Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Pair of Movie Music Moments (care of J.D.)

Over at Radiator Heaven, movie blogger J.D. today posted something wonderful for the end of the year, My Favorite Soundtracks/Score of the Decade. In it, he's mixed together a fantastic and eclectic list of music joined in cinema from the past 10 years. While we don't agree on everything (I'm a fervent enthusiast of Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof, and there is a lot to admire about the audacious train-wreck that is Sena's Swordfish, IMO), his choices in soundtracks is simply sublime. He included two of my all-time favorite movie-music moments on the list, too. Both are mesmerizing, IMHO. The first being Steven Soderbergh's Claire de Lune sequence from Ocean's Eleven:

... and the second, well I'll insert J.D.'s own words here for the sequence from Mulholland Drive:
... the film's sonic highlight comes when Rebekah Del Rio sings an absolutely astounding a capella version of Roy Orbison's "Crying" in Spanish. It is an emotionally powerful moment in this masterpiece of a film.

Thank you, J.D.

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Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Outro

The complete blog series can be found here, or individually using these links: Intro, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8a, 8b, & 9.

Theater, Then

The photo of the theater's exterior used for this series was done by William Gabel, circa 1971. The theater's architect was B. Marcus Priteca, who designed many of the movie palaces on the West Coast, including those in Washington (Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima, Spokane, Centralia, and Olympia), Alaska (Anchorage & Fairbanks), British Columbia (Vancover), California (Oakland, San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego, Beverly Hills, Huntington Park, and Los Angeles). Others of his were built in Canada, Utah, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee. The theater's style is Art Deco. Built in 1929-30, the original layout could seat 1468. Pacific Theaters was the last chain to operate this theater. It was twinned early in the 1980's--meaning, the balcony was separated via renovation to install an additional (second) screen in the upper portion of the building.

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year of Bests '09

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / August 31, 2009)

An unexamined life is not worth living. ~ Socrates
Periodically, my mother would repeat the above quote to me. At the oddest times, too. Usually, after I caught her just... looking at me. For the record, I'm pretty sure my brother was on the receiving end of this, as well - probably more so since he lived with her longer. Although, I could never accuse my mom of playing favorites (like my grandmother... her mom). Anyway, these days I find myself doing much of the same and just staring at my own kids... and thinking. So, I guess it'd be no surprise to anyone that the one with the nostalgia gene would take stock at year's end. And since I have a blog, plus a demented sense of entitlement to judge what I like, I choose to look back at those things that I found myself drawn to, intrigued by, or that I just plain enjoyed during the year 2009.

For the leading photo of this post, I selected one of the L.A. Times', from their Best of Times photography. The shot of some young men watching the Station Fire this past August from a hill overlooking Tujunga has a terrible, stark and ghastly beauty within its image. There was nothing good in the flames, though. Started deliberately, 2 firefighter lives taken, 18 homes lost, and more than 160,000 acres burned. I marveled at the picture, nonetheless. Ironically, the month before I re-read the Robert Crais novel, Chasing Darkness. Its foretelling start was more than appropriate for our fires of August:
Beakman and Trenchard could smell the fire--it was still a mile away, but a sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell.
So, in no particular order, the following brought me enjoyment and I thought they were worth noting (I resisted the compulsion to call this The Boomers Awards). Without further ado, these were the best things in my year:


Back in April, blogger/writer/novelist Nordette Adams wrote in the Examiner New Orleans, Walt Whitman, and Leaves of Grass for National Poetry Month. Equally, I've grown to look forward to any of her posts that include her own poetry. Also, I find myself regularly drawn to her insightful posts and the diversity of the subjects she chooses to write about.

On September 11th, while I sat along Avalon harbor on Santa Catalina island waiting to meet the boat that carried my wife and kids, I read a remarkable review by J.D. of the Paul Greengrass' film, United 93. Additionally, his recent review of, in the Sam Peckinpah tribute, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia took me back in a way I hadn't expected, as well. Plus, he may have ended the year on a high note with his wonderful look back at When Harry Met Sally.

Writer/blogger Patricia Abbott and her Friday's Forgotten Book series was one of the best things discovered on the web.

If there's anything I learned that my wife will also appreciate, it's that I want to travel like Herb & Laura.

