Archive for February, 2012

This story on Yahoo today made me laugh. Who knew there were a Top 5 Miserable Sports Cities? Sure, you say that phrase and I immediately think of … Buffalo, the Bills being the only team in NFL to go to four Super Bowls in a row – and lose all four. That’s pretty miserable.

But I’m a Saints fan, so to be honest, I also cringe a little every time I hear a phrase like that. But the Forbes gurus who compiled this list (yeah, I know: Forbes?) factor in a whole lot more than decades of “Aints,” bags on the head, Bum Phillips and Ricky Wiliams. And they came up with these top 5 most miserable sports cities:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Seattle
  3. Phoenix
  4. Buffalo
  5. San Diego

You won’t get much argument out of me on any of these. As much as I love San Diego, as a sports town, it ain’t much. The Padres have managed to just go 1-8 in World Series games. The Chargers got blown out by the 49ers (49-26) in their only Super Bowl appearance. The Clippers left town for L.A. At least they have great weather.

Phoenix took the pig that was the St. Louis Cardinals and put enough lipstick on it to go to a Super Bowl with a quarterback who would turn out to be the prototype for a quarterback (whose name I’ll not write) who would later play for the Denver Broncos. The Diamondbacks have fared a little better, beating the Yankees in one of the most exciting World Series in recent memory, but in the end, we’re still talking about Phoenix. Arizona.

Buffalo. Between football and hockey, Buffalo has produced … yeah. At least they have snow.

Seattle (Mariners, the ones owned by Nintendo) traded A. Rod and Randy Johnson. ‘Nuff said. And they have terrible weather. And the Seahawks.

Which brings us to Atlanta. Like I said, I’m a Saints fan, so I have to chuckle to know that the home of the Falcons is considered to be a miserable place, something I’ve suspected my whole life. But it’s not just the Falcons, the Braves are also a huge contributor to the misery, which suits me just fine – I’m a Dodgers fan. And for years, I’ve been saying Braves fans are spoiled and fickle (and they are). The Braves don’t even sell out their playoff games. And every year, the ESPN airheads start gabbing about the NL East and how the Braves are poised to take it all, and then. They. Fall. Short. Like the Chargers. I’ve grown tired of the Braves, partly because of the omnipresent TBS (and an atrocious TV crew) but mostly because I’m tired of seeing a team in the playoffs that’s going to fold at some point.

BREAKING NEWS: Davy Jones, lead singer of “The Monkees,” died today at 66. I had no idea he was only 66. I watched “The Monkees” TV show when I was, like, 6. I thought he was a lot older, frankly. If you never had the pleasure, check out this video, courtesy of YouTube. And, this classic piece of Americana, which I’m sure was considered TV gold at the time – Davy Jones appears on “The Brady Bunch.” It was always Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.

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I don’t want to go on a rampage or anything here (well, maybe a little), but I’ve been shaking my head all day long at the news story that made it into the top 5 “Idiotic Right Wing Lunatic Politician” category.

That be the story describing Indiana state representative and undoubtedly proud Republican Bob Morris’ opening salvo in the latest threat to this great nation’s national security and domestic tranquility: The Girl Scouts.

Sigh. Yes. The leftist guerrilla cookie commandos, the Girl Scouts. Now, you’re probably thinking, well, those cookies are irresistible, like a cardinal sin, and certainly aren’t healthy for you, so maybe Rep. Morris has a point.

You’d be wrong.

Why are the Girl Scouts on the verge of destroying America?

Lesbians. And Communists.

COMMUNISTS! DAMN DIRTY REDS!

These lesbian communists, now a “tactical arm” of Planned Parenthood (What?? Does this mean that the Girl Scouts are going to start launching Ovary-Seeking Contraceptive Missiles at unsuspecting vaginas?) are subverting “traditional American family values,” Morris says. NOTE to Rep. Morris – what the fuck are “traditional” American values? I guess they are what Rep. Morris wants them to be. In other words, anyone who doesn’t live like he does is not a “traditional American.”

But Morris has the scientific method on his side. “I did a small amount of Web-based research,” he wrote. Translation: “I Googled ‘Girl Scout’ and ‘lesbian,’ and look what I found!” Mmhmmm. Wonder what you come up with if you Google “politician” and “dickhead.”

According to the Hoosier Harbinger of Doom, it’s particularly ominous that, of the 50 role models supposedly promoted by the Girl Scouts, only three have just “a briefly mentioned religious background.” (Emphasis added) Ah, the real root of the problem. I reckon God in the persons of three can’t handle 47 lesbian feminist Communists.

