Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Finals

This is what it's all about.  The last two months of grueling hockey will soon come to an end.  One team will go home a winner and one team will just go home.

Playoff hockey is The Save.
Playoff hockey is The Save, Part II.
Playoff hockey is not quite enough.
Playoff hockey is Finally.

Tonight Los Angeles (8) faces off against New Jersey (6).  Is it possible to have to Cinderellas?  Los Angeles is a good pick because they were the eight seed in the West, but they have steamrolled all opposition, losing only two games in the whole tournament.  Many people (including me) wrote off New Jersey in nearly every round, but they keep proving us wrong.

Whatever way it goes, it's going to be fun.

My pick:  Los Angeles Kings.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Song of the Week: But Not For Me

"But Not For Me" was composed by George and Ira Gershwin in 1930 for the Broadway musical Girl Crazy. This version was recorded in 1959 by Ella Fitzgerald with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. Ira Gershwin, still alive at the time of this recording, remarked after hearing Ella sing, "I didn't realize how great some of the music George and I wrote was until I heard her sing it".

Friday, May 25, 2012

MST3K Friday: Hamlet

Yup, Hamlet, my favorite Shakespeare play (though my appreciation for Othello has grown recently).  No, this isn't the Mel Gibson version.  It a 1960 made for German TV version.  Probably the best thing about it is Claudius's voice is dubbed by  Ricardo Montalban!

"Hey, any Danish left?"
"Why were you looking at his like?"
"Hail, Queen Dilbert's Boss."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes by, Lawrence Block

I had the sort of hangover I knew enough to treat with respect.

Matthew Scudder is an alcoholic.  Above all else, ex-cop, unlicensed private eye, ex-husband, father, that's what he is.  A highly functioning alcoholic, yes. When the Sacred Ginmill Closes starts with Scudder drinking at an after-hours bar called Morrissey’s (“The legal closing hour for bars in the city of New York is 4:00 a.m., but Morrissey’s was an illegal establishment and was thus not bound by regulations of that sort”). Two masked gunmen break in and knock over the joint; taking the cashbox on the counter, another box in a safe, even a collection jar for IRA loyalists.  Scudder agrees to help the Morrisseys, a drinking buddy ("Telephone Tommy") accused of killing his wife, and his old bartender Skip who is being blackmailed after the honest books from his bar is stolen.

Scudder is a unique character in many ways.  Even though he takes on three cases, he seems to half-ass his way though all but Skip's.  While he's technically an unlicensed PI, he considers himself just a guy who does favors for friends for money.  His top priority is finding enough cash to get his next drink.

Another thing that sets him apart is how he solves the case(s).  While other PI's would show you how the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit together, Scudder isn't quite sure how he knows what he knows.  But if you look back (there's an early conversation with the blackmailers with a huge clue), you can see that author Lawrence Block has put all the pieces there for you to find.  In fact, there are big clues to character motivations in the first three pages.

This shows that Block is a master at the top of his game.  He sets up all these things you "know" that when the ending comes, it seems perfectly obvious without being telegraphed.  It's a subtle, sneaky book.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Song of the Week: Heart Full of Soul

Saturday night I watched the movie London Boulevard.  Colin Farrell plays an ex-con named Mitchell who is released from prison as the movie starts.  His friends want to pull him back into the old life, but Mitchell meets a reclusive actress (Keira Knightley) who hires him to do odd jobs around the house.  Of course, Mitchell's friends don't accept his answer and the girl falls in love with him.  The movie got mostly negative reviews, but I thought it was decent.  London Boulevard is based on a novel by Ken Bruen, so expect it to be a bit noir.

One of the great things about the movie was the soundtrack.  There are a ton of good songs, but this one was used on numerous occasions.  Plus, it was one of my favorites.  Here are The Yardbirds with "Heart Full of Soul".

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup: Conference Finals

I don't know why I even bother.  After going 4-4 in round one, I went 1-3 in the second round.

If I hadn't been swayed by St. Louis's regular season record, I would've picked the Kings last round, but that still would've only gotten me to 2-2.

My picks for this round are LA and the New York Rangers.

