Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Fearless Predictions 2009

Here's a baker's dozen of predictions for the upcoming year:

1) Evgeni Malkin will win the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading scorer. He and Sidney Crosby will lead the Penguins to another Stanley Cup berth vs Detroit.

2) San Jose will again be the second best team in the Western Conference, but will remain fruitless in playoff hockey.

3) Two of the three big money free agent signings by the New York Yankees will be complete busts. The other will have an average season.

4) The Boston Celtics will repeat as NBA Champions.

5) Brett Farve will retire only to return 5 months later. The media will generate thousands of stories about “will he or won’t he”, but the regular football fan just want him to make up his damn mind.

6) J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek will be a big hit, but will not manifest in a world-wide increase of Trekkies.

7) Legal trouble will continue around Watchmen delaying its release for several months. Fox and Warner Bros eventually come to an agreement, but only Watchmen fans go to see the movie. They clog the Internet with their reaction which range from “Worst. Movie. Ever.” to “Best. Movie. Ever.”, with the occasional “the comic was better” sprinkled in.

8) Despite being completely unsatisfied with the governor and state legislature’s performance, New Jersey voters will continue sending Democrats to Trenton as they have for the past 30+ years.

9) Caroline Kennedy will be appointed Senator from New York. Al Franken will narrowly win the recount over Norm Coleman prompting Franken to wander around the Senate halls saying, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, I’m still relevant.”

10) There will be record crowds clogging the streets of Washington, D.C. for MLK/Inauguration weekend, but still less than half the 4 million projected.

11) Despite failing in the 1970's and being thoroughly discredited by the economic expansion of the 1980's and 1990's, Keynesian economic policies will be enacted by governments across the world in response to the current economic crisis.

12) U2’s No Line on the Horizon will be the top selling album of the year. Billy Joel will continue his string of 16 straight years not releasing a rock album.

13) The successes of Sean Chervover, Ray Banks, Dave White, and other young writers will prove the PI genre is not dead. Still, there will be great weeping and gnashing of teeth saying that it is.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review: Brothers No More

It's been a while since I read this novel, so a lot of this is from my fuzzy memory. As I mentioned in my review of Saving the Queen, I approached this book with some trepidation because of William F. Buckley, Jr's penchant for long sentences and big words. Thankfully, this novel (his 11th) was extremely readable and very enjoyable.

Brothers No More starts out in World War II with best friends Danny O'Hara and Henry Chafee preparing for a nighttime assault on an enemy location. In a pulse-pounding opening chapter, Danny rises to the challenge of the occasion, but Henry suffers from a bout of cowardice. The following chapters detail their first meeting at Yale, the start of their friendship, and ultimately the fallout of their actions that fateful night. Instead of a long, drawn out narrative, each chapter is a snapshot in the lives of our characters - sometimes taking place decades apart. Instead of a gradual build, we get the broader picture of how one single act can define a man's life.

The book is mainly a character study of the two men. Buckley created two unique characters that the reader gets emotionally invested in throughout the course of the novel. It was a very quick read too (if I remember correctly).

Recommended for admirers of WFB and fans of character driven novels.

Andrew Ferguson's review here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

Merry Christmas to all. And happy middle of Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Book Review: Saving the Queen

I finished Saving the Queen over the weekend. It is the first novel in William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Blackford Oakes series and also his first novel period. I’d previously read Buckley’s Brothers No More (which I may capsule review later), and heard many great things about his Oakes series. After his death, National Review has gone through Buckley’s private stash and made available some of the early Oakes novels for purchase via their website (as I mentioned here).

American Intelligence figures discovered a leak in their top secret hydrogen bomb program. They ascertain the Soviets have turned someone high up in the British government – possibly even from the Queen’s inner circle. Recent Yale graduate Blackford Oakes is recruited to infiltrate the upper echelons of British society and stop the leak.

Set in 1952, the novel is a good example of a Cold War thriller. There are long sections detailing Oakes’s training and even the spy craft employed by the double-agent and his NKVD handlers. There is also lots of commentary (as can be expected) on policy, society, and the American perspective on the British monarchy.

Stylistically, the novel can occasionally be hard to approach. I approached reading Brothers No More with some trepidation based on Buckley’s reputation as a stellar grammarian. However, I was shocked as to how readable it was. Brothers was Buckley’s 11th novel, and you could tell he learned a lot about writing fiction since the beginning. Saving the Queen was Buckley’s first and was full of things that were correct only because they were grammatical. There were long sentences with many commas separating sub-clauses. Lots of narrative summary with very little dialogue. And on a number of occasions a chapter would start from one character’s perspective and end with a completely different character.

I won’t fault Buckley or his editors on some of the aforementioned foibles. After all, I would have been extremely nervous myself if I had to suggest any edits to a Buckley manuscript.

After finishing Saving the Queen, I immediately started to read the second Oakes novel, Stained Glass. There are still some of the character shift issues, but the sentences flow a lot smoother and the pace is greatly improved. I think some of the pacing has to do with the chapters being significantly shorter. In about a day and a half, I’m already 100+ pages into Stained Glass.

Despite some of the style flaws, I’d still recommend Saving the Queen. Buckley created a compelling hero in Blackford Oakes and it is an engaging Cold War thriller.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cinematic Titanic: Doomsday Machine

As a big MST3K fan, I’ve decided to check out Joel’s Cinematic Titanic. It’s basically the next iteration of MST3K. The original cast (Joel Hodgson, Trace Beaulieu, and J. Elvis Weinstein) plus Mary Jo Pehl and TV’s Frank mercilessly rip cheesy movies. Instead of puppet silhouettes, you get full body silhouettes of all six cast members. There are no host segments, but they stop the movie at least twice during each episode and do an updated version.

I saw the first offering (The Oozing Skull) when it was originally released and wasn’t overwhelmed. Maybe it was just the mood I was in, but it seemed like a mid-level MST3K episode. The second installment (Doomsday Machine), however, is much better.

From the CT website:

American spies discover the Chinese have built a weapon capable of destroying planet Earth, a “doomsday machine” if you will, and that they plan to use it within a matter of days. Immediately, Project Astra, a manned US space mission to Venus, is taken over by the military and half of its all-male crew is replaced by women just hours before launch. The reason for this becomes apparent when, shortly after Astra leaves Earth’s orbit, said planet is completely destroyed (in a cataclysm of stock footage).

Doomsday Machine itself is a much more riffable movie. The plot is murky (even the characters don’t know what’s going on), the special effects are nothing more than stock footage, and the sets are cheesy. The interior of their spaceship is huge and their control chairs are just recliners with seatbelts. The “filmmakers” obviously couldn’t decide what they wanted to have the ship look like and had at least 3 vastly different models for the exterior. And the last 15 minutes of the movie are shot with different actors…who didn’t even try to disguise their voices!

Not only was the movie an easier target, the riffs from the crew were a lot sharper. I can’t count the number of times I actually laughed out loud at this one (“You’re ruining the Apocalypse for everyone!”).

All MST-ies should check out Cinematic Titanic. Doomsday Machine is great and I can’t wait to watch the follow ups: The Wasp Woman and Legacy of Blood.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Life (2007)

I'm surprised I haven't mentioned the show Life on this blog yet. It - and Chuck - were my favorite new shows of last year's TV season.

For those of you unfamiliar with the premise, Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) was a LAPD cop sentenced to life in prison for killing his business partner and his partner's wife. After 15 years behind bars, Crews gets exonerated, gets reinstated on the force, and gets a multimillion dollar settlement from the city. Armed with a new Zen attitude and a new partner, Crews splits his time between solving crimes and tracking down those who framed him for murder.

Charlie's Zen attitude provides a lot of humor to the show as well as a unique spin on the classic brilliant detective role. His partner Danni Reese (Sarah Shahi) is assigned to him as they are both outcasts (he's an ex-con and she's a recovering alcoholic). She eventually learns to trust him and accept his unique methods.

The show has changed a bit in the second season (more acceptance for the team, a new captain), but it remains one of the better shows on TV. There is an overarching mythology to the show (Crews's search for the conspirators), but it is not so overwhelming as to turn off new viewers.

Unfortunately, it is now on break until February, but I highly recommend you check it out.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hidden Treasures: The Stein Brothers

A couple months ago, I was listening to WBGO on my way to work (as I normally do) and heard a great new tune. The song Gary Walker played was "Jammin' at the JCT" from The Stein Brothers Quintet's debut album Quixotic. When I got home that night, I listened to the track samples on iTunes and made the purchase right away. It's not very often that I do that.

