As any longtime reader of Life of Ando should know, Bill Simmons is my favorite sportswriter. No blends sports and pop culture quite as hilariously. His only real drawbacks are that he cheers for Boston sports teams and he was born just enough before me that I miss out on some of his older pop culture references. But really, that’s his parents’ fault so I won’t hold it against him too much. A recent column of his in ESPN the Magazine falls into this category, but thanks to YouTube I am able to see what he’s talking about and while it may not have the same resonance for me after first viewing it as a 31 year old as it did for him viewing it as a pre-teen, its still hilarious. I’m talking of course of the Gabe Kaplan vs. Robert Conrad race on Battle of the Network Stars. Any more words of mine on this matter would be hollow and empty compared to Bill’s so I’ll let him do the rest of the talking. Read the column, watch the video, and enjoy.
In June Jen and I shut off the cable. Today I took a two hour lunch to meet the cable guy to have him turn it back on. Such is the power of post season baseball. In similar circumstances back in 2005, I just headed over to my parent’s house and took over their TV for the Angels’ playoff games. I had planned on doing the same thing this post season but failed to take into consideration that I’m now a father. I can’t very well be leaving my wife home alone with the baby three or four nights a week and while I could take the tike with me, there’s so much gear to pack up and transport its a giant hassle. So I did the only thing a clear minded sports fan could do. I called the cable guy. We vowed (Jen and I, not me and the cable guy) to shut it back off after the World Series, so hopefully we’ll follow through. Its been pretty nice not having the rectangular time stealer beckoning us every waking minute, but its nice to have him back, as long as he doesn’t wear out his welcome. Please pray for me. I’m a sick man.
First of all, I’d like to convey my apologies for the lack of frequency in posts this summer. It is, after all, the summer andhas been filled withall those summery things that keep one from spending meaningful hours in front of their computer screen, racking their brain for the tiniest of anecdotes worthy of self-publication. Plus I was out of commission for about a week with a pretty bad cold, which kept me from posting, anddoing much of anything else. Even talking for more than a minute or two sapped me of the energy needed to maintain my will to live, so I was not up for much writing or thinking of things to write. The one thing you can always do when ill is to watch TV. But of course the week I get sick also happens to be the week our cable was turned off (which was by choice, not because we didn’t pay our bill). So I had that going for me, which was nice. But thanks to Netflix, my marvelous little tiny black Netflix box, andmy healthy DVD collection, there was no shortage of video diversions. I watched a wide and varied array of shows and movies this summer, some which dovetail together quite nicely and some which had no business being viewed within a week of each other, much less the same afternoon. I’ll do a quick run down andreview of some of them now. With clips at the end, because I know that’s the sort of quality you’ve come to expect from the Life of Ando.
Dick Van Dyke Show – This show definitely belongs in the pantheon of great sitcoms. Of course its dated. Pretty much everything from the early sixties is, but that’s part of its charm. And besides that its genuinely funny more often than not. Besides the talented fella for who the show is named, the rest of the cast is great also; Sally (Rose Marie) and Buddy (Maury Amsterdam), Rob Petrie’s (Dick Van Dyke) wisecracking writing partners are never without a joke and his wife Laura played Mary Tyler Moore before thirty years of plastic surgery. She’s looks like a melting mannequin now, but she was very pretty back in the day. And the show was very ahead of its time. Sure, Rob and Laura still slept in separate beds a la Leave It To Beaver, but Laura wore pants. Pants! The show was written by Carl Reiner (best known for those of us under 40 as Saul from the Ocean’s 11, 12, & 13 movies) and that’s a big part of what makes it a good show. About the only bad part of it is Rob and Laura’s son Richie. He is highly vocal andhighly annoying. Fortunately, he’s not in every episode.
There Will Be Blood – One of the most highly acclaimed movies of 2007 and one of the most interesting movies I’veever seen. It’s not exactly the type of movie that you really “enjoy”, but the kind you appreciate and discuss and study. It’s the story of a man, an oil man, Daniel Plainview, who is driven by greed, power, and competition to the point of, if not insanity, then something close to it. The story takes place in California over a period of years in the early 20th century. Plainview is played by Daniel Day Lewis in what can only be described as a tour de force performance. I’m not really sure what that means, but I see it in movie reviews a lot and think it applies here and it makes me sound smart and snooty. Plainview isn’t so much a character as he is a personification of an idea or representation of an insatiable thirst for domination. He’s involved in a power struggle with the young preacher of the small town’s church, who is himself a charismatic and, perhaps, shady character. But no one can see that except Plainview. I disagree with a lot of reviewers who say that Plainview was basically soulless from the beginning. I think that’s making it too simple. While he certainly was no angel, he doesn’t appear to me to be completely without basic human qualities, such as compassion, obscured as they may be. But an event in the film starts a more rapid decline into the baseness of his character, and the more successful he becomes the more he is willing to do and say whatever it takes to get his way. A little one paragraph review doesn’t really do this movie justice and maybe I’ll work up a full blown review later. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to talk about it with you via email.