Author John Kenneth Muir wrote a stirring examination for the underrated, but hauntingly memorable, film Carlito's Way by Brian De Palma. His cult review of Tron brought unexpected and enjoyable insight to that film. And a short while ago, this writer posted a wonderfully in-depth interview with Chris Carter (of X-Files, Millennium fame).

Jen Forbus started the You Have The Right to Six Words memoirs in the Spring of the year, and carried it through to December to become my favorite series. Luckily, it's returning in 2010. And she is the one I have to thank for introducing me to Gregg Hurwitz (literally, at the Mystery Bookstore)--plus, her interview with the author was very good, too.

Dennis Cozzalio's consummate film blog always has something for his readers. But the readers, and their answers, were the highlight on the blogger's triumvirate of movie quizzes this year: Prof. Peabody's Hysterical, Historical Wayback Spring Break Film Quiz, Prof. Severus Snape's Sorcercer-tastic, Muggalicious Mid-Summer Movie Quiz, and Prof. Russell Johnson's 'My Ancestors Came Over on the Minnow Thanksgiving/Christmas Movie Quiz.

Corey Wilde out of the clear blue sky came up with his first (and hopefully not last) Watery Grave Invitational short story contest (and he managed to introduce this reader to some fine stories and authors). His recent book review of The Gentlemen's Hour hopefully will get the word out to people that they should discover the talent that is Don Winslow. Finally, his Drowning Machine blog expanded to include writer Naomi Johnson (and whose short stories are worthy reading). Recently, this blogger caught my eye with his fresh new blog template and clean layout.

Across the pond, film blogger Livius has been building up an impressive archive of reviews. I discovered his splendid review from last year of Walter Hill's underrated western, The Long Riders. In 2009, Hard Times, Charlie Varrick, and The Stalking Moon made my day.

Distant relative Poncho's James Bond survey was more than fun (click here for translation)

Lesa (She-Who-Reads-Unbelievable-Amounts) found a perfect gift book (which he loved) for my son's birthday in September with her review of the Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible and the Ignored by Juanita Rose Violini. And it was through her influence, I came to believe that Never Smile At A Monkey would be a book my daughter would appreciate (she did).

My favorite writer in Los Feliz (with the moniker of Mr. Peel) had three more of my favorite film examinations in the year with The Shootist, S.O.B., and Inglourious Basterds.

Steve Hart, a journalist and freelance writer, posts on a number of subjects. One series of his (from last year) summed up a unique and foremost aspect in film action: The Best Sword Fights of All Time.

October and Halloween were more fun in '09 because of Steve's All Nighter, and J.D.'s month of scary movie reviews.

The book review by Pop Culture Nerd for Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer was singular. We read the book almost at the same time, and her's was the only one that put words to what I felt afterward. Of course, without her posts covering the Cops & Crooks in California Panel at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, I never would have discovered her (well... I have writer Naomi Johnson to thanks for pointing me her way).

The 2009 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, ...Image via Wikipedia

Blogging Tools
After blogging for more than a year now, whatever writing I do, its workflow, and how it looks on screen (the quality of content is another matter, entirely) was helped enormously by three free pieces of software. Some bloggers use standalone applications for their blog composition tasks. But, I found the Firefox browser, with its extension capability, and two add-ons to work fine for me: Scribefire and Zemanta. And, even though I use a Mac, all of these are cross-platform and work with various blogging platforms like Blogger and Wordpress (did I mention they were free?).

Books (includes Audiobooks)

Robert Crais for Chasing Darkness (re-read) and The First Rule. Sean Chercover for Big City Bad Blood and Trigger City. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer, Shades of Blue & Gray by Herman Hattaway, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, Fifty Grand by Adrian McKinty, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Harold G. Moore & Joseph L. Galloway, The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty, Small Crimes and Pariah by Dave Zeltserman, Tonight I Said Goodbye by Michael Koryta, Whirlwind by the late Joseph R. Garber (re-read), Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Head Games by Craig McDonald, and last but not least, Don Winslow for The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol, and The Power of the Dog. (and the yet to be published in the U.S., The Gentlemen's Hour)
Audiobook Narrators (Performance)
Paula Christensen (Fifty Grand), Joe Barrett (Big City Bad Blood, Trigger City), William Roberts (Chasing Darkness), George Guidall (The Cold Dish), Guerin Barry (Whirlwind), Tom Stechschulte (Head Games), Ray Porter (The Dawn Patrol, The Power of the Dog).

