Friday, October 31, 2008
Day of the dread
I was going to write something about how much I hate Halloween, prompted by the insane, Christmas-level decorations people seem to be putting up these days (back in my day, did anyone ever do anything other than set out a pumpkin on the porch with a candle inside of it?), not to mention the phenomenon of slutwear and other ridiculous costumes for adults -- the cash register at Trader Joe's today was dressed like Pocahontas. But then I came to the rather sad realization that I really don't like very many holidays. Let's check the rundown, from worst to most tolerable:

Halloween: Don't get me wrong, it's perfectly fine for the kids, but adults have been co-opting it for the past couple of decades. Mom and dad, your place is standing on the sidewalk as your tots go trick or treating at your neighbors' houses, not dressing up as Sarah and Todd Palin to go out and get wasted on pumpkin margaritas.

Thanksgiving: I don't eat turkey (or tofurkey) and while I would love nothing more than to spend the day with my family, I refuse to fly on the most crowded and expensive weekend of the year. Since my parents and I now have webcams, maybe we can at least meet virtually. Bonus negative factor: my birthday often falls on Thanksgiving, and most restaurants are either closed on that day or serving ham & turkey.

Christmas: As someone who hates to shop, Christmas is, not surprisingly, not a favorite. However, I must admit that the Xmas-to-Jan. 1 period is often the only time all year that I can truly take time off, since all of my clients are doing the holiday thing. At least once I've finished shopping, I can relax, and that's not bad.

New Year's Eve/St. Patrick's Day: If (like me) you're not a partier, at least they provide a good excuse to stay in, watch a DVD and relax.

Valentine's Day: I can't say no to love, but Joe and I have permanently sworn off Valentine's Day since (a) it's too close to Christmas and our birthdays to warrant more gift giving and (b) going out to eat on V-Day makes about as much sense as flying on Thanksgiving weekend.

Mother's and Father's Day: I very rarely get to spend them with my parents, which is a bummer, but it's never a bad thing to take a moment and let them know they're appreciated, which I try to do each year.

Labor Day: A day off is nice, but it's a little bittersweet since it represents the end of the summer (even though we usually get at least a few more weeks of warm weather here in the Bay Area).

Memorial Day: Better than Labor Day since it comes at the beginning of the summer; good excuse to go see a movie.

Fourth of July: The best holiday -- a day off, plus it's in the middle of the summer, which is the best season, with lots of summer still to come. I have celebrated many a Fourth at cookouts with unabashed Berkeley liberals and can attest to the fact that even though it may not be what some consider the Real America, there are lots of America-lovin', BBQ-chicken-and-cole-slaw eatin' patriots here in the bluest of states.

Inconsequential holidays: any day you don't get off work but the postal service does (MLK Jr. Day, Columbus Day, etc.); religious holidays I don't celebrate (Easter, Jewish holidays -- although at least if it's a Jewish holiday someone usually brings tasty coconut macaroons to my book group).
posted by 125records @ 5:24 PM   2 comments
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Our long national nightmare is over
She is gone. She is finally gone.

Yes, America did the right thing last night by not voting for Cloris Leachman, thus ending her reign of terror on "Dancing With the Stars." If her pathetic cha cha cha, which received a combined score of 15 (out of 30) from the judges and featured her partner Corky Ballas dragging her around the dance floor like a sack of potatoes, didn't do it, surely the viewers' inexplicable fascination with the elderly hoofer must have faded during the group hip-hop number. Cloris, wearing orange leggings and a Harajuku Lovers jacket that must have sent Gwen Stefani from the room screaming if she happened to see the show, couldn't keep up with the youngsters, so she and Corky were banished to the bandstand to flail around as the rest of the dancers performed. Susan Lucci, who should be the next to go, brought neither the noise nor the funk, but everyone else did a credible job. I'm not saying it was good, just that no one else embarrassed themselves.

Guest judge/"Lord of the Dance" Michael Flatley proved himself an easy touch, giving a 10 to injured Brooke Burke and generally telling everyone how awesome they were. The funniest thing about Flatley's softness was that Bruno toughened up, even channeling Len Goodman when he gave a score of "se-VEN!" On the results show, the hunk of Irish beef even did a one-man dance that was supposed to have something to do with Al Capone, if Capone was into tap. Oh, and there was fire.

