Saturday, February 28, 2009

Classic TV Theme of the Month - February 2009

Open Channel D.

Dinner last night: Roast chicken and vegetables.

Friday, February 27, 2009

More Pictures from Hell

Well, actually the Seventies. Which is really the same thing.

I wonder about these three people. Is it Mom, Dad, and the kid? Is it two brothers and a sister? You really can't tell. And they probably don't discern a difference either. Whatever the case, you just know that some combination of these folks must be sleeping in the same bed.

Have you seen a sadder looking family? As they apparently begin their long voyage sailing to Oblivion, Oklahoma. A completely landlocked state, by the way.

Leisure suit by Haggar. With adjustable waist by Sansabelt.

The smirk on his face makes him look like the cat that swallowed the canary. The smile on her face makes her look like the lady that swallowed the cow.

Why is there the carcass of an animal lying behind her? Or is it normal to conduct a pagan sacrifice whenever you're having head shots done?

Er, excuse me, there will be no hands on shoulders in our church. If you want same sex body contact in a religious setting, I have a list of churches with clergy currently in litigation.

Dinner last night: Turkey burger at Islands.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Taking Chance

The subject matter intrigued me for a lot of reasons which you will learn in the course of this post. I was led to HBO’s new movie “Taking Chance” and you will be well-educated to lead yourself there as well. Indeed, this might be one of the best made-for-cable movies I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly one of the best new films I’ve seen anywhere in the past year.

”Taking Chance” is not a cryptic title. It literally tells the story of a career Marine who takes the simple job of escorting a killed-in-Iraq soldier home to his family. This is a true story and the young Marine is named Chance Phelps. No relation to that goofy looking dumbbell who swam around China last summer and now can’t keep his hands off a bong and/or a stripper. Nope, this is the Phelps that is the true hero around these parts. A 20-year-old kid from Wyoming who chose the military and knew the consequences of his choice. And accepted them.

Kevin Bacon plays the real-life veteran who’s accompanying Chance’s body from the military mortuary in Delaware all the way to the bowels of Wyoming. I’ve never seen Bacon better and most actors should be honored to be within six degrees or less of him. His portrayal is understated, yet amazingly powerful and heartfelt.

The film is surprisingly educational. I had no idea how completely structured the process of returning a dead soldier to his family is. The military handles this with the utmost in respect and dignity from the military undertaker to the soldiers assigned to hold him into the hearse for the journey home. At no point are the soldier’s remains compromised. Bacon’s Marine even opts to sleep alongside the box when they have to change planes overnight. Whenever Chance is moved, there are salutes. From Bacon’s character. From airline baggage guys on the tarmac. From fellow passengers who wait to disembark a plane so that the soldier’s body can be removed first. If you think this is a morbid topic, you haven’t yet seen how it is depicted in this movie.

”Taking Chance” is less than 90 minutes, but it seems utterly complete in its shortness. You learn about Chance Phelps. You see how he touched the people in his family and his hometown. And never once do you see the body. But, at the end of the film, you are shown plenty of photos of the real life Chance. And there’s a link to a website --- --- which gives you an even more thorough look at this ordinary kid who is an extraordinary American hero.

I thought a lot about my own current connection to the Marines. My pseudo-nephew now in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. He graduates from there in early April and I may even endure the latent stupidity of the south in order to attend. I think about his future and wonder about the parallels and the non-parallels. I think mostly with pride of his commitment to pursue a career in the Marines, when he had the grades to go to any college he wanted.

And, most importantly, I think about his potential over a long, long life.

One that Chance Phelps sadly did not get.

Dinner last night: Dried cappacollo sandwich.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fat Wednesday 2009

Calories from nastiness: Zero.

---Woo Hoo! Lent begins today. When Catholics give up something they really like and Protestants don’t.

---Of course, the kick off celebration was all those idiots descending upon New Orleans for hours of drunken debauchery.

---The same kind of ridiculous behavior that goes on the other 364 days of the year down at New Orleans City Hall, the most poorly run city government in America.

---New Orleans is what happens when you let porters and shoe shine guys run the city.

---Okay, that’s not prejudiced. Do you see any mention of skin pigmentation in that sentence?

---Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

---But take a look at pictures of the people in charge of New Orleans and you tell me.

---Drove my Chevy to the levee and it had a big ole’ hole in it.

---Hey, but you have to give them credit. Once FEMA finally came through after Katrina, big screen television sales went through the roof.

---For those who still had a roof. Or weren’t living on one.

---Of course, you wouldn’t ever find me anywhere near New Orleans on Mardi Gras. The most I will wear a big thing on my head is never.

---I’m still astounded by the attention being accorded Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire. It’s such a mediocre movie.

---I hear that there were mass celebrations in Mumbai when the win was announced.

---Or maybe the people there just discovered that the local supermarket had a sale on chicken fried locusts.

---Okay, spoiler alert for these next comments. Slumdog is supposed to be essentially about this romance between two kids.

---Okay, the guy is beaten, hung from a ceiling, and has jumper cables attached to his testicles. Yet, the girl is nowhere to be found.

---But, as soon as he wins a million bucks on television, she shows up for kiss, kiss, kiss.

---Whether you’re in Mumbai, New York, or Los Angeles, it’s all the same thing with these chicks. Show me the money.

---Speaking of electrolysis on private parts, have you looked at your 401K lately?

---Looking at Obama last night on TV, he's already aged in one short month on the job.

---If he keeps us at this pace, he's going to look like Uncle Remus by 2012.

---Once again, no mention of skin pigmentation in that line.

---Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

---And, speaking of electrolysis on private parts, may I offer up Nancy Pelosi?

---I said this last fall. She is the most dangerous person in America. I won't be happy till she's wearing a kerchief and beating a rug in the backyard.

---Actually, I could be just as happy wearing a kerchief and beating her like a rug in the backyard.

---For those of you wondering what former President George W. Bush is doing these days...




---I said "B", Mr. President. As in "Bush."

---Bush! B-U-S-H.

---And, speaking of electrolysis on private parts, LA has to vote next Tuesday for a new mayor. Of course, Senor Sleazebag Villaraigosa is running virtually unopposed. There's a clowncar full of other candidates who don't have a chance.

---So, the end result is four more years where leafblowers rule the city.

---And there was absolutely no skin pigmentation mentioned in that last line.

---No wink, wink. No nudge, no nudge. The guy's an absolute piece of shit.

Dinner last night: Garden medley salad with chicken at BJs.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How To Fix the Oscars

Two days after the 81st Annual Academy Awards, there are probably a few limos still stuck in gridlock around Highland Avenue. Of course, I’m guessing that several of the losers are looking for Beverly Hills Cab to pick them up. After-parties are still in swing, and thank goodness some actors don’t have a morning call till late March.

As for me, there has been plenty of time for me to assess just what I saw on Sunday night. Frankly, by about the third hour, I was looking for a stimulus package that would work on my eyes. So now, more than ever, I know how I would fix the Oscars. I don't mean the structure of the awards themselves. That works fine. Five nominees. One wins, four lose. Somebody is happy. A lot of people are pissed. That's what life in America is all about. No, I'm talking about how to fix the presentation of it all. In fifteen easy steps. Are you reading, Academy?

1. FOCUS ON A COMEDY HOST: Okay, Hugh Jackman was serviceable. But, as an Oscar host, he’s better suited as a Tony host. Hugh can sing and dance, but Oscar production numbers can stop your heart quicker than blow drying your hair in the bathtub. Sunday’s dances were designed to show us all that the movie musical was alive and well. Well, not if they keep using the vapid Pierce Brosnan to sing in monstrosities like Mamma Mia. For me, the production frenzy, which pretty much employed every gay out-of-work dancer that they could find the night before at Rage, drove a stake into Gene Kelly’s heart. Even worse, Debbie Allen might have choked on a pork rind at home. The Oscar host needs to be quick and funny and ready to seize the moment when somebody streaks past Eva Marie Saint or Jack Palance tries to do pushups on top of Olivia DeHavilland. Johnny Carson and Bob Hope are dead and probably still cost-prohibitive. Forget Whoopi and Letterman and Jon Stewart and even Billy Crystal who, in his current bloated form, resembles more an overweight cantor. The comedian who gets Hollywood is Steve Martin. In his five minutes presenting with Tina Fey, he served as a first aid kit for whatever had started to bleed on Sunday night. Book him to a lifetime contract now.

2. WHOEVER THE HOST IS, USE THEM: While this certainly was not his ideal venue, Hugh Jackman disappeared for long portions of the evening. I was waiting to see a “breaking news” crawl across the bottom of the screen. “Hugh Jackman has been abducted by Al Qaeda.”