Movies (from the ones I've seen)

James Cameron's Avatar movie posterImage by cineypantalla01 via Flickr

Avatar, Up in the Air, Invictus, Public Enemies, The Proposal, The International, Up, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline, Inglourious Basterds, Watchmen, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Trick 'r Treat, Good Hair, Splinter, Taken, The Blind Side, The Hangover, The Hurt Locker, The Princess and the Frog, 2012, Zombieland, Drag Me to Hell, Julie & Julia, Let The Right One In, Toy Story 3-D, Toy Story 2 3-D, Sherlock Holmes
What A Year For Them
Sam Worthington (Jake Scully in Avatar, and the best thing in Terminator: Salvation), Zoe Saldana (Neytiri in Avatar, and Uhuru in Star Trek), Stephen Lang (Colonel Miles Quaritch in Avatar, Charles Winstead in Public Enemies, and Brigadier General Dean Hopgood in The Men Who Stare at Goats), George Clooney (as the Fantastic Mr. Fox and Ryan Bingham in Up In The Air), Meryl Streep (Julia in Julie & Julia, Jane in It's Complicated, and her Mrs. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox), Sandra Bullock (Margaret in The Proposal, Mary in All About Steve, and Leigh in The Blind Side), Johnny Depp (John Dillinger in Public Enemies, and Imaginarium Tony #1 in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus).


Come To The Darkside...There's no place like home


The women in my life continue to expand my musical tastes. My wife has had that affect on me for over 20 years (plus I have her as my blogpost muse, especially when she gifts me with things like The Beatles Remastered Stereo set). And my daughter has only just begun her influence upon me--plus, she cracks me up sometimes with her reactions to my car radio surfing (her snide "What the hell is that?!?" retort to my landing on to this Duran Duran song was priceless). All the while, my son continually inspires me by his unmitigated joy in listening to music (and driving his sister crazy with his singing). Among other things this year, discovering, the absolutely great music video-dance start of Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz's wedding over the summer, Laura Fygi and her The Lady Wants To Know album (especially for her version of that Michael Franks title track, and Franks accompanying her with a duet of Tell Me All About It), and the musical tastes from online friends Moondancer, Corey, Jen, Naomi, Poncho, Herb & Laura, pattinase, Nordette, and Steve, which continues to bring a well of revelation and motivation to all proceedings.

Happy New Year

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Monday, December 28, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 9

Completion of this series--see Intro, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8a, 8b:

Journey's End

Being a senior projectionist (at age 22 for the first half of 1977, no less) at the independent Warner Huntington Park (a place I had come to regularly since I was a kid), was a one-of-a-kind experience. I went from someone who knew next to nothing about the trade to someone who could at the very least get a movie projected (by hook or by crook). As well, I learned how to teach the basics of the booth to anyone hired off the street (which happened too many times over). Coming to the end of my employment there, I began to experience similar feelings toward the job as my brother once did (the former sr. projectionist before me). It was eerie to see myself walk the same path at the theater, and end up with same result: that of giving notice.

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: Outro

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

I know this song is covered by the likes of Taylor Swift, Madonna, The Pussycat Dolls, etc. But, no one in my mind will ever do it better than the original, Eartha Kitt. Since it was a year ago today that she passed on, I thought it appropriate to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas with a musical remembrance (via one of the all-time best holiday songs) of this singer, actress, stage and cabaret star.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's A Wonderful Harvest, or The Ice Life

As Wichita Falls... So Falls Wichita Falls.
As I come up on the Yuletide, my common practice of watching seasonal fare is in its usual swing. However, in the last few years, I seem to be seeking a balance of light and dark wares whenever I am hip deep in Scotch tape and gift wrap, or the paper cuts in-between opening Christmas cards. For every viewing of The Santa Clause, I want to throw in Bad Santa. Have a jones for White Christmas? I want Die Hard, too. And when I think of one of my all-time favorite films, Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, all I can think about nowadays is its antithesis, the Harold Ramis directed The Ice Harvest from 2005. Fair warning, some of the plot points for both films are revealed in this post. If you haven't seen either, and don't wish to have your fun spoiled, it'd be best to stop right here. For the rest of you, I'll assume you've seen both, or at least the Capra film, and wonder why I think they're very much related.
Christmas Eve. Ho, ho, f*ckin', ho.
The rest of the article has been updated and moved to my current blog, found here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books