The band is made up of brothers Alex and Asher Stein (both in their 20's) on tenor and alto sax (respectively), Mferghu on piano, Doug Largent on bass, and Joe Blaxx on drums. All five young men from New Jersey and the various Burroughs of New York.

The Stein Brothers have the sound you don't hear much in jazz these days. The whole album is reminiscent of the early bebop recordings of Diz and Bird. Just about every track on the album is great. "And So I Love You", "Jammin' at the JCT", "Mr. O.C.", and "This Time the Dreams on Me" are among my favorites. I also love Mferghu's solo in "Midlife Crisis" (since I'm a big piano guy).

That's not to say the album is without flaws. It's not a big deal, but sometimes they follow the bebop formula too closely. There were a couple tracks in the second half of the album where I knew exactly when the piano solo would end and the drum solo would immediately follow it. It's not a big deal, but just something I noticed. The other thing I didn't quite care for were the two ballads. They were technically proficient and had beautiful solos by both Steins, but just didn't grab me.

I'm definitely going to keep an ear out for their future recordings and try to catch them live. They still seem to be touring mostly in the New York area, so there’s a good chance I’ll get to see them soon.

Some Reviews:
All About Jazz
The Star (they also quibble about the arrangement of some tunes)
Jazz Review

I can’t find any YouTube clips of songs off the album, but here they are in action in February at The Bayview Room in St. Petersburg, FL.

And in Jersey City from August 9, 2007.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Brubeck's Birthday

Today is the 88th birthday of jazz legend Dave Brubeck. The first jazz record I bought was his Time Out, and I've been a huge fan ever since. I had the chance to see him live last year and he can still put on an amazing show. I was hoping to see him again when he was at Blue Note last weekend, but couldn't. He's still touring, still receiving awards, and still recording albums.

Here are a couple YouTube selections of my favorite Brubeck tunes.

Blue Rondo a la Turk:

(There's another version, but the author disabled embedding. Check it out here.)

Dziekuje (Thank You):

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Classic Christmas Commercials

One of the fun things about this time of year is the new Christmas/holiday commercials that pop up on TV. For every annoying one (who buys a Lexus for their significant other?), there are always a couple gems.

DMD has a list of his top 5 Holiday Commercials. It's hard to argue with his choices. I've seen the last 2 already this year on TV.

I'm still trying to find one from the Pennsylvania Lottery from a couple years back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Shield Wrap Up

After Tuesday's thrilling finale, there were a lot of Shawn Ryan interviews posted around the 'net. I've collected some of my favorites. A couple of these overlap topics, but that is to be expected. Probably the most in-depth of them is this one with The Star Ledger's Alan Sepinwall. I like the analogy Ryan brought up about Vic Mackey being a shark:

Do you view what happens to Vic as a fate worse than death?

As a shark and a survivor, no, I think as long as a shark's alive it can find some place to swim to, I think this is a bad situation for him, and I don't think he's gonna enjoy those three years. The tank's very tiny at the moment.

My second favorite is this one from TVGuide. He not only talks about the finale, but gives insight into some of the decision process, some other possible endings to The Shield, and what's next for him as a writer.

He also touches on the "Mackey as shark" theme in Ausiello's interview.

Yet another one.

As intrigued as I am by the idea of a Shield movie, I'm not eager for one. All the major storylines of the show have been wrapped up and the characters given proper send-offs. After digesting it for a couple days, I still think the ending was perfect. That's not to say I won't be in line if there ever is a theatrical installment of The Shield.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shield: Family Meeting

While other shows would’ve gone for a slam-bang ending, Shawn Ryan and The Shield’s writers went in the opposite direction. We got a subdued ending, but one that was satisfying and was consistent with all the seasons that had gone before.
Shane, Mara, and Jackson have returned home. Shane says it’s only temporary, but Mara (still whining from her dislocated shoulder) says she can’t handle life on the run. Shane approaches Billings and says he’ll turn himself in to Claudette if they guarantee no jail time for Mara.

Lloyd Dressler comes to The Barn to report his mother is missing. He’s planned his story and planted evidence implicating Dutch in the disappearance and possible murder of his mother. Nobody’s buying it, so Dutch, Billings, and Claudette each have a crack at breaking Lloyd. Lloyd played it like Kleavon (as I figured), but Dutch and crew were too smart to fall for it.

Vic and Ronnie arrive at the meeting between The Cartel and the black gangs. Beltran doesn’t show, but ICE swoops in and arrests the men they have. Vic is pissed, but is ordered to go home and come back tomorrow at 9am. Of course, Vic goes rogue and cashes in every favor he has left to take down Beltran tonight.
Shane calls up his lawyer, but says Claudette isn’t going for the deal. Since Vic has total immunity, Shane has nothing that she wants. Shane doesn’t know this, so he calls up Vic and threatens to spill the whole thing unless he helps Shane get out of town. Vic tells him about the immunity deal and Shane loses it. Shane tells Vic his family has been working with the cops and that he’ll never see him again. After the initial shock/rage, Vic says at least he’s not going to jail. He then says while Shane and Mara are rotting away in prison, he’ll visit their kids every year on their birthdays and tell them all the rotten things their parents did.

At this point, Shane loses it. He gets high on cocaine (again) and returns home. A neighbor sees him and dials 911. Claudette, Dutch, Julian, Danni, and the rest of the Barn are greeted by a gunshot as they storm Shane’s house. They discover Mara and Jackson dead in the bedroom (killed by Shane) and Shane in the bathroom; dead from a single gunshot wound to the head.

Ronnie and Vic storm Beltran’s HQ in true cowboy style, but are backed up just in the nick of time by ICE. Aceveda, tipped off by Vic, shows up with TV cameras to take credit for the bust and solidify his pending win in the mayor’s race. Ronnie and Vic are informed by a uni that Claudette wants to see him at The Barn. Ronnie gets there first, and when Vic shows up he sees Ronnie crying in the clubhouse. He tells Vic that Shane is dead, and they’re now free. They don’t have to worry about going to jail or even plan their escape any more.

Since she’s not able to take Vic down, Claudette plans to make life as painful as she can for him. She shows him crime scene photos from Shane’s house and reads him Shane’s suicide note. The note lays the blame on both of them. Vic made Shane more evil, but Shane made Vic more evil too. Claudette leaves him alone in the interrogation room, where Vic starts smashing things into pieces. As he gets ready to leave, Claudette sends Dutch into the clubhouse to arrest Ronnie while a horrified Vic looks on. They tell Ronnie that Vic told ICE everything in return for full immunity for himself, but not for Ronnie. As he’s dragged away, Ronnie curses Vic out saying that they could’ve run together.

Vic shows up at ICE the next day, where Olivia tells him he’ll be an analyst riding a desk for the next three years. Vic says that’s not what he signed up for, but Olivia tells him to check the immunity agreement he signed. He’s no longer allowed to carry a firearm and has to wear a suit every day. We next see Vic being shown around a drab office wearing an ill-fitting suit. In a final sequence with no dialogue or sound track (save the buzz of fluorescent lights), Vic starts to decorate his desk. He gently places pictures of people he’ll never see again next to his computer. His three kids. His wife. His departed friend Lem. The lights and air turn off, leaving Vic alone in the dark on the verge of tears.

To wrap up:

Aceveda – next mayor of Los Angeles

Dutch – finally stops a serial killer before he starts

Claudette – couldn’t put away Vic, but takes away everything he held dear. Slowly dying of Lupus.

Ronnie – in prison for the rest of his natural life.

Shane – committed suicide. After the phone call to Vic, I had a feeling he’d eat his gun and take his family with him.

Vic – free from prosecution from all his misdeeds, but utterly defeated. His family in witness protection, never to be seen again. Two of his Strike Team comrades dead; the third in prison. Off the streets and behind a desk.

Julian, Danni, Tina, and the rest of crew – continuing to protect and serve.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

End of The Shield

Tonight brings the last episode of The Shield. I've read a couple good interviews with creator Shawn Ryan that I thought I'd share.

NJ.com: Sepinwall on TV.
Onion A.V. Club: Shawn Ryan.

I'll update with more if I find any other good ones.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bond Through the Ages

I stumbled across an interesting post over at Sunset Gun about Bond Through the Ages. Kim Morgan notes that while Bond is indeed timeless, the movies are also very much a product of their specific eras. She provides a very convincing argument that every Bond fan should check out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Shield: Possible Kill Screen

We are truly witnessing the end of an era. Next week brings the final chapter of Shawn Ryan's epic The Shield. This week's episode sets up what should be a hell of a finale.

