Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Twenty Years Ago Today

This is special day in my household--a milestone in no uncertain terms. Twenty years ago, I committed myself. No, not to a mental institution -- though some would argue that point. I committed to an notion that had floated in my head since I was a young teen. For some crazy reason, I thought there was a special someone, out there among the masses, that I'd be with, happily, until the day I died. It just took a couple of decades for it to arrive, that's all.

Yes, friends, this blogger is an some sort of idiot crazy romantic. Oh, there were plenty fits and starts in this endeavor (to borrow Jen's one word resolution for this year) before meeting her. Train Wrecks Galore (yes, I once dated the younger sister to that Bond girl from Goldfinger). And of course, this put me on a road that had plenty of U-turns and accidents--relationship-wise. Add to this the expectation that the person I'd marry would also be the mother of my children, too. You see I had to set that goal just high enough to clothesline myself, to be sure.

Remember, this was the late 60's. I often wondered why I kept that hope alive in my head over the span of time since then. And it was too easy to become cynical, as well. I figured that the dream, as I would later learn to see it and keep to myself, sprung from being a child of divorce. It all comes down to bitter history--witnessing, from a front row seat at age four, how your parents could disintegrate as a set when one of them choose not to care of the effects of walking away. That skepticism almost cost me, dearly.

It was a cloudless, clear Saturday that one would not have expected, even in L.A. An 80 degree-day that sprang up during our normally wettest month. Back in 1989 I married my best friend, the mother of our children, and my partner in life. Easy words to say. And at times, it was hard to believe that it would ever come true. But, it did. I may refer to my spouse in a glib manner at times, but there is no one I respect, love and trust more in this world. And if she reads this, hopefully my wife will realize that I consider myself the luckiest man on Earth to have her as my bride--then and now. Happy Anniversary, Andy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Canada::Common Sense

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative -- Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

Interesting piece by Mr. Zakaria. Some of the key elements:
  • "Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailout or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it's Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system the healthiest in the world. America's ranked 40th, Britain's 44th."
  • "So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers."
  • "Canada has been remarkably responsible over the past decade or so. It has had 12 years of budget surpluses, and can now spend money to fuel a recovery from a strong position."
  • "Its health-care system is cheaper than America's by far (accounting for 9.7 percent of GDP, versus 15.2 percent here), and yet does better on all major indexes."
Sobering, as well as humbly. We pride ourselves as being the most successful industrialized nation on Earth. And what's that old saying? Pride before a fall? The prescription is straightforward, though:

"If President Obama is looking for smart government, there is much he, and all of us, could learn from our quiet--OK, sometimes boring--neighbor to the north."

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Best Oscar Post-Mortem

... goes to today's post by John Gruber. A very clear and straight forward piece, and so true. My kids (and their kids) and I will be watching and appreciating WALL-E for years to come ("... long after the Academy's choices have been forgotten.", as John puts it). In fact, my favorite part in last night's Academy Awards was the WALL-E clip where he tosses the found Oscar statue for the videotape (at the 1:45 mark):

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Saul Bass: 1920 - 1996

More in the spirit of film than just in the Oscars, let's hear it for one of the great graphic designers, ever: Saul Bass. If you've seen a bunch of movies, you've likely see his work in many a great movie title sequence. I give credit to today's post by Steven Hart to bringing me to this wonderful tribute site for the artist. And if that's not enough, check out this other video salute:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Newsweek's Greatest Oscar Snubs