We'll see if I end up jinxing anybody.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Song of the Week: Wave Goodbye

Since I really enjoyed the theme song to Casino Royale, I started to look into the singer, Chris Cornell.  I was never a real big fan of Soundgarden (other than a few songs), but I like his solo work and his work with Audioslave.  This week's song comes from his first solo record, Euphoria Morning.  "Wave Goodbye" was written as a tribute to his friend Jeff Buckley after Buckley's untimely death in 1997.  I think it does a good job of capturing the feeling of losing someone before you're ready.

Friday, May 11, 2012

MST3K Friday: Special Effects

Continuing the Top 5 theme, here are the Top 5 worst special effects.  A lot of these movies were shot on a shoestring budget, and it quite often shows.  My favorite bad special effect is at the end of "The Beginning of the End" (starring Peter Graves).  Chicago is attacked by giant mantises (mantesii?) and it's clearly regular size insects crawling over a post card of the city.  You can see that starting around the 5 minute mark of this clip.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Pen Is Quick

On a podcast I listened to this week, the host and his guests spent some time talking about some of the big names in the crime genre. They all loved Chandler (as do I), liked Hammett but didn’t consider him a great stylist, and defended Mickey Spillane. Even today Spillane is known for writing tough, violent books with lots of sex and blood. My own opinion is that while he was more explicit than his contemporaries, he’s not as vulgar as people think. One of the guests offhandedly mentioned an essay written by Ayn Rand comparing Spillane and Tom Wolfe and showing that the pulpy Spillane was clearly a better writer than the literary Wolfe. I made a mental note to consult The Google when I got home.

I didn’t find the essay itself, but I did find a summary of the essay. To compare two related text, Rand chose excerpts of both authors describing New York at night. Here are the two excerpts:
Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this. The rain was misty enough to be almost fog-like, a cold gray curtain that separated me from the pale ovals of white that were faces locked behind the steamed-up windows of the cars that hissed by. Even the brilliance that was Manhattan by night was reduced to a few sleepy, yellow lights off in the distance.
Some place over there I had left my car and started walking, burying my head in the collar of my raincoat, with the night pulled in around me like a blanket. I walked and I smoked and I flipped the spent butts ahead of me and watched them arch to the pavement and fizzle out with one last wink.
[One Lonely Night*, by Mickey Spillane]
That hour, that moment, and that place struck with a peerless co-incision upon the very heart of his own youth, the crest and zenith of his own desire. The city had never seemed as beautiful as it looked that night. For the first time he saw that New York was supremely, among the cities of the world, the city of the night. There had been achieved here a loveliness that was astounding and incomparable, a kind of modern beauty, inherent to its place and time, that no other place nor time could match. He realized suddenly that the beauty of other cities of the night—of Paris spread below one from the butte of Sacre-Coeur, in its vast, mysterious blossoms of nocturnal radiance; of London with its smoky nimbus of fogged light, which was so peculiarly thrilling because it was so vast, so lost in the illimitable—had each its special quality, so lovely and mysterious, but had yet produced no beauty that could equal this.
[The Rock, by Tom Wolfe]

Spillane’s method of writing, by means of selective presentation of perceptions, relies on an active reader and doesn’t attempt to substitute the writer’s evaluations for the reader’s own. Wolfe, in contrast, repeats what his character feels and expects the reader to feel the same.

In essence, it boils down to the old writer’s saw “show, don’t tell”.

By his word choice and sentence structure (note the use of polysyndeton in the last sentence), Spillane presents the scene exactly as Mike Hammer experiences it, asking you to feel the same way Hammer does. You get a clear picture of Hammer’s New York. Wolfe’s New York is viewed through a gauzy filter of its “loveliness” and “modern beauty”, but nothing concrete as to why it is “supremely…the city of the night”.

Wolfe is a well-respected stylist and hugely admired author, but which of the two above paragraphs beg you to read more? Isn’t Spillane due more respect than he’s typically given?

I’m going to try to find the full Rand essay, but I found her premise intriguing and thought I’d share.
Anyone care to chime in?