Not getting the cash from Corinne last week, Shane and Mara plan to rob patrons of an illegal gambling operation. Unfortunately, their marks recognize Shane as a cop and have a plan of their own. After forcing Shane to do two lines of coke (cut with speed), they confront Shane. Mara, waiting in the car, sees signs of a struggle and rushes in with Shane’s gun. She kills an unarmed woman and shoots one of Shane’s attackers in the chest. The other attacker goes after Mara and falls on top of her, breaking her collarbone. The rest of the episode, she’s screaming in pain.
Claudette and Dutch go out to investigate the homicide and quickly discover that Shane and Mara are the perpetrators. The druggies provide a description of the car and Claudette puts out an APB.

To help his wife get through it (so they can escape during tomorrow’s presidential motorcade), Shane robs a drug dealer. Another classic one liner (“Looks like Walmart does have the best prices”) follows. Shane also goes to get food, but Julian and Tina spot Shane’s car. Julian enters the front of the store, so Shane runs out the back – right into Tina. Strung out on coke, desperate, and tired, we get a real sense that Shane might pull the trigger on Tina. Tina tries to convince Shane to turn himself in, but he simply runs back home to his ailing wife. Mara wants nothing more than to “go home”. It appears she convinces Shane to turn himself in.

Dutch becomes worried after receiving several calls (and hang-ups) from Rita. He goes to her house, but she won’t let him in. I have a feeling this story will explode next week. Are Rita and Lloyd a mother/son duo like some people are guessing? Or is it a Kleavon/sister angle where Lloyd now knows his mother suspects and her life is in danger?

Saving the best for last: Vic. It’s his show and it’s his week. He finds out about Shane and Mara’s little scheme earlier this episode and sees that Shane isn’t going to keep it together long enough for ICE to make a deal. He also helps Corinne get a car for Shane in case the ICE deal falls through. He convinces Beltran to move up the shipment date and ICE to expedite his deal. ICE says they can’t move much faster, but Vic goes to Aceveda and pushes his buttons. Pressure from their two guys inside force ICE into a corner.

Vic gets a call that his deal is ready, so he and Ronnie head to ICE – planning to leave Shane out in the wind. With full immunity, it doesn’t matter what Shane reveals. Only Vic’s deal is ready, so he balks at signing it and walks away.
Vic arrives at the park to give Corinne the car, but he spots cops. He warns Corinne that she’s being watched, so Claudette is forced to arrest her for appearances sake. His family threatened, Vic returns to ICE. Saying he’ll sign the deal if they can get his wife released. As part of his deal, Vic is forced to confess all his misdeeds.

In one of the most gripping scenes I’ve ever seen on television, Vic actually does. Olivia starts the digital recorder and Vic pauses. You can see the wheels turning inside his head. Is he really ready to admit to someone (or even himself) that he’s done a boatload of bad stuff? Where does he start? Does he really spill everything or just a few little things? After he takes a deep breath he says, “During a bust of a drug dealer named Two Time, I shot and killed Detective Terry Crowley.”
Olivia can’t believe he just confessed to killing a cop, and makes him confirm the statement. Vic then launches into everything we’ve watched unfold over the last 6+ seasons. The look on the faces of Olivia and her boss is not one of shock, but one of revulsion. They can hardly believe what kind of monster they just granted immunity to.

If there’s one thing about Vic Mackey, it’s that he’s loyal to his family: both biological and Strike Team. His confession obviously shows biological trumps Strike. To save himself and Corinne, he fully implicates Ronnie in countless crimes. There’s no way Ronnie will get any kind of deal now. So both the feds and LAPD have enough to put Ronnie away.

During his confession, Dutch and Claudette arrive. Claudette can’t believe that “the bastard” is getting full immunity and storms out. Dutch tries to be the voice of reason, but Claudette fires him on the spot.

At the beginning, Vic had a hard time telling anyone of his misdeeds. But as the confession goes on, Vic starts to become more and more sure of himself. The powerful scene ends with Vic leaving the room so he and Ronnie can take down Beltran and The Cartel.

Olivia says, "You're a sick, twisted man. Do you know what you've done to me?"

"Trust me," Vic says with a smile. "I've done worse.”

Fade Out.

See ya next week!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I go a chance to see the new Bond movie over the weekend. I liked it, but not as much as Casino Royale. I felt CR was a giant leap forward for Bond, but QoS is a slight step backward. My big problem with the recent Bond movies is that Bond is a spy....not an action hero. Casino Royale seemed to go back to basics a bit, but Quantum started to return to action-hero land. That's not to say it' isn't an improvement over the Dalton/Brosnan era Bonds.

I'll try to keep away from spoilers, but if you want to go into the movie fresh stop reading now.

What I Liked:
  • Still has the gritty, unpredictable style of Casino Royale. He takes a beating and comes out ahead, but his victory is never assured.
  • The opera scene.
  • The last scene with Mathis.
  • The relationship with him and M. Their dynamic is completely different from every other Bond/M relationship, but it works on so many levels.
  • The references to previous Bond movies (Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me, etc).
  • The final scene.
What I didn't like:
  • The phrenetic direction of the first two action sequences. Did the editors drink too much Red Bull? Or did they just stay up too late watching the Bourne series?
  • Less character development. Bond and the girl (I can't even remember her name) were pretty well fleshed out. Other than that....not so much. I love Jeffery Wright as Felix, but he wasn't given much to do. And who can tell me anything about the villain other than his name?
As I mentioned before, I don't like the new theme song. However, it works when you see it with the title sequence. I guess it's all about context.

Definitely worth another viewing.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

MST3K: Best Lines

One of my favorite TV shows of all time. Here's a bunch of classic riffs.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Shield: Petty Cash

Only two episodes left. It’s hard to believe the whole thing will be over. The writers are still ratcheting up the tension week by week.

This week, it’s all about Vic handing off the $100,000 that Shane asked for last week. To get the money, Vic arranges a meet between the gang bangers and Beltran’s Cartel. Acting as the go-between, Vic ends up getting $200,000 from them: 100 for him and 100 for The Cartel. Vic is busy weaseling his way in with Beltran and ICE, so he has Ronnie deliver the cash to Corinne. Unfortunately for Ronnie, Claudette, Dutch, and Julian were watching the handoff. They now have Ronnie on tape aiding a fugitive. Claudette really wants Vic, so she tells her crew to maintain cover and let Ronnie walk.

Since Claudette tipped her hand last week, Mara and Shane know the meet was going to be watched. Shane doesn’t show. Instead, he and Mara first try to knock over a stash house (right after a police raid) then they rob Mara’s real estate office – in front of the cleaning crew. After getting only 50 cents on the dollar for the stolen checks, Shane and Mara realize that they have no friends left in the world besides each other. For at least the third episode in a row, the credits roll after seeing the two of them together.

Julian gets some work of his own this week. He and Ronnie are assigned to look into the shooting of a promising football player. Julian shows some good detective instincts in working the angles and sniffing out the real reason for the player’s death. Claudette also enlists him to help in her Vic Mackey sting.

Ronnie continues to be the voice of reason. After hearing Vic’s crazy plan to get cash for Shane, he tries to talk him out of it. He sees the scheme has more of a chance to go sideways than to actually work out. Ronnie’s still one of the few characters who can see the whole picture. Vic is scrambling without his badge and can’t see some obvious setups coming his way. Claudette caught a whiff of Vic and now has blinders on to anything else. Too bad for Ronnie that he’s the only former Strike Team member that is on tape doing something illegal.

The writers are paying clever homage to some of the early stories (Cletus Van Damme and Van Bro) and their inspiration (Rampart Division) while keeping focused on the endgame. As much as I don’t want the show to end, I can’t wait to see how everything plays out.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

RIP: Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton, one of my favorite authors, has died at age 66. I discovered him shortly before the Jurassic Park movie came out. Wanting to read the book before the movie, I picked up a copy in early June and tore through it in three days. For a number of years after that, I followed the same ritual. Starting the first Wednesday in June, I opened the book and always finished in on Friday. After JP, I read almost all of his other works and still have copies of The Lost World and Sphere on my shelf.

One of the great things about Crichton is how he can be appreciated on many levels. There's the popcorn level of people being chased by dinosaurs and the deeper level of the message Crichton conveys. Early in his career the message was more subtle, but it became bolder in his later work.

I have the urge to open up one of his books right now.


The Shield: Party Line

Last night's episode was full of twists and turns that send us hurtling toward the finale. Shane and Mara are comfortably hiding out in a vacant house. Vic and Ronnie are searching for leads. Early on in the episode, Ronnie confesses to Vic that he's worried about Shane getting captured by another cop. All he has to do is open his mouth and Vic and Ronnie will be sent to prison for life. He suggests they run, but Vic convinces him to wait a couple more days while he tries to make a deal with ICE.

