Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

August 3rd, 2006


Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm SchoolRobert Carlyle (The Full Monty) heads up an all-star cast as Frank Keane, a grieving widower who's convinced he'll never know happiness again. But everything changes when he stops to help Steve Mills (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski), a stranger who's been injured in a serious car wreck. Determined to fulfill the dying man's last wish, Frank races to a dance school hoping to keep a date with Steve's long lost love -- only to find romance waiting to sweep him off his feet in this humorous, warm-hearted drama that's a must-have for any independent film collection.

Robert Carlyle, Marisa Tomei, Mary Steenburgen, Sean Astin, Donnie Wahlberg, Danny DeVito and John Goodman. What a great cast... and hey look, Donnie Wahlberg is in it, too. Ok, that is unfair; he did a great job. They all did a great job.

With a cast like that, especially in an independent film I typically assume that the big names will be cameos. Someone manages to get John Goodman to make an appearance in your movie because Goodman owes a favor to one of the guys your uncle plays poker with or something ridiculous like that. So he comes in as the mayor of the town or some tiny bit part like that shakes some hands and is never seen nor heard from again. That is not the case in Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School.

I know the name alone is enough to turn you away from the film. I mean, Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School, what a stupid title. What on Earth could that be about other than some charm school for little girls? I urge you to look beyond the title and investigate further.

You will find a touching story about love and life after death (not life after one's own death, but how one must go on after someone else's death). You may smile and chuckle a little, but this is not a comedy. If it has been a while since you last saw a good drama, or even if it was last night, give Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School a try.

I am a big fan of Robert Carlyle. Everyone knows him from The Full Monty, but I have enjoyed his work in other roles as well. Some of my favorite Robert Carlyle performances are The Beach, Plunkett & Macleane, and The 51st State (A/K/A Formula 51). Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School joins them in that list. He plays a first generation immigrant who brings his family's bread business to the US. His wife has passed away and now he struggles each day without her. He is a man who wants to be left alone with his own problems when he is first to arrive after a terrible accident. You can feel how awkward it is for him to find himself in the situation to follow.

John Goodman, who I expected to have one scene in the film, really impressed me. He is in the movie start to finish and stretches artistic muscles I never knew he had. He has been solid in everything I have seen him do up to this point, but I have never seen him do anything like this. He really did a great job.

The story may be a little far-fetched for some. And one or two of you may call it "hokey," but I liked it a lot. It hasn't taken over the role of my favorite movie, and despite what the synopsis says on the back of the DVD, I probably will not add it to my collection. Please do not let that deter you from giving it a try. I was pleasantly surprised by Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School; I think you'll be entertained if nothing else. Look beyond the title. Check it out.

(One word of encouragement: If you are like me, you read the synopsis and are worried that Frank Keane will find romance in the arms of the woman he was sent to meet on behalf of the dying man, Steve Mills. Take solice in the fact that it is a different woman. And don't worry, I did not just give away the ending.)

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Still Life With Woodpecker - Tom Robbins

August 2nd, 2006

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom RobbinsStill Life With Woodpecker is sort of a love story that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes. It reveals the purpose of the moon, explains the difference between criminals and outlaws, examines the conflict between social activism and romantic individualism, and paints a portrait of contemporary society that includes powerful Arabs, exiled royalty, and pregnant cheerleaders. It also deals with the problem of redheads.

I somehow managed to be both hesitant and curious to read more Tom Robbins after my first experience. It wasn't encouragement, necessarily, that motivated me to read another of his books, but rather a recommendation. Unbeknownst to me at the time, a good friend of mine is a pretty big Tom Robbins fan. She suggested Still Life With Woodpecker. She said reading it would allow me to give Robbins's writing a fair shake. So apparently my opinions now are based around at least one book that is representative of his writing style.

A lot of writers have mastered the art of telling a story about something, anything at all. Tom Robbins seems to have mastered the art of telling a story about nothing at all. The wording there, though odd, is absolutely intended as a compliment. There is a certain flow to this writing that makes it appear to be a full-length novel of poetic verse. His ideas are certainly unique and beautifully abstract.