3. SKIP THE RED CARPET NONSENSE: I tuned in at 5PM Pacific time only to discover that there were a bunch of roving reporters/interns from the Logo network running around and discussing the dresses. This lasted for 30 minutes and, by the end of the half hour, I was starting to lisp as bad as the commentators. Let’s face it, how many times can you say that Anne Hathaway’s dress is stunning? Unless, of course, the reporter thinks it’s so stunning that he wants to try it on himself. And then, ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a show. And, oh, another thing to these fashion-conscious gay reporters, please know how to properly pronounce brand names. It's Swarovski, not Swarski.

4. MAKE SURE OLDER STARS AREN’T REPEATING WARDROBE: I swear that is the same outfit Sophia Loren has worn to every Oscar ceremony since she was shtupping Cary Grant on the set of Houseboat. It’s tough to try and fit into your sweet sixteen dress when you’re 75. The way can be said for Goldie Hawn who needs to understand that enhanced breasts just might require a visit to Zelda the seamstress.

5. IMPOSE WARDROBE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE GUYS: If you focus on the female disasters, don’t forget the men who can be equally as misguided. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is now so large he needs to be held on ropes by a marching band, was wearing some beret on his head and looked like one of those kids in grade school with ringworm. Mickey Rourke was barely dressed at all. The white dinner jacket screamed "Ricky Ricardo at the Tropicana." Rourke reminded me of somebody who could get you a great deal on a 1974 Pinto at an automall in West Covina. How freakin’ hard it is to get a respectable tuxedo? For Pete’s sake, even Men’s Wearhouse has them.

6. STOP TALKING TO GOD IN YOUR ACCEPTANCE SPEECHES: Kate Winslet held her Best Actress Oscar aloft to show it to God. Note to Ms. Winslet: God is not an Academy member and probably hasn’t invoked any power on the Academy Awards since Ben-Hur won in 1959. I love the way winners always thank God for their victories. As it is written in the Bible, God is supposed to love everybody. Both winners and losers. But, He probably is challenged whenever Susan Lucci is up for a Daytime Emmy.

7. STOP TALKING POLITICS ON THE OSCARS: A good way to start is by not inviting the grossly unfunny Bill Maher to anything ever again. He was boohooing about his documentary "Religulous" not being nominated. I doubt anybody outside of the Maher household even saw it. Of course, political stances injected into Oscar acceptance speeches have been an annoyance for years. Wasn't John Wayne once so incensed that he pushed Jane Fonda down a flight of stairs at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion? This year, you had the gristled Sean Penn opening up his big dumb mouth and addressing "you Commie, homo-loving sons of guns." Doesn't he realize that Charlton Heston died last year? Penn also referred to Obama as an "elegant" man. When I elect a President, I want one that's smart, not destined to model a Hugo Boss suit on the cover of GQ. The bottom line? Whether you're on the left or the right or on Venus, check your political shit at the coat check window of the Kodak. If somebody starts to yammer, cue the music. And a trap door.

8. DON'T MESS WITH THE DEAD ROLL CALL: This is one of my anxiously awaited Oscar moments every year. It always sparks at least one surprise for me. "Geez, I thought she croaked years ago." And we always wait to see who gets the biggest hand as if the audience is either A) remembering them most fondly or B) glad they're dead. This year, they felt the need to have Queen Latifah croon over the roll call. The song was great---"I"ll Be Seeing You"---one of my alltime favorites. But, in order to get the always-needs-to-be-widescreened-ass of Queen Latifah in the same shot, the actual photos of the dead were reduced to the size of postage stamps, whizzing by like shooting stars. They totally screwed up the mention of Cyd Charisse, and I'm guessing her husband, the 90 year-old Tony Martin, threw his slippers at the Philco in their Wilshire Boulevard condo. Just focus on the pictures of those that have passed on. We all don't need to be reminded what Queen Latifah looks like, without or without truck license plates.

9. LIMIT PEOPLE TO NO MORE THAN TWO APPEARANCES ON THE STAGE: That dothead who did the music for Slumdog seemed to be accepting at the podium every five minutes. Then he sang in what could have been a lost episode of The Simpsons where Apu sells Homer a Slim Jim and a couple of lotto scratch cards. This Indian Marvin Hamlisch knockoff really got on my nerves. And he was a constant reminder that I forgot to pick up a prescription at Walgren's.

10. MAKE THE OSCARS A DINNER AND AN OPEN BAR: Even though the Golden Globes are a complete joke chosen by ten incoherent reporters working for South American television, they do one thing right. Their ceremony is a dinner with food and liquor, which always presents the delicious possibility of bad behavior on live television. With a few Cosmos in her, wouldn't it have been fun to see Jennifer Aniston bitchslap Angelina Jolie in front of millions of viewers worldwide? That's how you have spontaneous moments like Golden Globe winner Christine Lahti accepting an award with toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Start the drinking two hours before so that the equilibrium is just starting to teeter at showtime. And, if he could have popped a Vicodin or two, we would have gotten a lot more merriment out of Hersholt winner Jerry Lewis, who was so morose that I thought he was still at Dean's wake.

11. HIRE TV PRODUCERS TO PRODUCE A TV SHOW: The Oscars always use film producers to stage the Oscars and that's why they drag like a deer with buckshot in his hind legs. This year, the show was produced by the guy who wrote Chicago and the guy who directed Moulin Rouge. Neither one of them can probably program their TiVO at home, let alone produce a three hour plus TV show. And while you're at, make sure that future producers shitcan the bloated productions for Best Song. Those numbers from Slumdog reminded me of one of those kettle bands you find staked out on an IRT subway station. I'm surprised that Mickey Rourke didn't walk up to the stage and leave a dollar bill in somebody's guitar case.

12. SKIP THE HISTORY LESSON: I loved the group presenters for the acting awards, although several of them looked like they would much prefer having a smoke out on Hollywood Boulevard. And that asshole Adrien Brody must have made nominee Richard Jenkins feel very special when he said that he had to Google him to see all of Jenkins’ credits. And how Halle Berry gets included with the likes of Shirley McLaine and Sophia Loren is beyond my level of education. Nevertheless, it was a new device that worked. But, all the other presenters were forced to give us samples of the Academy’s new Film 101 course. Here’s what a sound mixer does. Here’s what a director does. Hello? Those of us who care already know. Those of us who don’t care can’t be bothered. Screw the information downloads and the goofy jokes. Just announce the nominees and proceed to disappoint some folks.

13. MAKE SURE JACK NICHOLSON IS AVAILABLE: He’s always good for some laughs, sitting in the front row and dozing behind those Oakleys. But, he was nowhere to be found Sunday night. The Lakers were playing in Minnesota. What gives, Jack?

14. MAKE SURE MICHAEL DOUGLAS IS UNAVAILABLE: Only in Hollywood could an actor with such limited skills be a star. How he got an Oscar is beyond me. Now, he’s just old and craggy and looks like Spartacus’ grandfather. Besides, I’m still pissed at his slurring dad for being on the board of the temple that kicked us out of our last apartment.

15. WHEN YOU WIN BEST PICTURE, DON’T BRING THE WORLD UP TO THE STAGE WITH YOU: I can remember the old days. If you won Best Picture, the producer accepted. Maybe a co-producer came up as well. When they honored Slumdog Millionaire on Sunday night, it was like blowing the shofar at Rosh Hashanah. Or whatever is the equivalent in Mumbai. Everybody and their third cousin showed up on stage, including the craft services guy who whipped up a nifty curried chicken for the wrap party. Enough. And, speaking of which, there were tons of little kids from the cast dragged out. They’re actors/street urchins. Last night they’re dining at Spago, but, in two weeks, they’re back in the mudhut slurping up a bowl of ants. Can you say “child exploitation?” Can somebody please get child actor advocate Paul Petersen on this? Hell, I traded e-mails with him a few years back on an unrelated matter. Allow me.

Okay, the free advice is over. We’ll see what how they give out Oscars next year. When the favorite will be the screen adaptation of Bernie Madoff's life story. Kevin Bacon starring in Scumbag Millionaire.

Dinner last night: Penne with turkey sausage and Kalamata olives.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 23, 2009

Stupid woman should have left for the airport a little earlier.

Dinner last night: Honey shrimp from First Szechwan Wok.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - RKO Proctor's in Mount Vernon

Let’s keep with the movie theme this Oscar weekend. When I posted those current day pictures of downtown Mount Vernon, I lingered over the ones of the building that used to house RKO Proctor’s. Because, unlike the parking monstrosity that used to be the Loew’s theater, the RKO building is still standing. And as I gazed upon it in person, my mind wafted back to days of old. Or days of young, if you will.

The RKO Proctor’s Mount Vernon theater had a sparkling marquee. When we would walk to the theater, we would not see the lights until we turned the corner. It gave me a complete rush of adrenaline. And, as soon as you were within 50 feet of the movie palace, you could already smell the popcorn. You’d buy your tickets at the box office booth and then head up a steep ramp into the lobby. Not a big one, mind you. But, beyond the popcorn, you had the slowly turning hot dog machine. The frankfurters seemingly flew in the air by themselves.