We also see Claudette and Aceveda reverting to form tonight. After a call from Corinne, Claudette and Dutch go to the hospital where Corinne tells them about the threats from Shane and Mara. Claudette seizes on this as a way to finally nab Vic and bring in Shane as a bonus. Vic and Aceveda have a confrontation about who is more valuable to ICE. Aceveda, in an effort to advance his career, berates Pezula in front of Beltran, the Mexican Cartel handler. Aceveda now thinks he's top dog and got one over on Vic as a bonus, but Vic has a different idea. After Pezula was emasculated in front of Beltran, Vic starts to position himself as Pezula's replacement. His first assignment is to whack Pezula.

Another one of Vic’s angles to get rid of Shane backfires and Shane once again threatens Vic and his family. They set up a meet for the next episode, but Claudette and Dutch are listening in to the conversation.

I don’t think it was just me, but the scenes Shane and Mara’s happy little life in the vacant house made my stomach turn – and it wasn’t just because we saw Shane’s bare bottom. Shane is such a slimy and despicable character that we are repulsed by the thought of him having a happy ending. True, Vic is no angel, but most fans are on his side. I have some ideas percolating as to why we root for Vic and not Shane, but that’s for another day.

Three episodes left.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Uncommon Knowledge

I came across the Uncommon Knowledge series from the Hoover Institution a while back and enjoyed Peter Robinson's interview with Christopher Buckley. This week's installments are with Dr. Thomas Sowell talking about the two different underlying visions that shape all Western political thought: the constrained vision and the unconstrained vision.

Check out part 1 where Dr. Sowell gives his definition of both visions:

The first half of part 5 is another good discussion of the visions in practice and the second half is Sowell's critique of Barack Obama.

If you're interested, check out the other parts at the links below:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Philidelphia Phillies - World Series Champs

Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies for becoming the 2008 World Champions. A lot of people wrote the Phillies off (including one jagoff on ESPN who said the Rays would sweep simply because "the AL is better than the NL"), but fans believed. Philadelphia has been a good team for a number of years. They have a chance at three straight MVP winners in Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, and (possibly) Chase Utley. They have one of the best young pitchers in the league in Cole Hamels. The team isn't packed with superstars, but everyone plays hard and has good baseball smarts.

I'm not a Phillies fan, but I've been watching the team for most of the last decade. It's been a great run the past couple of years and they have the talent to be around the top of the league for years to come.

Again - Congratulations Phillies. You've earned it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Shield: Moving Day

Vic without a badge is a scary thing. He doesn't have the juice he used to, but can still get results by being a brutal so-and-so. Shane and Mara are on the run; swapping cars and laying low until the weekend when the president will be in town. Since their fight had to be sped up after Shane's part in Ronnie's attempted murder was uncovered, Mara forgets Jackson's medicine. Having a sick kid makes them easier for Vic to track.

Meanwhile, Claudette ties Ronnie to his desk, disbands the Strike Team, and puts Julian back on the street with Tina. She wants to know why Shane tried to kill Ronnie, but Ronnie stonewalls her. After a few more threats, Ronnie spills (some of) the beans. He tells Claudette that Shane was involved with the Armenians (true). That he stole a grenade from a raid and killed Lem (true). Ronnie and Vic found out about it, but didn't have evidence to prove it in court (true). He still covers for Vic and himself, but gives Claudette enough to keep him in action without dragging the whole sordid tale out into the open.

On the other fronts, Aceveda is berated by Pezuela in front of his Mexican cartel handler (guest star Francesco Quinn, son of Anthony). As ICE's go-to guy now that Vic is out of the picture, Aceveda is emboldened in a meeting with Olivia and demands credit for any bust and that ICE doesn't treat his mayoral campaign as a chip in their game. Dutch deals with the mother of the kid he suspects is a serial killer and Billings gets a visit from his ex-wife.

Not as high octane as last week, but another solid episode propelling the plot forward to its conclusion ion 4 weeks. Vic is back in "kill everyone" mode and Ronnie is the voice of reason for wanting to spare Shane and Mara's kids. It appears Corinne is now on the side of wanting to bring her husband to justice for all his misdeeds. Shane appears to have a plan, but you can't help but feel it's going to backfire in a violent way.

Next week can't some soon enough.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Shield: Parricide

Definition of parricide: the killing of either or both parents. Perfect title for this episode.

We start out with Shane and Mara practicing an alibi and then switch to Ronnie coming home from a date. As he opens the door, a man in a ski mask (presumably Two Man) comes out firing but missies Ronnie. We then switch to Shane waiting in the shadows for Vic to come home. Just before Vic opens his front door, his phone rings. Ronnie tells him about the shooting and we’re off.

Ronnie is assigned to desk duty (mandatory after an attempt on a cop’s life), Vic has to convince a priest to recommend his parish be closed (so Pezula can get a liquor license in the area), and Shane and Julian are tasked with tracking down Two Man. They go to Two Man’s cousin’s house but come up empty. After returning to The Barn, they find that a rookie grabbed Two Man during a routine traffic stop. Dutch and Billings get tasked with the interrogation, but don’t have anything to go on besides an eyewitness who saw a partial plate and Two Man’s beef with Ronnie.
Dutch and Billings tell Two Man they have the gun, but Two Man calls their bluff. Claudette is about to give Vic and Shane a crack at the interrogation, but Vic has a brilliant idea. He has Dutch pretend two of Two Man’s prostitutes fingered him in Ronnie’s attempted murder. Despite signals from Shane not to buy it (Ronnie sees the signals), Two Man starts spilling the whole thing. In a brilliantly edited sequence, Two Man’s confession is interspersed with shots of Shane leaving The Barn. This time, it feels like it’s for good. After Two Man drops Shane’s name, Vic, Ronnie, and Claudette look around, but can’t find Shane.

We jump to Corinne’s house where Mara shows up. She launches into everything saying Vic killed Terry, the Strike Team pulled off the Money Train heist, and Vic tried to kill Shane. If she doesn’t help Shane and Mara get away, they’re going to tell everybody the truth about everything. Corinne goes to The Barn to confront Vic. She asks him one last time if what Mara said was true and Vic responds "I've done things that I thought I could justify at the time, but are pretty hard to defend right now." Corinne says she’ll help Vic catch Shane then she’s taking the kids and leaving forever. Vic accepts the deal.

Knowing Claudette isn’t going to let him get involved with hunting Shane, Vic walks into her office and turns in his badge. He walks out of The Barn with a new mission, but without a job.

The rest of The Barn seems to be on the cusp of finding out all the crooked stuff the Strike Team was involved with. Shane is on the run with nobody on his side save Mara. Vic has given up everything he fought for for seven years: his family and his badge. A game changing episode if ever there was one.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Shield: Bitches Brew

After tensions came to a boil last week, this week’s episode had more of a simmer feel. The main storyline was a hooker (Farrah) from season three comic to Vic for help after a fellow streetwalker was killed. Vic is reluctant to help since Farrah caused all sorts of trouble last time she crossed Vic’s path. Nevertheless he does. The Strike Team track down both her pimp and the pimp’s muscle. You can see in the raids Shane is holding back, not trusting Vic and Ronnie after they tried to kill him. Some of the situations they got in probably made Shane feel it was a set up. Just like how he and Vic set up Terry in the pilot.

In a raid on the pimp’s drug lab, Julian shoots and kills the pimp, seemingly ending the case. However, another prostitute comes to Shane (and Shane only) to tell him it was actually the muscle (Twoman) who killed Farrah’s friend. Shane goes to Twoman’s place, tells him he knows who killed the prostitute, but offers to let him off the hook if Twoman kills someone. Shane doesn’t actually come out and say who he wants killed, but instead says “How’s your jaw?” – a reference to Ronnie beating up Twoman earlier in the ep.

The B story seemed like mostly filler. I could tell who the crook was when he first showed up. That part of the plot was pretty predictable. The crime mostly served as a way to get Dutch and Claudette acting like an old married couple again. Dutch has become increasingly worried about Claudette’s health and has taken several actions this season to protect Claudette. I’m starting to wonder how their storyline will end.

