Monday, January 30, 2006

Some Random Filmic Thoughts

I can't believe that both Underworld and Transporter made enough money not only to warrant sequels, but also apparantly have directors with very deep pockets because they managed to attract back their original stars. And, while Kate Beckinsale and Jason Statham aren't really A-list stars, they're not exactly giant pieces of crap either. I mean, they're not exactly...I don't know Paris Hilton and Vin Diesel. Anyway, who went to see these movies? And who in Europe is so desparate that they're willing to go see them? I mean, don't they have better movies in Europe? Hollywood economics sometimes baffle me, I'll admit.

Old movies. To be specific, Auntie Mame. Now, Auntie Mame is one of my absolute favorite films of all time. I first saw it in elementary school, and I immediately wanted my own Auntie Mame. And I wanted to grow up to be Auntie Mame. she was my role model. Mame was the poster child for "Be yourself and awesomeness will follow." She was, of course, fabulously wealthy. But that was really incidental to her person. I love how she flitters about, absolutely sure that everything will work out exactly as she intended, until she runs up against the reality that is the Knickerbocker Bank and her nephew's trustee. She continually battles against what "society" wants her to be in order to fully become herself. It was a powerful message for me, to see that it was okay to be yourself and not what everyone else wants you to be. Of course, I can never live up to Mame's standard of living (she redecorated ever six months, it seems, whatever her latest obsession was), or the extent of her travels, but I can try a little to live up to her motto: "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

New movies. To be specific, Match Point. It's nice to see Woody Allen return to form, in a way. He's so hit or miss, and and his later films have not been as enjoyable. I think I saw my first Woody Allen film when i was about twelve. I'm fairly sure it was Sleeper, which remains one of my favorite of his films. I also saw Take the Money and Run at around the same time, which I also enjoyed, giant bananas or robots, you know? Plus I like that he posited a world where hot fudge sundaes were good for you. Annie Hall, of course, because I thought that Diane Keaton as Annie Hall was very much who I envisioned myself being, she was so cool. I loved her clothes, that whole Annie Hall look that really only Keaton could pull off. And, I don't know how Ms. Keaton would feel about this, but I still imagine her as Annie Hall. I didn't really understand the film the first few times I saw it (hey, when your thirteen you don't exactly have a nuanced experience of relationships), but now...well, now I do. But even that movie retained some measure of Allen's slapstick sensebilities. Hannah and her Sisters was a high point, I recall, as was Crimes and Misdemeanors, the film that introduced me to the great, great Jerry Orbach. But a disturbing premise, that film. The Sweet and Lowdown, which was the film that made me completely re-evaluate Sean Penn, so completely did he inhabit Emmet Ray and make me believe that he was, indeed, the second best jass guitarist in the world (after Django Reinhardt, of course). And now Match Point, which, while not a departure in some ways, is a radical departure in others. I think that the central emotions of the film are not unfamiliar territory for Allen. The questions of desire versus obligation, what we others and what we owe ourselves, how far are we willing to go to protect or get something we want. All ground previously covered by Allen over the last thirty years in various combinations and genres. Where Match Point is a departure is in its setting (London), it's casting (Jonathan Rhys-Davies instead of an aging Woody Allen), and it's soundtrack (opera). It's a fairly interesting examination, without being obvious or irritating or judgemental about it, of class in the UK, and how an outsider tries to fit himself into a life he was not born to, and didn't really realize he aspired to. For I do believe that Rhys-Meyers does not particularly have designs on the Hewett family, he's not a grifter or a con artist. He never represents himself as anything other than what he is, which is a poor Irish boy who was good enough at tennis to play professionally for a while. He's not loath to be attached to the family so he lets himself be carried along without really thinking about what he's walking into. The Hewetts are wildly wealthy, but also very generous and kind people who want nothing more than for their children to be happy. And then there's Scarlett Johanssen, who is so much more of a bombshell than I ever imagined she would be when I first noticed her in Ghost World. I'm not sure how Woody Allen manages to get such good performances out of his actors, since it would have been easy to reduce all of these characters to two dimensional stock characters, and each person managed to turn in a nicely nuanced performance.