If I was there with my mother on a Friday afternoon following school, chances are we had already eaten an early dinner at the Bee Hive restaurant. So, my movie treat would be candy and, in those days, the sweet of choice was always a box of Pom Poms.The RKO Proctor’s theater was three levels and, for some bizarre reason, my mother liked the third level which had a slope that was almost as steep as the Shea Stadium upper deck. Oddly enough, if I went there with my father, he preferred the lower level. No wonder my parents didn’t accompany me together. And, that in itself should have explained a lot more to me as well.

Despite the fact that I was a seven or eight year-old movie geek, I rarely sat still for a double feature. In those days, you entered the theater whatever time you got there, regardless of what part of the movie had already started. I can clearly remember coming into some flick for the last ten minutes. Then, we’d see the other movie and then sit through the first movie right up to the very segment where we started.

”This is where we came in.”And we would leave. As if seeing the final ten minutes again would have detracted from my family’s busy schedule. But, I digress…

When boredom set in, I liked to roam the bowels of the theater. They had wonderful ramps between the levels that were just ideal for running. Until, of course, you met up with the enemy.

The dreaded old movie matron.

Blinding you with her flashlight, she’d give you a stern warning.

”Go back to your seat or I’ll call the manager.”

Yes, Frau Commandant! I saluted.

"And don't be fresh!"

There was a soda machine in this theater that never worked right. You’d put in your coins and then press for your soda of choice. Sometimes, the soda would spit down with no cup. Another coin. A cup but no soda. Or seltzer with no syrup. Or ice and no cup. Or all syrup and no ice. I don’t believe I ever got it right.

I have a lot more RKO Proctor memories now ping ponging around my cranium.

Sitting in Hartley Park right up the street waiting until the movie started before we went in for the first show of the day. Why? This six-year-old was deftly afraid of the curtain opening.

Saving up a lot of Pepsodent toothpaste box tops to get a free ticket to some Bob Hope-Lucille Ball movie. They made a personal appearance on stage for about ten minutes and took questions from the audience. I raised my hand and asked Lucy how old she was. "Next."

Going to see "Operation Petticoat" with my dad who never laughed harder at this hilarious comedy about a Navy submarine that was painted pink.
Going to see Hitchcock's "The Birds" with my older cousin Gini. By taking me at such a tender age to such a grown-up movie, she made me feel so incredibly important. And scared shitless when the birds pecked Suzanne Pleshette to death.

Seeing some double feature with my mom on a Friday night. The second movie was about women trapped in a concentration camp. Years later, I saw it on a movie channel. "Seven Women From Hell." A very adult movie and I felt really uncomfortable watching it even when I was older. Mom, what the hell were you thinking?

Going to see a movie there just before it closed. They already converted part of the place to a bingo parlor. I sat there amongst folding chairs, tables, and those cages where they kept the Bingo balls. Weird.

RKO Proctor's Mount Vernon. Gone. But obviously not forgotten.

Dinner last night: French Dip at the Arclight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - February 2009

I saw this as a kid. The trailer's even more enjoyable if you can speak and read Japanese. Godzilla loses, by the way.

Dinner last night: Grilled hamsteak.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Guesses for Your 2008 Oscar Winners - Part 2

As Ronald Reagan moaned in Kings Row, here's the rest of me. If you're using these for your office Oscar pool, I do have a good track record. And where else can you get a guaranteed winning ticket as well as Helen Mirren's home address?

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: If F. Scott Fitzgerald saw what the Benjamin Button folks did to his short story, he would be drinking twice as much as he already did. Doubt and Frost/Nixon are based on plays and, for some reason, Hollywood loves to discount Broadway. The Reader is based on a novel, which, of course, its own heroine couldn’t even read. A vicious dramatic circle. One more time, I am thinking we are experiencing a triumphal night for Bollywood. The winner is…SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: To think that the word “original” is used in relation to anything in the film industry these days should merit an award for being an award. I hear Wall-E has some buzz, which is surprising since there was no dialogue at all in the first half-hour. But, nevertheless, following the WGA awards, there are plenty of people out here who are trying to atone for voting in favor of Proposition 8. The winner will be…MILK.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: This Oscar almost always matches up directly to the Best Director. So, the winner is…SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

BEST DIRECTOR: Okay, what did I just say? The Cinematography Oscar always matches up to the Director award. And you’re still reading to see what I picked?? Hello??? The winner will be…DANNY BOYLE FOR SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. If there was justice in LenLand, Ron Howard would get the nod for Frost/Nixon. If you read this blog regularly, you are painfully aware that there is never ever any justice in LenLand.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: First, let me shitcan the three nominees that might as well stay home and order Chinese food on Sunday. Taraji P. Henson, who may or may not be related to the Muppets, did nothing new as the mother in Benjamin Button, a film which also did nothing new. In a movie full of very showy performances, Amy Adams was serviceable in Doubt, but not a standout. Marisa Tomei's reward for pole dancing in The Wrestler will be essentially whatever jollies she got from pole dancing in The Wrestler. The race comes down to Viola Davis as the Black mother in Doubt and Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a Woody Allen film that was seen only by his 16 kids and/or wives. Davis had one stellar scene which conceivably push her over the top the way Beatrice Straight won her Oscar for essentially 45 seconds of acting in Network. But, if you look at Academy history, the Woodman has a knack of getting some actress the Supporting nod. Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters. Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite, another Woody movie which was seen by even less people primarily because he had fewer kids and/or wives at the time. Soooooo, the winner will be...PENELOPE CRUZ FOR VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA.

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Gag! As much as I wish the Academy would honor Robert Downey Jr. for his brilliant comedic turn in Tropic Thunder, he has no shot. Neither do the other three nominees who just happen to be alive. This Oscar was given out last year, months before The Dark Knight even opened. As soon as Heath Ledger got toetagged by the NYC coroner, he was destined to be a winner Sunday night. The Academy is dying to slobber over him one last time. Pass the Kleenex. And the potato chips. In my humble opinion, Ledger's acting choices as the Joker were not a stretch. Most actors tell me that the easiest role to play is the crazy one. Boo hoo and let's finally get the formaldehyde into his career, which was cut short by his own stupid negligience. The winner will be....sob, HEATH LEDGER FOR THE DARK KNIGHT.

ACTRESS: Another two filly race. The chances for Melissa Leo are as cold as the movie (Frozen River) she starred in. Angelina Jolie for Changeling? She was good, but the movie never got any box office traction. Anne Hathaway for Rachel Getting Married? I'm guessing most Academy members weren't watching some ultra-dysfunctional family arguing on the screen when they can see the same damn thing at home. This is really shaping up as the veteran vs. the upstart. Meryl Streep as an old biddy nun in Doubt and Kate Winslet as an illiterate Nazi guard in The Reader. Streep's Oscar batting average is not strong. Point against her. Everybody thought Winslet would have been named for the dreadful Revolutionary Road. Point against her. Doubt did not get a Best Picture nomination. Point against Streep. The Reader did get a Best Picture nomination. Point for Winslet. The winner likely will be...KATE WINSLET FOR THE READER.

ACTOR: First, let's discard the sure losers. Brad Pitt for Benjamin Button. Ha! Richard Jenkins for the Visitor. Ha ha! Frank Langella for Frost/Nixon? That would be my vote, but I don't have one. Enjoy the Tony you got for the role, Frank. It comes down to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler and Sean Penn for Milk. I've seen both movies and the former, while an impressive performance, is really a tough one to stomach. During some of the more violent and bloody scenes, I closed my eyes. Can you imagine how some old fart film editor from Bel Air would react? "What kind of meshuggah movie is this?" But, Mickey may get some sympathy votes from other Academy voters who have also had bad encounters with incompetent plastic surgeons. But, at the end of the evening, we will see the Proposition 8 backlash one more time. The winner will be...SEAN PENN FOR MILK.

PICTURE: This has been a year of changing momentum. At one point in time, several of these movies were considered a shoo-in for the Big Kahuna of Oscars. When it opened last fall, Frost/Nixon was lauded as the one to beat. And that would be my opinion now. But, because it wasn't glitzy and basically concerned itself with a compelling story and good acting with zero special effects, the film fell out of favor. Then, just before its premiere, the goofballs in Hollywood were all saying that Benjamin Button would enjoy an Oscar night sweep. That was before Academy members actually went to see this mess and realized that all the hype was just that. Hype. A clump of Play-Doh pretending to be Stonehenge. Well, now, timing is everything for Slumdog Millionaire. It is peaking with buzz at just the right time. Who knows? If the Oscar voting season lasted one more month, we might suddenly be seeing a groundswell of emotion for Confessions of a Shopaholic. Ultimately, the Best Picture Oscar never goes to the best movie. It goes to the one with the most momentum at voting time. Thinking back, that's how Saving Private Ryan lost to the sluggish Shakespeare In Love and that's how the wonderful Apollo 13 lost to the bloated Braveheart. For me, this year's winner will be equally as ridiculous. So, the winner is....the stylish but empty SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

Dinner last night: Cheesesteak sandwich at the Cheesecake Factory.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Guesses for Your 2008 Oscar Winners - Part 1

Hollywood Boulevard is closed for the week. Bleachers and red carpets are laid out all around the Kodak Theater. And most doctors on Wilshire Boulevard are out of collagen. This can only mean one thing.