This being the week of the Academy Awards (if your week goes Mon - Sun, that is), Newsweek has come out with its list of Greatest Oscar Snubs. I love their intro image for the piece--see later note. Of course, this type of list draws many an opinion as the Academy has rebuffed plenty great performances and pictures throughout their history. So, let's tear into this, shall we?:
  1. Judy Garland, The Wizard of Oz - I agree that the then 17 year-old should definitely have been nominated. However, given the competition for that year--which included Bette Davis for Dark Victory--she would have been hard pressed to win, even if she was nominated.
  2. Katherine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby - yes, she should have been nominated. Though, I doubt she'd have beaten Dame Bette.
  3. Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca - yes, yes yes. Not only was she robbed for this movie, but the Academy managed to ignore what is for many the first or second greatest film of all-time. Count me as one of them for having it first--I have the other one, Citizen Kane, lower down. At least Ingrid was nominated in that year for For Whom the Bell Tolls.
  4. Cary Grant, The Philadelphia Story - oh, hell yes! Not that I hold Jimmy Stewart (winner for the same movie) any ill will, but Cary was criminally under-nominated for the body of his work in film. He could have won for this, too.
  5. Humphrey Bogart, The Maltese Falcon - I have to admit, Newsweek is on a roll here. Bogie should have been on that year's list. Who would I have cut to get him there? Probably Robert Montgomery (in a favorite of mine), Here Comes Mr. Jordan.
  6. Lana Turner, The Postman Always Rings Twice - okay, she deserved a nod, here.
  7. Jimmy Stewart, Vertigo - if Jimmy didn't deserve a nomination/win in 1940, then this edgier role surely deserved the nod. But, I would have given the Oscar to him for It's a Wonderful Life. So what do I know?
  8. Orson Wells, Touch of Evil - the movie was ahead of its time, but was this performance enough to get past those that were nominated for Support Actor? I don't know on this one.
  9. Peter Sellers, Lolita - see #8.
  10. Sidney Poitier, In the Heat of the Night - he deserved it, but the Academy bowed to the flashier, accented role with Steiger. And, it was a year with a number of strong actor performances (Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner).
  11. Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange - iffy, but who do you bump in 1971?
  12. Gary Oldman, Sid and Nancy - yes, he deserved the recognition. But, is the snub one of the greatest? Again, a lesser one.
  13. Martin Sheen, Apocalypse Now - he was good in it, no question. I'd have him there, perhaps bumping Dustin Hoffman (the eventual winner) off the list. Sorry, but I'm still disappointed that Roy Scheider didn't win that year for his performance in  All That Jazz (Dustin would have survived to get it for Rain Man).
  14. Vincent D'onofrio, Full Metal Jacket - I don't see it, here. Yes, very good performance. But, I don't see him getting past those who were nominated. This is a stretch.
  15. Samuel L. Jackson, Jungle Fever - now this role by SLJ got me (and others) to notice how good an actor he is. Problem was it's a so-so movie with an outstanding performance by the supporting actor. Still, I would have nominated him.
  16. Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic - agreed. He was better than two of the actors on the nominated list that year (psst...Peter Fonda, Dustin Hoffman).
  17. Jim Carrey, The Truman Show - maybe, only just maybe. It's not in the 'greatest' category, to me. 
  18. Madonna, Evita - oh...come...on!!! In perhaps her only really good film performance, she received due credit. But, to count it as one of the greatest snubs?!? Yes, she won the Golden Globe. But then, the Hollywood Foreign Press also awarded one to Pia Zadora, for christ sakes! Thank God she torpedoed her nod by arrogantly and shamelessly telling all that would listen that she'd get that year's Oscar.
  19. Clint EastwoodGran Torino - this easily makes it as one of the Greatest Snubs--little wonder it was chosen for the intro image of this piece. With all due respect to Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), he's not in Eastwood's league when you watch their respective films. What were the voters thinking? Not much, I assure you.
Really, I'm not bitter... ;-)

Monday, February 16, 2009

President's Day

This being the national holiday, some news outlets are generating some news of their own. C-SPAN put out its list of U.S. Presidents by ranking. I picked it up on this CNN article:

But, my favorite part was in the comments, especially the one by Lisa in Naples:

"I agree with Joe in Austin. Lets wait 20 years to judge "W". By then he will be the very bottom of the list. Putting him at 36 is way to high."

Then, the L.A. Times had their fun with On Screen Presidents. My take? I'll select Morgan Freeman as Tom Beck for his calm leadership in Deep Impact.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

S Is The Word

Jen of Jen's Book Thoughts kindly gave me a letter so I could participate in this meme. I'll paraphrase the gist of it:

...identify 10 things that you love that start with a particular letter. Hand out a letter to any commenter that asks to participate and continue the meme.