Other thoughts:

* OK, who thought it would be funny to have openly gay contestant Lance Bass dance to "Tutti Frutti"? Don't tell me it never crossed your mind, producer who picked that song!

* Is this the first time that the Ballroom Kids vote has been unanimous? Usually the judges split two-one. The first couple was better, but I always kind of liked the split because no one wants to see a 12-year-old get his or her feelings hurt on national TV, and getting at least one nod might have softened the blow.

* Before the elimination, we were told that next week's show will feature a team dance, in which three couples will combine forces for one routine, and will have to work together to get a good score. Betcha everyone else is very, very happy that Cloris is gone. And that Corky needs a long vacation right about now.
posted by 125records @ 10:49 PM   5 comments
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Election time amusements
I swear this link came to me via a Republican friend, which means it's tons o' fun for all political persuasions!
http://www.palinaspresident.us/
Note: you need a fairly fast internet connection, the Flash plugin and your speakers turned on to enjoy.

It is very, very rare indeed that I link to any sort of YouTube or viral video, but this one just entertained me so much, particularly since I practically grew up with the Fonz and Richie Cunningham (I never quite got into those Andy Griffith reruns, probably because Mayberry was in the Real America and even as a kid I was an elitist in training):
http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/cc65ed650d

And Washington Post op-ed columnist Eugene Robinson, get out of my head 'cause you're reading my mind! I'm looking forward to how productive I'll no doubt be after Nov. 4.
posted by 125records @ 12:51 PM   0 comments
Friday, October 24, 2008
This movie goes to 11
My experience going to see "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" was almost like a microcosm of the band's own saga. It's playing as part of SF DOCFEST, a local documentary film festival which, oddly enough, I've never been to before, despite the fact that I love docs. My experience with film festivals (SF International, Mill Valley, Silent Film, etc.) tends to be long lines and sell-outs, so I bought tickets in advance and got to the Roxie Theater 45 minutes early. No one else was around, except for a guy selling the Street Sheet, so we walked around the Mission for a while. About 25 minutes before the screening was due to begin, we went in. There were maybe a dozen people inside, a number that swelled to maybe 30 or 40 by the time the film started unspooling.

"Anvil" is the story of a heavy metal band that often seems uncomfortably close to a real-life Spinal Tap. The Canadian quartet's key members are frontman Steve "Lips" Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, who have been best friends since the age of 14 -- over 35 years ago. Despite a taste of success in the '80s, when their hard rocking sound and risque onstage antics influenced the likes of Anthrax and Metallica, the 50-year-old men now work menial jobs to stay afloat and play the odd local club gig in their spare time. They haven't stopped making albums -- their catalog now spans 13 albums, including such titles as Metal on Metal, Hard 'n Heavy and Absolutely No Alternative -- but as Lips complains, the fact that they're so small-time has meant tiny recording budgets and releases that don't capture the full majesty of the band's sound. He is determined to make sure the band's 13th album, cleverly titled This Is Thirteen, is their best yet. Yes, he's 50 and still waiting for his big break.

The band receives an email from a promoter who wants to book them on a European tour. Filmmaker Sacha Gervasi signed on as a roadie and joins Anvil as they roam the continent, with the occasional high (a medium-sized festival in Sweden) and many, many lows (sparring with club owners who don't want to pay them; a booking in a 10,000-capacity hall that brings in fewer than 200 paying customers; missed trains). By the end, I was half-expecting to see a marquee reading "PUPPET SHOW/and Anvil." One of the more blatant Tap references -- the boys visit Stonehenge -- elicited giggles from the Roxie audience.