The conclusion. Go see Match Point, it's an excellent film, and has much more to it than it might initially seem. Rent Auntie Mame because it's a fabulous and funny movie, and any world that doesn't have Rosalind Russell crying, "Ah, Patrick, my little love!" isn't a world I'd want to live in. And...ponder the weirdness that are sequels to bad action/fantasy movies and wonder how they could possibly justify it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Soundtrack of Your Life

Ah, the miracle that is the iPod. Or, really, any mp3 player that lets you carry a large amount of your music library with you without all those annoying CDs or tapes. More importantly, it allows you to more fully explore your library. I mean, you scroll through and think, yawn, I listen to this all the time, but, I'd forgotten about that. I was listening to music during lunch today (well, since I got the thing, I'm surgically attached to it), and I was scrolling around, no, I don't want to listen to pop, no, I've overlistened to the Leonard Cohen one, maybe...wait, what's this? Wish. Hmmm, wow. The Cure. I haven't listened to this in a long time. So I chose it and started to listen, and suddenly "Friday I'm in Love" came on. It's only the reason I bought the CD to begin with (I mean, the whole CD is pretty good, but nevertheless). And...I just love that song so much, and I had totally forgotten it even existed in this world. I feel like I rediscovered a piece of myself.

I also have learned to like albums that I bought and didn't like very much. I mean, some albums are beyond hope, it's possible that I'll never really come to like some albums. But others really have grown on me. Aqua's second album, Aquarius, which I think I like better than Aquarium (for Cartoon Heroes alone). LCD Soundsystem, something that got really great reviews when it came out, and I just didn't like it that much. But I listened to it several times all the way through, and, at some point, the switch flipped and I was like, "Oh. I get it. It really is good." I'll admit that I will give albums several chances, on the idea that I just might not be in the mood for whatever it is I might be listening to.

And then I discovered podcasts. First there was, of course, the Project Runway podcast, in which Tim Gunn gives a relatively unvarnished version of what happened on the show that week. He can be quite honest in his assessment of what is going on, and sometimes disagrees with the judges. Then I started listening to the Battlestar Galactica podcasts (...shut up). You're supposed to listen to them in conjuction with the show, but it would require watching the show twice (once without and once with). But it's definitely a cool idea, it's like he's doing DVD commentary for the original broadcast. It's fun to listen to because he acknowledges when they've made mistakes, where they took shortcuts, but he also gets really gleeful when they've gotten things right. It's a great glimpse into the creative and production process of the show. And then I found out that Ricky Gervais (the creator of the UK version of The Office and Extras, among others) has a podcast, and so I started listening to those. They're bascially a smarter version of a morning zoo type show (only once a week), because I think it's mostly Ricky Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant making fun of their friend Karl Pilkington. But I find myself laughing outloud at it, which is not a good thing when you're walking down the street and people have no idea why you're giggling hysterically. Not maybe the most businesslike face to be putting forward.

Of course, the other cool thing about the iPod is the video capability. The screen is pretty small, about two square inches, but has great resolution. I've only downloaded two videos so far, but I can definitely see loading up before going on a trip. Of course, the battery doesn't last quite as long with the video (okay, it's a lot shorter), so you have to have a power source to recharge it (and the right charger, of course).

Of course, what I'm really enjoying is the opportunity to listen to a broad range of my music library without carrying a lot of crap around with me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Colonials Take

Okay, y’all have to forgive me another basketball post. We’re deep in the season now, and there have been a couple of conference games, and a bunch of non-conference games, which I can only think of as warm up games. Pretty much everything from now on “counts”, so the games are getting important. So. Here’s the thing. I worry. I worry about their preconference schedule, which was very soft. They struggled against teams they should not have been having trouble with (I mean, Norfolk State? Why was that such a tough game for them?). I think that their loss at North Carolina State, and then the near losses that followed (they went into overtime two of their next three games) really got them back on their game. I mean, it can’t be fun to be away from home, be losing badly, and having the opposing crowd chanting “Overrated” at you for five minutes can’t exactly be building your confidence.

