Sunday, June 29, 2008

Entertainment Round-up in brief

Saw “WALL-e” and “Wanted” this weekend.

“Wanted” was based on a really smart, twisted, violent comic book by Mark Millar and artist J. G. Jones. The movie’s producers kept in most of the twisted and violent elements, but were apparently not as concerned with the “smart” aspects. I promised brevity, so I’ll cut right to my beef. In the comic, the evil society that recruits the Everyman office drone is made up of super-villains – capes, masks, superpowers, everyone knows the drill. The movie scrubbed that whole concept, and the bad guys are just some secret cabal led by Morgan Freeman. Big fucking deal. Since they have no super powers in this treatment, their ability to fire bullets that curve through space is beyond far-fetched. One would clearly need a super-power to do that, so the movie doesn’t support the weight of its own tortured logic.

That said, on its own merits, it’s a great summer smash-‘em-up movie. Angelina Jolie is having a lot of fun and even shares a quick shot of her chiseled, nekkid physique (getting out of a tub, wet, no less) with her grateful fanboy fan base. Crazy-ass stunts and some computer effects that would have been amazing if they weren’t already used first and better in “The Matrix” and “Running Scared.” Two thumbs up for genre fans, one-and-a-half for hard-core fanboys.

“WALL-e” I’m liking better and better as I think about it. Mostly it was The Boy’s first movie, so I was kinda keeping an eye out for toddler trouble that never occurred (unless you count the part where there was a quiet moment in the film and The Boy announced to the theater, “I have a hammer!”). He was most excellently behaved throughout, even the roughly third of the film he spent on my lap. He had a hammer, but he didn’t use it. Would that I had demonstrated such restraint at his age.

Pixar films are never less than good; I’d put this one between the “Toy Story” films (great) and “The Incredibles” (PERFECTION!). The filmmakers never give anything away with trite exposition – the story just starts and trusts its audience to keep up with it. The eponymous star of the film is an antiquated, R2D2-sized trash-compacting robot left pursuing his never-ending task on a ruined and wrecked earth sometime in the future. The whole first half-hour is mostly without spoken dialogue. And once human characters are introduced, the hilarity truly, honestly does ensue. Great fun. Recommended for all.

On the DVD pile (which always gets out of control when I’m depressed, and I’ve been nothing but since losing Woody)…

Man, I blazed through the first season of “NYPD Blue” in no time at all. It was one of those that I ‘watch’ while I work, but since I was already familiar with the characters and storylines, I figured it would be ideal for working. Which it was, but it was also just great freakin’ television. Not dated as much as I thought it would be – it was never a show about its tech anyhow. In a couple of years, the first season of “24” will look laughably quaint in its use of its cutting-edge technology; by setting their show in a run-down, pre-antiquated POS squad room, “NYPD” has a relatively timeless quality to it. Only characters like the trendy-dressing, big-haired desk gal seem dated. Everyone else might as well have walked in from a 1950s film noir.

Season 2 is on its way from amazon for $20. I don’t need every season, just these two and the one where Jimmy Smits’ character dies.

“Rockford Files” season 5, “WKRP” season 1, “Homicide” season 3, “Martin and Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour”s from the 50s, of course more “Banacek;” the entire run of “Vengeance Unlimited” that I bought off some guy on the ebay, “Femme Nikita” season 3, “Dragnet,” that “Holocaust” miniseries from the 70s… and that’s just off the top of my head. Oh yeah, the series-set of “The Addams Family” that I got at Costco for $25. And all the Max Fleischer “Superman” cartoons and “Johnny Cash Show”s that I keep handy for watching with The Boy…

…it could be time to start thinking about another dog or I’m going to Depression us into the poor house.

Whether Report: Continued Sunny and Dark

I’ve been nursing a long, wide, self-indulgent depression since Woody died, broken only by the occasional moments spent actively with my son. But mostly it’s been brush fires, shitty air quality to match my mood (see photo above taken by The Missus at like, 4 p.m. the other day — that’s the sun there behind the smudge) and celebrity deaths. Quality celebrities. I can’t even get it up for Supreme Court rulings, even ones about gun control. I work, I sleep, eat a little but stay fat because I drink Pepsi products all day, I check to see who’s died today and I play with The Boy. The only part that isn’t a blur is the time spent playing with The Boy.