The film does have a happy ending of sorts, though perhaps for Anvil, the best news is the increased exposure they've gotten as a result of the documentary, which was a hit at Sundance and has won audience awards at other festivals. In a recent interview with Spin, Lips talked about his feelings when Gervasi approached him about doing the film: ""I felt, 'Ah, this is the moment I've been waiting for.' I've been doing this band for 30 years for this movie." Even if you're not into metal, after getting to know Lips and Robb and their families, you'll be rooting for them, too. This is a very entertaining and endearing film that, like Anvil itself, deserves bigger audiences.
posted by 125records @ 11:20 AM   1 comments
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Breakin' 2: Cloris Boogaloo
As soon as Tom Bergeron announced that next week would feature a "hip hop group dance" with all the remaining "Dancing With the Stars" contestants, I knew Cloris Leachman would be safe once again. I mean, who wouldn't want the opportunity to see America's favorite octogenarian popping, locking, or -- dare we hope? -- krumping? If I weren't such a sap for Sapp, I might've picked up the phone and voted for Team Clorky myself.

And so it was pop singer Toni Braxton who got the boot. I was betting on soap star Susan Lucci, but her tame hustle outmuscled Toni's West Coast Swing. To be honest, I can't remember a single one of Toni's dances; I couldn't stop my mind from wandering whenever she was onscreen. At least Cloris is... interesting.

We also got another set of Ballroom Kids, a couple from L.A. vs. one from Philadephia. The Philly youngsters were dressed in the team colors, and of course they won. It's too bad the show couldn't have scrounged up a pint-sized dancing duo from St. Petersburg and turned the Ballroom Kids competition into a World Series preview.

My prediction for the Final Four: Team Clorky's reign of terror will eventually end and we'll be left with Maurice & Cheryl, Warren & Kym, Brooke & Derek, and Cody & Julianne. I've been happy to see sprinter Maurice Green improve week by week, because Joe has a huge crush on Green's partner Cheryl Burke, which provides him with motivation to keep watching the show. I hope Cheryl never again gets stuck with someone like Wayne Newton who gets eliminated early on in the competition, so we can keep watching the show together!

I'm curious if Cloris has turned into the equivalent of "American Idol" hopeful Sanjaya -- personally, I've never watched an entire episode of "Idol," but every week I must admit I got online after the results show aired to see if the singer, who was better known for his hairstyles than his talent, had survived. It wouldn't surprise me if non-"DWtS" watchers are doing the same just to see if Cloris made it through yet again.
posted by 125records @ 12:41 PM   0 comments
Friday, October 17, 2008
It's a hard knock life
I wasn't surprised when the grosses for Disney talking-dog comedy "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" surpassed those of the Middle East thriller "Body of Lies" last weekend. It should be obvious by now that any film that can even be loosely associated with the words "Iraq" and "war" is box office poison. Add in the financial turmoil, and the climate looks very, very good for escapist fluff (as I've stated before, I think the blockbuster ratings for "Dancing With the Stars" are another sign of the times -- well, that and the insatiable desire to see if Cloris Leachman can tango).

Throw my bum shoulder into the mix, and I haven't exactly been hankering for anything too serious myself. Perhaps that's why I can't wholeheartedly embrace "Slumdog Millionaire," the new film by Danny Boyle ("Trainspotting") which left the Toronto Film Festival on a cloud of ecstatic buzz. I went into it not knowing anything about it other than it was set in India; that must guarantee at least one Bollywood-style song and dance number, right? It does (have patience), but what comes before is rough going.

The film opens with lead character Jamal Malik being tortured by police, who suspect him of cheating on the Indian edition of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" Surely the 18-year-old kid from the slums couldn't have known the answers to the tough questions he was asked. He's dunked in water and then is shocked with electrodes attached to his body -- what is this, the Indian equivalent of Abu Ghraib? But Jamal continues to insist that he's innocent. He knew the answers, and then he starts to explain why. And we learn that the last thing Jamal cares about is the prize money.

There's a bit of magical realism involved (all of Jamal's questions relate to incidents in his life, which we see in flashback), but the scenes of the boy's childhood in the slums seem all too real. We meet little Jamal, an unbelievably adorable youngster, and his brother Salim, who have an additional strike against them -- they're Muslim as well as dirt poor. I don't want to give too much away, but the things that happen to them (and the girl, Latika, they meet along the way) are bad, bad, very bad, awful and horrific. "Slumdog Millionaire" has been described as Dickensian, and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy packs at least 600 pages' worth of woe into two hours.