I really have to recommend Patricia Abbott's blog for being as great as it is. And, her Friday's Forgotten Book series is a real standout among all of the fun and creative posts (covering books, movies, writing, etc.) this writer comes up with. I was very much honored when last month she asked me if I'd like to submit an entry for her book series. Since it had been on my mind for the last few months, my choice was easy and I accepted. Corey Wilde wrote a great and thoughtful review of my choice a short while back - hopefully, this won't be considered cheating. My selection was William Peter Blatty's The Ninth Configuration, something I read and cherished a long time ago. My piece was added today to that series. You can find it here. And thanks much, Patricia, for asking me to contribute.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Power of the Dog: Winslow's Opus

At one time, I read my share of historical novels. I'm thinking it's a phase for many readers, but don't quote me on that. James Clavell's Shogun and Tai-pan, a Michener or two, and The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, to name a few, are some that have come my way. I still dabble in them, from time to time - I have Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels somewhere on the audiobook stack, patiently waiting. What I didn't realize was author Don Winslow was going to sneak one through ahead of it without me being aware. Ever since last spring's Festival of Books and the Robert Crais moderated panel with DW, Joseph Wambaugh, and T. Jefferson Parker, I started my gallivant of the San Diego-based author's work. First with The Winter of Frankie Machine, then on to The Dawn Patrol. Fun, enthralling standalone reads that showcased the man's talent in storytelling. The way he writes his characters, and their manner of speaking, both novels have that distinct characteristic of a writer very comfortable with the type of people and situations unique to the Southern California lifestyle (including his passion of surfing), crime, and the genre fiction of both.

This post has been updated and movie to my current blog, which is found here.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Death List Part 2

Continuation of the Death List series:
  1. Part 1 - Self Sacrifice

He had it coming! They all have it coming! ~ Strawberry Alice (Unforgiven)
unforgiven1Image by le0pard13 via Flickr
Cinema is simply a wonderful art. It not only fills your eyes with moving, startling images, but it can seize your mind and emotions with the story that only it can tell so uniquely. Be it while you sit in a darkened movie theater, or comfortably at home in front of whatever screen you have, film just captivates. And sure, it's easy as sin to root for the hero. Especially, when the tale involves the audience, and gets them to relate with the hero through her hardships and travails, affectingly.

The cause for this can be innocent but heartbreaking happenstance, bad luck (or weather), and/or the result of a flaw in his personality that brings it down upon him. All true. However, is that the only way? Not on your life! Don't forget the villain (Hollywood sure hasn't). When nature wreaks havoc on our man/woman of the hour (or two), it's good. But, it's not great (IMO). For that, we need someone, another human being, to mete out that pain. That old testament kind of tribulation and suffering has to come by way of another character (preferably, from someone who's pores seemingly reek of evil and wrongdoing). They have to lay it right on to our hero... and then some.

This post has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 8b

Continuation of the series--see Intro, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8a:

It Is A Movie Theater

As we return from the break, I continue to reflect on the movie side of my experience of working as a projectionist at the Warner Huntington Park Theater, circa 1976 - 77. For some, I can still see those cue marks in my head from the movies during that span. And they've left a dent in my memory. So, before they disappear from my mind and this world, here are some of them:

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next Up: Journey's End (Part 9)
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 8a

Continuation of the series--see Intro, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7:

It Is A Movie Theater

I guess when you come down to it, this involvement of working as a projectionist from 1976 - 1977 at the Warner Huntington Park Theater was a unique one. It simultaneously fed me concession stand food & drink (for years afterward, I couldn't stand to drink Pepsi), pocket money, and experiences that couldn't have come from anywhere else. Add to that, I screened a supply and range of movies, in a relatively short period of time, that I couldn't have dreamt to have seen, or let alone afford during that span.

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: more of It Is A Movie Theater (Part 8b)

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

Death List Part 1

The whole world is a homicide victim, Father. Would a god who is good invent something like death? Plainly speaking, it's a lousy idea; it's not popular, Father. It's not a winner. ~ Lt. William Kinderman talking with his friend Father Dyer (Exorcist III)
Death in the movies. I guess I've been thinking about this subject, subconsciously, since last weekend. Ever since I participated in another of Dennis Cozzalio's semi-regular movie quizzes (fun as they are), in fact. And, I can point to the specific question that triggered it, too:

44) Favorite moment of self- or selfless sacrifice in a movie.

