Five Easy Pieces

December 31, 2007

Happy New Year…

Filed under: Family,Movies,Sports,TV — danletscher @ 2:40 pm

What started out this year as a fast and furious blogging experience has definitely become a trickle.  Here’s some bits of what’s been happnin’:

(1) Watched Eastern Promises a few nights ago.  Definitely worth a look.  brutal, savage, bloody – all good Cronenbergian adjectives fit this one.  Except “surreal”.  The Ukranian accents can be a bit thick to penetrate at times but the story moves along at a nice pace and the steam room brawl is (literally) balls out intense. 

(2) Ratatouille is a great flick as well.  The adults watched it Christmas night after the kids were all tucked in (they watched it earlier that day).  Good laughs and incredible animation again from Pixar.  Our family snuggled up last night in the king-size bed for a repeat viewing.  We’ll be watching plenty more I suppose.

(3) Waitress was a delightfully simple film.  Simple premise, simple characters and you have a simple smile on your face the whole time.  I just got another film from writer/director Adrien Shelly, “I’ll Take You There”, looking forward to it.  The tragedy of Shelly’s death is not one to ignore – her talent was apparent to all in the industry and Waitress would have propelled her to national identity.

(4) I wasted my time with Live Free or Die Hard.  The first hour was somewhat worthy of the concept but the latter half turned into complete crap.  After the movie ended (at 11pm) I immediately got out the original Die Hard DVD and watched it.  Nothing better to get that acrid taste of the previous film out of my system.

(5) Talk to Me is worth a watch.  Don Cheadle does a great job as the jive-talking 70’s era Washington DC DJ, Dewey Peters.  I knew nothing of this man and was impressed with the impact he had on the city and the races.  The movie is funny as hell and Cheadle owns the whole thing.

(6) I only watched The Office on TV this year until the writer’s strike over.  My favorite from last year, Heroes, was unwatchable crap for the first four weeks so I gave up on it.  I’m going to watch the first season again on DVD with my wife (she missed it) to make me feel better.

(7) Haven’t been reading too many books lately – although I just picked up Clive Barker’s new one (about time!).

(8) Xavier Bball is in full force with their toughest non-conference sked ever.  Good wins vs. Indiana, Kent State, Creighton, UC.  Tough losses vs. Miami, Tennessee and ASU.  Next three games will tell a lot about our January – KSU, Virginia, Auburn.  Three BCS schools in one week.  Then the conference starts and the A-10 is loaded after a lot of down years.  Dayton and Rhode Island are ranked, UMASS is knockin’ on the door.  Brutal year ahead.

(9) We have been non-stop since Halloween.  Kids turned 6 and 3 in November, I turned 37(!) in December, Christmas parties, holiday travels and now New Year’s Eve tonight.  2008 can’t come soon enough.

September 11, 2007

And the Emmy goes to…Dick in a Box!

Filed under: TV,Video — danletscher @ 8:28 am

Maybe the best Emmy winner ever – and it wasn’t for a “very special episode” performance.  You can find this video by clicking “video” on the categories on the right of the screen…still makes me laugh very hard, every time.

September 6, 2007

300

Filed under: Movies — danletscher @ 8:04 am

The hype was huge, the marketing endless – starting at the Super Bowl, a good month and a half ahead of the release date in March 2007.  This was the next picture from the graphic novelist Frank Miller – think “Sin City”, if you saw it you know the comic book stance it took, if you didn’t, adjust your perception and watch it, it’s a great flick.  Directed by Zack Snyder (now anchored to the film version of “Watchmen”, the mecca of comic book novellas), “300” is an action flick, no doubt about it.  It’s gory, bloody and somewhat gratuitously directed at everything with a penis.  The (1) half-naked oracle who predicts Sparta’s fall to the Persians and (2) the debauched harem of Xerxes, the self-proclaimed Persian god looking to wipe out Sparta and all of Greece, are the two signs that the filmmakers wanted to be sure every male would come to the theater and not feel like they were lured into a gay recruitment demonstration (think “Airplane”, the comment about Gladiator movies, you get the idea). 

 

Seriously though, it was an Ok film.  I was a little tired of the slo-mo battle after a while.  The camera tricks, quick zooms, slo-mo-to-to-really-fast-mo-and-then-really-really-slo-mo, you know what I mean.  The battles were brutal and bloody.  The courage and honor of the Spartans are things of lore – so unbelievably deep and unyielding that death is but an expectation.  You almost think they have a chance when you see the tactics and discipline of their battle manner.  But the end is already determined and predictable even at that time.  It still is impressive to watch in such a manner as Frank Miller presents.  I read the book (or graphic novel if you please) before I saw the film and it is amazing how well it is captured on film. 