So why go see this movie? The cinematography is awe-inspiring -- there's one scene where Jamal and Salim are being chased through their neighborhood, and the camera pans out, and then further out, and further still, and we gasp at the sheer size of the slum they inhabit. There are scenes of the purest desolation (huge piles of trash, like something out of "Wall-E"), and those of stunning visual beauty (a portion of the film takes place at the Taj Mahal). Boyle's kinetic visual style shows what a bold and confident director he's become.

"Slumdog Millionaire" reminded me a bit of Will Smith's "The Pursuit of Happyness," in which a homeless single father suffers one indignity after another, only to emerge victorious at the very end of the film. (In retrospect, that BART restroom where Will and his son were forced to spend the night looks pretty plush compared to the slums of Mumbai.) It is a tale of survival against awesome odds, but it's also tough going through much of its running time. I suspect film buffs will love it, but will it really be this year's "Juno"? I think the odds of that are about on par with a kid from the slums winning millions of rupees on a game show -- you never know, but it's highly unlikely.

"Slumdog Millionaire" opens in limited release on Nov. 12.
posted by 125records @ 10:46 AM   2 comments
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Shouldering the burden
What was it that finally drove me into therapy? Was it my obsession with the presidential race? Losing $40,000 in the stock market? Watching Cloris Leachman dance every week?

No, I'm afraid I haven't succumbed to "the talking cure" -- it's actually physical therapy, for a shoulder impingement. After experiencing a few weeks of pain in my left shoulder, I finally figured that it wasn't going to just get better on its own, so I went to my doctor, who in turn sent me to a frighteningly fit, blond Nordic-looking dude in Oakland who gave me a bunch of exercises to do. So there's that, and ibuprofen. I'll let you know if it works.

I have to take back some of what I said about Cloris last week, because the lady came back on Monday night and did such a credible job with her tango that the (surprised) judges gave her decent scores for the first time. She tied in the judges' scores with TV chef Rocco DiSpirito, but received enough fan votes to keep her in the competition for another week. I won't miss Rocco's arrhythmic hoofing, but I'm a little nervous about next week's "Dancing With the Stars," which will introduce four! new! dances! -- the hustle, jitterbug, salsa and Western swing. Please don't let Cloris and Corky "do the hustle." I'm afraid the sight of that could send the stock market down another 900 points.

The Tuesday night results show is usually filler-iffic, but I watch it all anyway because even second-rate "DWtS" is like a dose of OxyContin for my pain-wracked soul. Last night's episode was uncommonly good, though, featuring a series of hilarious "attack ads": "Rocco DiSpirito claims to be a chef. He's around delicious food all the time. But then why is he so skinny? Rocco DiSpirito. Never trust a skinny chef." And the tag line: "I'm Warren Sapp, and I approved this message." There were ads for all of the stars. Cleverly done and oh so topical. We also got the return of Ballroom Kids. I love Ballroom Kids! One of the 10-year-old girl dancers had even designed her own costume. It was cute and rather tasteful, unlike the usual "DWtS" finery, which tend to look like an explosion in a sequin factory.

Next week: will Cloris surprise us again, or will she finally cha-cha-cha her way off America's TV screens?
posted by 125records @ 7:11 AM   2 comments
Monday, October 13, 2008
When life gives you Obamas, make Obamanade
photo

I have been meaning to post this photo, which I took in Albuquerque, but hadn't gotten around to it yet. Since New Mexico is a swing state, it's getting a lot of attention these days, so it's still relevant. These folks were standing outside the National Hispanic Culture Center, and they did indeed give me a refreshing glass of Obamanade... though something about their display reminded me a little too much of the expression "drinking the Kool-Aid" (which, as people who commit all of my blog entries to memory know, is one of my pet peeves). Also, the woman on the left looks like she's holding a sign that says, "Who broke the economy? Obama." A better view appears below:

photo

See, that's why you should leave sign making to the professionals. Still, I admired the incredible fervor of the many Obama supporters in met in NM (I'm sure there are lots of McCain supporters too -- my friend Neal says there are several McCain signs in his Albuquerque neighborhood -- but you're not gonna meet them at a world music concert. Now, if Toby Keith had been headlining...). Here in California everyone is pretty laid back about their part in the race because the Dems have the state in the bag, but the swing state folks are passionate! I met a woman from the "red" part of Virginia the other day and she was practically bursting with excitement about her volunteer efforts for Obama.