The Oscars are here.

As you might remember if you commit this daily nonsense to your mental hard drive, I participate in an Oscar competition with two good friends back East. First, we select what we each believe will be the five nominees in the six major categories. With that score, we then proceed to guess the winners on Oscar night. The one with the total number of correct answers as an aggregate wins. I pretty much win every year, but the annual prizes certainly have not resulted in me having to report them to the IRS. As a matter of fact, the only award I get is pride. And that, like a Mastercard, is priceless.

Following the announcement of nominees, I am already ahead by one point. So, here goes the rest. My projections for Oscar gold done in two parts. Today, I tackle all the categories that bore the shit out of most of us. You know, the ones where you go to the kitchen to refill the bowl of onion dip.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM: And what could be more useless than this category? Ironically, my two NY compatriots actually go and view these things every year. Not that it gives them an advantage, because I don’t think most of Hollywood bothers to see this crap. Sometimes, I think they mark their ballots with the title that sounds the most interesting. And that’s what I am going to do as well. The winner will be…PRESTO. Oh, God, wait. I did see that! It’s a Pixar cartoon that ran before Wall-E. Now I’m sure it will win.

ANIMATED FEATURE: Connect the dots. The winner will be…WALL-E. And certainly not because I liked it. The first half hour was cute. The other three days of the film were dull as Grandpa’s razor. Bolt is also up for this and I think I liked that one more. I missed Kung Fu Panda, primarily because I am trying to cut down on MSG intake.

LIVE ACTION SHORT: I have a basic rule of thumb on these things, which are actually viewed by about five people max. Go with whichever short is devoted to a) racism or b) the Holocaust. Of this year's bunch, there is one that matches the criterion of b). The winner will be...SPIELZEUGLAND (TOYLAND). And now I know what I used to get for Christmas. Lots of spielzeugs.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT: And we rinse and repeat. I have a basic rule of thumb on these things, which are actually viewed by about three people max. Go with whichever short is devoted to a) racism or b) the Holocaust. Of this year's bunch, there is one that matches the criterion of a). The winner will be...THE WITNESS: FROM THE BALCONY OF ROOM 306. It's about the assassination of Martin Luther Ling Jr. and probably a slam dunk in this year of Obama. I'd like to see this film and see if they track down the white woman he was probably going to meet and screw in this fleabag motel.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: Hands down, the winner is and should be...MAN ON WIRE. I saw this movie about the guy who walked the tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and it was riveting. My fear is that another nominee, Trouble The Water, is all about Hurricane Katrina and some super-liberal Academy members can't stop wringing their hands over that disaster. My fingers are crossed for Phillipe Petit.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: I've heard of two nominees, but haven't bothered to see either one. Waltz with Bashir is a cartoon about Israelis at war and I'm not sure I want to see a suicide bomb strapped to Elmer Fudd. There's a lot of buzz for the nominee from France and I think that's the way they may go. The winner will be...THE CLASS.

COSTUME DESIGN: No Edith Head? No head, Edith? Whatever. My rule of thumb with this category is simple. Pick the movie that goes back to the earliest time in history. So, that means the winner will be...THE DUCHESS.

SOUND EDITING: Besides the fact that the movie was incredibly overrated, there was one very distinct memory I have about last year's Batman film. It was freakin' loud. The winner is...THE DARK KNIGHT.

SOUND MIXING: Rinse and repeat again. Besides the fact that the movie was incredibly overrated, there was one very distinct memory I have about last year's Batman film. It was freakin' loud. The winner is...THE DARK KNIGHT.

MAKE-UP: Three nominees are listed. There was make-up in The Dark Knight? I might have missed it...because it was so freakin' loud. There was make-up in Hellboy II? I have yet to catch up with Hellboy I. So, for making Brad Pitt look like Mickey Rooney, the winner is...THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

VISUAL EFFECTS: This award always goes to the one who uses CGI and green screens without the audience thinking that the filmmaker is relying a lot on the use of CGI and green screens. I saw nothing in The Dark Knight that was much different than a late-night car crash on KCAL news. I loved Iron Man, but, for my money, Robert Downey Jr. was better than the special effects. So, for making Brad Pitt look like he was as tall as one of Alvin's Chipmunks, the winner is...THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

ORIGINAL SCORE: Ugh. Usually the same array of sappy over-orchestrations plus whatever Disney or Pixar movie came out. And, oddly enough, that's what this year is. The Disney/Pixar representative is Wall-E. But I don’t remember much music from that. So, I’m predicting that the Bollywood juggernaut begins here. The winner is…SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. Sari about that.

ORIGINAL SONG: Two nominees are from Slumdog Millioniare. The third is from Wall-E, which still baffles me as I remember a song even less than I remember a score. Now, I do recall that MGM musical number set against the closing credits of Slumdog. What was the name? Singin’ in the Monsoon? That’s British Containment? Flea for Two? The Sahib Next Door? Okay, I’ll stop. The winner is…”JAI HO” FROM SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

FILM EDITING: In a year where every movie seemed way too long, I’m thinking film editing is a lost art. Here, I usually go with the film that is the shortest, since that means the editors were actually on the job. But, this year, that would be Frost/Nixon, which unfortunately has as much positive buzz as Obama’s stimulus package. So, I’ll opt for more celebration at your local 7 Eleven. The winner is…SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.

ART DIRECTION: Okay, Revolutionary Road is nominated and no film should win this award for using furniture that was in my aunt’s house. Slumdog Millionaire isn’t in this category because, frankly, you can’t get that creative with flies and mud. The Dark Knight was essentially video game graphics. I loved Changeling, but it died quicker than the New York Giants in the playoffs. For no other good reason, the winner will be…THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.

Tomorrow, I tackle the really big stuff.

Dinner last night: Chicken teriyaki sandwich at Islands.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Even More Breaking News: Snow on Them Thar Hills

At 12:55PM PT, I spotted snow on the nearby hills that are clearly in view from my LA office window. All the slush and none of the fuss.

Breaking News: Shea No More

At 11:26AM ET this morning, the last piece of Shea Stadium (and a huge part of my life) came down. It's gone, my friends.

Sham Wow Wednesday

No, allow me to be the one that cleans up the mess. Are you following me, camera guy?

---Like the previously maligned Snuggie, here's another rip-off product sold by an absolute nutjob.

---Sham is a good word for it. This is, pure and simple, a fucking rag.

---You got a spill? Just use an old T-shirt or a sock with a hole in it.

---They say this cloth can absorb up to 12 times its own weight. And I know people who do the same thing every time they sit down at the dinner table.

---Why does this guy wear a headphone? Like he is in so much demand? Or perhaps it's acting like one of those electronic track devices they strap on your ankle at the local prison?

---You just know this guy beat up other kids in gym class.

---They tell you this is only available if you call now.

---Except you can go to Bed, Bath and Beyond and find all this TV-only junk for about ten bucks less.

---The stores have them all. Snuggies. Hair removers. Kinoki pads. And that colon cleaner sold by that other creepy guy.

---By the way, if your body is holding back about 12 pounds of crap, you obviously have a blockage or a tumor.

---Which cannot be removed by drinking these magical flavor crystals.

---I would, however, like to take a Sham Wow cloth to Washington and clean up the sewage spills there.

---Rhetorical question: do Jewish people support the stimulus package since it’s loaded with pork?

---The great healer, President Obama, stayed in the center about as long as a Little Leaguer would last against Sandy Koufax.

---At the first chance he got, he let those two radical screwballs, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, run amuck.

---You heard it here in this blog months ago: Pelosi is the most dangerous person in America.

---During his campaign, Obama told America that they would get at least five days to review new legislation.

---Uh-huh. And the stimulus package was voted on so quickly that it took most Congressional members longer to get their order at the Burger King drive-up window.

---I had more time to read my birthday cards last week. Probably had more substance in them anyway.

---And then Pelosi hightailed it to Rome for a meeting with the Pope, as if he has anything useful to say.

---Flew there on airfare we provided, no doubt.

---Okay, I’ll be the first.

---Impeach Obama!

---President Biden? Er, never mind.

---Actually, I'd like to keep Barack around to see how the dog turns out.

---I'm talking about the kids' pet, not the wife.

---With all these furloughs for government workers, postal service might get cut to five days.

---Which prompted this ridiculous comment from some moron interviewed at a local mall.

---“I don’t mind that there won’t be any Saturday mail delivery. I get too many bills anyway.”

