Wednesday, August 31, 2011

1912, by James Chace

I think the first line from the Publishers Weekly review of James Chace's 1912 sums up my opinion of the book perfectly, "Some histories interpret new evidence and add to our store of knowledge. Some, relying on others' research, simply tell a known story. Chace's work is the best of the latter kind: a lively, balanced and accurate retelling of an important moment in American history." One thing I disagree with them about is that "the 1912 election wasn't the election that changed the country" [emphasis theirs]. Nearly every election before and after 1912 featured a progressive candidate vs a conservative candidate. Chace points out early (and often) than all four candidates for President were progressives to one extent or the other. No matter who won, the country would be moving in a more progressive direction. Only the extent of the changes was going to be determined by who won.

Chace does a good job balancing the time spent between these dynamic personalities, with obviously more time spent on the frontrunners: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. He goes through each candidate's history and the reason why they were running. Once the campaign starts, William Howard Taft and Eugene V. Debs are relegated to secondary characters that are talked about mostly in terms of their interactions with the main candidates and each other. Taft, the sitting President and reluctant politician, gets the short end of the stick. Most of what is written about him deals with the divisive (and decisive) Republican convention where Roosevelt and his supporters break off and form their own party.

Chace's book is a fascinating account of the 1912 campaign and its aftermath. He doesn't just stop at the election, but goes on to tell what happened to each man afterward. Roosevelt's role in policy until his death in 1919, Debs being put on trial, incarcerated, and running again in 1920, Taft's retirement and ultimate joy in being named to the Supreme Court in 1921 (the only job he ever really wanted), and Wilson's presidency. Wilson didn't get to implement many of his progressive ideas on domestic policy, but tried to change the world with America's entry into World War I and his post-WWI idea of the League of Nations. His two terms (and TR's before him) led to the idea of the imperial presidency that was so effectively used by FDR and several presidents afterward.

1912 is a good, fast-paced story of the more important elections in American history. If you're looking for an in-depth analysis of the election and its repercussions, this is probably not the book for you. For all its good points, it is better suited to be used as an overview to the event and the men involved in changing America's course.

Originally posted on the old blog 2/28/2005

Monday, August 29, 2011

Classic Leading Man Test

Your result for The Classic Leading Man Test...

Humphrey Bogart

You scored 45% Tough, 5% Roguish, 33% Friendly, and 19% Charming!
You're the original man of honor, rough and tough but willing to stick your neck out when you need to, despite what you might say to the contrary. You're a complex character full of spit and vinegar, but with a soft heart and a tender streak that you try to hide. There's usually a complicated dame in the picture, someone who sees the real you behind all the tough talk and can dish it out as well as you can. You're not easy to get next to, but when you find the right partner, you're caring and loyal to a fault. A big fault. But you take it on the chin and move on, nursing your pain inside and maintaining your armor...until the next dame walks in. Or possibly the same dame, and of all the gin joints in all the world, it had to be yours. Co-stars include Ingrid Bergman and Lauren Bacall, hot chicks with problems.
Take The Classic Leading Man Test at HelloQuizzy

Bogie's a bit tougher than I am, but otherwise sounds pretty good.

Originally posted on the old blog 9/30/2008

Song of the Week: Rain

With all the hoopla about hurricane Irene on the east coast this weekend, what better song for this week than The Beatles' "Rain". Released in June 1966 as a B-side to "Paperback Writer", "Rain" is credited to the songwriting duo of Lennon/McCartney. The following is one of three promotional videos released for the song. As George says at the beginning, The Beatles essentially invented MTV.

"When the rain comes / they run and hide their heads"

Friday, August 26, 2011

MST3K Friday: Godzilla vs the Sea Creature

"This is for the seafood lover in us."
"I'm hysterical! And I'm wet!" (Young Frankenstein reference)
"I'd say McEnroe is unhappy with that call."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Killers

Tonight at 11:30pm, Turner Classic movies is showing "The Killers".  Based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway,  the movie stars Burt Lancaster and the gorgeous Ava Gardner. The director, Robert Siodmak, re-teamed with Lancaster three years later in another good noir called "Criss Cross".  If you get TCM, I suggest you check it out.

11:30 PM  EST: Killers, The (1946) —   An insurance investigator uncovers a string of crimes when he tries to find a murdered boxer’s beneficiary. Dir: Robert Siodmak Cast:  Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O’Brien. BW-102 mins.

In Bruges (2008)

After a job gone wrong, hitmen Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are ordered by their boss Harry (Ralph Finnes) to flee London.  He puts them up in a hotel in Bruges, Belgium.  The two men see the sights of the ancient city and talk about life, death, and redemption.

In Bruges (2008) is a really good flick.  Chock full of black humor and keen insights into the human mind.  It's not quite a spoiler to say this, but in the course of the hit, Ray accidentally kills a young boy.  He's wracked with guilt and wonders if he's a bad person.  Ken, the old pro, attempts to console Ray and begins to wonder if he's really cut out for the job Ken's been doing for 30 years.