The blackmail box is still pretty much in play. Aceveda and Vic turn it over to ICE. One of the agents (didn’t really catch his name) doesn’t like that they hung onto it for a while before turning it over, so he uses his pull to move Vic’s review board hearing up. Vic goes and the outcome is not good: he now as 10 days left as a cop. Vic tips Pezuela off about an upcoming raid on his construction site. Pezuela doesn’t seem to take the advice and hands Vic an envelope full of money: his severance package. However, Pezuela did take the advice to heart and ICE’s raid comes up empty. Vic then hatches a plan to give Pezula back the box so ICE can get deeper into the Cartel’s business.

We’re at the halfway point of the season and the writers keep adding more questions to the mix. How’s Shane’s hit on Ronnie going to go? What’s going to happen between Dutch and Claudette? It looks like Aceveda pulled a couple files from the blackmail box before turning it over to ICE. Are they to protect people or does he plan on blackmailing his way into the mayor’s office?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Shield: Animal Control

Another amazingly great episode this season. Vic comes up with a plan to deal with Pezuela, the Armenians, and Shane all at the same time. He and Ronnie spend the episode putting it all together only to have it end up falling apart. Vic’s idea is to set up a “buy” for the blackmail box. He’s going to have two Mexican bangers show up and kill both the Armenians and Shane. At one point, Ronnie gets his hands on Shane’s gun and makes sure it will jam during the gunfight, ensuring that there’s no way Shane can survive. As time gets closer, Vic gets cold feet and starts to find ways to rescue Shane. Ronnie, showing a cold-bloodedness this season, refuses to warn Shane or help Vic stop the attack. However, right before the attack, Shane steps out of the building. He sees the Mexicans show up and take out the Armenians. He draws his weapon, but it jams…exactly how Ronnie planned it. Shane now knows his buddies set him up to die.

Former Strike Team member Tavon Garris (Brian J. White) shows up at The Barn asking for Shane’s help on a case he and Vic worked on pre-Strike Team. He has recovered from Shane’s vicious beating and the car crash in season three and is now working in the Hollywood precinct. Shane feels uneasy working with Tavon because of their racially charged altercation, but can get through it because Tavon doesn’t seem to remember much of what happened. After they put the bad guy away, Tavon confronts Shane in the parking lot. It turns out he remembers the night completely. He knows what Shane did and said. He knows Mara hit him in the back of the head with an iron. He knows that he didn’t hit Mara and Lem lied to him about it. He verbally attacks Shane saying he always has someone around to back him up or do his dirty work for him. Powerful scene especially now that we see Shane will have zero backup for the rest of the season.

Claudette is back in the detective mix this week as Billing opts out of a case with Dutch. Responding to an alarm, Tina and an unnamed uni stumble across a naked man covered in someone else’s blood. He claims to be a sleepwalker and can’t remember hurting anyone. Dutch and Claudette uncover some incidents in the man’s past that lead them to believe he’s faking sleepwalking as an alibi. They find a dead girl in a dumpster a mile away and think it’s the girl Naked Guy hurt. Dutch and Claudette try hard to break the guy, but can’t seem to crack him. Later in the episode, they find a young woman whose blood was on Naked Guy. Turns out she slipped, busted her head open on a fire hydrant, and Naked Guy tried to help her out. Claudette goes up to the interrogation room to tell Naked Guy he’s free to go, but finds him dead. Wracked with guilt over possibly killing the dumpster girl, he committed suicide. Claudette is stunned and Dutch is overcome with guilt. He confesses to Billings that he was a better detective with Claudette as a partner and feels he’s slipping (first the teen serial killer, now this).

The characters in The Shield once again feel like they’re playing a high-stakes game of Jenga. They keep building a rickety tower of lies and betrayal that always seems like it’s about to collapse. The Strike Team storyline felt like Shield of old. Shane realizes his buddies are lying to him and want him dead. He took the $100k that was supposed to be used to buy back the blackmail box and is keeping it for himself. Is he going to take it and Mara and start a new life? Or, is he going to stash it and try to get revenge on his former friends?

The scene in the car with Vic, Ronnie, and Julian was one of the tensest in the history of the show. Vic and Ronnie are speaking almost in code while Julian drives. Vic keeps dropping hints hoping Ronnie will pick up on them and direct Julian to where Shane is. Ronnie knows was Vic is doing but doesn’t take the bait. Vic is emotional and feels like everything is falling apart, but Ronnie is cold and ruthless. Great acting by those two.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Soapbox: Humor and Politics

A dark cloud is descending across our great nation. I’m not talking about the economic slowdown or the possibility of an Obama/McCain presidency (take your pick). What I’m talking about is the death of humor. When did we as a nation become so serious? When did we stop being able to laugh at ourselves?
Is it another divide between right and left? Is it the fact that for the past 8 years political humor has become nothing but a series of “Bush is dumb” jokes?

Since this is just me opining, here’s some anecdotal evidence.*
Example 1:
Recently, I posted some pictures on this blog and here are the reactions I got:
Photobucket Democrats liked it because it was a funny picture of a fat old white guy sleeping. And everybody knows Republicans are all fat old white guys.

Republicans liked it because it was a funny picture of a fat old white guy sleeping. Plus, it captured perfectly the (pre-Palin) lack of enthusiasm in the Republican base about McCain as their nominee.

Republicans liked it because it plays into the stereotype of liberals wanting to raise taxes on everything. They also appreciated the wordplay on Obama’s campaign slogans of “hope” and “change”.
Democrats……pointed me to campaign websites that explain Obama’s tax proposals.
Example 2:
I as at a comedy club about a month ago. The comedian told a stock “Bush is dumb” joke. Everyone laughed. He followed it up with a decent Obama joke. Crickets. More Texas/Bush jokes. More laughs. A Hilary joke. More crickets.

Example 3:
After Palin’s nomination, Democrats pounded away at the fact Alaska is one of the least populous states in the nation. One of the GOP candidates (I forget which one) jokes that Palin got more votes for governor than Biden did in the primaries. Democrats and “fact checkers” in the main stream media pounced on the joke and produced numbers that show in number of votes tallied that Biden got more votes than Palin. What they didn’t recognize was that it was a joke used to deflect criticism of Alaska’s size and draw attention to Palin’s popularity and Biden’s relative unpopularity.

Granted, these are not the funniest jokes in the world. But, do we really need to “fact check” jokes? Have we forgotten how to recognize a joke?

Apparently, I’m not the only one who notices the lack of real humor in political discourse. When I first started thinking of this post, I came across this Forbes article by Peter Robinson about the lack of humor from the Obama campaign.

What do you think? Have we lost the ability to laugh at ourselves?

* These anecdotes point more toward Democrats’ loss of humor probably because I live on the east coast and are surrounded by them all the time so I get to see it in action.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

What Just Happened?

A powerful new ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Shield: Game Face

Vic and crew are dealing with the fallout that their new ICE contact is in Pezuela's blackmail box. At the same time, Agent Murray (the ICE contact) brings the guys a case. The daughter of one of the drug lords she's trying to get close to has been kidnapped. The gang have to rescue her without letting on they're cops.

Kleavon Gardner, a serial killer Dutch and Claudette arrested last season, is back and is acting as his own attorney. He wants to take a deposition from Claudette and tries to bring out the fact that she has Lupus. This forces the DA to make a deal and take the death penalty off the table.

Dutch is back on serial killer hunt again with the teenage boy from last week. He still feels the kid has the makings of a serial killer, so he brings in a consultant. The consultant isn't sure the kid is a killer, but he feels something is definitely off. Dutch then turns to Kleavon who says the kid is a killer. Is Kleavon telling the truth? Or is he just telling Dutch what he wants to hear?

Shane has his heart-to-heart with Ronnie and tells him they can end the Armenian threat if Vic just gives up the blackmail box. Ronnie then goes to Vic. Instead of playing Vic, he comes straight at him saying it was Shane's idea, but it makes sense. Vic, ever trusting of Ronnie, tells him that he doesn't have the box anymore. Aceveda took it away.

Another great episode this season. It didn't focus much on the overriding arc, but it didn't feel like a one-off distraction like week 2.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Classic Leading Man Test

(Hat tip Gerald)

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.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend Update

I'm saddened by the loss of Paul Newman on Saturday. He was a good actor and an old-school movie star. I watched Road to Perdition in his honor, and was finally able to get a copy of Harper. I'd wanted to see Harper for a while since it was based on a Ross Macdonald book and stars Newman and Lauren Bacall (one of my favorite actresses). However, I didn't get the chance to when I realized that The Simpsons and Family Guy had their season premieres last night.