---Hey, asshole! The bills will just show up on Friday or Monday.

---I bet this idiot also ordered some Sham Wows.

---And a Snuggie.

---And is trying to get about forty pounds of doody unclogged from his colon.

---Through Sitemeter, I learned that this blog had its first international hit yesterday. From some unsuspecting schlub in the Netherlands.

---I feel like I'm now the face of America.

---Oh, shut up. You could do a lot worse.

Dinner last night: Tomato soup.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Enough already! Everybody, please listen to my audible scream. We should hear no more about this.

Of course, you need to finish reading this post. And then we should be done.

I've rambled on here before about that moron who just gave birth to eight chemically engineered children, but the story's not going away anytime soon. On the news, on ET, in the newspapers, pretty much everywhere. And the more I hear about it, the more I think that this piece of trash is a microcosm for everything that is wrong in America today.

Blanket statement? Of course, and go ahead and cover yourself up because I will get a little colder.

There are certain news outlets that have taken to this story as a big old warm and fuzzy. NBC, which did its last piece of decent journalism while Chet Huntley was still lighting up a Marlboro, even went to the extremes of interviewing this cretin for perhaps the exchange of some dollars. We were supposed to feel a bit of remorse for her, because, after all, she just wanted to have some children to love. And, since she's pursuing a degree at Cal State Fullerton, she really is a laudable individual who just got herself in a bad place. Eight times. No, make that fourteen times since she's already got six other mutations at home. And three of those kids are handicapped and already receiving public assistance. All the new babies, save for one, have names ending in H. You might call that Biblical. I call it the world's youngest terror cell.

There's been all sorts of other stuff out there about this jerk. She was photographed buying video games for her kids and I'm so glad my tax dollars are going to help Guitar Hero turn a profit in 2009. Her lips have grown in pictures over the past few weeks, but that's what collagen injections are supposed to do. She's on food stamps, but apparently found a publicist that will accept them as payment. And, allegedly, she's a fanatic for Angelina Jolie, so perhaps Nadya goes to the Oscars as her guest if Brad comes down with a sinus infection. I guess this is what the media calls a human interest story.

Sorry, folks, but my warm and fuzzy meter is broken beyond repair. What some people are viewing with interest, I am seeing as a drain on my bank account. Because it doesn't take much common sense to see that Nadya Suleman is a pile of dog shit who, like a lot of garbage in this country, has figured out how to "work the system."

If you look around, these people are all over the place. They don't seem to be super-educated, yet they know every in and every out of the state and federal laws that are created to open up your wallet and mine for the "oppressed." They know what the regulations will allow and not allow. They spend more time educating themselves on what they deserve for doing as little as possible. They can argue over long and short term disabilities, employment requirements, and whatever else our idiotic politicians have dreamt up to ensure that everybody gets a fair shake. And when they shake long enough, change comes out of your pocket and mine.

In this age of stimulus packages which will ultimately doom our grandchildren to a life of dumpster diving for rotting broccoli florets behind the local Denny's, Nadya Suleman represents one more sterling example of how these types of American citizens (in her case and most others, that classification is questionable) will eventually destroy us all. But, give we must. In tax dollars, because we are a caring and giving country.

That is also now predominantly stupid.

Meanwhile, there are countless well-meaning and smart Americans who don't cut the corners or work the angles or try to beat "the man." Some of them might be unable to have their own children, so I'm thinking I know where 14 might be available for you. In a country where I'm the President pledging hope, I punish this filthy bastard by ordering these kids removed from her world ASAP. They go to parents who have all the money and truly humanistic qualities to appreciate and properly raise them to be solid citizens. The only stipulation: change their names so they don't remind us of a casting call of extras for "Lawrence of Arabia."

And, as for the matriarchal Nadya, we're not exactly done with you in Len Land. A hysterectomy is in short order. All I'd need to do the job is some Clorox, lighter fluid, and a match.

And please, nobody tape it for Entertainment Tonight.

Dinner last night: Penne with sausage at Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 16, 2009

Another shot at that stupid goddamn Snuggle blanket.

Dinner last night: Turkey pastrami melt at Cafe 50s.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Beatles

Last week marked the 45th anniversary of the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and, subsequently, their invasion of America. Actually, this all seems like it just happened this morning. As a matter of fact, every Sunday morning in LA, there are at least six different radio stations devoted to “Breakfast with the Beatles.” As much as I like the boys from Liverpool, that’s overkill in any dialect. But, I digress…

I first heard about the Beatles several months prior to their virgin appearance with Old Stone Face. It was some sort of family gathering at a relative’s house, and I was undoubtedly bored shitless. My grandmother, ever the last word on proper and neat appearance, was asking my older teenage cousin why his hair had gotten so long.

”It’s the way the Beatles look.”

My grandmother was unimpressed.

”You look like a girl.”

As if to further validate his decision to avoid a barbershop, he quickly pulled out the Beatles’ first 45 RPM single and showed the cover to Grandma.

”They look like girls, too.”

My cousin popped the single onto the record player and we listened to “She Loves You” for the very first time. My cousins grooved to the beat. Everybody else looked like they were listening to Joseph Stalin singing from the Gershwin songbook.

My grandmother waved in indignation.

”Cut your hair.”

When the Beatles hit the Sullivan stage on February 9, 1964, we were watching at another cousin’s house. Grandma was not in the group that evening, so we didn’t have to listen to comparing them to the Lennon Sisters. Especially since I once tried to convince her that John Lennon was their brother. But, we all sat and listened and watched the screaming girls. The kids in the rooms were singing along with amazement. The adults were merely waiting for Frank Gorshin and Tessie O’Shea to come out.

Another Beatle memory was going to the Loews Mt. Vernon Theater with my friend Leo on the first day and the very first showing of “A Hard Day’s Night.” All the girls in the theater were still screaming and I remember not understanding this because, indeed, this was film, not live. Hello?

When the Beatles played Shea Stadium the following summer, I merely worried that the screwballs there wouldn’t mess up the Mets’ infield. As fate would have it, we were driving home from a Sunday visit on Long Island. As we drove by, my father lowered the car window. Even though we were probably a mile or so away, we could hear the crowd screaming clear as a bell. He shook his head in silence and rolled up the window. He turned up the volume on the car radio and blared Bert Kaempfert's "Red Roses for a Blue Lady." Clearly, he was done with it all.

And I don't think my cousin ever really did cut his hair.

Dinner last night: Panfried noodles with beef at Panda Inn.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

With All My Love on Valentine's Day...

Dinner last night: Chinese buffet at Hop Li.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Your Weekend Movie Guide for February 2009

I spent many an hour at this Bronx movie theater located near the intersection of White Plains Road and 233rd Street. The photo was snapped most likely in the summer of 1969. One of my regular readers and good friends, 15thavebud, also will revel in this picture as I think he had a connection to the shoe repair store.

Nevertheless, here's my monthly service (free of charge) for you. I'll scour the movie pages of the Los Angeles Times and give you my gut, knee-jerk reaction to the stuff unspooling at your local "theatah." There will be no excuse if you make a lousy choice for your Valentine's Day moviegoing event.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: Perhaps you did not read my blog entry of February 5. I will paraphrase. This movie sucks.

Slumdog Millionaire: Probably the favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picutre. Not on my ballot. Incredibly over-hyped and over-rated. Sari. That's a pun, by the way.

The Pink Panther 2: Steve Martin, you should be doing so much better than trying to duplicate the greatness that was Peter Sellers. Well, excuuuuuuuuuse me!

Milk: Enjoyable and should win Penn another Oscar. The newspaper ad asks the question, "how did Milk move you?" Well, if I'm lactose-intolerant, you probably don't want to know.

The Wrestler: A helluva performance by Mickey Rourke and a visual indictment of the plastic surgeon who did the rotten job on his face. Can you spell "malpractice?"

Friday the 13th: Opening on Friday the 13th. And I bet there's some 23 year-old Hollywood studio marketer who thinks they're oh so clever. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to camp. For the remade sequel, I'd love to see Jason Voorhees terrorizing the White House.

Under The Sea 3D: Another nature documentary like that blasted movie about the penguins. Except now you find out what's happening under the ice that the penguins are pooping all over. For once, Morgan Freeman is not the narrator of one of these trifles. Perhaps he was busy at a driver re-education course.

Confessions of a Shopaholic: In this economy??? She should save her money. And ours.

The International: Some dribble about injustice at a powerful bank. As if you can't already find this on the Nightly News?

Frost/Nixon: You still haven't seen the best film of 2008? What the hell is your problem?

He's Just Not That Into You: And I'm just not into any theater playing this.

Waltz with Bashir: The hands down favorite for Best Foreign Film. Also my hands down favorite for a movie that I won't see this weekend.

Inkheart: No clue. And no interest.

Rachel Getting Married: Still????? The dysfunctional family that just won't go away. But, then again, whose does?