 

King Leonidas is an iconic leader, devoted and rock-hard in his stance of giving no deference to Xerxes, ruler of the Persian Empire.  Gerard Butler is a brute force as an actor in his portrayal.  If you watch it, look at his eyes, forget the beard and listen to his voice.  It’s Mel Gibson before he got all crazy with the Lethal Weapon sequels and 90’s junk.  Mel came close to this intensity again in “Signs” but hasn’t done much worthy of his capabilities in a long while.  (And after catching “Braveheart” here and there on cable, that flick’s lost a LOT of its luster.  The battles are impressive but give me “Rob Roy” any day of the week over “Braveheart”).

 

The movie drags a little and could have been 20 or so minutes shorter.  But it was a worthy diversion from reality and a visual feast of effects.

Ramblings of a musical sort…

Filed under: Music — danletscher @ 7:53 am

I’m sitting here at 1:30 in the AM on Sunday night, Labor Weekend weekend.  I just finished about 80 minutes of work – like real-job work, not this mindless release of expression – and I have listened to some music that is almost forty years old, some music that is almost thirty years old, some music that is almost twenty years old and, and, and…as I am writing this “Just Like A Woman” sung by Joe Cocker just came on.  Stop what you are doing and listen to this song.  I can’t wait to see my wife every time I hear this song.  It is so well done and expressed by Joe.  I’ll refer to him as Joe rather than Cocker, it just never feels right saying it.  Hell, I can always fall back on Letterman to lighten the mood; Joe Cocker appeared on Letterman’s show on the 80’s when he released an album named “Cocker” and when Letterman held up the album and said “Cocker” he gave the classic line, “Cock her?  I don’t even know her”.   Priceless.

 

I started this blog and had two complaints right off the bat from trusted sources.  No music and no music.  Here’s a music entry for everyone:  Joe Cocker, “With A Little Help From My Friends.”  There are popular songs, the title track, “Feelin’ Alright”, “Like A Woman”, but it’s the other songs that grab you.  “Bye Bye Blackbird” was always one of my favorite when I first listened to it and I was glad to see it included on an intentionally overly-marketed soundtrack.  It was featured in “Sleepless in Seattle: and…………I’m sorry…..the organ solo on “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” is going and going…get this album!!!!  Anyway…the song is on the soundtrack and is featured briefly in the movie at the opportune moment of emotion in the song, the on-the-edge frenetic guitar solo…played by then-session player Jimmy Page.  I called my buddy Dean while the song was on tonight and played this section of the song for him on his VM.  Yeah, yeah it’s drunk dialing blah blah blah.  Barring physical contact, there is no greater bond between two humans as the shared response of a mutual stimulus.  Entertainment and Sports is my next closest connection to my best friends and my closest family members.  When I hear a great song, I’ll call the son-of-a-bitch I think of first and leave him a VM.  If I’m watching a great game or have to bitch about XU bball, Indians baseball, Tigers Baseball, UC football, I am keeping in contact with good friends and my family.  Oh man, I changed over to the Allman Brothers and the song “High Falls” from “Win, Lose or Draw” is kicking in at 5 minutes or so…only 11 more to go.

 

Other music I resurrected tonight (and Tim, Smitty and Dean can attest to this), was Adrian Belew (not for everyone but “1967” needs to be heard by every Beatles fan and “Bad Days” by every pessimist), Breeders (“Last Splash”), great hard rock from just guitar, bass & drums played by women – ‘cept the drums (“S.O.S.” is really short but just a great burst of jamming), the aforementioned Allman Bros……just ran and got Built To Spill.  Damn, why doesn’t anyone know these guys?  You almost want EW to find them and publish some proper cred.  Live version of “The Plan” on my brother’s homemade mix is the best – just incredible wall of sound from the guitar for the last three minutes, and the first 2 minutes are pretty guitar-laden as well!  It’s on again right now.  Geez, where did this come from Tim?  The last song on the mix is a definite “call your brother and leave it on his VM” as well, it seems like it may be called “Everybody Knows About You”.  It’s a powerful song..  Another incredible guitar ending. 

 

Unforgettable Fire – U2 ( do I need to say that?)…wait, I just put in “The Joshua Tree” and got SUCKED IN by the opening of “Where the Streets Have No Name”.  God, it’s so clichéd but FUCK it’s good!  I just looked at the song list of Joshua Tree,  and my god there is not a bad song on the roster.  Maybe an overplayed one, or three, but all faultless.  My #2 BEST of the 80’s.  #1?  Right now?  This instant?  Well, honestly most times it will always be “Purple Rain”.  It just fuckin’ rocks. 