I wish I'd had my camera handy this afternoon, because I was stopped at a light behind a car with a Sarah Palin bumper sticker. Yes, just Sarah -- nothing about her running mate, what's-his-name. It featured a take-off of the famous Shepard Fairey Obama poster, and said something like, "Change we can REALLY believe in." I wonder if the creator of the sticker purposely left off McCain's name just so he or she can stockpile the leftovers for 2012.

Like Steve, I've already voted, though unlike Steve, I didn't vote no on all the propositions -- what's the matter, no love for the high speed rail? We like to stay away from partisan politics here at the Conical Glass, but I will reveal that I cast my presidential vote for Fred Armisen, not Darrell Hammond.
posted by 125records @ 7:06 PM   4 comments
Sunday, October 12, 2008
A ray of hope
I must admit that I haven't been following baseball this year, but I can't help but root for the Tampa Bay Rays to go all the way to the World Series. The previously hapless team, whose woes are hilariously detailed in this Slate.com article, is an unlikely candidate for the postseason. They usually stink, and play in one of the ugliest stadiums in the major leagues, which has resulted in almost comically low attendance; indeed, last night's game against the Boston Red Sox was the first time I've ever seen Tropicana Field at capacity. Whenever they played the Giants, you could practically see the tumbleweeds blowing through the stadium.

The dome over Tropicana Field, which sits at a jaunty angle, is a prominent landmark on the St. Petersburg skyline. The park was completed in 1990 with no tenant in sight -- the city fathers hoped to entice a major league team to relocate to St. Pete -- but the Rays, an expansion team, didn't move in until 1998. By that time, the retro movement in baseball parks, typified by Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards, was in full swing, and Tropicana Field already seemed outdated. In fact, the Rays would love to move to a new, more attractive facility, and one has been proposed for the downtown waterfront, but according to this June article, the plans have already been scuttled. When I was in St. Pete earlier this year, the newspaper was filled with cranky letters to the editor denouncing the plans to replace Tropicana Field. One wonders if things might have been different if the Rays had actually been a winning team then.

Perhaps the team's losing ways changed as a result of their dropping the "Devil" from their name a year ago. Introducing the franchise's new look, the owner, Stuart Sternberg, said: "As we enter our second decade of play, it is important that we express a classic, crisp, traditional baseball look. These new marks will have a positive effect on the franchise as we progress towards new levels of achievement and success." Who could have guessed that he'd be right? After all, this was a team that finished last in the AL East nine years out of ten. Why were they so bad for so long? Could it be... Satan?

I am a loyal customer of the stadium's sponsor, Tropicana (although when I'm in Florida, my parents always make fresh-squeezed OJ, which is infinitely more delicious -- I'd be too lazy to make it myself at home, though). I drink the Grovestand variety with "Lots of Pulp." It comes in two different types of containers, a carton or a larger plastic jug, and fortunately, one of them always seems to be on sale at the Safeway. A couple of weeks ago, I got a dollar-off coupon in the mail for the new "easy-pour" pitcher. Since OJ is a staple, coupons for it are fairly rare.

When I came home with the jug, Joe immediately noticed that the "new" packaging contained only 89 ounces of juice. This was a reduction from the old quantity of 96 ounces. Of course, the price was the same (although I did save a buck due to the coupon). What a rip-off! Looks like Joe wasn't the only one who noticed. With all the free advertising they're getting as a result of the Rays' postseason, maybe Tropicana can give us our 7 ounces back.
posted by 125records @ 7:03 AM   0 comments
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The terpsichorean threat
The elitist mainstream media would like you to believe that the big issues confronting America today are the presidential election and disastrous economy. However, one of our most pressing problems has barely registered at all. Hundreds of people have been sounding the alarm online, but you may not even be aware of it. Therefore, it's my patriotic duty to inform you:

Cloris Leachman must be stopped.