It shouldn't surprise that an answer came forthwith. Plus, I marveled at the answers leveled by those who participated in the quiz to that question. I don't recall where I read it, but someone wrote, given the choice, men secretly hope for a demise such as the one nobly characterized in the question above. Sure, I bet everyone would rather have the idyllic, dying in bed of old age. Author Stephen King once described a good death as that (following a great dinner and a prime bottle of wine, that is). However, for most normal folk, it doesn't happen under those ideal circumstances. So, going out by giving up your own (for something greater) has an appeal. It's a Y-chromosome kind of thing, I guess. This kind of selfless, life-ending, act sure sounds better than the bad death King countered to the ideal one: that of being under your car to change the fluids, and the jack collapses; and as you're slowly crushed to death, as lousy as that is, the last insult is the slow drip of oil onto your forehead. Ugh.

This post has been updated and moved to my current blog, which can be found here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

True Tales

Through the years, I've flitted across all sorts of categories in books (and as I've said before, I have my mother to thank for my love of reading). Espionage tales, fast paced thrillers, historical sagas, techno adventures, horror and even some romance novels have found their way into my hands, and mind (though I'll claim amnesia covering the titles for that last one). More recently, I've become a mystery/crime fiction junkie of sorts. However, for as much as I've enjoyed getting lost in fictional tales and characters of whatever category I've read (or listened to via the audiobook form), there remains one constant pull that's never left me, or been ignored. And that written work is of the non-fiction variety--again going back to my childhood and school experiences. I can never claim to have been an exemplary student. I cruised too often, studied only when I absolutely had to and routinely tried to get by with an elephantine memory of lectures. Only later in college did I learn my lesson. Needless to say, these are the things I watch out for in my children so they don't fall into those same woeful habits. (Nag, nag, nag...)

Fortunately, the kids have inherited their mother's smarts and work ethic (see, there's another reason her nickname is she-who-must-be-obeyed). And while American Lit was just an okay subject by this so-so student, history has always fascinated me (for some strange reason). Add to this, my mom read everything... including history and true tales. From one particular P.E. course, my college judo instructor had a saying that I've never forgotten. He said after the first few weeks of basic instruction (paraphrasing):
If you haven't learned how to fall properly by now, don't worry about it. When we start teaching you (judo) throws, you'll learn it by osmosis.
Meaning, out of sheer survival you'd learn how to fall when you hit the mat enough times (the wrong way). My college career in a nutshell--even to this day, it's how I learn best. So between my mother and my own proclivities, no matter what genre I was into, history and various true tales would continue to find their way into my reading selections. For some reason, I connect easily with these. Perhaps, it's due to the real (and all too human) people and their examined situations (along with their unfeigned repercussions) on paper that grab hold of, or tear at, me. For whatever reason, they keep me coming back for more.

With that in mind, it's two non-fictions that are the subject of this post. I'm lucky, as well, that the bloggers I follow will read and review both fiction and non-fiction works. And, that they're so good at what they write, I can't help but be influenced by their selections and assessments. Besides whatever is in my TBR pile, I have the one rule where I allow myself to throw a book to the front of the line (without reservation) because it's caught my fascination by either word of mouth or review by those I've noted in a previous post. And it's two specific bloggers that I owe for my last two true reads that I found a reason to write this. To say I was thoroughly engrossed, and haunted, by both of these after finishing them, would be an understatement. The first to do this, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer, I have Elyse (of Pop Culture Nerd fame) to thank. In fact, she clued me in to it just prior to its release. We even read it at the same time (she with the actual book and me listening to the unabridged audio format - read by Scott Brick without too much flamboyance). The author had access to and drew upon Tillman's own journals and letters (along with family/friends memories and reflections) to build an extraordinary examination of an extraordinary individual. I'd love to say more about this work, and its affect upon me, but it's been done already, singularly, by Elyse herself. Read that, instead.