The Class: Another Foreign film nominee about some French class that mirrors what happened at Columbine. More reminders of past tragedies. Yawn.

Gran Torino: For getting passed over by the Academy, Clint Eastwood needs to go shoot up that place as well. A terrific story masterfully told. And a nagging reminder that there are too many fucking Asians in this country.

Coraline: Some cartoon or claymation about a little girl and a secret door in her house. Bet on the fact that she opens it. If not, this could be the dullest two hours of your life.

Doubt: Previously reviewed by yours truly. Well acted, over directed, and a trip down memory lane for anybody who went to a parochial school.

Underworld - Rise of the Lycans: As if the rise of the Democrats is not scary enough.

Defiance: Still lingering around and I'm still avoiding it. All is good.

Paul Blart Mall Cop: This made tons of money, but none of it came from my wallet. The three most frightening words in the English language: Kevin James Comedy.

Two Lovers: Some dreary romance with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. Two actors that I will run to see in pretty much, well, nothing. If Phoenix truly wants to start his rap career, I'd suggest now is as a good a time as any.

The Reader: Saw it and the story is compelling. It's also a trifle long. And I would like to officially ask Hollywood to stop making movies about the Holocaust. How many times can you hit the same note?

Revolutionary Road: Perhaps you did not read my blog entry of February 10. I will paraphrase. This movie sucks.

Dinner last night: Evelyn's Favorite Pasta at the Cheesecake Factory.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Walking Home from School - A Photo Essay

More photos from my last sojourn to Mount Vernon, New York. I am replicating here the sights I would have seen as I walked home from school. Both my junior high and my elementary schools were within walking distance of my home. I had no clue what the inside of a school bus looked like unless, of course, we went on a field trip to some incredibly dull museum. Washington Junior High was on 6th Avenue. Grimes Elementary School was on 11th Avenue. I lived on 15th Avenue. Do the math and connect the dots. It was all walkable.

This is the cavernous auditorium of my junior high school. Now it's an elementary school named after Nellie Thornton, whoever the hell she was. The best part of going to this school was going to assembly in a hall that was as huge as the Yankee Stadium upper deck. Tough shot to get any spitball onto the stage.
Grimes Elementary...or what's left of it. This could be Berlin in 1945 for all I know. On the far left windows (boards, really) of the first floor was my sixth grade class with homeroom teacher Mrs. Hartmann. Who knows? They could still be using the school and the window treatments are used as practical lessons for some class that teaches 10 year-olds what it's like to be a hostage.My first stop on the way home would be this grocery store for a snack. These days, it's probably a crack den with convenient sidewalk parking. I remember the place didn't feature name brands. Instead of Wise or Lay's potato chips, you had Tom's. No Hostess or Drake's Cakes either. It was some other knockoff bakery. It all went down the gullet nonetheless and fortified you for that long four-block trek home. Midway through your hike home along Second Street, the incline changed sharply. When I was seven, this was a steep hill that required the aid of a sherpa. I look at it now and the real challenge is stepping through all the trash on the sidewalk.As I am ready to make the turn onto 15th Avenue from Second Street, this was the house I saw. Well, sort of. We thought it was haunted. Back when, the yard was covered with trees so the mystery was enhanced. Now, the place is probably nothing more than a safehouse for two dozen or so illegal Haitians.On the other side of the street (my side of the street), these two homes are the first ones I would pass. The house on the right is where these two little kids, Guy and Michael, lived with their mother who had this Cockney accent. The neighborhood legend is that, while sliding down a slick street sign, Michael castrated himself. Never proven. The house next door is where the first Black family to enter our neighborhood planted themselves. Indeed, the first Blacks were the Browns. Four boys who didn't look remotely related, except for all sharing the same mother. Also suspected but never proven.Across the street we find the home of one of the really lunatic kids, Dominick. I've heard he turned out to be a respectable adult, but back then, he was criminally insane. The kind of kook who ran around always putting bugs in a jar to watch them die. Dominick also loved to put me into a head lock for no reason. If I had been even the least bit litigious as a ten year-old, I would have hauled this shithead into jail for assault and battery. Never liked him and the fact that his home is now being auctioned to some lowlife for $50,000 is a wonderful tribute to his legacy.The home of my childhood best friend, Leo, who remains in my life to this day and often comments here as "15thavebud." We did everything together from the age of five through high school. Movies, baseball games, Strat-o-Matic, Tibbets Brook Pool and Good Humor ice cream in the summer. The home on the left is where another childhood best friend, Dolores, lived. Also still around and she is the mother of my pseudo nephews and my goddaughter. Bright lights in an otherwise bizarre group of neighborhood psychopaths.
This is the house that was next door to ours. Except during the first eight years of my life when it was a vacant lot. When the house was being built, we loved to hide in it and essentially turn trespassing into an art form. The first occupants were this older Jewish family. The man, Max, was a baker and I will never forget the day he came over to introduce himself. He told us that we would never have to buy bread again as he would bring it to us fresh every morning. And he did just that until the day he died. My family was also probably the first Christian people they ever befriended. They came to my grandfather's wake and said it was the first time they ever went to a Christian funeral. Nice people. Even nicer pumpernickel.Ta da!! My house. The home of me and my parents (second floor) and my grandparents on the first floor. There are now three satellite dishes there and I am sure my grandmother would be wondering if the owners are trying to contact the moon. The flagpole is still there. My grandmother religiously ran the flag up there on all holidays and she taught me how to fold it in proper military style. There are bars all over the windows on the first floor, so I am guessing that there is a soupcon of crime now in this hellhole of a neighborhood. The green and white aluminum siding remains as it should. My grandmother paid a lot of money to have it installed. The process took one whole summer and pretty much took over the backyard. On the stoop in front of the house, Leo and I would spend many a late and warm summer evening sitting and talking. About what? We were 13 year-olds. There were a host of topics before us---from Mickey Mantle to nuclear disarmament. Another angle and the first window on the second floor was my room right up until college when I escaped. But, just to show you that all was not idyllic at 11 South 15th Avenue, here's the view we had.This ugly apartment building which housed we don't know what. I heard that, when my grandparents bought the house in 1948, they were challenged as to why they would buy a home across the street from an apartment house. My grandmother scoffed and probably waved off all the suggestions. She ultimately was sorry she did as the neighborhood turned rancid when this apartment complex did. And it never was the same again. God knows what's in there now. Perhaps another four dozen or so illegal Haitians. Okay, now that I'm home from school and I have changed into my play clothes, maybe I can go get an ice cream treat from the Carvel stand. Except I'm now apparently out of luck unless I'm dying for a chocolate covered mango or a plantain split.

Or maybe Leo and I have some time for a little pre-dinner softball game at the vacant lot around the corner. Except that's now an even more vacant-looking row of townhouses. Who would want to live there now? With a great view of some radial tires. The Firestone outlet was there when we were playing, so, at least, there is one or two constants in an otherwise dismal series of urban un-developments. Change that nobody can believe in.

The pictures are current, while the memories are not. But, still, in my mind, nothing is more vivid than those years on 15th Avenue.

Time to do my homework.

Dinner last night: Prime rib birthday dinner at Dal Rae in Pico Riviera.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Wednesday That Will Live in Infamy

It's official. I've tested positive for nastiness.

---Here's what's left of my life. Good seats still available at Shea Stadium.

---From what I can see, Loge Section 7 is one of the last to go in the demolition. And that's the way it should be.

---This picture looks like a screenshot from one of those WWII movies set in Berlin.

---"At today's performance, the role of the Nazis will be played by the Wilpon family.

---Shea Stadium went down quicker than...

---Insert your favorite slut joke here.

---The wreckage there still reminds me of the Met bullpen last year.

---A-Roid! A-Roid! A-Roid!

---Just warming up for the baseball season, folks.

---I bet those injections are still paying dividends now that he's hooked up with Madonna.

---A-Roid came out and admitted he was stupid. But, didn't we already know that?

---The happiest guy in America right now is Joe Torre, whose controversy has now been pushed back in the newspaper. Somewhere between the personal ads and Marmaduke.

---Here's a great way to end the economic crisis: All the money that A-Rod made while on the juice should be used to bail out the country.

---Well, that should cover about 2% of the trillion dollars in the stimulus bill.

---Obama lasted in the political center about as long as Juan Pierre would last in a homerun hitting derby.

---He pretty much rolled over and let those two idiots, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, spearhead this bill that's loaded with nonsense.

---The only thing I want to see Pelosi ever carrying is a bag full of clothespins.

---If you look at a picture of Harry Reid, you realize that the age limit to be in Congress should be set at 150. Which might get him out.

---I'm thinking there's not much that stimulates him these days.

---Buried in all the stimulus garbage is the news that the White House and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will be taking over the national census.

---Huh??? Given that this, as written in our Constitution, determines how we are represented, this process should be done by an independent party.