I still have drifts of Woody’s hair under my desk, and at night I take my shoes off and run my toes though them while I work.

The Boy is almost 3 now, and due to be potty-trained. Since we’re not planning on breeding up any more kin ourselves, I personally haven’t been in any hurry to rush him through the stages of childhood. I’m enjoying every one and I won’t get another crack at them, so it’s always been my feeling that he’s welcome to continue to take his time. But his peer group (at daycare, soon to be preschool) is moving on and I want to make sure he keeps up on the potentially socially-stigmatizing milestones.

So after the big 4th of July extravaganza at Yosemite with the extended in-laws, I’m gonna take up the reins of the potty training and get behind that goddamned mule and plow. I’m also gonna go find me a pup that needs me, and I’m taking on another weekly newspaper as well at my day job as mild-mannered newspaperman for a great metropolitan newspaper company.

Three tough things to accomplish concurrently won’t give me time to feel sorry for myself about any one of them.

Actually got my eye on a dog already, but I haven’t gotten a good sense of the cut of his jib yet. Went to the weekly pet adoption thing outside the pet store yesterday, but I couldn’t get the idiot SPCA loudmouth to shut up long enough to ask her about him. It was like going to lunch with Chris Matthews and trying to ask him to pass the salt. “Excuse me… excuse me… ahem… pardon me…?”

I left angry [Editor’s note: no, really? You?] but fortunately The Missus ran back after I got home and got the paperwork rolling. I suppose I’m in for some Gestapo-like grilling, probably a home visit, background check and full cavity search just for starters. I’d really rather find some local shmoe whose dog just had pups and take one of them. I’ve never had to jump through hoops before to get me a dog. Used to be, they just fell into my life.

But basically, everything is on hold till after next weekend. Planning on taking The Boy to his first movie today, “Wall-E.” All the critics are wetting themselves over it and it’s from Pixar, so hopefully it won’t contain anything that’ll blow his mind and re-fuck up his sleep patterns. Shit, it’s 6:52 a.m. and he’s still asleep. That in itself is cause to celebrate! Summon the wine wenches and bring forth the Foole…

Oh yeah, that’s right. The Foole gig is still open.

And that’s the way things are going here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Position Available — Occupation: Foole








The preceding seven deadly words are brought to you today in homage to the late George Carlin, who passed away Sunday at the age of 71, according to the AP, apparently brought on by complications from just being too fucking ornery to still be alive.

Before I discovered Richard Pryor or Steve Martin (while both were still doing their best work), I found George Carlin. My friend Sean got away with murder at his house and he had these tapes of this guy… Carlin came off like the cool substitute teacher who would give you the answers to the pop quiz your regular teacher had left for that day. Only Carlin gave me to the answers to questions I hadn’t asked yet, but that I still ponder today because he brought them up. Does the Pope shit in the woods? I still think we oughtta know.

As a kid, I was listening to one of his first tapes at home one day, and my Mom came charging into my room, demanding to know what I was listening to, during Carlin’s “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” bit. And the funniest part was, he was telling a story about getting busted for listening to what passed for smut when he was a kid. Richard would later teach me about life, but until he did, George Carlin taught me about growing up the middle-class vaguely Irish-Catholic perennial square peg. He was right on the mark.

My recollection is that I had fully taken in Carlin’s then-slim catalogue when Steve Martin came around and gave the entire popular culture a pinch in the ass, and I lost touch with Carlin for a while. Caught him on HBO whenever we could afford HBO (or I was at Sean’s house), bought a couple of albums (“A Place For My Stuff”) that seemed to be re-working old themes without a fresh angle, and frankly sort of lost interest. Lost interest in a lot of things there for a while, but that’s a story for a different 12-step meeting.

When I came back to him about a decade ago, his act, like the world around him, had gotten mean, downright hateful. Unapologetically misanthropic. I saw that show on HBO, and basically his thing was that he’d not only given up rooting for the human race to survive, but had gone over to the other team’s side. He was actively advocating our extinction as a species. He said he liked, even loved, individual people, but as a group? Forget it. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all. And it was really depressing, because every example he gave to buttress his position made perfect sense. I forget the details of the bit, but it carried over to his talk show appearances to promote the HBO special, it seemed to be his new life outlook. And I remember thinking, “Man, is this guy dark. He makes Sam Kinison seem like Ted Danson in blackface.”