The second, which I completed just this morning (and that kicked me into gear), came by way of Corey Wilde (he of the marvelously named The Drowning Machine). Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein (the author did his own audio narration, in fact), is another remarkable work and is an account of a gaijin finding a newspaper/crime beat niche in the land of the rising sun. It's a memorable true tale of true crime in Japan. All of this amidst the world of a foreigner seeking a reporter's profession inside that society's insular and tribal culture. It's funny at times, heartbreaking at others, but it offers some gripping journalism tales. The author's candid (warts and all) exploration of his own culture shock and experiences makes it compelling, as well. Since it starts and ends with a astonishing inside account of a story many here in L.A. are familiar with (the Yakuza liver transplants performed at U.C.L.A.'s Medical Center), it had me instantly, and never let go. Corey's review, without giving away too much, is another thing of beauty with his concise appraisal of the book, and his ability to hook the reader into the work:
From cultural adaptation to an expose of crime, corruption, and social decadence, to personal moral and ethical dilemmas, Adelstein's story covers ten years of his life; ten years that made his life, in a world few Americans can ever hope to see or understand.
Although the books are nothing alike, and 180〫apart from each other, I recommend both (and each of the respective reviews by Elyse and Corey). Keep in mind, though, both are affecting works. Neither of the books are perfect, nor are their subjects. But, then again, great ones seldom are. In looking back at both of these non-fictions in my head, I couldn't help but recall a quote from Ernest Hemingway (but please, don't let it put you off from either of these books):
All true stories end in death.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

Thanksgiving is the one holiday, each year, which continues to sneak up on me. It arrives in between the costumes, candy and ghoulish delight of Halloween, and the all-consuming mayhem and tradition of Christmas. And, I am thankful that it causes me to reflect upon all of those things I'm sincerely grateful for. Primarily, my children who continue to (healthily and intellectually) grow (and manage to stay out of the ER) and amaze their old man, along with my bride of 20 years who tolerates her husband's whims and online thoughts with love and patience that only she-who-must-be-obeyed can.

As well, I'm grateful to all of those friends and bloggers who have stopped by to this ongoing archive to read and/or leave comments. My thanks to Jen, who I had the sincere pleasure to meet at this year's Festival of Books, for encouraging me to start this blog (and all because we share the same love for the fictional universe that author Robert Crais created with Elvis Cole and Joe Pike). And that Ohio connection begat another with Corey, who I owe literary thanks for some of the best reading I've experienced this year (Fifty Grand, Big City Bad Blood, Trigger City, The First Rule, etc.), and his friendship. From this, Naomi and Gay's fine story writing - which then led me to discover and befriend local and popular arts blogger, Pop Culture Nerd. And through all of them, I've been lucky to find so many other online connections:
  • a love of movies (and TV) with Dennis, John Kenneth Muir, Livius, Mr. Peel and J.D. (as only their fine writing and in-depth cinema and video examinations can express)
  • more literary experiences with Lesa, Kaye, Bev and Patricia (who shared with me some wonderful book experiences, gift ideas, and generally uplifting thoughts)
  • a continuing appreciation for those like Nordette Adams and Steven Hart who keep on delighting me with their thought-provoking words, music, and insights
  • fine and creative authors like Crais, Sophie Littlefield, Sean Chercover, Adrian McKinty, Pam Ward, and Gregg Hurwitz who took the time to converse or write back (and for providing wonderful content for their fans to drink in)
  • new blogger friends I travel virtually with in the southeast (Herb & Laura), and share an appreciation of movies and horror (here, in B-Sol, and across the pond, in Steve)
  • and I cannot forget that the inter-tubes found good friends who share a love of popular music with Moondancer, and in Mexico with Poncho (and that's he's likely my distant cousin!)

I am beholden to you all. My sincerest thanks.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 7

Continuation of the series--see Intro, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6:


After being promoted by attrition to lead projectionist at the Huntington Park Warner Theater, following an all too short stint of a few months showing movies, I attempted to settle into a semblance of routine. This was helped by the arrival of the summer of '76 and the completion of my college spring semester (which gave me more time to work). And more work hours meant more money in my pocket, which simply fed my preoccupation of dating young women at the time (my wife would have referred to this as an HBL thing). The sad economic fact young males learn early is that good looking girls rarely had dirt poor boyfriends.

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: It is A Movie Theater (Part 8a)
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lee, or Li?