* NOTE: this is probably my favorite opening scene of all Spillane’s works

Monday, May 7, 2012

Song of the Week: Sweet and Broken

Blues Traveler was one of those bands that achieved megastardom in the '90's, but didn't sustain their popularity.  Their songs "Hook" and "Run-Around" were ubiquitous and still receive tons of airplay.  But like another '90's band (I'm looking at you, Fastball), some of my favorite tunes came out after their popularity had begun to wane.

Case in point, my favorite album is either 2003's Truth Be Told or 1997's Straight On till Morning, depending on the day you ask.  This week's song is track 3 off Truth Be Told and it's called "Sweet and Broken".

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Orson Welles

Welles with then wife Rita Hayworth
Today is the birthday of actor and director Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 – October 10, 1985).  Ask me who the greatest director is and I'll invariably say Welles, Hitchcock, and Kubrick, with Welles in the lead.  Welles changed the vocabulary of film more than anyone I can think of.  His innovative use of camera angles, deep focus photography, long takes, and overlapping dialogue were so ahead of his time that his movies, some shot 60 years ago, still seem fresh and modern.  I'm thinking particularly of his version of Othello.

Recently, I discovered someone was nice enough to post five of the six episodes of Orson Welles's Sketchbook on YouTube.  It was a series of 15-minute shorts with Welles just talking to the camera, relating stories he found interesting and talking about his past in the theater.  I've embedded the two parts of episode 1 below, and I hope you'll check them out.  They're well worth the time.

Friday, May 4, 2012

MST3K Friday: Most Annoying Characters

Here's another different one this week:  some of the most annoying characters ever.  Glad to see the guy from Eeegah! made the list.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Damage Done by, Hilary Davidson

It was the bright yellow tape that finally convinced me my sister was dead.

Lily Moore fled to Spain to get away from her troubled, drug-addicted younger sister, Claudia.  When Claudia is found dead in a bathtub on the anniversary of their mother's suicide, Lily must return to New York to deal with the aftermath.  At first, Lily's resigned to the fact that her sister's demons had finally caught up to her, but she soon discovers that the woman at the morgue is not Claudia.  Was her sister still alive? Where was she? And who was the person found in the bathtub?

I've mentioned Hilary Davidson once before on this blog, but now I finally pulled her debut The Damage Done off my TBR pile.  Not only is she a great short story writer, but The Damage Done won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel.  It's a great debut novel that incorporates a lot of the classic genre elements, but still feels fresh and new.  It wasn't until I finished the book and started formulating my review that I noticed the more genre elements.  Mistaken identities, missing relatives, sleazy doctors, and shady hotel magnates - this book has them all.  The shady hotel magnate is Lily's ex-fiancee and pulls double duty as the male femme fatale (homme fatale?).  There were a couple places where  I thought the relationship was describe perfectly (I should have marked them down), but here's one I was able to find again.  Lily and her ex, Martin, meet for drinks at a flamenco bar and Martin slowly tries to seduce Lily.
He touched my shoulder, then let his fingers slide lightly down my arm.  When we were a couple he was constantly, incessantly affectionate.  At first I'd found it romantic, but later I'd realized that it was more like a craving that never subsided.
Not a bad description of extreme attraction, or an addiction to drugs if you want to look at it that way.  Throughout the book, Davidson does a splendid job of conveying Lily's feelings and her depictions of the various relationships (family, friendship, ex-lovers) is spot on - especially at their most heartbreaking.

What does this have to do with this week's song of the week?  Lily is obsessed with old movies and music and especially Ava Gardner, whose third marriage was to Frank Sinatra.

My one small complaint about the book has to do with the pacing.  From the opening page until the reveal that the dead woman wasn't Claudia, the book continues to build steam.  Lily's investigation uncovers clues and suspects in a timely manner, but there isn't much sense of urgency until she makes her way to the treatment center where Claudia spent some time.  From then on, the last 100 pages or so, dominoes fall into place on every other page until we're left with a complete picture of what happened.

Overall, I enjoyed The Damage Done and would recommend it even to people who aren't fans of crime/mystery.  The second Lily Moore adventure, The Next One To Fall, was released on February 14th of this year and will make its way onto my TBR pile.