I love how he writes and I am completely fascinated by the ideas he develops, though somehow at the end of Still Life With Woodpecker I am not in a rush to read the remaining work in his name.

The only reason I would probably find myself reading more of his stuff is to see if the parallel themes and images are used throughout his writing. Many times during "Still Life" I noted commonality to Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates. The most significant was the use of pyramids. I would be curious to see into how many books he can keep pyramids involved, but at the same time I know I would grow more and more disappointed in Robbins for not being able to throw different symbols into the ring.

After "Fierce Invalids" I said I might be interested in reading more stories involving the main character, Switters, but never expected to find another. Switters would have some very engaging conversations with The Woodpecker. The two men seemed to share many ideas and perspectives. It was nice because it was familiar, but again, I was a little disappointed in Robbins for not writing a new character with silly quirks and outlandish interpretations of societal restrictions for me to enjoy. I guess the moral of the story is to be careful of what you wish for.

I seem to have gotten away from my suggestion that you read Still Life With Switters...err Woodpecker should you find yourself curious for a book that will certainly take you on a journey through unfamiliar eyes looking at familiar subjects. I will not try to speculate as to just how many drugs Mr. Robbins has experimented with, but say simply that he seems to have some very bizarre influences in his writing. I am sure there are other authors like Tom Robbins out there somewhere, but I don't know of any.

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matt pond PA - Several Arrows Later

August 1st, 2006

matt pond PA - Several Arrows LaterMy exposure to matt pond PA was very limited before this album. I had only listened to the songs available to download from the official band website. I liked what I heard and was excited to learn about the latest album (October, 2005). A few guitars; a bass; a cello; drums; and the occasional keyboard, the recipe is a simple one to generate an enjoyable album from matt pond PA. Even though some of the songs blend together at the middle of the album, which makes them difficult to decipher from one another...

01. Halloween This is a representative song of what I like about matt pond PA. The sound is relaxed but not slow. Your subconscious takes over before long and you're tapping your foot or bobbing your head.

02. So Much Trouble If they have not yet taken it down, the video for this song is available at matt pond PA's myspace page. This song would go well on a mixtape with the Postal Service.

03. The Trees And The Wild As the song starts I feel that the music might be boring. It is simple and a little slower, but that does not mean is has to be boring. It works well here. Decent track.

04. Several Arrows Later The title track is a good song to appreciate Matt Pond's voice. The contrast between slower vocals and up-tempo music sounds pretty good.

05. It Is Safe There is nothing too remarkable about this song, and nothing really worth mentioning. It is a solid track as we enter the middle of the disc.

06. Emblems The music shakes you awake while the vocals rock you gently to sleep. Emblems leaves you slightly confused, though entertained.

07. City Song I think it's the cello that adds the slower element to the album. It's good, but this is a song where it is more noticeable.

08. From Debris This is one of the better songs on the album. The music grabs you right from the beginning. "From and meeeee...." Sing it with me.

09. Brooklyn Stars This song is a great example of what I consider to be a strength in lyrics on this album. It seems a pretty simple story that may not be so simple after all.

10. The Moviegoer I like this song now. The comparison to The Strokes - Last Nite drove me crazy for awhile, but it is not so bad anymore. It is a good song with a fun beat to it.

11. Spring Provides The album really ends strongly. Not to say that the earlier tracks are not good, but it is just heavily weighted on the end. Spring Provides...provides more proof of that.

12. Devil In The Water After Halloween, Devil in the Water is probably my favorite song on the album. They seem to have held nothing back as the album draws to a close. Not that this song is packed with loud energy, because it is not.

They took some good songs and wrapped them in two great ones. There is no negative connotation when I describe this as a good "rainy day" album, when your energy level may match the weather outside. That might be one of the best times to listen to Several Arrows Later, though not only time. Check it out for yourself.