That said, they played an outstanding game against St. Joseph's. I don’t know if St. Joe’s just isn’t as good as they were last year, but GWU simply dominated them. It was beautiful. And Stony Brook? Yeah, that club needs a few years of building. It’s possible they might be good at some point (their new coach used to be an assistant coach for GWU), but now is not it. I felt sort of bad for them, because they didn’t even score for the first eight minutes, and we got up by twenty points and never really looked back. I think at some point we were ahead by thirty points.

But I made a discovery last night. I really like to watch basketball, but I don’t like watching players who have no personality. For example, Omar Williams has made great strides in his four years at GWU. Hobbes played and played and played him, never really gave up on him. And I’ll give him credit, he’s a lot better than he used to be. But he’s sort of boring. it takes a lot to get him going, he has these occasional flashes of greatness, but he’s not consistent. And he fouls a lot, but there’s not a whole lot of return there. Now, Mike Hall is fun to watch. He’s dependable and steady, and, now hear me out. You’d THINK that would make him boring, but it’s not. He scopes out the strategy and he tends to put himself in a place where he can get the ball to the basket. He doesn’t push plays, he waits for his opening. He can slam the ball, make three point shots, fade away jumps, and he’s a reliable foul shooter. He plays clean, too, so he’s not likely to be giving away those free foul shots to the other team. Danilo Pinnock? Elegant. And, again, smart. Also a good three point shooter, solid on the foul line. Fluid. Carl Elliot? Something of a hothead, goes for broke, he’ll drive down the lane if he think he can get in, but he’s got self control, so he can pull back if he needs to. Mo Rice? Fun, very much like Elliot, actually. Both good point guards. Pops? Well, he used to be a lot of fun to watch, but...he seems flat this year. The problem with Pops is that he’s the big inside guy, and he’s only good if he isn’t guarded. He gets shut down, he can’t do anything else. He can slam the ball in like no one else, but I’ve yet to see him even do a lay-up. and when he tries something further away? I don’t even know why he bothers. He shoots 50% from the foul line if he’s lucky. So, he was fun last year, but this year, not so much. Alex Kireev I have a certain affection for because, hell, he’s better than Roma was (I mean, he does have the ability to handle the ball). Last year he seemed to improve dramatically because he’d played with the Ukrainian national team, but he sort of fizzled. He doesn’t suck...okay, he does. But I like him anyway. He’s an underdog. Decent freshman talent. Montrell McDonald has been getting a lot of time. My dad likes Rob Diggs, and thinks he’ll get time on the floor next year. We’ll see.

The big fear, of course, is that Karl Hobbes will decamp next year to a bigger program. Now, this fear is currently being stoked by my Big Brother, who...we’ll see. It’ s not like he’s got the inside line What Karl Hobbes Is Thinking About His Career, so I’ll just nurture the hope that he’ll stick around for a few more seasons.

We’ll see how they do up against some tougher teams coming up and going into the NCAA rounds. My guess is that their early season was too soft, and they might fall apart against tougher teams.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hobbes, what the HELL are you thinking?

Okay, first let me say this, before I get to the subject of my post. DAMN YOU, MARLA, for getting Diana eliminated on Project Runway. I didn't think Diana would make it to fashion week, but for sure I thought she'd outlast stupid Zulema. At least dumb Cara is out too, since she was Marla's horrible model.