John Adams – An HBO mini-series produced by Tom Hanks based on the biography by David McCullough and once again the pairing of Tom Hanks and HBO does a great job, as they did with Band of Brothers. Paul Giamatti does a great job as the title character and Laura Linney is also very good as Abigail Adams. Until very recently, Adams has probably been the least known and appreciated, at least among the general public, of the Founders when compared with Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin. That’s some pretty heady company, yes, but Adams deserves an equal footing, if not as a president, then as the driving force in the Continental Congress for independence. The mini-series does a great job of putting the spotlight on him and his contributions to the Revolutionary Era as well as the early Republic. One minor complaint, sometimes the cinematography was a little weird. At times it almost had that old Batman TV show from the sixties feel. Weird, slanted angles and stuff like that. It just didn’t seem to fit the material at times. But that’s a pretty minor gripe.
1776 – Speaking of Mr. Adams, on or around the 4th of July I watched 1776, a cheeky, entertaining musical about the 2nd Continental Congress that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but seriously enough to still respect its subject. Produced in 1972 and based on a stage play of the same name, I hadn’t even heard of this movie before a couple years ago. John Adams is played by William Daniels, best known to my generation as Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World and as the voice of Kit from Knight Rider. That must look pretty cool on a resume: Played John Adams and the voice of a super intelligent Trans Am. And better still, portraying Thomas Jefferson is Ken Howard. The White Shadow! Which is fitting seeing as how the delegates from Delaware were named Salami Harrison and Benjamin Haywood. Ok, that’s not true. Despite its cheekiness, or maybe because of it, 1776 was pretty good. The music was OK, but I found the scenes dealing with the actual history of the debate within congress to be fairly accurate and compelling. But then I am a history nerd. It was a little long. They could’ve cut out a song or two, but overall I enjoyed it.
Lost – For years everyone had been telling me, “You’ve gotta watch Lost, you’ve gotta watch Lost.” And for years I put it off. Not sure why exactly, maybe I didn’t want to buy into the hype. But Jen andI finally decided to give it a try…andwe didn’t get much sleep for about a month. Being that we’re four years behind we had a lot to catch up on and having more than one disc at home at once made for a dangerous proposition. The show totally sucked us in and we spent many a late night glued to the set. Lost is full of all the stuff that make these kind of techno soaps, a phrase I have just now coined, like 24 and Heroes, compelling. Action, suspense, drama, twists, turns, double-crosses, and just enough romance to keep the ladies interested. We still haven’t seen season four yet, so don’t give anything away in the comments.
Brick – I had already seen this movie once and thought it was so good and original I bought it. It’s like a 1940’s noir(only not quite as convoluted), complete with the rapid fire, often cryptic dialog, only it’s set in a modern day high school. The story is about an outsider trying to findout why his ex-girlfriend was murdered and he uncovers a mystery involving drugs and all the strata of the high school pecking order (to quote Grace from Ferris Bueller): The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, bloods, waistoids, and dweebies. No movie is quite as good on a second viewing, but this one held up nicely. It’s not a feel good movie, but its one of the most original ideas I’d seen on film in a long time.
A&E Biography: Thomas Jefferson – Continuing with my viewing of Founding Father related material, I watched this A&E Biography on Thomas Jefferson. It was good enough I suppose, just not earth shattering. It’s hard to get all the little nuances of Jefferson out in 45 minutes, so I guess they did their best. I’m currently watching a Thomas Jefferson documentary by Ken Burns and it’s much better so far.
Carrier – This is a 10-hour documentary/reality series that aired on PBS earlier this year. It follows a six month deployment of the air craft carrier USS Nimitz. It was really an eye opening look on what everyday life is like on a ship in the US Navy. It’s not like the movies. Well, except for maybe the pilots. But for the average sailor it is hard, hard work for long hours. We all recognize and appreciate the sacrifices our armed services members make by putting their lives on the line, but this really showed the less heralded sacrifices of leaving behind your friends and family for six months or more. The doc zeroed in on a few of the 5,000 strong crew and followed their story for the deployment, in addition to capturing how the ship functions. There are people from every walk of life aboard, from those who are from a “Navy family” to those who were homeless before they signed up. Some support the war in Iraq, some don’t, but they all do their duty. Well worth the ten hours.
Across the Universe – I’ll just copy the review I wrote on Netflix: The music is the only thing saving this too-long snore from being a two star picture. The characters are all petulant, self-important brats who think they’re being artsy and world-changing when in actuality all they do is complain. There are some clever nods to sixties legends in some of the characters, the obvious two being Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and a couple entertaining musical vignettes, especially Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite done by Eddie Izzard, but it wasn’t enough to hold my interest for its two plus hours. Could’ve been something interesting and original, but badly missed the mark.
American Experience: John & Abigail Adams – From PBS’ excellent American Experience show, this documentary was great. After watching the HBO John Adams mini-series, it was reassuring to watch this more “scholarly” look at the man and not find much between the two by way of historical discrepancy. Very well produced, and the recreations very well acted, this would be a good place to start to discover John Adams.