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How Long to Keep Open Wine

July 31st, 2006


There are lots of variables regarding the wine type, method of production, age of bottle and on and on. There are all those considerations and exceptions but for 95% of the wine that most people drink, the answer is pretty simple.

Three (3) days. Around here, we keep wines up to 3 days after the bottle has been opened. Once a bottle of wine is opened, the oxygen in the air starts a process that initially softens the flavors and opens up the aromas of the wine. As this process (oxidation) continues over many hours and days, the wine is ultimately made undrinkable. The trick is to use the wine before it becomes unpalatable or to pour it out before bad wine is served to guests.

You can (and usually should) refrigerate recorked bottes. You can buy stoppers and gadgets to create a slight vaccuum in the bottle. You can get systems that put a layer of inert gas in the bottle. All these items and efforts are aimed at slowing the oxidation that will eventually destroy the wine.

What makes the whole thing tricky is that the wine will not go immediately from good to bad. The wine will, at a point, begin to progressively develop tastes that are unpleasant. Just like milk that is going bad, each person has a different point at which they identify the beverage as having gone bad.

If you want to play it safe (and who doesn't with either milk or wine), then just use the 3 day rule. Recork and refrigerate the bottle for up to three days. With red wines, pull the bottle from the refrigerator at least 1/2 hour before you want to use it so it will warm to a desirable serving temperature in the mid 60's F. With white wines or roses, just pull and pour when you need them.

Keeping opened wines beyond 3 days is like playing golf in a lightning storm. You may get through but you are tempting the fates. If you keep a table wine for more than 3 days, you will be serving a wine that has lost most of the characteristics that are prized. The aroma will start to change and much of the fresh fruit smells and tastes will subside. At worst, you'll be serving a wine that has oxidized too much and is partly or entirely bad.

Dessert wines like Sauternes, most everyday Ports and most Sherries can last much longer but those are special cases. Just play it safe with the 3 day rule. It is a good practice to write the date the bottle was opened on the label if there is a chance of confusion.

July 28th, 2006
Richard Russo - Empire Falls - 295After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their hearts' impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble?

Top 5 Movies: Starring Val Kilmer

July 27th, 2006

Guster Live 7/26/2006 w/ Ray LaMontagne

July 27th, 2006

I saw a great concert last night at The Meadow Brook Music Festival. I missed the opening act (The Fruit Bats) so I cannot speak to how well their set went, but saw all of Ray LaMontagne and Guster.

This was my first time hearing anything by Ray LaMontagne, which was cool. It was nice to hear an artist's work for the first time live for a change. Going in I knew very little about him. The best lead I had suggested a comparison to Van Morrison. I would not agree with the comparison, but his gritty voice did remind me some of the new Gomez album. I am still not convinced that my comparison is any more accurate than Van Morrison, but it was the best I could come up with when I wondered whose voice I thought sounded so familiar to Ray LaMontagne's.

Some of the songs he played were very good. I think I will check out his album Trouble for at least a second listen. I think my favorite was Forever My Friend (lyrics).

The Guster set was great. They are so much fun live. I have not seen them on in 4-5 years, so I was a bit worried that with this new record deal (and this fourth band member?!?) that things would be different, and not for the better. I am not a huge fan of their latest album Ganging Up On The Sun, but went to the show with an open mind. I was overwhelmingly pleasantly surprised. Not only did the songs from the new album sound better live, but Guster played many of their older songs. Too many bands today will tour solely to promote their latest album and play only the new songs during the primary set and then play one or two old favorites during the encore set. Guster rocked the (unfortunately relatively unpacked) house with hits new and old from the moment they came out on stage. Ryan's distinct voice really is made for the stage. He projects so well for sounding like somewhat of a dork (sorry...).

Guster seems to just have fun on stage. When the band appears to be having such a great time performing, the show is that much better. They're funny, though not too much so. Some bands get up and try a little too hard, but Guster knew its boundaries. They spent about an hour and a half on stage. That included their main set and essentially two encores. They bring a ton of energy on stage and leave you completely entertained (and not just from Brian's bongo drumming).