I thought the Simpsons premiere was pretty good. It's still an example of the formula the show has fallen into recently (open with a silly plot that's forgotten after the first commercial break). I liked the homages to classic cop movies. I was able to spot Bullit and The French Connection. Anyone see any others? The appearence by Robert Forster as a bailbondsman was nice. Wonder if his name was Max Cherry? :)

Also glad to have The Unit back, but not with the new timeslot. Sundays at 10 seems like a death slot. Glad to see Benito Martinez (The Shield's David Aceveda) in a guest spot as the President Elect. He's not the first Shield actor to guest on Shawn Ryan's other show and probably not the last. I've spotted Rebecca Pidgeon (David Mamet's wife) as the Colonel's wife and Abby Brammell plays the wife of a Unit member. Eagle-eyed fans will remember her as the prostitute Aceveda frequented while working through his issues after his rape.

Looks like Harper will have to wait until the weekend as most other TV shows return this week. Definitley going to watch Chuck and the return of Life (both NBC) tonight. If you havent' seen Life, you should check it out tonight or in its new timeslot at 10PM on Friday.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

PNC Park

After reading (and commenting on) Dave's Hot Stove baseball post, it got me thinking. I put up pictures and notes from my first visit to Nationals Park, but haven't put up pictures from my last trip to PNC Park in Pittsburgh. I was there last weekend for the final homestand of the season. Pittsburgh won Saturday's game by a score of 6-4. Here are some pics:

I've been to about a dozen baseball stadiums, and Pittsburgh is my favorite.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Shield: Genocide

Another good one this week. Vic and Shane try to keep t he war between the Armenians and the Mexicans going, but they’d rather it be a cold war. Unfortunately, things are starting to get hot. We start off with the Mexicans torching an Armenian safe house – killing two of Rezian’s lieutenants. Rezian now wants a meeting with the Mexicans to explain that he doesn’t have their blackmail box, but Pezuela only wants to meet if the entire box is returned intact. Vic set up the meeting and doesn’t tell Pezuela that Rezian doesn’t really have the box. The meeting doesn’t go as Vic planned and now Pezuela thinks the Armenians really don’t have the box. Vic and Aceveda leak one file from the box, hoping to push Pezuela in the Armenians’ direction. The leak has dire consequences for one of Aceveda’s colleagues.

Meanwhile, Vic’s daughter, Cassidy, is causing all sorts of trouble. After ignoring her younger brother - who is autistic - while underage drinking, she starts fighting her parents and digging into all the rumors about her father’s misdeeds. At one point, she goes do Danny’s house to ask about Vic and to visit her half-brother (Danny and Vic had a kid, but kept it secret). First Dutch and now Danny. Vic has to be getting worried that his daughter thinks he is a monster. He’s tried the entire series to keep his family together, but now it seems he’s been slowing tearing it apart.

At The Barn, Dutch gets to put his profiler hat back on. What appears to be a simple act of self-defense during a robbery could actually be the beginning of a serial killer. Billings wanted to go for the simple answer, but he knows that when Dutch’s radar goes off, there’s usually something behind it. Dutch doesn’t get the teenage suspect to crack, so I’m betting we haven’t seen the last of this storyline.
Vic and Shane seem to be starting to play well together again. As we saw last week, Vic still holds a grudge for Shane’s murder of Lem, but he starts to share a little more about his Mexican/Armenian plan with Shane.

We got a couple more things to anticipate in the coming weeks. It looks like Shane is going to try to turn Ronnie against Vic. Of course, Ronnie can’t stand Shane, but he doesn’t like all the crap Vic is making him do in order to clean up old messes. So it would be interesting to watch. Could Ronnie start playing both of them against each other? Could he possibly bring down the Strike Team where Aceveda, Kavanaugh, and others failed in the past? We also find out that the new ICE agent Olivia Murray is in Pezuela’s blackmail box. We all know that Vic is somehow going to swing this into his favor.

My favorite quote of the week is from Shane: “Mmmmm…s’mores!” (you’ll get it if you watched it).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Mentalist

Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) used to use his advanced powers of perception pretending he was a psychic. Now, he uses them to help police solve crimes. That’s the basic setup of CBS’s new show The Mentalist. The pilot last night was pretty good as far as pilots go. They spent more time focusing on the character and mythology of the show instead of this week’s murder. My one problem is Robin Tunney. I’ve never really liked her acting style, so I’m hoping she doesn’t put me off the show. Baker is charming as Jane and deserves some good co-stars play against.

I’ll be tuning in next week.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Another Way to Die

The latest James Bond theme, "Another Way to Die", has shown up online today. I liked some of the recent ones, especially Chris Cornell's "You Know My Name", but I'm not sold on this one. Maybe a bit to heavy on the percussion and the lyrics aren't that great. Still, not as bad as Madonna's "Die Another Day". Take a listen and see what you think.

Another Way To Die (Feat. Jack White) - Alicia Keys

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Shield: Snitch & Money Shot

Last week’s episode was more of a standalone episode than part of the whole story arc. It starts out with Vic and Shane continuing to incite gang war between the Armenians and the Mexicans. Pezuela puts a hit out on Rezian (the Armenian leader) and the boys try to keep him alive. Vic is worried that other people know about his involvement in the Money Train heist and doesn’t want Rezian dying before Vic finds all the pieces of the puzzle.

I enjoyed the Dutch/Billings story this week. The lead singer of a band was killed when a cinderblock was dropped on her head during a smoke break. Of course, none of the tenants of the apartment building where they practiced saw anything. The “Billings minimum” involved him hitting female tenants while Dutch tried to sweat them all for info. But, he did provide the one or two sentences back at The Barn to help Dutch close the case.

There is a sudden eruption of other gang violence brought on by the mayor’s “Top Ten” list of dangerous gangs in LA. Of course, bangers treat these like MLB standings and up their game to rise on the list. It provides the boys cover to enlist the help of their old pals the One-Niners to bodyguard Rezian. Eventually, they track down the guys involved in a couple senseless killings: Spook Street bangers upset that their gang was left off the Top 10. Claudette’s interrogation of a juvenile suspect lends the writers opportunity to delve into social commentary contrasting the current hip-hop culture with the aims of the Civil Rights movement. Claudette’s dressing down of the kid is a powerful scene.

On to this week. Vic interjects himself in Shane’s dealings with the Armenians to speed things along and get his family out of danger. He takes credit for the Money Train heist and says his accomplices were Lem and two of Lem’s buddies from out of town. Throwing himself into the fire, he absolves Ronnie and Shane of any guilt as far as the Armenians are concerned. Back to his old ways of giving a deal and expecting someone to take it (rather than negotiating), Vic says he will grant the Armenians three wishes in return for his family’s freedom. Wish number one is to steal a cache of weapons from police lockup.

Shane’s the inside man and Vic’s the lookout, but Vic gets called away for a family emergency. His daughter was caught drinking underage and his wife is put under arrest. Meanwhile, Ronnie is working with Julian and Tina on a sting operation. A local porn producer is paying his actresses with drugs, so Julian and Tina go undercover to bust him. When they find out the producer’s supplier is a drug kingpin the cops have been tracking for months, Ronnie calls Vic in for backup. Vic is busily dealing with the family situation, so Ronnie and Shane are on their own. Shane makes out OK, but Ronnie gets attacked by a vicious dog and has to go to the hospital for 19 stitches.

Vic tips off ICE about the gun heist, but shows up in time to get Rezian out of danger. With the guns now back in police hands. Vic convinces Rezian that he has a mole in his operation. Rezian hands over the list of his most trusted people; a list that Vic believes contains the names of anyone who knows about his involvement in the Money Train heist.

Billings sits out most of this episode, so the B story involves Dutch and Danny working a kidnapping case. Danny goes into interrogation with the kidnap victim and discloses a disturbing story about her past. Dutch, feeling protective of both Danny and Claudette, tries to get Danny a desk job as Claudette’s assistant.

Aceveda shows up only briefly. Vic was going to use the blackmail box in his gun heist plan, but the box is missing. He shows up at Aceveda’s office and berates him for taking the box. Aceveda, correctly, says he couldn’t trust Vic not to be tempted with the box. Their alliance appears to be falling apart.

Ronnie once again grows in this episode. He makes some mistakes, but looks to be coming into his own as leader of a new Strike Team. At the end, he tells Vic that he’s not going down for any of the crap Vic and Shane are involved with. He said every time they try to get out, they end up getting deeper.

At the end of the ep, Shane hands over the “last copy” of the blackmail file he has on Vic (he still has a copy in a safe spot) to gain back Vic’s trust. Vic knows Shane is lying, but shows gratitude for the handover of the file. He also says he understands why Shane felt he needed to kill Lem. But after Shane leaves the room, we can tell it’s just another Mackey Mind Game ™ to keep a close eye on Shane.