A recent and fun post by Pop Culture Nerd, included a passing reference to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), and it made me think of someone I've long admired (and still think about from time to time). The original and iconic Bruce Lee. Then, I thought of the more recent martial arts movie hero, Jet Li. Both are favorites in my martial arts movie collection. Similar in some ways, and very different in others. Jet, as a youth, once performed a demonstration for President Nixon during a tour of the Beijing Wushu Team. This was at a time when Bruce was trying to make his mark in Hollywood and the realm of martial arts in general. Both made their careers, and mark, in their own (very different) times and became action icons of the screen. Who would you choose then as the best between them? For me...

It's Bruce, easy

Having a childhood that stretched through the 60's, I don't think I could have avoided not being exposed to this man's talent and drive while growing up. Ask anyone near my age when they first noticed this charismatic and mesmerizing figure, and dollars to donuts they'd mention it was when they watched The Green Hornet on television. And as good as the lead masked crime fighter was (as a character), everybody's favorite from the show was

Kato (The Green Hornet)Image via Wikipedia

Kato (as portrayed by Lee). I have no doubt that he picked up fans after his death when they watched the syndicated repeats of the show. Kids, my age, would talk amongst ourselves after every show, in awe. Granted this was decades before any internet access and its speed of light news or rumor capability, but the talk (and whispers) were always flying around and about Bruce Lee. And it didn't matter who you were. He attracted the attention of everyone. He cut across all ethnic lines at a time when cultural barriers were only beginning to be breached.

The fact that Bruce was, above all else, a martial artist, inspired many my age. People of small stature with the ability to kick butt has the tendency to grab your attention (whether you're big or small). That certainly came across when you watched Kato on TV. So when he talked, people listened. His personality was infectious, and his drive to succeed was only slightly higher than his willingness to share his knowledge and teachings (this at a time his own community's martial art establishment did not do those things, and mainstream America was in the midst of its own historic change). Regardless, his dynamism and persona was going to get heard, one way or another. His presence and impact on that short-lived weekly show may have been the vehicle that started it all (for a sadly a too short career), but it's had lasting reverberations.

Fist of LegendImage via Wikipedia

Still, this is not to slight Jet Li's career or popularity in any way. There are films of his that I'd pick over a couple of Bruce's. Breaking into the Hollywood (Western) film-making mainstream has not normally been via a China or Hong Kong route. Unless I'm reading it wrong, back then being Asian in Hollywood meant swimming against many currents, and the thinking behind it. Perhaps, it's better now (I don't walk in either's shoes to be a good judge). All the same, Jet's body of film work is gargantuan ("You know, I've always liked that word... ”gargantuan"... so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence.") compared to Bruce's, though. Most of it in the Eastern film market (which is growing in scale and importance compared to others). And, Jet Li's following is worldwide (and deserved). But, so is Bruce Lee's, and his was acquired more so across the decades starting right after his death. Plus, he was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word. Without him arriving on the scene when he did, the latter martial arts action stars would have been delayed (not prevented, they would have arrived anyway, just later). I believe Jet Li followed a path clear cut by someone who was a human buzz-saw of an individual.

Not that it's a bad thing (okay... it is, somewhat), but today's action stars reek of corporate, and their handlers, in their career management, touring, and publicity. I don't believe one could ever have said that about Bruce Lee [at least, not without King Kong having their back ;-)]. And why did I think of Bruce when UFC was mentioned in PCN's post? Given his martial arts skills and philosophy, he believed and espoused a mixed martial art (MMA) discipline way, way before it was ever popular to promote it in fighting systems (and their schools) or corporate boardrooms. IMO, the seeds behind the MMA/UFC craze of late were those planted by Bruce and the likes of a Hélio Gracie, along with a host of others. But, they were key and are who I think of when I see UFC advertised on pay-per-view commercials, cable shows, or write-ups in the sports pages. They just didn't get any of the profits or options from it, and certainly not enough of the credit for making MMA as popular as it's become. But, such is life. Both Bruce Lee and Jet Li are worthy of all the acclaim that comes their way. But, for my money, it's all pushed back without Bruce's arrival. Not that I consider him a god or anything worthy of worship, though. I just think his accomplishments and their effects, on a human scale, merit well deserved admiration.