I like a lot of the artistic choices first time director Martin McDonagh made.  There are a lot of long shots (no 2 second edits like in most recent films) that focus your attention on the tremendous acting job by the leads.  The shots are beautifully composed too, using the medieval setting of Bruges to full effect.  There are even subtle callbacks to earlier films as well.  One night while Ray is out on a date, Ken sits alone in their hotel room waiting for Harry to call.  Ken is watching Orson Welles's marvelous Touch of Evil on television.  We see the famous five minute tracking shot that begins the movie (complete with Henry Mancini's score).  When the phone rings, the viewer is treated to a continuous five minute take of Ken talking on the phone to Harry.  It's a nice display of artistry that is never seen these days.

In Bruges is R-rated and with good reason.  There's some blood (but the camera doesn't linger on the gore) and a lot of cursing.  According to IMDb, the f-word and its variants are used 126 times in the movie's 108 minute running time.  There's a little drug use and some hilarious jokes about racist dwarves.

 To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would recommend it to friends.

Check out the trailer here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

End of an Era

For a number of years, I've maintained my own website on the side.  Another developer and I purchased the domain and found a hosting company.  The idea was to have it for a possible side consulting business and a portfolio of sorts.  The other guy dropped out, but I took over the payments and the maintenance.  After thinking about it for a while, I've decided to shutter the site.

I think the portfolio idea was a good one at the time, but I have a feeling none of my prospective employers ever checked it out.  The site quickly became a playground for me.  I was bored one day and wrote my own blog software in a single afternoon.  I messed around with stylesheets as I learned CSS.  The last thing I did was add some of the things I learned in JQuery.  That was over a year ago.

My domain registration runs out in September and my hosting contract ends in early October.  Unless someone provides a compelling case as to why I should keep the site open, I plan to let both lapse.

I've backed up the database and copied all my files from the server.  I plan on going through some of the old blog posts (going back to 2004) and posting some of them here.

It was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories

In May, Rockstar Games released L.A. Noire* for Playstation3. The game itself is great (and may be a topic of an upcoming post). In conjunction with the release, Rockstar and Mulholland Books got a bunch of crime writers together and released a companion short story collection.

With short story collections by multiple authors, the results have been hit or miss. Generally, the ones I've picked up have been solid throughout. I hate to say it, but the L.A. Noire collection breaks that streak.

Don't get me wrong. There are some fantastic stories in this collection. My favorites are:

"See the Woman" by, Lawrence Block
"Hell of an Affair" by, Duane Swierczynski
"Postwar Boom" by, Andrew Vachss

Joe R. Lansdale's "Naked Angel" was pretty good, too. I liked how he used a couple characters from the game in his story (he was the only one of the authors to do so).

Francine Prose's "School for Murder" wasn't poorly written, but I called the ending on second page of the story.

Overall, not a bad collection, but not one I'd recommend either. I'm glad I downloaded it when the collection was free for one weekend.

* Don't get me started on the extra "e" at the end.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Song of the Week: Kashmir

I've been trying to think of how to follow last week's classical interlude.  With Led Zeppelin, of course!  I am a Leppelin fan, but I will admit there are times where I'm not in the mood to listen to them.  Sometimes it's a certain song (I can't tell you the last time I listened to "Stairway"), sometimes it's the band in general.  But there is one song I'll listen to no matter what mood I'm in.  If I find it on the radio, the station stays locked until the song is over, no matter at what point I join it.  And that song is "Kashmir".

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Gun by Ray Banks

Ray Banks is unputdownable. This short novella grabs you from the first page and never lets go. All ex-con Richie has to do is pick up a gun and deliver it to a man known as Goose. Of course, it's not quite as easy as all that. Banks has the uncanny ability to infuse each one of his characters with so much life in so few words.

Like a fresh pint of Guinness, "Gun" is bitter, black as hell, and goes down smooth.

I read this novella in one day

Friday, August 19, 2011

MST3K Friday: Girl in Gold Boots

"Come on! I just teleported here. That's impressive."
"Look at these hippies. Get a hair cut!"

Doesn't the girl at 7:33 look like Amy Winehouse?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Illustrated Batman

I was a bit of a comics nerd when I was younger, but I never read any Batman. I was more of a Marvel guy and I said before the only comic I really collected was X-Men. So when I came across one of those lists a while back about the Top Ten Batman comics, I decided that would be a good starting point to get into The Dark Knight.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Year One has the added bonus of being a huge source of inspiration for the Chris Nolan Batman movies. The story follows a young Bruce Wayne as he first puts on the Bat-mantle. Since he's just learning the ropes, Batman makes a slew of mistakes and is hunted by Gotham PD. In a trademark Miller move, he made Selina Kyle a prostitute before she becomes Catwoman.