Yes, the wacky octogenarian made it through another week on "Dancing with the Stars." Due to Misty May-Treanor's torn Achilles' tendon, no one was eliminated last night, but we did learn that even if one of the celebs had been kicked off, it wouldn't have been Cloris -- chef Rocco DiSpirito would have been sent back to the kitchen. That's despite the fact that Cloris received the lowest score from the judges on Monday night, which means that people across America are actually picking up their phones and voting for her.

In the words of Morrissey, "That joke isn't funny anymore." Sure, watching Cloris for the first couple weeks were sort of a kick, and I can't really blame America for booting the oddly charisma-free amateur porn star Kim Kardashian and Comedy Central roastmaster Jeffrey "two left feet" Ross, but Ted McGinley wasn't that bad, was he? Cloris and Corky's jive to Little Richard's "The Girl Can't Help It" was downright embarrassing. According to the Wikipedia entry on jive, it "is danced at a speed of 44 bars per minute, although in other cases this is reduced to between 32 and 40 bars per minute." I think Cloris danced it at around 12 bars per minute, if you can call her movements "dancing." Afterwards, Cloris remarked to the judges that they should all give her ones (the lowest score); she seemed a little out of it, reminiscent of Adm. James Stockdale's poignant cry of "Who am I? Why am I here?" Judge Bruno Tonioli's verdict: "To call this wacky would be the understatement of the year. It would take all the shrinks a lifetime to analyze this."

I can't help but wonder if Corky Ballas, a championship dancer who has trained a huge number of the "DWTS" pros (including his son Mark, who took Kristi Yamaguchi to victory last season), secretly wished it was Cloris and not Misty May who suffered the catastrophic injury. He said on the show that teaching Cloris the jive was the biggest challenge of his life, and I believe it. I don't know what they'll be dancing next week, but I pray it's not the quickstep.

I am sure there are numerous professional dancers in Cloris's age group who could come on the show and demonstrate that old folks can cut a rug. And there's no denying that she's a wonderful comedienne who does bring some entertainment value to the show. But after four weeks, as the dances get longer and more complex, it's just plain embarrassing to watch her.

Back in the Great Depression, American hearts were lifted by the choreography of Busby Berkeley and his stable of showgirls. Dancing brings us together and distracts us from the bad news of the day (it's no wonder that "DWTS" is the #1-rated show on TV right now). I don't know who's calling up and voting for Cloris, but whoever you are, you don't have America's best interests at heart, and you need to stop.

My favorite on the show (and yes, I do phone in every week to vote!) is former pro football player Warren Sapp. I must admit that before "DWTS," I had only the vaguest idea of who Sapp was (Joe informed me that he used to play for the Raiders, so now you know that I really don't follow pro football), but he's upbeat, fun to watch and surprisingly light on his feet for such a big guy. He makes me smile every week. Go Warren and Kym!
posted by 125records @ 2:47 PM   3 comments
Monday, October 06, 2008
A study in contrasts
In today's mail:

1. My brokerage statement, which, I know, per the experts I'm not supposed to look at. But I looked. My AIG stock has now gone down by 94%.

2. A SkyMall catalog. As far as I know, I have never gotten a SkyMall catalog at home before. ("Off the plane and at your door!," it says on the cover.) Thank goodness, now I can order those items I had previously gazed at to distract myself from turbulence:

The Edge Baking Pan: $40 for a pan that bakes an entire batch of brownies with "caramelized, toasty edges." Personally, I prefer the middle pieces; any chance of coming up with a pan that only bakes those?

Chilled Shot Machine: $150 for a gadget that provides "chilled shots" of your favorite liquor. Couldn't you just store the bottles in the freezer and save $150?

Big Foot Garden Sculpture: $99 for a 2-foot-tall yeti for your garden, "finely hand-painted for startling realism." If you're going for "startling realism," shouldn't it be at least 10 feet tall?

I don't think I'll be convinced that we're really in an economic slump until I stop getting catalogs selling marshmallow shooters and giant propellers.
posted by 125records @ 5:02 PM   3 comments
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Name: Sue
Home: San Francisco Bay Area, California, United States
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