Looking back on it now, I realize, Holy shit, this was his new angle! This was a total reinvention of his act, in his sixties. Stooped and greyed and more haggard even than when he was loaded all the time, George Carlin had re-invented himself for the generation he was sure was gonna push the button and end it all anyhow. And again at last, he was right fucking on the mark. I thought it was one of the great second acts in stand-up comedy, which for various reasons doesn’t seem to lend itself to second acts (Lenny Bruce, Pryor, Martin, Robin Williams).

So I’m neither shocked nor stunned that he only made it to 71. The life he’s lived, like Johnny Cash before him, he’s lucky he made it that far. And even then, he never stopped working; I’m pretty sure I saw a new HBO special just last year, maybe earlier this year. He looked liked Tim Conway doing an old-man impression of Carlin, but he sounded like vintage, irreverent Carlin. His act was about half “ya ever notice” filler, and half a continuing exploration of the ugly, secret, true side of humanity, highlighted by mordant observations about his own crumbling decrepitude and impending mortality.

George Carlin is one hateful, misanthropic sonofabitch I’m gonna miss.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Unanticipated Scenarios: Defending Tim Russert

Goddamned idiot blogosphere...

My pal Cliz pointed me to this other blog where there’s a ton of comments from people about what total bullshit the media coverage of Tim Russert’s death has been. I can’t really say because I was watching MSNBC exclusively and specifically for the coverage.

Anyhow, some of them goddamned blog commenters (I provided the link, but I can’t endorse actually going to visit it unless you’d like to feel sad about humanity for a while) are not only criticizing the media’s coverage of Russert’s passing,* but they’re criticizing Russert as a journalist. And apparently other bloggers are joining in the fun.
*Sidebar: The 24-hour news nets always over-cover media figures’ deaths; don’t blame the guy/Princess who died for the coverage his or her passing brews up.
Here’s what one ill-informed commenter commented: Russert could have been a real journalist but he chose to be a millionaire celebrity.

What the hell does that mean? You can’t be both rich and good at your job? Uh, maybe at McDonalds, pal. I’ll betcha Edward R. Murrow and Woodward & Bernstein would disagree with you, though.

I recognize this mentality. This is the same type of person who loves a band until they start selling records, then abandons them as having “sold out.” Russert was a member of the media, therefore, Russert must have been bad because the MSM is baaaaad.

As the bard himself once said, “That there’s some fuzzy math you got there. Heh heh heh.”

When I banged out my initial post, it was minutes after hearing the news. I actually watched Russert’s show religiously, and I watch the other two “MSM” Sunday morning news shows too. I like the guy on CBS, but I loved Russert. I loved Russert because he was so crazy dogged in his grilling. His whole body language was straining at the seams, fit to burst, but he was always polite and concisely-spoken and he was usually the smartest guy in the room. Always the best prepared.

Then at the end of every show, after a shitload of commercials for G.E. and various other multinational corporate entities, Russert would have maybe 15 seconds for a sign-off — not even the 90 seconds Bob Schieffer gets over on CBS —and the sign-off guy was always the opposite of the guy who’d been browbeating the Secretary of Whatever for the last 50 minutes. He’d be shouting out to some stupid sports team, the Bills if it was that time of year, or remembering someone who had passed that week, or talking about his son… if I had a buck for every time I heard Russert tell his son he loved him on that show, I’d be a millionaire celebrity myself by now.

I never knew, until the last few days, that he really was the nicest guy in the world, but I’m not a bit surprised.

Those two guys, the pit bull and the puppy dog, were the same guy. What a magnificent combination in a human being. What a cool guy he would have been to know. Unlike the people slamming him now that he’s dead, he’s somebody I actually woulda liked to have had a beer with. Even [shudder] a Rolling Rock.

To prove my point, even Bruce Springsteen liked him:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Non-Obligatory Fathers Day Post

My son, the artist, drew me a picture of Satan himself for Fathers Day, while Johnny and June Carter Cash sing about the Lord in the background. Enjoy!