After last week’s one-off, we get back to an arc episode. More pieces were added to the puzzle and the narrative is getting more focused. I’m already looking forward to next week’s installment.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nationals Park

As I previously mentioned, I was away Labor Day weekend. My brother informed me that the Phillies would be in town to play the Washington Nationals for a day game on Labor Day. I decided to pick up on his hint and traveled down to D.C.. Over the past couple years, I've seen a number of games in different major league stadiums. I'd seen three (or maybe four) games in RFK, but hadn't gotten a chance to see the new park since it opened this year.

Nationals Park is another beauty. It is in the newer style inspired by Camden Yards. Good seats, good views, lots of conveniently located places to eat. Our seats were on the upper level between home and first. I think you might be able to see the Washington Monument from right field, but I'm not 100% on that. You could see it from one of the walkways on our way to the seats, so that's why I'm guessing you could see it from the park. It looks like the area is starting to be revitalized by the addition of the stadium (at least based on all the construction) which was part of the idea of building it by the Navy Yard.

Too bad the Phillies lost because they're not making much headway in their drive to the playoffs. Here are some pics.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Where Am I?

Posts are going to be light for a little bit. I was away all last weekend and I'm on vacation next week. Just so you guys know I haven't fallen down a hole.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Shield: Coefficient of Drag

Last night was the seventh season premiere of The Shield. We start off shortly after the end of season six with Vic retaliating against Shane for kidnapping his family in last year's finale. Shane is able to convince Vic and Ronnie that he was trying to save Vic's family from the Armenians' retribution for the Money Train Heist. During the episode, Vic and Ronnie corroborate much of Shane's story, but plan to keep a close eye on him. Vic also has Shane convince the Armenians that their biggest threat is the Mexicans…and not the perpetrators of the Money Train Heist.

Later in the episode, Vic and Aceveda disagree on how to use Pezuela's blackmail stash (obtained in the finale). Aceveda wants to use it to build a case against Pezuela and nothing else. Vic also wants to build a case, but wants to use some of it to help keep his badge. Since he knows Aceveda won't budge, Vic goes to Pezuela to tell him an employee of his is selling the blackmail stash. He also sets things in motion for a gang war between the Armenians and the Mexican gangs.

Back at The Barn, a man comes in and confesses he hired a friend to kill his wife. Since he was already tried and acquitted, he cannot be tried again for the same crime. Looking at the old case files, Dutch sees the man got off the first time around because of some shoddy police work by Billings. He calls Billings in (he’s currently suing the department for “injuries” suffered in season six) and tricks him into breaking down the false testimony of a trial witness. Armed with a tape and the newly closed case, Claudette and the force rescind their settlement offer and force Billings to return to work.

A solid episode to kick off the final season. It wasn’t mind blowing, but sits comfortably with those of previous seasons. One of the biggest shocks of the episode was a quiet shock as opposed to the big ones we’ve come to expect (Lem getting killed, Terry, Aceveda’s rape). Ronnie kills an unarmed, injured Armenian hit man. In the past, Ronnie always seemed to be untouched by the filth his fellow Strike Team members did. Sure, he was heavily involved with the Money Train heist and all the banger shakedowns, but he never got into the really bad double-cross/murder stuff everyone else did. The shooting seemed to take Ronnie off his game for the rest of the episode. On a his career front, Ronnie was offered a job in SIS that he is considering taking (especially if Vic is forcibly retired), but Claudette put him in charge of the Strike Team. It’ll be interesting to see how the murder will affect his career choice (sure to come later this season).

The clips from upcoming episodes make this look like another high-octane season with plenty of bloodshed between the Mexicans and Armenians. I’m already looking forward for next week.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Last Five Books I Bought

I thought it might be interesting to give you guys a peek at my TBR pile. Though, two of these books I've already read and reviewed. Some books just have a habit of jumping the queue.

The Evil That Men Do
by Dave White

Having read White's first book, I was eagerly anticipating the release of this one. I picked it up the week it came out and it jumped to the top of the TBR pile. I reviewed it elsewhere, but I'll just say again that it's recommended.
The Blade Itself
by Marcus Sakey

I had heard a lot of great things about this book, so it had been on my radar for a bit. Reading Marcus's story in the Killer Year Anthology made it my next purchase. Like I said before, one of the best books I've read in a while.

Saving the Queen, Stained Glass, and Mongoose R.I.P.
by William F. Buckley, Jr.

After Buckley's recent death, family and National Review staff have been going through his personal effects. Among other things, they found boxes and boxes of paperback editions of WFB's books. National Review then decided to put these books on sale for the phenomenal price of $4 each - including shipping. I had long heard about Buckley's Blackford Oakes series, but hadn't read any. Since all except the last one are out of print, I couldn't pass up this great deal. I also get the added bonus of owning a book that was actually his. I haven't read any of them yet, so I can't add my two cents.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Tie-In Novel

It seems I misspoke the other day when I commented on Gerald's review of the Burn Notice tie-in book. I said I hadn't read a tie-in novel since all the old Star Trek ones. Walking past my bookshelf today, I noticed that I had read some: three of the 24 tie-in books.

Each novel is broken up into 24 chapters; one chapter for each hour. The stories take place prior to season 1 of the television series, so you can see the early days of CTU and Jack Bauer. As you can expect with tie-in novels written by multiple authors, you aren't entirely what kind of quality to expect.

The first one was written by Marc Cerasini and called Operation Hell Gate. The story opens with Jack Bauer transporting a prisoner to New York City. It doesn't take things long to go haywire and Jack is trapped 3000 miles away from CTU headquarters. Jack does what he does best and stops a terrorist attack by going lone wolf. It's fun to see all the characters of 24 (including some that have been killed off) working as a cohesive team. Cerasini does a good job of capturing the essence of Jack Bauer and the feel of the television show.

The second book is Veto Power by John Whitman. After a mission gone bad, Jack Bauer is in the doghouse with his superiors. He's assigned a relatively low-level task of infiltrating a local militia group, but ends up stumbling upon a sleeper cell of Middle Eastern terrorists. The only real characters from the series I can remember are Bauer and Ryan Chapelle. Whitman populates the rest of the book with his own characters who are paper-thin caricatures of real-life politicians. Most of the book reads like a tract against the powers (both real and perceived) of The Patriot Act.

The third is another by Cerasini: Trojan Horse. A Trojan horse virus embedded into a bootleg DVD is detected by CTU’s cyber unit and Jack Bauer is called in to stop the attack. He eventually uncovers that it’s just the first phase in an attack culminating in a planned massacre at a Hollywood awards ceremony. Cerasini puts in another good effort on this one. Jack acts as he should in this one, and Cerasini gives a lot of screen time to fan favorite Tony Almeida. Ryan Chapelle and CTU techies Jamey Farrell, Edgar Stiles, and Milo Pressman are given significant rolls as well as Bauer’s wife Teri (making her first appearance in the books).

There are five other books (so far) in the 24: Declassified series: two by Cerasini and three by Whitman. I didn’t care much for Whitman’s one entry, but I’m willing to give him another shot.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Blade Itself, by Marcus Sakey

“[Evan] loomed near the back wall, feet apart like a boxer. His gaze smashed through the cigarette smoke and gruff laughter to hit Danny with physical force…”

After some punk stuff as a young kid, Danny Carter had built a new life for himself. He’s got a good job, a long-term girlfriend, and a clean conscience. Until his old partner Evan McGann gets an early release from prison and comes calling. Marcus Sakey’s debut novel The Blade Itself is one of the best books I’ve read in a while.

The story is taut and Sakey does a good job adding layer upon layer without making the main drive opaque. His characters are multi-layered and his language is vivid. I could almost see the side of Chicago Sakey describes. I had a minor quibble with some of his dialog early on. One of the blurbs in the paperback edition compares it to something by Elmore Leonard. In a Leonard book, a character would drop a word or two in a sentence, but you would still get the gist of what he was saying (example. “I need a guy knows how to work” instead of “I need a guy who knows how to work.”). I noticed this a lot in the early going, but it seemed to either work its way out or at least become less jarring as the story progressed.

With Dave White and Marcus Sakey, two of the three Killer Year authors I’ve read have hooked me for every book they write for the rest of the careers.

Highly recommended.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hidden Treasures: Tony DeSare

I came to know about Tony DeSare from my friend Jim who went to Ithaca with Tony. We were on the way back from Birdland and were talking about various jazz clubs we'd been to. I told him I'd never been to Shanghai in Madison, NJ. He and his wife had been there several times to see Tony and Jim started telling me about Tony's music. It sounded right up my alley - good piano, good vocals, good songwriting.