Cloverfield – Sort of a modern day recreation of a Godzilla movie, with a twist. The whole movie is told through the lens of a video camera. I mean the whole movie. Every shot. They pulled off the gimmick pretty well, though if you get car sick you may have to watch it in chunks…or you may blow chunks. If a gun was placed to my head andI was forced to choose between very recent flicks in this same genre I might take I Am Legend. Well, maybe not. But maybe I woul—wait! BLAM!!!
No Country For Old Men – I’m a big fan of the Cohen brothers. I think they’re weird and quirky, but also serious and brilliant. NCFOM has been hailed as a masterpiece, on par with Fargo, and while I don’t know about that it was good. Javier Bardem’s villain has already become a classic, with his weird hair cut, limping gait, gravelly voice, andstrange implements of death and the other main actors, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin are excellent as well (hard to believe that Josh Brolin was in Goonies). It’s like There Will Be Blood, its awards season rival last year, in some ways, but certainly doesn’t belong in the same genre. My next sentence may be a semi-spoiler, so skip it if you plan on seeing the movie and don’t want to know anything. **Semi-spoiler** The ending was a little weird and confusing and I know rubbed some people the wrong way, but it does kinda make sense given the movie’s title. Don’t know if I totally loved it, but I think I at least get it. **End Semi-spoiler**
So there you go. A really long Wednesday Review. With the summer coming to a close, hopefully I’ll be better about posting regular, shorter posts, rather than long and bloated catch-up posts. What? My posts are usually long and bloated? Welp, I guess you’re stuck with them then.
And now the clips!
Dick Van Dyke Show – D.v.D. was a master of physical comedy. Here’s maybe one of the best examples.
There Will Be Blood– A trailer featuring tour de forcer Daniel Day Lewis. The only thing missing is the milkshake scene. I drink your milkshake!
John Adams – A trailer for the mini-series.
1776 – One of the better (and sillier) songs from the movie.
Lost– Ok, technically this is a clip from Lost, or a compilation of clips, but…well, you’ll see.
Brick – Great fight scene and best movie line ever involving a thesaurus.
A & E Biography: Thomas Jefferson – Not surprisingly I couldn’t find any clips of this on YouTube. Instead here’s maybe the oddesJefferson related video on the web. A tribute montage featuring clips from 1776 (with the White Shadow as TJ) and using the Goo Goo Dolls’ Iris. Very odd.
Carrier – Here’s the first six minutes of the first episode. Hopefully it’ll get you hooked.
Across the Universe – Rather than waste your time with a clip from this movie squandering a good Beatles song, I’ll just leave the movie out of it and let you enjoy one of my faves from the Fab Four’s formative years.
American Experience: John & Abigail Adams– Couldn’t find any clips of this one either. Instead here’s a less bizzare tribute to a Founding Father set to the theme from the HBO John Adams.
Cloverfield – I didn’t want to give too much away on a clip with this one, so here’s Exec. Producer talking about it instead. Not quite as scary.
No Country For Old Men– One of the best scenes in the movie. That is one creeeeeepy dude. I think I soiled myself just watching that.
Speaking of Netflix, Jen and I watched a pretty good show this past week that we never would have been able to see if it wasn’t for the magic of the 21st century version of the milkman. It was called 1940’s House, a BBC produced reality show that placed a present day family (a couple in their 50’s, their 29 year old divorced daughter, and her two elementary school aged boys) into a house just as it would have appeared and functioned in the 1940’s, particularly the war years. They were to live there for nine weeks. Everything in the house was authentic. The decorations, the appliances, the yard, even the occupants’ clothes and haircuts. Not only did they live in the 40’s house and dress in 40’s clothes, but they actually had to live like it was the 40’s. They only ate 1940’s food, complete with war rationing, attempted to raise a garden, built a bomb shelter in the backyard, and volunteered to work in war time industry factories. They even had to black our their windows and run to the bomb shelter during faux air raids. The husband was expected to go to work, the children to school, and the women to keep the house up like a 1940’s housewife would.
Watching this made me realize how much harder life was then, only 60 or so years ago. Besides that doing things around the house without our modern conveniences was a lot more work, there was the added factor of stress from the war. When the rationing really kicked in, making food enough for five was a real struggle. When you have that on top of being bombed for 57 straight days as London was during the blitz it makes for a stressful day. Obviously the family on the show were in no real danger, but even without that concern, you could see that the lack of food (and cigarettes, and fuel, and pretty much everything else) alone was frustrating and depressing.
Jen said it best, “It’s not quite as romantic as in the movies.” Living during the war was hard work, living through the war must have been nightmarish. 1940’s House gave a family just a taste and just watching them struggle was enough to make me appreciate all that I have now. Definitely worth watching.
A few of my favorite commercials currently in rotation.
A couple of TV themes in an unusual format. First place to whoever guesses what they are first.
Don’t worry, no spoilers.