Now I never thought this was going to be easy, but it's even harder than one would think. Sure, you can dilute things enough to fill this out, but then limiting it to just 10 really causes one to self reflect. So, since we're talking about the letter S, I'll not mention the obvious thing that comes to many a mind, sex. And while I enjoy the heck out of it (I have two kids, mind you), it's too easy, probably cheating and much too pedestrian for this lofty a list ;-). So, in no particular order.:

1. Sunsets - I've lived all of my life in Los Angeles. It's home. And whether it has some minuses to go along with its long list of pluses--like all big cities--it also has some of the most breathtaking sunsets on display throughout the entire year. All for free. I've been to the other parts of the country, including the Hawaiian islands (and theirs are magnificent too), but all of those twilights are not in my hometown. And few compare. I consider myself lucky to be in this part of the world looking at that portion of the sky come close of day.

2. Sting Ray - no, not the Dasyatidae. The car. Specifically, the distinct model era of the Chevrolet Corvette that was produced between 1963 and 1967. I don't know any red-blooded American male born anywhere near that period that does not recognize this vehicle, or that striking styling. I can thank Route 66 for this now aged love. Not specifically the historic mother road, but the 60's TV show. And though those TV heros started off using the older CI model, they upgraded and incorporated the really cool Sting Ray version--and I've been sold on it ever since. And when I discovered my favorite book series by Robert Crais, Elvis Cole, some years later, I was only too thrilled to see him drive a 1966 "Jamaica Yellow" Sting Ray convertible. 'Nuff said. 

3. Starkey - as in Carol Starkey, the hard-bitten, ex-LAPD bomb squad heroine from the Crais standalone novel, Demolition Angel--BTW, I'm using here the Corey Meme Corollary (established and validated here, item 4) whereby the first, middle, or last names can be used to meet the letter requirement of any meme. Not only was she a favorite book character of mine in her own right, but her insertion afterwards into the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike universe brought an awesome dynamic into an already great series. Each appearance segment within each of the last three Cole novels was always a highlight for me, especially any of her interactions with the "World's Greatest Detective".

4. Sword & Sandal films - these have a special place in my heart going all the way back to childhood. I fondly recall the times watching, in the theater or at home in front of the TV set, the telling of biblical, Roman, or mythological tales, and being completely enthralled in the epic, adventure and spectacle that was unique to them. From The Robe to Quo Vadis to Ulysses, and all of those in between and beyond. They were such fun! That is, until the deviant Capt. Oveur said that memorable line to the kid Joey in the movie Airplane! Then, it I'd just keep my mouth shut and move on to...

5. Samurai movies - that's right, I'm talking about that one particular film genre from Japan. Known as chambara or "sword-fighting" movies in that part of the world. I first discovered this notable group of cinema during the 70's and found the only outlet, outside the L.A.'s Little Tokyo, was the now defunct mid-city Toho Theatre (it's a church, now). I learned to relish these period dramas, which share a special context with our own "Westerns". Many of these "Easterns" spawned or influenced some of their famous counterparts (Seven Samurai :: The Magnificent Seven, The Hidden Fortress :: Star Wars). Great stuff.

7. Star Trek - I know, I know. He's in tech, so must be a geek (an old one, at that), so of course...he's into Star Trek. Guilty as charged. My fondness for Sci-Fi was influenced early by exposure to some seminal works when they were initially released--this is one of them. Although, I wouldn't call myself a Trekkie or Trekker or even a Niner--I've never attended an Star Trek Convention (please, I'm not that nerdy). But, I have seen  (at least once) every TV episode of every series, except for Enterprise (which was the weakest of the lot), and all of the big screen releases. And, I'm introducing my kids to the newly digitally re-mastered Original Series--much to the chagrin of their mother.