He's been profiled on Fox News, CBS's Early Show, appeared in an off-Broadway show about Frank Sinatra, and released two CDs. Tony's CDs are mix of the Great American Songbook and his own compositions. One of the great things is that while he plays some standards, a lot of the songs he doesn't haven't been covered to death by other musicians for the past 50 years. Some tunes I can't even tell if they're his or if they're a classic - that's how good a songwriter he is.

Both his CD's are fantastic. Personally, I like his first one, Want You, more than his second, Last First Kiss. Want You is more of a standard jazz vocal album. Lots of upbeat tunes and swinging trio work with a few guest spots by jazz legend Bucky Pizzarelli. I'd list the highlights, but I love almost every track on this disc. Last First Kiss is more of a slow ballad album. The highlights for me are "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To", "Last First Kiss", and the reworking of Prince's "Kiss".

So, I recommend that you pick up both his CDs and see when he’s coming to your area. Like the best performers, he does a great job of working a live crowd. The intimate atmosphere of a place like Shanghai really plays into this. I’ll leave you with the clip of his Fox News profile and a clip of him playing some stride piano.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Shield: Season Six

The seventh and final season starts this September 2nd. The penultimate season of The Shield is referred to many fans as the second half of season five. Picking up shortly after Shane’s murder of Lem, the main storyline of season six is Vic and crew trying to track down an punish those responsible for Lem’s murder.

The Strike Team investigation by Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) is still open, and now Kavanaugh is convinced that Vic was behind Lem’s murder. He pleads for more time with the brass to continue his investigation and is granted a temporary continuance. Kavanugh is teamed with Dutch in the investigation, but he sends Dutch off on wild goose chases while he continues his vendetta against Vic. The first episode ends with Kavanaugh completing his transformation into a dirty copy by planting evidence linking Vic to Lem’s murder. In episode two, Dutch goes to his old partner Claudette (now captain of The Barn) with his concerns about Kavanaugh and his methods. The episode ends with Kavanaugh behind bars and Vic free to continue his search for Lem’s killers.

At first, Vic and team are on the trail of a Mexican banger named Guardo. They end up capturing him and torturing him, trying to get him to confess to Lem’s murder. Shane, for once, seems to be playing the voice of reason, trying to get his friends not to take it out on Guardo. In reality, Shane’s guilt over killing his friend is eating him alive. He confesses to his wife that he killed Lem by the end of the fifth episode and to Vic by the end of the sixth episode. Vic promises if he sees Shane again that he’ll kill him. Shane’s guilt is now gone and he takes a sanctimonious attitude toward Vic and the crap they’ve done in previous seasons. He tries to be smart and play the angles again, but like with Antwon Mitchell, he ends up creating more trouble than the eliminated. Shane lets slip to the Armenian mob that he and the Strike Team were behind the Money Train heist of season two. The Armenians send their best killers after the boys. Instead of trying to get help, Shane takes it upon himself to save Vic’s family. Of course, he doesn’t tell Vic the plan and ends up getting Vic more pissed at him.

Now that Claudette is The Barn’s captain, Dutch is partnered up with Steve Billings (David Marciano) on a murder house in San Marcos. At the end of the fifth season, Dutch stumbles across a house with eleven dead Mexican immigrants and a severed arm of a Mexican government official. Their investigation leads them to a developer, Cruz Pezuela, who happens to be a big financial backer of Councilman David Aceveda. Aceveda wants Pezuela’s backing for a mayoral run, but he also is still part cop and wants the murders solved.

In order to get himself out of trouble, Pezuela gives Vic a copy of the photo taken of Aceveda while he was being raped. Instead of using it to blackmail Aceveda, Vic gives it to him as a sign of good faith and tries to get Aceveda on his side for his upcoming review board hearing. Vic and Aceveda work together and figure out that Pezuela is working on a redistricting plan to manipulate the vote and get politicians loyal to him elected. That way he can get contracts easier and help launder money for the Mexican mafia. The season ends with Vic skipping his review board hearing to roust Pezuela’s Mexican mob contact who is carrying a large stash of documents and photographs. Blackmail material for every important politician and judge in and around Los Angeles. Vic and Aveceda agree to use the material to save Vic’s badge so they can take down Pezuela and the Mexican mafia.

After the stellar fifth season, something felt missing in the sixth season. Jon Kavanaugh was a perfect “big baddie” to play opposite Vic, so the faceless review board trying to force him into retirement is not quite as menacing. The show is still fantastic and multi-faceted as always. Great acting once again by Michael Chiklis (Vic Mackey) and Walton Goggins (Shane). All the crap the Strike Team did in previous seasons came back – even more so than during Kavanaugh’s investigation. The Mexican mob angle and the final showdown between Vic and Shane are set up nicely for season seven.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

More Shield

No book review this week because I haven't finished any recently. I'm currently reading Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself, and I'm digging it so far.

At the risk of being all Shield all the time, I thought I'd point to FX's ongoing series of one-on-one interviews with the cast of The Shield. They're all great and the pairings are interesting. You can really tell how much the actors liked working with each other. Most of them show one actor in awe of another actor and heaping praise on something they've done. The most recent one of Jay Karnes (Dutch Wagenbach) and David Marciano (Billings) really shows the comedic chemistry between the two of them. I realized in my recaps that I haven't mentioned the Billings character at all. He first appeared in season four and becomes more prominent in the subsequent seasons. Billings is even captain of The Barn during the awesome run of season five. I really like the character and how Marciano plays him. I'll try to keep in mind some of the Billings antics when I do my recap of season six.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Shield: Season Five

The fifth season of The Shield starts off with the reconstituted Strike Team dealing with increased violence between the black and Latino gangs and the beginning of the Internal Affairs probe that was set up beautifully with the last scene of season four. Internal Affairs Detective Jon Kavanaugh (Forest Whitaker) starts off casting a wide net over all of the Strike Team’s deeds, but finds a strong case while looking into the murder of Detective Terry Crowley (in the series’ first episode). As the season progresses, Vic also faces early retirement forced on him by the top brass.

David Aceveda, still a city councilman, starts the season helping Kavanaugh out with his investigation. The animosity between Aceveda and Vic is still thick and Aceveda tries to do everything he can to get Vic out of The Barn and even out of uniform. He points Kavanaugh to Curtis Lemansky as the “conscience” of the Strike Team. He believes that if Kavanaugh can turn Lemanskey against Vic and the others, they can take the whole crew down.

Detectives Dutch Wagenbach and Claudette Wyms relationship becomes frayed this season. Wyms re-opens one of Dutch’s old cases and starts to become evasive when Dutch asks questions about her health. After finally getting a reappearing serial killer to confess to his crimes, Wyms collapses and falls down the stairs. After missing an episode or two, she comes back and confides in Dutch that she’s been suffering from Lupus for a number of years. The season ends with Dutch putting in for a transfer and Claudette being promoted to Captain of The Barn.

Kenneth Johnson’s Lemansky gets a chance to shine this season. He’s given more to do than in past seasons and he makes the most of the opportunity. Season five is all about Mackey vs. Kavanaugh, but it wouldn’t be as hard hitting without Lemansky in the middle. Even after learning Vic killed Terry Crowley (previously only Shane knew), Lemansky stayed loyal to his fellow Strike Team members. It caused him great emotional (and physical) pain, but he took the brunt of the hit and made sure nobody else would go down for their crimes.

While Vic and Ronnie believed Lemansky was loyal, the deep-seated resentment between Shane and him brought about another shocking moment in Shield history. Shane believed Lemansky flipped on his friends and took it upon himself to make sure they wouldn’t get caught. He makes Lemansky follow him alone to an underpass where he tries to figure out if they can still trust him or not. Unconvinced, Shane drops a grenade in Lemansky’s truck and walks away.

I can’t say enough about Forest Whitaker’s performance as Jon Kavanaugh. I’ve mentioned before that I had trouble with the big-name casting in season four, but Whitaker works. The character is fully fleshed out and there’s a definite arc to his story. At the beginning, Kavanaugh is a bit creepy and understated. His soft-spokenness and non-threatening mannerisms seem to be part of his game to get people to trust him. After being outmaneuvered several times by Vic, he starts to become unhinged. The descent from an upright IAD officer to someone who would consider planting evidence on a guilty suspect is truly a marvel to behold.

On a side note: while refreshing my memory on the previous seasons of The Shield, I found some pretty cool articles on popmatters.com This essay, in particular, I found really helpful.