Since this is a comic, I'll comment on the art. It didn't really do anything for me. It wasn't as over the top as Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and it wasn't as full of energy and awesome visuals as his Sin City.

The real hero of the story is Jim Gordon; the sole honest cop in a corrupt department. He is a truly fleshed out character, full of conflicts. The rest of the story is well known (now), and didn't leave me breathless.

The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Chris Nolan pulled elements from this story for The Dark Knight and rumors for his third Batman movie hint that he might pull some more from this book. There is a serial killer on the loose, and he's taking out members of Carmine "The Roman" Falcone's crew. Each month, a murder is committed on a holiday using the same type of weapon (a .22), leading the killer to be dubbed "The Holiday Killer". Batman, Gordon, and District Attorney Harvey Dent team up to take down Falcone and apprehend Holiday.

I liked Tim Sale's artwork much better. His Batman was full of menace and his villains are top-notch. The only complaints I have are his Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne are kind of generic, handsome, white guy-ish. I had a hard time telling them apart. Luckily, Bruce Wayne isn't in the story much.

Loeb was obviously influenced by The Godfather movie trilogy, but it helps the reader with a little shorthand to get pulled into the story quicker. I also enjoyed the relationship between Batman and Catwoman in this book.

If you remember the phrase "I believe in Harvey Dent" from TDK, this is where Nolan picked it up.

I believe in Batman.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Song of the Week: Danzon No 2

Earlier this summer, you couldn't turn on WQXR without hearing this song at least once a day. Not that I'm complaining. It's a nice, upbeat tune; not a bad way to start a day off. There were a couple times I sat in the parking lot of my office waiting for the end.

Here is Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Arturo Marquez's Danzon No. 2.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Other Man, by Hilary Davidson

I'm a little behind the times, but I just read "The Other Man" by Hilary Davidson over at Beat to a Pulp.

Ms. Davidson's short stories are some of the best on the web. I'm ashamed to admit that I still haven't read her debut novel, The Damage Done. That's something I have to rectify toot sweet.

Check out this killer opening line for "The Other Man":

I knew I was a dead man when the cop walked into my bar.
(read more)

MST3K Friday: Cave Dwellers

"How much Keeffe is in this movie anyway?" "Miles O'Keeffe!"
"They were too cheap to hire villains in this movie."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Song of the Week: Don't Worry Baby

A little different version than the standard Beach Boys one. Here's Billy Joel singing "Don't Worry Baby" at a tribute to Brian Wilson.

Friday, August 5, 2011

MST3K Friday: The Wild, Wild World of Batwoman

This is an early Mike episode from Season 5. It's also one I have on DVD. I like the short on Cheating.

"In front of you is your pal Mary, with her head chock full of the answers you needed." "Split it open now!"
"This contract arrived for you from a Mr. Eelzebub."

"Angels, you're going undercover with Adam West."
"That's 40 pounds of butt in 30 pound butt capacity pants."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kenny Wayne Shepherd

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is an American blues guitarist from Shreveport, Louisiana. He first burst onto the scene in 1995 (at the age of 18) with the album Ledbetter Heights (favorite tracks "Deja Voodoo" and "Shame, Shame, Shame"). At this point Kenny was hailed as the next Stevie Ray Vaughan, the next Eric Clapton, the next Hendrix.

Between Heights and 1997's Trouble Is..., Kenny switched lead singers. No disrespect to Corey Stirling, but Noah Hunt's vocals are a perfect match to Kenny's music. Trouble Is... quickly went platinum with radio friendly hits like "Blue on Black" and "Somehow, Somewhere, Someway". I don't think this was released as a single, but I always liked "I Found Love".

His career seemed to be on a roll with another release in 1999: the album Live On (which also went platinum). Then there was a long break before the disappointing album The Place You're In (in 2004). The blues was replaced with generic early 2000's rock and Noah only sang two songs, the rest were sung by Kenny himself. (Of course, the two Noah tracks are my favorites: "Burdens" and "Believe").

Now, almost 7 years later, the Kenny Wayne Shepherd band has released a new album called How I Go. From what I've heard so far, it seems like Kenny has returned to the blues. I hope to get the album in the next couple days, so maybe I'll post my thoughts after I give it a listen.

In the meantime, check out the lead single called "Never Looking Back".

Monday, August 1, 2011

Song of the Week: I've Got You Under My Skin

Francis Albert Sinatra, the pride of Hoboken New Jersey. Nobody could swing like he could. Two of my friends got married and who better to celebrate with than Old Blue Eyes himself?

First up is a typical Sinatra love song:

This second song is one I was introduced to recently. It's called "Always" and it captures an abiding kind of love that makes you promise to be with someone even when times aren't great, rather than the mad, intoxicating love Sinatra always sings about. A fitting song for wedding vows, I think.