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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Saturday, November 7, 2009


GImage via Wikipedia
Banks, as institutions, serve a purpose in our financial establishment that involves withdrawals, deposits, loans, investment, and exchanges of currency. Yes, like just about everyone else, I hate them, too. Principally, for their collusion in the de-regulation crisis they helped build, and the resulting recession that caused so many anguish in lost jobs and the like. But also, because every so often, they'll remind me just how fragile my secrets really are. Case in point, the ad my checking account firm mailed to my house yesterday.

Typical of today's money lenders proposals, it offered me a chance to earn 20% cash back for shopping online. I don't mind it, really (most of them will go into the shredder). However, they used my first name in the address! ARGH!

This post has been moved and updated to my current blog, which can be found here.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Trigger City

One of things I dislike most (besides lame Hollywood film remakes) is reaching the tail end of a book series that I really enjoy. While there are always other books to read (or in my case, listen to), a great novel series brings the kind of stories that blend the new right along with the familiar - all the while leaving the reader yearning for more. That's great when you start such a series, or are in the midst of one. It's not so good when you hit the wall, so do speak, and there's no next chapter in the string just sitting there... patiently waiting on you to get to it. This only goes to show the reader (me) that he's now hooked - relegated to waiting for that next novel fix. You end up trying to squelch that hunger by doing things like scanning the inter-tubes for any word of a publishing date for that next novel. Then, when you get the news you've waited on so desperately, you're counting the days down till the publishing date arrives. Not that I'm complaining... much. Although, this Crais-head really welcomes the autumn slide into January next because it'll deliver The First Rule come the 12th (there, I said it). Only now, however, I have to contribute another series-jones to my list of addictions (I'm excluding all things golf, for the sake of argument). I found myself taking stock of that fact yesterday morning when I finished Sean Chercover's Trigger City.

I've already noted how much I admired the author's debut novel, Big City Bad Blood, in an earlier post. The next in the series did not disappoint, at all. As well, the audiobook by Audible was just as solid as the first. This time, I had the benefit of some history with the P.I. character of Ray Dudgeon. Besides having the first book under my belt, Corey clued me in to the author's short story contribution in Killer Year (edited by Lee Child), One Serving of Bad Luck (which I consumed rather quickly after BCBI). The exemplary voice work done by audiobook narrator Joe Barrett (and the Audible studio directors) had his tones and inflections in my head as I read it (not a bad thing at all). The second novel added welcomed new layers to Ray, while he continued his painful recovery from what was meted out in the first book. Add to this, Trigger City included a timely and relevant plot to boot. The secondary characters (and I very much include the Second City here) Mr. Chercover used in the novels were a force multiplier with their impact on the series. Moreover, whatever the work experiences he gathered before he became a writer, seem to bring a certain reality to his story-lines. Like author Robert Crais, Sean can deftly build out and construct a character universe through his books (this one squarely centered on Chicago). He really made it easy to get immersed in the day-to-day lives of the characters, and grow comfortable with them (it has to be some sort of gift to be so habit-forming). I don't know what it is about the mystery/crime fiction genre that seems to draw this causing dependency reaction in its readership. The Horror and Sci-Fi lit I've read over the years rarely did that for me (Frank Herbert's Dune series being an exception). Even my Tom Clancy years never had this affect, either. Nevertheless, here I am... once again.
Hello. My name is Michael... and I'm a crime-fic series addict.
I never did smoke cigarettes (even in high school), chocolate no longer loves me, and I can't drink alcohol anymore (dammit). Great... All I have left is this series condition. All thanks to my dealers, the C-brothers (Crais & Chercover). I guess I can take the edge off by reading the Gravedigger Peace short, A Sleep Not Unlike Death, from the Hardcore Hardboiled collection, or the Ray Dudgeon piece in Chicago Blues (The Non Compos Mentis Blues) while I wait word on the next book. That, and cross off another day on The First Rule calendar I keep.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

November Prints

drum stand1Image by le0pard13 via Flickr
During a span in my life, I carried an 35mm SLR camera (Canon AE-1, and later, an A-1) just about everywhere I went. Photography filled a hole in whatever artistic bent I had in me. I shot color slide or black & white print film at whatever points in the city I traveled to, or at various sporting and musical events I attended. It seems I had to have at least one hobby/interest going on as an adult. [wife: "Substitute the word obsession."] And during the late-70's / 80's, this was it. Over the years, I had collected a number of slides and negatives--most of which I've likely now lost (if I'm lucky at today's yard sale, I might find some). Only some of the prints that were created years ago have found a way to remain with me into this century. So, I've decided that if I can't find the original film or slide sources, I might as well scan what I have to form an archive of sorts. The images in this post represent a prime example from that era, and they have a connection to the present.

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