Okay, it's clear that I believe impact and legacy thumb the scale in Bruce Lee's favor, big-time. But, if I'd break it down further between them, this is what I think:
  • better actor: okay, we're not talking about Russel Crowe vs. Tom Hanks here, but given his larger filmography, it's Jet; he just had a longer career to practice this art (though, if he'd have lived as long, IMO, Bruce would have overtaken him in this category)
  • better loved by the camera: both are exciting people to watch, but it's easily Bruce; look at the interviews below, and this clip, for proof
  • better fighter on camera: close, but it's Jet; again because of a longer career, plus, the benefit of working with latter day Asian choreographers (like Yuen Wo-Ping) who spent years continuing development of fight stage craft - although, you could say Bruce's impact on Hong Kong martial art films in the early 70's contributed to this, as well
  • better fighter, period: Bruce; I don't think there is any question here due to his pioneering in physical fitness/nutrition, and mixed martial arts, in general, and his own fighting art, in particular. Plus, just like a the fastest gun was always tested in the western, Bruce had to and did fight off all comers in real life (check out his fight history). Many established martial artists (and even professional boxers) say Bruce was the best there ever was.

Bruce Lee Interview (Part 1)

Bruce Lee Interview (Part 2)

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Monday, November 9, 2009

What? Me Worry?

Okay, I'll admit to another weakness of mine (besides being a crime-fic junkie). I enjoy disaster flicks (the more recent of which, along with their elaborate special effects, are now referred to as disaster porn). I don't know why I do. Perhaps, it's because I live in a state where we are all just a size 7 earthquake on the Richter Scale away from living it ourselves. And, watching the cataclysm on the movie screen is a perverse distraction from dwelling upon that fact. It doesn't help that Los Angeles has been employed in so many movies as fiasco fodder that it's actually a surprise when it's not used in one. So, with 2012 coming out this week (my son and I are already scheduled for this cinema mayhem), L.A. will again be on display, and on the losing end. Don't believe me? Take a gander at the sneak:

Director Roland Emmerich lives in the southland so I expect him to put in some nice little touches for local accuracy. For example, in the above clip the overhead expressway you see collapsing is our world famous (and locally infamous) 405 freeway. I hope you noticed that it was packed with vehicles as it collapsed and dumped its payload into the chasm. The end of traffic congestion! See, it's the little things you get the most joy out of, don't ya think? So, I've put together a small list of my favorite movie scenes where my hometown gets plastered [spoiler alert: some endings and key plots points are revealed in the films listed below].

War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds LA Destruction

We're talking about the classic 1953 version (not the Spielberg/Cruise 2005 vehicle). Director (Bryan Haskin) and producer, the great George Pal, do a fantastic job of bringing the vision of H.G. Wells to the screen. It may start somewhere else in a small town, but it ends triumphantly among the debris and rubble of L.A. This was the one film, as a child, that made me think about sneezing on my kid-era foes.

Independance Day

From Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer
Director Emmerich's first real special effects laden beat down of LaLa Land. He ignored the symbolism of taking out the well-known and familiar City Hall (like the previous film), and went after the tallest building we have, the fomerly named Library Tower on Fifth Street in downtown L.A. (it's also the tallest skyscaper west of the Mississippi River).

Miracle Mile

Steve De Jarnatt's 1988 gem of an apocalyptic thriller is a highly underrated film. Not only does it correctly capture the area's character for which the movie is named after, but it ends with the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles (along with the rest of the city) being hit by multiple nuclear missile strikes. What can I say? It's the 80's.

Kiss Me Deadly

From Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer

I have to include this famous, and restored, final scene from Robert Aldrich's Mike Hammer 1955 movie. Mickey Spillane hated the movie, along with its screenwriter (who only had contempt for the novel). Though Hammer, with the help of his girl Velda, break free of the burning house, there is no escape for them (or L.A.) when the femme fatale of the tale unleashes the atomic genie from the valise.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

From Blogger Pictures
Alright, too much of a good thing is bad. So, this is the last nuclear pasting that involves the city of my birth (but it's a great one). The scene is from James Cameron's 1991 Terminator sequel, and it includes the Sara Connor dream sequence that recreates, with the stark and realistic special effects, the chilling consequences of a nuclear explosion upon downtown.

The Day After Tomorrow

I'll end this list with Emmerich's last calamity film, from 2004, and its weather gone wild scenario. Tornadoes wreak havoc on The City of Angels (and wipeout the Hollywood Sign, in the bargain)! The key lesson from the movie: NEVER go back to the office in a disaster film!

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