Anyway, on to the subject at hand, which is what the hell is going on in Karl Hobbes' head? Seriously? Okay, for those who don't know, I am a huge George Washington University men's basketball fan. I've been going to games for almost six years, so I've seen them really evolve over the years, and under Hobbes they've really blossomed. One of Hobbes' strengths, as a coach, is his ability to recruit players who are versatile, and can play a range of positions, shoot from all over the court, and has enough of them that he can rotate in and out. No one on the team is ball hog or a glory hound, different people have the high score each game. They're team players, and they're really fun to watch. Most of the time. Because there are nights when I watch them, and I think to myself, what is going on with these guys. And tonight it was Hobbes who confused me. For example, this St. Louis team we were playing was really good. Really, really good. Good shooters, great defense, fast. And they shut us down for much of the first half. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who, when he is not being shut down, is spectacular at one thing, and that is getting the ball inside and slamming it in the basket. Which, is great, and fun to watch. When he can get it done, which he hasn't all season because everyone is onto him, and they put three guys on him and then he gets the ball, and he's compelled to put the ball on the floor, and then he's done. He can't just get the ball, turn, and take the jump shot. There was a period last season where he got out of it, but he goes back to it, every time. Plus, he can't free throw for shit, and I'm sorry, if you can't do the one thing you're on the court to do, the LEAST you could do is make the freakin' shots where no one is on top of you. And damn that I never noticed that the boy lumbers around the court. He is slower than molasses.

Okay, so there are some amazing players on this team. Mike Hall, Danilo Pinnock Mo Rice, Carl Elliot, all solid, smart players. Omar Williams is adequate, with flashes of greatness when he gets fired up, which is about once a year. Kid can jump when he wants to. And there are some really promising freshman who are getting play: Montrell McDonnell and Rob Diggs. McDonnell gets a lot more play, but Diggs has a lot of talent that might come out next year.

So, tonight, some of our good players were not doing well, Mike Hall among them. We couldn't get a break, St. Louis was ahead of us by about five points, and we are out there just, well, sucking. Suddenly, Hobbes puts in McDonnell, Diggs, Elliot, Rice and the new guy whose name I don't know yet, and suddenly they are on fire. Suddenly we're climbing in points, then we're tied, and then we were ahead. They are blazing, everyone is on their feet, we're all screaming, clapping, shouting for them, and then, at a time out, Hobbes dismantles this team, and puts Williams, Pops and...someone else who was sucking, and all the life goes out of them. The hell? Why would you take a team that was doing amazing things, running the ball, intercepting, having an incredible run, and dismantle it, never to be seen again? I find it baffeling.

Incredibly, we ended up with a tie at the end, and in overtime we won, but it was pure luck and a couple of bad breaks for St. Louis. And, in terms of stragegy, this was Hobbes' fault. In court play, if we'd lost, it would have been Omar's fault. He made some really bad moves that cost us a lot (and let's not forget McDonnell's intentional offensive foul, which was pretty egregious).

This GWU team has so much talent and potential, and sometimes I don't know what Hobbes is seeing when he looks on the court. It was a mystery to me why he wouldn't let that bizarre combination play out a little longer to see how long they could maintain the energy and run. So, GWU, saved again by the other guy being a little worse, but, like Wendy Pepper from season one of Project Runway, eventually you will come up against your Jay McCarroll, and you will never recover from it.

I bet you wondered how I was going to work Project Runway into the end of a post about Basketball, weren't you?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Just a Couple of Things

Okay, this is a collection of some random things. First things first. I got home today and turned on the tv, and realized that Yes Dear has now been on the air long enough to be syndicated. How did this happen? Who is watching this show? I don't think I've watched it for more than five minutes at a stretch. Whoever is watching it, please stop. Now.

Other things that need to stop. Tapered jeans. I have seen a disturbing renaissance of this style in my wanderings in downtown DC and at my local Y (and, by the way, who exercises in jeans? I mean, if you're going to do it, at least wear something comfortable so you come back! But I guess it's good that people don't use the lack of comfortable clothing as an excuse not to do it.), and that is a style that looks good on no one. Really, I don't care how skinny you are, you still have shoulders, and you look like a wedge. Stop wearing them!

I will admit that the incidences of cropped/gaucho pants which I noted in the fall has fallen quite a bit. Are they not winter wear? Well, whatever. They're gone, and I, for one, am pleased about it.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. I'm a hundred pages in, and already it's a very disturbing account of drug addiction and recovery. I didn't think much of the style at first, but it's really very powerful, and he's a very evocative writer.