I shouldn’t be surprised – the word “Communist” has seen a revival in the last four  years or so (though grossly misused, and misspelled, by the Tea Party and other haters). How long before this doofus is the GOP front-runner?

Read the story here, and post your hate mail below.

There. I feel better.

Considering the fact that I have yet to see any of the movies nominated for an Academy Award this year, the time I spent last night watching the presentation of said awards seems, in retrospect, pointless. It was the first time I’ve actually tuned in at all in at least 10 years or more — about the same time I gave up going to a theater to see a movie, being a parent of two young kids. I really wasn’t watching last night — the show was mostly background noise, interspersed with moments of me chuckling at something Billy Crystal was saying or doing. Which granted, isn’t much, but seeing as how I punted on The Walking Dead, and Daytona was underwater, what else was there to do?

I watched about an hour, which – fortunately for me – was just long enough to catch a trailer for the upcoming premiere of Ashley Judd’s new show, Missing.  I don’t care if it’s any good. Any time I get to spend the better part of an hour watching Ashley Judd is a win in my book. I don’t even have to like the movie, as long as she’s in it. Why else would I sit through the agony that is The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood? 

Anyway, I tuned in long enough to see the following:

  1. Octavia Spencer win for Best Supporting Actress (The Help). Didn’t see the movie (and won’t), but I was glad to see a first-time nominee win, then display absolutely no pretense of Hollywood when she accepted. She was thrilled, and it was fun to see.
  2. Billy Crystal, still able to make me laugh – and even be a little prickly as the host.
  3. Chris Rock reminding everyone that there’s still a racial divide in Hollywood.
  4. Christopher Plummer win for Best Supporting Actor (Beginners). Dude’s 82. Good on him.
  5. Jennifer Lopez in that dress. Ok, the woman is hot and gets better looking every year.
    Yes, the dress was damn sexy. But was it really “daring,” “shocking,” “plunging”? Come on, it was a dress. And no, she didn’t have a wardrobe malfunction. We just wanted her to. You’ll notice I haven’t said a word about the woman who was onstage with her, Cameron Diaz, the one with a mouth like The Joker.
  6. Sandra Bullock speaking fluent German for no discernible reason whatsoever.
  7. Christian Bale speaking in his natural (that is, British) accent. This is Batman?
  8. Gwyneth Paltrow. Words fail. Just look.

Former colleague and fellow noir enthusiast Steve Losey will be happy to know that I finally got around to watching Night of the Hunter, which he recommended a while back. Much like the novel of the same name, which I wrote about recently, the movie is an excellent piece of storytelling. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and the awesome Lillian Gish, this 1955 thriller has become a seminal film for numerous directors currently working, the Coen Brothers in particular. It’s a black-and-white movie, set in West By God Virginia, so it automatically has that noir feel to it. But more than just a B&W film, the movie is shot in a spectacular, artistic fashion that makes you wonder what we’ve lost in filmmaking with today’s color (and CGI). It’s beautifully done. The use of light and — more effectively — shadows, the number of scenes taking place at night, the various unconventional angles, all keep the tension and sense of danger ratcheted up. And while the acting may have been a little over the top (with the sole exception of Gish, who steals the movie and shows why she was known as “The First Lady of American Cinema”), the quality of the film alone is worth the watch. There is a creepiness that Robert Mitchum brings to his character that both fascinates you and makes your skin crawl at the same time.

Bonus noir! Caught the last half of another great B&W noir flick from the ’50s this afternoon — Stanley Kubrick’s debut film, The Killing. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Looking for something to read while you wait for baseball season to start? Try A Simple Murder, now only 99 cents at Amazon. Download it here (also available in paperback).

I openly admit to a certain fascination with the zombie genre of movies, and lately, that has spilled over into the written word. I even have a zombie game on my Kindle (“Stupid Zombies’). I can’t explain it. But there’s something about the living dead/undead that always grabs my attention. Maybe it’s the whole “IT COULD REALLY HAPPEN!” premise mixed up with the truly scary stories of deadly outbreaks of viruses that occur all too often in the world. If you’ve ever read anything about an Ebola outbreak, you’ll understand the scary parallels between the real and the fiction (and if you’re really interested, I recommend the nonfiction Hot Zone, by Richard Preston. Don’t plan on getting a good night’s sleep if you do.) Books like Preston’s no doubt helped give rise to the growing number of “epidemic” movies like “Contagion,” “The Omega Man,” “I Am Legend,” and “Outbreak.”