 

#1 all time?  One of my oldest and bestest of friends and I once made a concentrated effort to compile a list of OUR top 10 of all time.  It’s mine and you can’t say shit.  Except, “yeah, you are on the money Dan!.”  We gave each other a week or so and we came to it.  That was easily 12 years ago.  I probably haven’t changed much.  The list hasn’t either.  Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” – #1 and hasn’t budged – try and get past the first song, no way that doesn’t make you melt.  He recorded this basically in an isolated booth, the musicians out in the recording studio, most never having met Van Morrison.  He may be a little nuts but he mastered it and the disconnection is the key.  #2 Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy”…man I have given way too much information and it’s really late.  But…

 

“Unforgettable Fire” – U2.  Always underrated.  So many brilliant slow, moving, pulsing songs.  Bass player Adam Clayton is true band member, his bass IS the backbone of U2.  Forget Edge’s guitar and Bono’s bloated ( but still badass) vocal presence, the bass pounds and the music follows suit.  Think John Entwhistle.  Wrote this while the first song “A Sort of Homecoming” was playing.  Great stuff.  Now, I really have to go to bed. 

August 15, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box

Filed under: Books — danletscher @ 9:28 pm

Joe Hill has written a helluva good ghost story.  It’s a supernatural bonanza of revenge and survival.  Judas Coyne is a retired death-metal recording artist.  He’s in his early fifties and lives with his 23-year-old girlfriend Georgia (actually it Mary Beth, but she is the latest in a long line of girlfriends he nicknames by the state they’re from) in a secluded house in rural New York.  He also is an avid collector of all things morbid, macabre and of the occult.  One day his assistant Danny discovers a ghost for sale on the internet, a commodity in the form of a black suit the ghost wore in his corporeal state.  After reading the history of the ghost, Jude doesn’t hesitate – he pays the $1,000 “buy it now” price tag and forgets about it.

The suit arrives in a large heart-shaped box and the book takes off from there and hardly lets up for the next 350+ pages.  The reader soon discovers Jude didn’t come across this suit by chance.  A deep, dark history involving the ghost, Jude and “Florida” (former girlfriend Anna) emerges.  The ghost doesn’t waste any time pushing his agenda of death upon Jude and Georgia.  Aided by Jude’s dogs (Bon and Angus, a tribute to the original singer and guitarist of AC/DC), Jude and Georgia escape the horrors of home and head on a bloody road trip to find the answer of how to rid themselves of the ghost.

This is Hill’s first novel (he has a collection of short stories published prior to this) and he has created an original and engrossing read.  The book is littered with musical references which are humorous, not gimmicky.  The violence and gore is plentiful.  The dreams and visions Jude pulls the reader into – some his own, some fueled by the ghost – are harrowing and flush with excellent description and suspense.  It reminds me of good Stephen King, before he got sidetracked into bloated, lackluster “thrillers” like Bag of Bones, Hearts of Atlantis and Cell.

Stephen King should take this book and read it a few times.  It may stir up some fresh “old” ideas for him.  And by the way, if King needs some advice from Joe Hill, I’m sure Joe would never turn down a call from his dear old dad…

Breach

Filed under: Movies — danletscher @ 8:47 pm

I watched Breach last night. This is the second film by director Billy Ray, the first being Shattered Glass. Both films are based on true stories and deliver suspense and intrigue at a smooth and pleasant pace. I saw Shattered Glass for three reasons: (1) excellent reviews (2) Peter Sarsgaard and (3) I had to find out if Hayden Christensen could do more than act like a petulant bitch-boy as Anakin Skywalker. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, moved by Christensen’s sad portrait of lifelong liar and infamous “New Republic” plagiarizer. Glass created a fictional world for his journalism and presented it to readers as fact. The film does a masterful job of tracking the downfall.

When Breach came out earlier this year, it was well-reviewed but lost in the doldrums of mid-winter blahs, a typically stale movie season. I really didn’t consider watching it until reading the review in Entertainment Weekly upon its DVD release. Billy Ray, Chris Cooper, Laura Linney and a story of tracking the downfall of the most notorious traitor in U.S. intelligence history = a good flick to roll along with at that aforementioned smooth and pleasant pace. Hell, I even tolerated Ryan Phillipe for an hour and forty-five minutes.