--Maybe the White House will outsource the census to his friends at ACORN, where the highest level of math is the second grade.

---It's amazing how some people can't do simple arithmetic, but they know exactly how many food stamps they should be getting every month.

---Next stop, Hell. Watch the closing doors.

---So, they put that professional baby maker, Nadia Suleman, on national TV and I'm wondering how much she charged NBC for the interview.

--By the way, this mess already has three children who get federal assistance for disabilities. Plus she gets almost 500 dollars a month for food stamps.

---This news was all released to us by her publicist.

---She's on welfare, but she has a publicist???

---I have a blog, which acts as my publicist.

---Why don't I just have my salary direct deposited to her account?

---She's got 14 kids and, in my Presidency, they all go to 14 well-meaning couples who are infertile.

---And then somebody takes a box cutter to her ovaries.

---She's not a mother, she's a Pez dispenser.

---I never said this was going to be pretty.

---George Bush has been out of office for three weeks and I'm wondering how many times he's already screwed up Laura's grocery list.

---I was born 32 years ago today.

---Yeah, yeah, yeah. But if I believe that, what else is important?

Dinner last night: Grilled chicken and risotto.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fine Whines

I just watched one of those old Andy Hardy (Mickey Rooney) movies on Turner Classic Movies. Andy goofs and winds up with two dates for the Christmas dance. He needs his trusty friend and neighbor, Betsy Booth (Judy Garland), to extricate him from this predicament so that all will be fixed in time for the big evening. Everyone survives happily and a good laugh is had by all.

If you take this same movie and have it produced and directed by the most clinically depressed people in Hollywood, you wind up with the current film "Revolutionary Road," which just may be the dreariest movie ever to come out of Tinseltown since "Schindler's List." As a matter of fact, "Revolutionary Road" is so misguided it comes off like Paul Lynde starring in "Schindler's List."

"Jews! I don't know what's wrong with these Jews today."

But, I digress...

I was unfortunately persuaded to see "Revolutionary Road" after some positive word-of-mouth from friends who no longer are. Now, I worry about their mindsets and wonder how Zoloft can be Fedex-ed to their homes immediately. Most of the people in the audience when I saw it were squirming like flounder caught on a hook. Several waved disgustedly at the screen and walked out. One was so distraught she went out the fire exit and activated a siren, which conveniently woke the rest of us from our comas.

"Revolutionary Road" is one of those movies that contends all suburban life in the 50s was truly satanic. While the kids were in the living room watching Howdy Dowdy, Mom was doing the milkman in the kitchen. Dad was, of course, in the garage letting the neighbor's daughter touch him. I remember watching cartoons when I was a kid and I didn't see a milkman, a neighbor's daughter, or even my parents anywhere within a two mile radius. Of course, I can recall fights and slammed doors and the infrequent glass hurled against a kitchen wall. But, didn't we all? So, filmmakers, what's your ultimate point?

As you probably know, the "Titanic" duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are the battlers in this mess, and they were much better off floating around the North Atlantic on a piece of ice. They argue from the very first scene and, by the time the first half-hour is over, you want to move from their neighborhood pronto. It's all the same standard suburban melodrama you get from lots of other shitty movies. I'm so unfulfilled. Wah, wah, wah. You don't love me anymore. Wah, wah, wah. You never touch me. Wah, wah, wah. Why the big emphasis on asparagus every single meal? Wah, wah, wah. There's some nonsense about moving to a better life in Paris, but how improved can that be when you're subjected to Jerry Lewis movies on a regular basis?

By the time the film winds up, Kate has gone to the hardware store and bought some plumbing tools that allow her to have a do-it-yourself abortion. Funny, but I've never seen that particular episode on HGTV. She bleeds slowly to death, and not fast enough in my book. You don't care about anything or anybody in this film and my mind started to drift back to Andy Hardy and whether his evening with Polly Benedict turned out okay.

Indeed, all I wanted to do afterwards was go home and watch some Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Just like the old days.

Dinner last night: Chopped steak and salad.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 9, 2009

Who knew Saturday Night Live could be this funny? Here's a recent....and very rare clever commercial parody.

Dinner last night: Turkey French Dip at Phillippe's.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - When Relatives Aren't Relatives Anymore

On the eve of the eve of what would have been my mother’s next birthday (that's her in her retirement party photo and she would hate the fact that I'm putting out on the internet), I pull from the Memory Drawer this little tale that probably has been repeated in countless families over time. Those relatives that have stuck together through thick or thin, God bless you. Most families don’t. Usually distance, divergent opinions, and almost always a little or a lot of anger drive a wedge into the relationships. Christmases, which once featured twenty or thirty folks gathered around a table happily chomping on apple pie, are now…well, not that.

I’m lucky to still be in touch with some of my relatives and some even subject themselves to this daily lunacy of prose. But, there are a few that have fallen by the wayside. Here’s a story of how I pretty much deep sixed two of them. Cousins on my mom’s side of the family. Forever and permanently expunged from my existence. And, hopefully, not readers here. I’ll call them Patty and Bobby. Conveniently because that’s what their names were.

Patty and Bobby were the children of my mother’s loony sister who never met a can of Schaefer Beer that she couldn’t poptop open. They lived out in Suffolk County on Long Island. Bobby was pretty much my age, so a natural cohort in childhood. I’d spend a week every summer at their house. The backyard pool was a prime attraction. I even remember one late summer night when all the parents were having themselves a time poolside while the kids were allegedly sleeping. That night, I think everybody was swilling from the fount of St. Schaefer as one after another got tossed in the pool. All except my father who wanted none of the nonsense. He pulled the ladder from the above-ground pool and drove off with it. Fun times.

Nevertheless, as time passed, so did the merriment. My uncle dropped dead suddenly and the trips to Long Island became less frequent. Plus my aunt pretty much devoted the rest of her life working as an attendant in the local nut house, where she’d field marriage proposals from kooks who mistook her for Eleanor Parker. So, as is frequently the case, that part of the family pretty much disintegrated.

Decades later, my mother tried to stay touch with her sister. Partly out of nosiness, partly out of loneliness. And, for a few years, she and my aunt would arrange a visit on Veteran’s Day, for some bizarre reason. This played me into the equation as I needed to be off from work so I could play chauffeur. On one of those annual excursions, I reconnected with Bobby, who had become a local business entrepreneur. Translation: he owned the neighborhood bowling alley. In an odd way, we all enjoyed this little return to the past, even if it was for but one day a year.

Sure enough, like clockwork, another year passed and Veteran's Day was upon us one more time. My mom started planning the Long Island trip in early October. So, she started the ball rolling by trying to call my aunt to remind her about her annual sojourn to the bowels of Deer Park, New York. No answer. Every few days, Mom would dial the phone answer. This was in the era just before cell phones. And, of course, that generation was still hard pressed to even consider voice mail or answering machines---the technological work of Satan.

Mom tried and tried and tried. Never a connection. She finally called me and expressed some worry.

”I think there’s something wrong with Aunt Anne.”

My suggestion, I thought, was pretty obvious.

”Call Patty and ask her.”

So, as was usually the case in our relationship in the later years, Mom did exactly what I told her to do. She called Patty. And pretty much threw my cousin for a loop. Patty, according to my mother, sounded very nervous and didn’t want to speak with her. But, before hanging up, she lowered the prophetic boom.

”Can I have Len’s phone number? I’ll call him.”

Huh, said my mother.

Huh, huh, huh, said I.

I pretty much told my mother that none of this sounded like Patty wanted to share her recipe for cheesecake. I tried to come up with some logical explanations for this bizarre scenario. Perhaps, my aunt had some delayed anger issues due to my father stealing their pool ladder. Nah. Prepare for some not-so-good news, Mother.

When Patty called me the next night, I couldn't even fathom what was to come. After some chitchat about her last trip to Aqueduct Raceway (Patty, I think, freelanced as a bookie), she suddenly broke down in incoherent sobs.

My aunt had died six weeks ago.

My jaw. Kitchen linoleum. Major collision.

In utter silence, I listened to the story as she told it. Apparently, my aunt had experienced a TV commercial moment. She had fallen and couldn't get up. Lying there on the cold floor, she developed one infected body sore after another until my cousins finally checked up on her. Six days later!

I was dumbfounded. As soon as my folks hit 65, I'd call each of them at least once every day. From whereever I was. And, if I didn't speak to them in a single day period, I would immediately try to go over there. Most times, I would discover that the TV had drowned out the ringing of their telephone. How do you not check in with an elderly parent for almost a week? My editorial comment. Now, back to our story...

Anyway, by the time my two idiot cousins got involved, it was way too late for my aunt. And, by the time I was having this phone conversation, she was already in the ground and meeting worms for the first time. I asked my cousin the obvious next question.

"Why didn't you call and tell us? When it happened."

My cousin sobbed some more.

"We didn't want to upset your mother."