The annual Father’s Day post

I like the picture of my Dad, above, but that’s not how I remember him. For one thing, his background didn’t always have a flag motif, but it was always flying in his heart.

My folks didn’t adopt me till my Dad was about 50, so all I remember is the sweet old bald guy who was kinda round and wore thick glasses. The only thing that looks familiar in the photo above is the baldness and the cigarette.

This has been a shitty summer. Losing Woody last month (not unexpectedly, but abruptly as hell…), then losing my favorite pundit mancrush Tim Russert yesterday… hearing about it on the car radio while stuck in traffic after the middlin’ “The Incredible Hulk” movie...

All the bad stuff has been really bad, and the good stuff, only middlin’. The result is, I just haven’t been on my A-Game lately.

Here’s a f’rinstance. I went to a friend’s wedding last weekend while The Missus and Man Cub were out of town, visiting her parents. The photo inset into this paragraph is how I wore my tie for the first 20 minutes of the church part of the event till The Last Boy Scout showed up (just in the nick of time, the way superheroes always do!) and gave me a quick makeover. But look at that. It’s friggin’ ridiculous. It doesn’t look so much like a fashion faux pas as it does a failed suicide attempt. And the fact that I decided to grab a couple of establishing shots of myself before the wedding proper, so there’s evidence of my sartorial clumsiness…

It hasn’t been easy being Fang lately. I decided to bake a cake for The Missus’ birthday and this is what happened:

The dessert equivalent of The Necktie Fiasco. Again, not a confidence builder.

My saving grace has been the boy, and that brings me back to the point of this post.

The Missus does the best she can handling my eccentricities and moods, but she’s only human after all. Plus, compared to the boy, she tends to overthink things. I don’t need The Delicate Treatment, I need to be dragged back into the land of the living, kicking and screaming, with reckless abandon. That used to be Woody’s job – a job he excelled at, frequently at great risk to life and limb – but now that onerous responsibility has fallen to my son, who has never proven himself less than fully up to the task. Even when I’m acutely aware that I’ve become that permissive hippie parent in line at the counter I didn’t used to want to get stuck behind and the boy has turned his indignation up to 11, there’s never a moment when I’m not fully engaged, and proud as hell to be his Dad.

There was a moment today when I was in my office, working, wallowing in MSNBC’s wall-to-wall coverage of Mr. Russert’s untimely passing, and the boy was watching “Robots” out in the front room by himself while The Missus was out shopping for dirt. The people on my TV are telling me all about Russert’s devotion to his family, and my son is sitting alone in another room watching a movie I could be watching with him. I’m happy to report that is a fuck-up that I corrected right then and there.

So this is to say thanks to my father and my son, who gave me a name and a reason for living, respectively. Without you guys, I really would be nothing. Steve Earle wrote a song about it, and ala my friend The Lovely Salome, I will close this brief, photo-heavy homage with some of his lyrics appropriate to the occasion. Thanks Steve, I couldn’t have said it better. These lyrics would have been nothing without you.

Well, I'm nothin' without you
It don't matter what I do
If I win or if I lose
Sweetheart I'm nothin' without you

I'm a beacon in the night
To show the way until it's light
I'm a stumbler in the dark
When I can't say what's in my heart

I'm a poet just the same
Every time I speak your name
I'm just a shadow when I'm blue
But I'm nothin' without you

“I’m Nothin’ Without You” © Steve Earle

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert recalled to the home office

Shocked and saddened doesn’t begin to cover it. I loved Tim Russert. I never missed an episode of “Meet The Press.” When he appeared on “Today,” The Missus knew that whatever was happening in the front room, I was checking out of it until Tim was done speaking.

And the reason was, he was the most honest journalist on television. He was tough as nails and prepared to the hilt. He never let a non-answer slide, but his aggressiveness in pursuit of the answers he was looking for never seemed personal, nasty or petty.

Bottom line: He came across as both honest and decent. He was always a gentleman on camera. And he was endlessly smart; not clever, but intelligent and well-studied. How many TV-news figures can you say that about?

He’ll be missed around this house like an amputated limb. Sunday mornings will suck awfully hard for a long, long time to come.