8. Scallops & Shrimp - I was going to put down seafood, but I've become more selective in my old age (and if my acidy stomach has anything to say about it). But these delectable mollusk and crustaceans have never been put on the sideline, ever, when we go to a favorite seafood restaurant of ours, or when we breakout the BBQ. Some grillin', lemon and some crusty artisan bread, and this one is good to go--that, and having a 150mg tablet of Zantac.

9. Summer - while Fall used to be my favorite season, now it's this one that brings me the most enjoyment. What's not to love: my joints creak less, my golf and handicap improves, 4th of July picnics, beach-combing, and I get to run around in short sleeves and shorts. The warm weather in southern California during this time of year brings everyone out. And, as opposed to some places, our humidity remains low (except for a portion of July when the monsoonal moisture comes from up from Mexico), so it's a comfortable heat. Plus it's time to break out some of my favorite summer movie DVDs, like Tequila Sunrise.

10. Sexdecillion - okay, I lied. I had to get sex somehow onto this list, and this seemed like the best way (and least suggestive) to do this. I happen to like this large number name for 10 to the 51st power on the American Short Scale--learned it many moons ago in some distant math class. Plus, it just sounds so good

And there it is. If you'd like to continue and participate in this alphabet meme, please let me know in the comments.

Forgotten Crime Gems

I don't know what it is about crime movies. I find that I watch and enjoy a lot of them. Oh yes, I still manage to get in the drama/epics (Rob RoyKingdom of Heaven), comedy (Blazing Saddles), and horror (most recently Prince of Darkness - the region 2 disc with John Carpenter's commentary) films, to name a few. But, I have a warm place in my heart for those that deal with crime in general. Last weekend I put on The Godfather Part II after I got the kids down for the night (I had done Part I last month). Like these, there are plenty that meet the high commercial and box office thresholds studios strive for. But, some of my crime gems came/went when initially released, never attaining success, and quickly forgotten to the video store dustbin.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I'm Not Going to Make It

True story (pinky-swear). After picking up both of my kids from their usual Tuesday after-school doings, we headed homeward this evening. Everything normal, yes? Except, for that one brief conversation that happened in the car. My thirteen year-old son started it by asking a seemingly simple question, and thereby catching this retort from his nine year-old sister:

Teen: "Dad, can I use a book that we have at home?"

Dad: "What book?"

Teen: "It's called 1001 Ways to be Romantic."

Dad: "What?!?"

Teen: "I'm not going to use it now. Later, when I'm a little older. You used it, right? With mom, I mean."

Dad: "Aw..."

Snotty Little Sister to Teen: "Oh...come...on! It's not a book that has directions in it. Just things to do, you dope. And it's not like they're going to work...unless it's written by a woman!"

And as Dad drove quietly home, he wondered if the ghost of his mother was cracking up at that very moment. I don't know if I'm going to make it till she's twenty-one...

Monday, February 9, 2009

(My) Essential Skill

Some years ago, my good friend and golf partner (coming up on 2 decades now) asked me a question related to the information technology field. While he specializes in a different segment, IT Security, he posed a question that he thought was still valid for my niche--managing Apple workstations and servers in the enterprise:
"What do you think was the key skill or training you received early that has proven to be the most important in your IT career?"
He had already been asked this in a tech survey and answered it. But, he was curious about how I would respond to the same question. He's well aware that we come from different backgrounds--he's Sansei (third-gen Japanese ancestry), born in Utah and came to L.A. later with his parents, and who majored in business computer systems at our local state university. I was social butterfly and too cool to care about any of that.  Ahh...youth. It didn't take long for me to come up with an answer, and it's the subject of this post.

And, what was that answer? Were we the nerdy kids in high school who signed up for the computer club? No (well...maybe he did--heh, heh). Learned to love math or puzzles at a young age? Nope. Studied programming or music as kids? Not hardly. We both answered with the same response, and in a similar timeframe in our lives. We both learned to type in junior high. That's it--his and my answer to the question. We were some of the few males who choose (it was an option for students at that time within the Los Angeles Unified School System) to take that class.