Phillipe plays the green FBI grunt (bucking for “agent” status) Eric O’Neill, assigned as the assistant to Robert Hanssen (Cooper). Hanssen is a lifelong intelligence guru, having made a career off the Cold War and monitoring the Russians for 20+ years. He’s 57, two months from retirement and is now back in Washington D.C. in a post that is basically a made-up job. He’s also a fanatical Catholic and a sexual deviant. Like bread and butter. O’Neill is recruited by Linney to work with Hanssen but also track him, monitor his calls, keep a detailed account of all activity. It doesn’t take long for O’Neill to call her bluff and ask just what the hell are they going after on this guy. The payoff = he has been turning highly classified intelligence over to the Russians for a long, long time.

Chris Cooper is watchable in any film he does. His roadmap face and heavy bags under his eyes give him the advantage over so many actors that can’t relay an emotion without speaking. He was outstanding in Adaptation, based on the….I’m not even going to try to describe the plot – just see it if you haven’t, it’s a great one. His delightful Oscar-winning turn as John Laroche showcased a side of Cooper the audience doesn’t see much, lighthearted and quite comedic. Other good ones to check out are The Bourne Identity, Lone Star and American Beauty.

I recommend Breach for Cooper’s work alone. Hanssen is a twisted scumbag of a man; but like O’Neill in the film, the viewer sees the vulnerability about him and almost sympathizes with his situation. Almost.

July 24, 2007

Great Book…soon to be a (great?) Coen Brothers flick.

Filed under: Books — danletscher @ 10:29 pm

Cormac McCarthy‘s No Country for Old Men. This is a helluva read. I was aware of the general storyline and the buzz the film has gotten since the Cannes Film Festival. I had never read any of McCarthy’s books, so the style threw me a bit at first. He doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue and doesn’t really use any punctuation except the period. He certainly doesn’t use an exclamation point! (Ha!) Also, he doesn’t write how the characters speak, he replicates their speech. I have never read an author that so authentically conveyed the locality of a book’s setting and its lifelong citizens.

The plot centers on Llewelyn Moss and his not-so-smart idea to lift $2 million+ from the aftermath of a drug deal gone bad. Out hunting he stumbles upon dead bodies, bricks of heroin, loads of cash and shot up vehicles. He makes away with the cash but can’t resist coming back to the scene in the middle of the night to check it out again. Big mistake because someone is staking out the site to see if the $$ thief comes back for more. Moss escapes but the chase is on.

Moss continues to stay a step ahead but makes a few additional errors in judgment which keep the antagonist on his trail. Piecing this scenario together with a couple of seemingly unconnected murders is Sherriff Ed Tom Bell. He knows the man chasing Moss is a professional, a soulless (and that is understating the overall lack of morals or remorse this bad mother embodies) son-of-a-bitch who no one can identify…because he leaves no one to identify him. Unless, in the case of a lucky gas station owner, fate dictates otherwise. This scene plays out incredibly intense on the written page and is touted as a “moment” in the upcoming film. There are scenes of such frank violence and cold brutality that I can only imagine the Coen brothers filming it. The mood, setting and pace is very reminiscent of “Blood Simple”, the Coens’ first film.

When the book ends, it’s not happy. I wasn’t surprised by this, there just isn’t any other way for it to go. Pick this one up and prepare to not want to put it down- so cliche I know, but man it’s good.

Back from the real world…

Filed under: Movies — danletscher @ 9:59 pm

Man, life just takes over and you forget about the important things like wasting hours writing about movies. Speaking of, I have to rant about “Blood Diamond”. What a crock this flick is. I was looking forward to it after reading some decent reviews and being surprised by the Oscar attention. Did I miss something? This is one of those “I want those two hours and twenty minutes of my life back” movie. All that talent and a story, centered around the struggle in Africa over the diamond trade and all its greed and death, worth telling. I bitched about the movie to my brothers in an email and Tim said it best – they couldn’t decide whether they wanted to make a “message” movie or an action spectacle.

Leo DiCaprio does a good job in the movie, giving his character Danny Archer just enough of a soul that we can forgive him for being a greedy, self-centered diamond smuggler turning a blind eye to the massacre of villages. I don’t think he deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, but I don’t think he deserved some criticism I read about his South African accent.

Djimon Hounsou is the best thing about the movie. Alan Arkin won Best Supporting Actor over Hounsou?  A joke.  He plays Solomon, a father and husband ripped from his family – he helps them escape from their village as it is being raided and slaughtered by rebels – to serve as a slave panning for diamonds. The rebels use the diamonds to purchase arms and ammo from guys like Danny Archer. Danny Archer sells the rebels the arms (supplied by his former mercenary comrades) so they can overthrow the established government (after they slaughter the innocents). Then the established government hires the mercenaries (who sold the rebels the arms) to slaughter the rebels. It is a sick and twisted circle of violence and mayhem.