As one newsman to another, I wish you a peaceful journey, my television friend. Rest well.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Last Great Woody Photograph

From the day before, taken by The Missus.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Learning to hate on Hillary

Last night, by any metric, Barack Obama crossed the finish line to the Democratic nomination. I’ve even just taught spellcheck how to spell his name. (While I was at it, I taught it “spellcheck,” too. It wanted to break it into two words, but that’s just not how I see ‘spellcheck.’)

Hold on, I mistyped. Barack is the nominee by any metric other than Hillary’s. Her metric appears to be, “That fucking guy – who is BLACK, people, BLACK! – can’t be the nominee while I still draw breath. THIS FUCKING NOMINATION IS MINE!! I deserve it. It’s owed to me! And if I can’t have it this year, I’ll distract the candidate with endless procedural maneuvers designed to be keep him so pre-occupied covering fire from his left flank that the GOP should have no problem taking him down in November. Don’t worry. I’ll still be here in 2012. And by then, after what I’ve done in this campaign, nobody will dare oppose me.”

Failing that, she ‘let it slip’ yesterday that she’d be willing to settle for VP, where she’ll go to bed every night at Blair House with a prayer on her lips (to whatever dark god she worships) that the three a.m. phone call she receives will be to inform her that President Obama has had some horrible tragedy befall him, and she will be required to step up to the top spot that upstart BLACK MAN so unfairly stole from her. Note to future President Obama: If VP Hillary tries to convince you to make a good-will, fence-mending tour of Appalachia, make sure you send special envoy Rev. Jeremiah Wright in your place.

I tell you, “Clintonian” didn’t used to be a curse word around this house, but it’s become one in the last couple months. What a graceless, pandering phony that awful woman is. Every time she breaks out one of her “Hey, I see you!” Shit-Eating Grins, I picture tiny shoe-making elves, yoked to rope and pulley devices inside her mouth, heaving with all their might to drag the corners of her mouth into that rictor-like deaths-head grin; another set of elves tasked to pull her eyes wide like she’s just been jettisoned into deep space and her head is .5 seconds away from exploding.

After 8 years of Bush in the White House, the last thing we need is another four of another President with a Messiah Complex.

Monday, June 02, 2008

When Geeks Breed

So The Man Cub is developing a Superman fixation. We’ve watched some of the ’50s TV series together, although there’s not enough flying and crashing into things there for the boy. Might as well call it “The Clark Kent Show.”

Much better are the Max Fleischer cartoons from the 1940s. Pretty much non-stop flying and crashing and rescuing that damned Lois Lane, who through simple stupidity and guile, places herself in mortal jeopardy every single episode. The cartoon Superman didn’t come to earth to save the world, he came here to save Lois Lane.

That aside, The Man Cub has also grown up in a room with a giant poster, expensively mounted, of Superman clutching a flowing American flag. And he has Superman PJs. Realizing I’m no kind of role model myself for my son, I’m trying to introduce him to some. For instance, he also has a poster of a young Johnny Cash in his room, looking down at his bed.

All of this is to be expected When Geeks Breed. Maybe there’s an evolutionary imperative at work that keeps us from getting laid until we’re old and getting tired. By that time, we crank out one, two kids, tops. Nobody ever promised the geeks we were going to inherit anything except the next day’s ass-kicking after school behind the gym.

What I didn’t expect was for The Missus to encourage this sort of comic-book foolishness. Imagine my surprise recently when I noticed that she had begun affixing the optional red cape to the boy’s Superman pajamas. Now he runs excitedly through the house (and both yards) with his arms splayed out in front of him, gargling some kind of toddler approximation of the Superman fanfare that always accompanies flying scenes. Last night, apparently thinking I wasn’t ‘getting it,’ he came running up to my desk and explained, “I flying, Daddy! I flying!”

It was an awesome moment. As long as he grows out of it by first grade. I don’t want my son getting his ass handed to him by the school bully because he’s wearing a Superman costume to school. I want it to be for the same reason his dad got his ass kicked, because he smarted off to stupider kids who were bigger than he was.

You need a lot of righteous indignation to keep your engines running full-out if you’re going to grow up to save the world.