Why were we the few? Remember, the mid-60's still had girls steered toward taking typing and home ec in preparation for their supposed later lives as secretaries and housewives (ironically, I didn't marry one of those--she-who-must-be-obeyed is a Health Physicist). And why did I do this way back then? I don't know the reason why my golf buddy did, but for me it was to meet the girls. Yes, my life in tech (years later) came down to just biology and raging hormones. However, it was that sole familiarity with a keyboard that spawned that entry into the computer field. Weird, I know...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

It's Been 50 Years...

...since the Day the Music Died. Today, Larry Harnisch, in his L.A. Times blog, had an interesting post regarding this day, mainly from the perspective of local Ritchie Valens and the story behind the 1987 La Bamba film. When this tragic day in Rock & Roll happened, I was only 4 years old, and had no memory of it. But later, as a teen in high school, the Don McLean song American Pie would pull me back to that event in time. Since then, with the tributes in film done for Valens and Holly, I've thought the Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson) has been woefully under served. Wikipedia mentions an upcoming film that "will pay tribute to Richardson", but I've seen neither hide nor hair of it.

The End Month Meme

Last month Declan Burke posted this intriguing meme:

or simplicity’s sake I’ve kept it to one book per author, and the idea is that the last book on your list is the book you’d most like to die reading, if you had to die reading.

To wit:A long, long time in the future, in a galaxy far away, the doctor says, “Sorry, but you’ve only got a month to live.” What ten books would you re-read in your last month?
Corey and Jen have picked it up. All of them, including their commenters, have some wonderful and thoughtful things to say, along with the books for that time. Me? I only wish I could be so eloquent. I think I'm in the same league as Jen commenter (and fellow Craisie) beauvalet: "I have no idea what I would want to read then. My reading mood changes so fast." Though to her credit, she then mentions some interesting choices.

I believe I would mix some old and new for everything but the last two books on this list. For the old, I'd have to pick something from my favorite series--and since it's one per author, it'll likely be either L.A. Requiem or The Forgotten Man. The former because it's been my preferred, the latter because it just keeps rising IMO with each re-read. Next, The Odyssey--because Odysseus has always been an admired character for me...and he must get home. I'd probably throw in something of Dickens or Hemingway, too. Maybe, something from non-fiction history.

For the new, I'd pick something from the waiting stack inasmuch as I've never read them. And because it's a reminder to me that time moves in only one direction--forward. However, the last two books on the list would be reserved to the choices of others. Each of my children would get to pick one and I would have them read it to me. I wouldn't be surprised to hear Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, or Love You Forever--stories that I read them when they were small and I was putting them down to sleep. You see, I'm an old softie, and I believe in symmetry.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Starting the Annual Run

Every year, I throw in to the DVD player some annual movie favorites--films that I view no matter what happens. Besides those for the recent holidays, I will always take in  L.A. Confidential, Michael Mann's Heat and Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (usually in the Spring). Come summer, it's Chinatown and Robert Towne's (under-rated) Tequila Sunrise time.

There are others that I won't mention here, but yesterday I began this year's run with one that includes a favorite actor of mine: Liam Neeson. The choice was influenced by the Friday movie that I took in, the newly released Taken. It's a decent actioner, but Liam still shines. So, I had to start it with 1995's Rob Roy.

This one, released the same year as Braveheart, has a number of great things going for it. Apart from Liam (who was my pick for Best Actor for Schindler's List), it has a great story (though not very factual), cast, one of the great film villains ever, and what is arguably the best sword-fight ever lensed. And for that, I will forever see actor Tim Roth as Archie Cunningham. With regard to that sword-fight, journalist and blogger Steven Hart described it best. I can't say it any better than he, but I did have to add a comment ;-). I should note, hopefully, the studios will re-release a new, re-mastered DVD for this great work (like they did last fall for Braveheart). The current disc is long-in-the-tooth and the picture suffers some on new flat panel sets. Plus, this movie and its fans yearn for the extras that the current barebones edition so sorely lacks.

Now, what's next in the stack?