So Solomon finds the pink diamond worth millions, stashes it and ends up in jail. Archer hears the tale of the pink diamond, springs Solomon from jail and becomes his best friend – I’ll find your family if you get me the diamond. Cue the craptastic Hollywood machinery.

Jennifer Connelly shows up as a reporter itching to write “real” news, not the typical updates of violence and blah,blah,blah. Enter love interest and conscience-poking foil for Leo.

The three “buddy up” to fulfill their own destiny – family reunion, $$$$$, Pulitzer material – and learn to work with each other, realizing at certain points in the movie that they need each other for different reasons. This leads to numerous action sequences which drag on and don’t excite one bit. I can believe it when Arnold and Stallone ran through 1,472 angles of machine gun fire, grenades and explosions without getting hit. I mean I can suspend my disbelief long enough to grin and enjoy it. That’s what cheesy action is supposed to do. But to throw this crap in this movie just demeaned the plot and characters.

Don’t get me started on the heavy-handedness of Leo and Jennifer’s farewell over satellite phone. Don’t read this ending if you don’t want to spoil it for your viewing (but really, are you going to watch it?? Call me, I’ll talk you down) . Leo is dying, he has handed the diamond over to Solomon so he can free his family, and he is stranded on a mountaintop holding back the mercenaries with some erratic machine gun fire to enable Solomon’s escape. He babbles on to Jennifer and she delivers horrible lines like “Don’t you die on me” or some such shit. This was the Oscar scene. Leo smiles and gives up trying to shoot the gun anymore. He’s shot and near death, he is staring out in the distance and softly says to Jennifer that he wishes she could see what an amazing view he was looking at. Waiting….waiting…yeah, they never show the view. Instead of that we never leave Leo. It struck me then that the movie was summed up in that shot. It wanted to focus on the atrocity of the diamond crisis in Africa. But the focus couldn’t stray from the fatc that it was a big studio Hollywood production and they had a huge budget for the ancillary diversions.

May 3, 2007

Fourth great reason to return…

Filed under: Video — danletscher @ 8:04 pm

My brother sent me this kid’s name and the you tube search; I found this, it’s pretty cool:

April 26, 2007

Third great reason to return…

Filed under: Books — danletscher @ 11:16 pm

My new job puts me back on the train heading downtown in the morning and back home in the evening. I did this a few years back for over two years and missed the fact that it afforded me the opportunity to basically read a book a week. The first one I picked to read upon my return to the world of public transit was The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly.

It’s a great read, full of action, fantasy, heartache and great prose that appreciates the world of stories and writing. Young David, 12 years old, has witnessed his mother slowly die of illness, his father find new love, marry and then welcome another son, while World War II rages on. London is being bombed regularly and David’s new family is transplanted to his stepmother’s family estate in the English countryside. David sleeps in the room of her great uncle, Jonathon, who disappeared as a young boy. David, an avid reader and lover of the written word, much to the credit of his dead mother, soon realizes the books in his room are living things and the sunken garden in his backyard is the portal to a world so bizarre and fantastic he wouldn’t believe it if he wasn’t thrust into it. It is in this world that David is faced with seemingly impossible challenges, incredible friendships and the chance to save himself and the alternate reality he has stumbled into. This world is inhabited by storytellers who pass on tales by firelight and also by twisted versions of classic fairy tales. It is also savage and violent and the author spares no detail in conveying the dangerous and grotesque perils David and his companions face. And lurking behind the action is the Crooked Man, shadowing David, working his sinister magic and murderous devices to deliver David to his fate.

The opening chapter of the book sucks you in by detailing David’s love of literature, his mother’s declining health and the bond between them forged by both:

“Before she became ill, David’s mother would often tell him that stories were alive. They weren’t alive in the way that people were alive, or even dogs or cats. People were alive whether you chose to notice them or not, while dogs tended to make you notice them if they decided that you weren’t paying them enough attention. Cats, meanwhile, were very good at pretending people didn’t exist at all when it suited them, but that was another matter entirely.

Stories were different though: they came alive in the telling. Without a human voice to read them aloud, or a pair of wide eyes following them by flashlight beneath a blanket, they had no real existence in our world. They were like seeds in the beak of a bird, waiting to fall to earth, or the notes of a song laid out on a sheet, yearning for an instrument to bring their music into being. They lay dormant, hoping for the chance to emerge. Once someone started to read them, they could begin to change. They could take root in the imagination, and transform the reader. Stories wanted to be read, David’s mother would whisper. They needed it. It was the reason they forced themselves from their world into ours. They wanted us to give them life.”

Damn, that’s poetry. It’s a great read and a great writer.

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