And from there, it’s no great leap to get to the zombies — the ones caused by a deadly (undeadly?) virus, such as the case in “28 Days Later” (great movie, by the way).

Of course, none of this came into play when George Romero shot the original “Night of the Living Dead.” He started it all, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m collecting nominations now (see below) for the best zombie movies of all time, but in the meantime, I’ve been checking out several books in the “zombie lit” category, mainly through the luxury of Amazon Kindle’s “free sample” downloads.

The best read so far is World War Z, a sort of after-action report of the zombie apocalypse and its global effects. It’s definitely on the “to buy” list, and if you’re a hard-core zombie fan, you’re going to want to read this quasi-official accounting of the zombie wars and their causes, sources and effects. And, as the cover suggests, the “oral history” style gives the story a sense of realism and currency.


I’m also reading a fairly new title, Zombiestan, which, as you can probably guess from the title, puts a current-news twist on the zombie apocalypse we all know is coming. It’s not nearly as well-written or interesting as WWZ, but the premise is intriguing.

Back to the movies: What’s the best zombie movie of all time? Let me know in the comments section below. I’ll post the results in a later post.

And while you’re over at Amazon checking out the zombie titles, don’t forget that A Simple Murder is available for download for only 99 cents. 

14 February 2012: Meet Davis Grubb

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

A few weeks ago, a friend suggested adding the movie “Night of the Hunter” to the list of redneck noir movies. That black-and-white piece of noir (1953), starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters, is considered to be one of the most influential movies in the last 60 years, inspiring directors such as the Coen brothers (and hold that thought), who turned in their own bit of noir with Blood Simple back in the ’80s.

A few days after I wrote about the movie here, another friend suggested I read the novel from which the movie is drawn. J. Ford even mailed me a copy, which I presume to be a first edition of the 1953 novel (looks just like the one pictured here) by Davis Grubb.

I finished it two nights ago and I’m grateful to J. Ford for sending it. If you haven’t read it, and chances are you haven’t, take the time. It’s a beautifully crafted Southern Gothic story that will touch you and terrify you at the same time. Grubb writes as skillfully and confidently as any American writer of note.

Set in the hills and hollers of West By God Virginia, it’s a story of good and evil, or in Grubb’s treatment, love and hate. Touch and terrify, all at once.

Ben Harper is husband to Willa and father to young John and Pearl during the Depression years in West Virginia. Frustrated by his poverty, he robs a local bank, shooting and killing a bank employee in the process. He is promptly captured by the police, or the “blue men” as his son calls them, convicted and sentenced to death. But the money he stole, some $10,000, was never recovered — his death sentence was brought in largely because of his refusal to disclose its location at his trial.

Ben is sentenced to hang, and hang he does, but not before sharing a cell with an inmate professing to be a “Man of God.” Preacher is Old Testament — malevolent and vengeful, with his fingers tattooed — “HATE” on the fingers of one hand, “LOVE” on the fingers of the other. He, like everyone else Ben has contact with before his date with the gallows, tries to get Ben to tell him where he hid the money, to no avail. Ben carries the secret with him to his death — not even telling his wife, Willa, because, as he scolds her, she’d be “hellbound” if she had it.

But John — and Pearl — know where the money is. The kids were with Ben when the blue men came, gathered in an open field near their house, and Ben made John swear he would never tell. Ever. 

That promise is easy for John to keep until, a few weeks after his father is hanged, a stranger shows up in town.  A preacher who had recently left his prison ministry to carry the Word the world, his heart aching as it was for those poor wretched souls in the prison. The preacher is unusual, though — John notices right away that, unlike any other preacher he’s ever seen, this one has tattoos on his fingers. When the preacher takes a shine to his momma, John is filled with dread and distrust as he slowly discerns the preacher’s real intentions.

Like I said, the story will terrify you at times. Grubbs masterfully ratchets up the tension, then holds it throughout the entire story. And his use of language, dialect and imagery has a sort of “True Grit” dignity to it. I’m speaking of the novel (mostly), not the movies, but — interestingly — in the Coen brothers’ remake, there is a song, an old hymn, that meanders through the soundtrack. One of my favorite hymns of my youth, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” I thought it an odd choice for the soundtrack, until I read Night of the Hunter. One of the preacher’s most-often sung hymns is, you guessed it, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

I still haven’t seen the movie version, but I’m looking forward to it.