I mentioned a few weeks ago my excitement at the return of Project Runway on Bravo. I have come to really appreciate Tim Gunn on this show. He is the salt on the reality show slug. All that drama swirling around, and he's like this slice of acid through the show. He's not mean. He's very nice, just firm. As someone on the TWOP forum said, he would tell you that you suck. Very nicely. Not to be mean, but because it's true. I find it sort of comforting that real people exist on television.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Abramhoff Goin' DOWN

And he's taken Congress with him. He's pleaded guilty to three felony charges, and they're addresseing the charges down in Miami connected to the casino boats later. More importantly, he's naming names. According to NPR up to twenty members of congress could be implicated, including Tom DeLay. You can read the very extensive article here. Additionally, you can read about the 1980 Abscam convictions here and here. I'm actually sort of surprised that there's not more, to be honest. I mean, I was only twelve when the indictments were handed down, and I definitely remember it. It was even in Blook County (Milo dressed up as an Arab trying to bribe Senator Thornhump. Awesome.). Anyway, this is huge, and it will be very interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming months. I, of course, am so cynical that I pretty much assume that everyone is corrupt anyway, so it'll be fascinating to see who goes down.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The 2006 Resolution List

Happy New Year everyone! I hope that everyone had a fabulous evening on New Year's, and you spent it exactly how you wanted to, and that the long weekend has been unprofitably spent. I know mine was!

So, I was pressed New Year's Day for my resolutions. I'll admit that I hadn't given it a ton of thought when asked, and threw out about six things, at which time I was told that I had choose two, because I'll never keep all of them. There is truth to that. Which is why I've never really done formal New Year's resolutions. However, I do have several sort of broad goals, though, that I'd like to work through this year.

1. Vary my exercise more by starting to swim again and getting outside more.
2. Get my meal planning in hand
3. Get my career under control
4. Revise the novel

Of course, what my list should look like is:
1. Continue to hone self-taught bartending skills
2. Get the cushion on the couch in front of the TV just right

Because it seems that those are the two things I spend way too much time on right now.

However, because I'm blogging without much of a point, I thought I would go ahead and give you a couple of recipes that I made on New Year's Eve. For the martini recipes I used Absolut vodka simply because I like the flavor better, but feel free to use whatever you like best.

Orange Martini
2 shots orange vodka
1 shot Cointreau
1 shot Rosa's Lime Juice

Combine in a martini shaker with ice and shake well till combined. Pour into glass and garish with maraschino cherry.

Key Lime Martini
2 shots vanilla vodka
1 shot Rosa's Lime Juice
1 shot half and half (either regular or fat free is fine)

Combine in a martini shaker with ice and shake well. The cream will curdle a little bit, but the shake smooths it out, so don't be alarmed. Pour into glass. If you're foward thinking, garnish with a lime rind.

Vietnamese Stir-Fry (roughly based on the Washington Post recipe from 12/29/05)
3 Tbs. dried lemon peel
1/3 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tsp. chili pepper or hot pepper flakes (or less or more to taste)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 medium shallots, minced
2 Tbs. peanut oil
2 pork tenderloin chops sliced thinly
1/4 cup brown sugar
Sesame seeds
Chopped mint for garnish
1 package flat rice noodles

Combine lemon peel, fish sauce, chili pepper, and garlic and set aside. Now, the original recipe called for fresh lemon grass, which I could not find, so I should have added extra liquid to this mixture before adding it to the meat stir fry.

Sprinkle the brown sugar on the pork and turn to coat it. Heat the peanut oil in the frying pan. When hot, add the shallots and cook until the scent releases, and then add the pork. Saute the pork until cooked through, add the sauce and toss to combine.

Cook the noodles as instructed on the package, and toss the pork and sauce with the noodles, and garnish with the mint and sesame seeds.

Eat immediately. Serves three or four really polite people who have been eating appetizers and drinking for several hours and is totally delicious.