My jaw. Kitchen linoleum. Major collision, the sequel.

I could say nothing as I contemplated this slap in the face, worthy of any Joan Crawford movie in the 40s. How could they not, at least, suck it up and tell their mother's only living blood relative about this? And let her go through whatever funeral or memorial there was? I had no clue what to say next.

"Is there anything I can do?"

My cousin slobbered some more. I pictured a continuous stream of mucus dripping from her nose.

"Well, can you tell your mother? Because we can't. We're all headed down to the Florida condo in the morning."


I hung up, almost wordlessly. And did what they themselves neglected to do. Their familial duty. What all children have to do eventually when their parents pass on. The hard stuff.

As fate would have it, my mother would pass away about a year or so later. In retrospect, my parents, along with most of my aunts and uncles, all pretty wiped out over a five year period. It was almost like they all had to go together. I wondered if this was somehow related to the ozone layer or Three Mile Island. But, answers were received once I looked at my father's Technicolor slides of family gatherings. He would take pictures of all the booze bottles on the kitchen table. And, in every picture, there's everybody---doing the cha cha cha with cigarettes aglow between their fingers. And there you are.

Of course, upon Mom's demise, I had the chance to be the better person with these two idiots on Long Island. I would be above board and tell them the latest news---something they couldn't do themselves.

On second, third, and fourth thought, nah. I said nothing. Instead, I waited almost eleven months. When it was time to write out my Christmas cards to these two fools.

"My mother died last January. Happy Holidays!!"

Sometimes, it feels damn good not to be the better person.

Dinner last night: Teriyaki chicken.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

With Apologies to Audrey Meadows

Dinner last night: Roast beef sandwich from Clementine's.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Please Rent This Movie

Fresh on the heels of wasting almost three hours of my mortal coil watching that pile of dog vomit otherwise known as "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," there is this film. "The Tunnel." Or "Der Tunnel" for those of you sauerbraten lovers in the audience. It is as long as the Brad Pitt mess. But, while that film lasted for what seemed like six days, "The Tunnel" is perhaps the fastest three hours you will ever see on any screen. At the end, I looked at the clock and channeled Peggy Lee. Is that all there is?

Frankly, I had not known a single thing about "The Tunnel." I don't remember it coming out, but, apparently, it did sometime in 2001. Since it didn't get nominated for Best Foreign Film in the Oscar race, the movie probably get much attention from the snotty American film critics. I literally stumbled on it during a Netflix surf. I was looking for another foreign film and saw this depiction of Germany during the period when the Berlin Wall first went up. And the viewer reviews on Netflix were nothing short of heavenly praise. I put it in my queue.

Almost as divine intervention, "The Tunnel" arrived in my mailbox the day after my corneas had been roasted by the blinding shallowness of Benjamin Button. It was as if God was stepping in to say, "Len, yes, movies can be exhilerating."

"The Tunnel" just might be the best movie I have seen in the last five years. It was absolutely fascinating. Based on the ubiquitous true story, "The Tunnel" captures Berlin in 1961. The West-East divide is happening and the bricks, later to be torn down by Mr. Gorbachev upon President Reagan's request, are just getting plastered together. People from the East are desperate to get to the West and now. One does. This championship swimmer, Harry Melchior, gets there early, but is forced to leave his sister and her daughter on the other side. Of course, he wants to pull her across later. How? Well, look at the title. You build a tunnel. Supposedly, there were dozens of tunnels built under the wall during its tenure in Berlin. Some were successful. Others were not. And Harry, along with a motley crew of helpers, goes about digging one.

As "The Tunnel" unfolds, you are mesmerized by the story, the depth of the characters, and the pin-dropping excitement of the last hour. There is not a single wasted frame of screen time. And nary a special effect to be found. I was sure to see either Billy Wilder or William Wyler's name as director. Nope, it's some German guy with a name that sounds like it would go great with some red cabbage.

For this movie fan disillusioned by the dreck in our multiplexes right now, "The Tunnel" picked me up, dusted me off, and started me all over again. Grab your shovel and get it this weekend.

Dinner last night: Honey ham sandwich on French roll.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Curious Case of a Best Picture Nominee

Curious is how I describe how I even went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." Having seen the CGI-laden trailer and knowing full well that the movie was about four days long, I had little interest. But, the other night, I had gone over to the neighborhood mall's food court for some Chinese food. Walking off the chicken and mushrooms, I sauntered past the movie multiplex and noticed that this film was playing in ten minutes. Okay, I thought, it did get a dozen or so Oscar nominations. Maybe I should.

And I did. Rationalization as provided by the Century City Westfield shopping center.

Looking back, I might have been better off with "Paul Blart, Mall Cop."

There are certain movies that I wish I was able to bring a laptop into the theater, so I could write down all the comments that start to ping pong around my head while the film unspools. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is just one of those cinematic events that sends you reeling in such a fashion.

All the way to Celluloid Hell.

Don't get me wrong. This is a well-made movie. All the money is on the screen. Wonderful locations. Special effects. Make-up designed to really showcase the aging process. And I'm sure Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett cost a few greenbackerinos to boot.

It's a shame nobody bothered to spend more 73 cents on the story. I've already posted how this movie dovetails the plot elements of "Forrest Gump," but simply does so backwards. Indeed, screenwriter Eric Roth has his name on both movies, so, obviously, Roth hasn't come up with another original thought since 1994. This is the same movie except it's incredibly more confusing. And it reminds me of the old Joan Rivers joke about her husband filming her while she was in labor. "Okay, let's run it backwards so we can make the baby go back in." Probably those home movies would have produced a more compelling tale than this sewer back-up.

You know the tale. Button is born as an old man and goes in reverse until, as a newborn, he dies. Meanwhile, the love of his life, Daisy, goes the more conventional route and the two of them get hot and heavy somewhere in the middle. Yawn. I realized that I spent a lot of my time in the theater doing math in my head. Okay, if Benjamin is fifty, how old is Daisy? If Daisy is thirty-five, how old is Benjamin? This is not a movie. It's a third grade word problem. I shouldn't have to come to a theater with an Excel spreadsheet.

Some people must think a lot happens along this journey, but they also must be the same folks who like to watch how much lint accumulates in the dryer catch-all. Brad Pitt doesn't really show up for the first forty-five minutes. Instead, as an old man, I think they photoshop his made-up-to-be-shriveled head onto some old footage of midget actor Billy Barty cruising on his yacht. Meanwhile, this life story is being read from Button's diary (and Brad's lifeless voiceover narration) to Daisy, who is obviously an eighty-year-old woman ravaged by cancer. Except as I watched this swill, I was the one looking for the buzzer to signal my nurse to up the morphine, please. At the same time, while Daisy is slipping away, you are made aware that, outside of this New Orleans hospital, Hurricane Katrina is about to hit. What the hell this has to do with a short story that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote eighty years ago is totally beyond my salary level.

All the while, you know these two knuckleheads are going to die, so you start wishing for it to happen. In the movie finale I was constructing in my head, I wanted Daisy to live long enough so that Hurricane Katrina could float her hospital bed all the way to Biloxi. Now that would have gotten my interest. And perhaps the attention of the people who were all snoring around me.

Having seen several of Brad Pitt's performances, I can tell you that he's not a bad comedic actor. But, when confronted with drama, he has all the presence of the lector reading this week's Psalm at the Baptist church Pitt used to go to back in Missouri. When he strains to be poignant with a line, he comes off sounding like, "Hi, this is Burger King, may I take your order?"

Director David Fincher also should be thrashed for his unwieldy attempts to end this movie. A good dramatic film usually has one or two moments that are designed to put your heart in your throat. Fincher is not content with that. Over the last hour of the movie, he tries to do this over and over with one melodramatic scene after another. The movie seemingly concludes about twenty different times and you are numb by the end. It's sort of like going to a memorial service where there are 50 people scheduled to speak. After a while, you run out of things to say about the dearly departed. By the last speaker, you're liable to hear something like "Well, I'm just happy to say that Uncle Phil never threw up on my shoes."

I'm thinking that all the attention and fervor for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is coming from the younger audiences. Finally, their CGI and video game worlds are combined with some seemingly important life lessons. But, in what they perceive as a deep film, I can tell you that the impact it makes is no more than my footprint on a newly shampooed rug. If there are enough Oscar voters under 30, Button will probably win Best Picture. But, I'm hoping there's another voting bloc of the oldtimers. You know, some old studio production guy named Sol Schwartz, who'll chomp on his pastrami sandwich at Nate N'Al's and say, "They think this is a good movie, those goddamn stupid pishers?"

As I staggered out to my car, another film formed in my head. Benjamin goes overseas and hooks up with a sultry Italian prostitute.

"The Curious Case of Benjamin's Battona."

Epilogue: there is a happy end to this grim tale. And you will read all about it tomorrow.

Dinner last night: Salami on sourdough roll.