Check out the remaining tour dates for a show near you.

Pictures from the show are available here. I do apologize in advance for the Guster pics. I only took a few because they were turning out so poorly. The stage was backlit which was not good lighting for me from where we sat. (At least not for what little I know how to use my camera for.) (Luckily?) it was still light out when Ray LaMontagne was on stage.

July 26th, 2006
Taxi DriverTravis Bickle: The days go on and on...they don't end. All my life needed was a sense of someplace to go. I don't believe that one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, I believe that one should become a person like other people.

As Simple As Snow Clues

July 25th, 2006

creation - "forever breathes the lonely word"

how like a bird - "nycs"

set up - "better & quiet"

108 - "Even her eyes were constantly changing. They could be clear, bright blue and then suddenly darken and become almost gray. At times they would flicker with light, and I would swear that I could see them changing, with white clouds passing across her pupils, and the next second they would look like ice. She would stare at me or at some point far beyond me, or at nothing, with her eyes locked and still, not tick-tocking back and forth but dead calm, and the blues would darken and become as vacant and useless as empty swimming pools. I began to take note of her mood and the color and texture of her eyes to see whether there was some sort of correlation, some sort of code that I could use to better understand her."

41573 - "nycs"

a day before sunday - "stroszek



ik -- 1 of 3 - "yuki nae wears jil sander"

let no man... -

1. hullo stranger
3. mirage
4. look over the hills and far away
7. ophelia's song
17. the city's cry
21. stargazer
30. odyssey
34. spin

translated from the french - "paul"

gadabout -

Pull the curtains to the sill,
Darken the rooms, cut all the wires.
Crush the embers as they fall
From the dying fires:
Things are not going well.

91664 -

"My journey down to Alexandria was not without adventure, and carried me through scenes which, in other circumstances, it might have been worth while to describe. Thinking, however, that I have already sufficiently trespassed on the patience of the reader, I am unwilling to overload my volume with any matter that does not directly relate to the solution of the great problem which I went to solve."

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

July 25th, 2006


Kiss Kiss Bang BangThey say love and money don't mix, but you can't blame Harry Lockhart for trying. He's been whisked from a life of petty crime to Hollywood, where he'll audition for the role of a movie detective and be tutored for the part by a private eye. Now all Harry has to do is convince the dream girl he meets that he's an actual detective. And try not to stumble over the corpses as reel life abruptly gives way to the real.

Lights, camera, plenty of action! Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) provides the screenplay and makes his directing debut in a clever fusion of buddy movie and hardboiled noir produced by Joel Silver. Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan play the thrust-together trio -- a naive schemer, a tough-as-nails gay detective, and a hopeful actress clinging to her dream. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Watch Watch.

A semi-ridiculous plot born out of the old pulp detective stories. Semi-ridiculous but wildly entertaining. The cast, the writing, and the direction were more than enough to turn unrealistic into fun on screen.

Robert Downey, Jr. impresses me time after time. Any chemical dependencies in his past aside, I think he has a lot of talent. He turns in a very enjoyable performance as Harry Lockhart. I would be hard pressed to decide if I like his work here better than in Wonder Boys, which, partially due to his influence, is a movie I love.

Michelle Monaghan is a relatively unknown name, though she makes heads turn. She was certainly a knockout in this movie, but she may be a bit too much like Liv Tyler for me, in looks, innocence, and mannerisms.

The show was absolutely stolen by Val Kilmer. When you watch the movie you wonder if he can sustain the exalted level of sarcastic wit and incredible timing. Some credit is due to Robert Downey, Jr. for his part in how well they worked together, but Val was great. This just might be his best performance, if I may be so bold.

There will be a time or two where you wonder if the suspense is overdone, but by the end of the movie you will probably be too entertained to remember. The writing was probably the best part; from Robert Downey, Jr.'s monologues as narrator to his constant banter with Val Kilmer, I was impressed. It was a unique film and I appreciate seeing something that is a break from the norm, especially when it is as funny and fun to watch as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

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