Monday, May 22, 2006

Moving the only way I know - Sideways

Speaking of movies I must confess something.

Sideways may be my favorite movie of all time.

And that would be something – it would nudge out a Hitchcock classic that I thought was insurmountable on my list. Which is:

1. North by NorthwestCary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in delightful and suspenseful intriguing romp through many of this country’s institutions – and the train scene is to die for.

2. When Harry Met Sally – Such a great depiction of modern love and dating – and so many truths unearthed within. I love Baby Fish Mouth.

3. Planes, Trains and Automobiles – I still well up in tears at the end. John Hughes had a great way of weaving the current and the reality in his films. Anyone who has traveled a lot can relate – and trying to make it anywhere for a holiday (who doesn’t really live at home) is a quest indeed. It makes every Thanksgiving special and the bond of these two different guys make that day.

4. Goodfellas – Why Martin Scorcese hasn’t won an Oscar is beyond me. He obviously must have pissed people off in Hollywood sometime. The music in this film is spectacular.

5. A Bronx Tale – A moving depiction of growing up as a relatively poor son of an honest working man (bus driver DeNiro) next to a den of gangsters. The best part is seeing little “C” rolling bones with the mobsters.

And, as all of us, I could add many more: Animal House actually set the tone of what we ALL DID in college – we actually took that road trip to an uptight Baptist school – and our dorm had the first university-wide toga party. I think the Waterboy is one of the funniest movies of all time. And how could I forget about The Blues Brothers – frankly an artistic comedy triumph. And I would be remiss to not add The Odd Couple to this mix – Walter Mathiau and Jack Lemmon were the best. In the end it’s just one man’s list that is also missing longtime favorites Rocky, Rocky 2, Pulp Fiction, 2001 : A Space Odyssey, Sea of Love, Scent of a Woman and many more.

Some of you may say – hey these were fun films but they are just pap – what about Casablanca et al. I sort of disagree – they are well put together with clever ideas, fantastic music and interesting premises. The reality is dramas are easy to do (oh shit I forgot Twelve Angry Men (what a great film!). I believe good comedy is one of the hardest things to pull off. And many of the older movies really put me to sleep – and I got North by Northwest there. And many times where I think my list is pitiful I ask myself “well what serious film do you like that could make this then?”

Well Sideways.

I’m not sure a more serious movie was exactly this funny. And it is serious (or dark). Miles ( Paul Giamatti) is living on a serious darkside (he steals from his Mom for chrisakes). And Jack ( Thomas Hayden Church) knows it. The guy relationship they have is priceless, real and ever lasting. C’mon Buddy, - come up here and we will have a good time. The filmmakers have framed this conflaguration in a seemingly innocuous “road trip”. But Miles is really hurting. And while he is hurting his buddy is on his way to seemingly screwing up his upcoming blue sky future life. What a juxtaposition – a guy who has it all self destructing and his buddy who doesn’t have it all – sort of doing the same thing.

You cannot find a guy on this planet who has not experienced part of this story in some way. And that is why it is so good. Conversations like the one outside the restaurant happen all of the time when two guys get involved. “Do not screw this up Miles – don’t go to the darkside”. This is exactly how two guys talk when it comes to women. When you can witness your life in a picture then it resonates to no end. And I know a real-life Jack. And many times we were a “team”. And a lot of times I felt just like Miles. And sometimes like Jack.

Sideways is also a film that you can find further meaning the more times you see it. It is fairly deep. And its characters are rich. All wanting something desperately that they cannot obtain. And I’m sure you understand the symmetry of Pinot Noir and Miles. And the other parallel part of how the film starts with a knock on the door and ends with such. Really beautiful stuff.

And a chick on a motorcycle the morning after is pretty sexy also. Love that helmet.

So why am I telling you this?

We have buddies coming out from Houston to do a Sideways vacation this Memorial Day weekend. One couple is coming to stay at our house on Thursday and then we drive up to Santa Barbara (well really Solvang) for the weekend (and the first time one of my Houston friends have come out to see us in the eight years I have been out here – unbelievable – many of Deborah’s friends and family has come out before). Then we got tours planned with about 14 people and then the fun ensues.

Deborah and I did this back in 2001 before ANYONE knew about it. In fact five years ago to the day – we went to Santa Barbara, found it fairly boring after one day, and then somebody told us about the wineries some 20 miles north. So we did a lot of what Miles and Jack did that day. And the biggest Cab of all time is at the Longoria winery storefront in downtown Los Olivos. And I’m not letting it pass by this time.

And I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Duh Vinci Code

Well the verdict is in. It sucks. The movie, that is.

But first more important news.

I just finished the book last Wednesday.

As chronicled here before I grew up a voracious book reader but as I have “matured” I find myself having trouble starting and finishing books. A Prayer for Owen Meany is still sitting there with 100 pages to go. Lonesome Dove too. Meanwhile I can rip through The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged for some reason but I think that may be because I welcomed both of their altruistic natures. And maybe because I was stuck on a boat in the middle of the Arabian Gulf some 20 years ago.

Now, I travel a lot – but not really far enough to blow down a book (and besides I read the paper like its nobody’s business). I marvel at these people who pull out hardback copies on a plane to read at their leisure. I mean I don’t have room in my laptop-briefcase –purse-satchel-thing to cram a hardback in there – I have files, contracts and a computer to carry – don’t any of these people have work to do? It’s much more functional for me to cram a Time or People next to the laptop than War and Peace. Besides I really need to know what Heather and Denise are up to.

And I don’t really like the small compressed paperback – but I am in love with the “in-between” paperback that is sort of the size of the hardback but still soft – if you know what I mean. So I got one of those for the Da Vinci Code as they rolled them out in preparation for the movie’s release.

And, of course, there is no greater motivation to completing a book than when the movie blockbuster is due to come out. I mean – I cannot see the movie without reading the book – it’s almost sacriligious. Hmm – that’s almost prescient.

Now Deborah had already read it a year ago so I had to blow it down. And I liked the premise. First I’m a mystery murder fan to no end (I still have my Hardy Boys collection somewhere). Next I grew up Catholic so I was going to be preeminently interested in what the book had to say (and more importantly what my parents might say later). And lastly I spent some time in Paris for work a few years after I. M. Pei’s beautiful creation at the Louvre was finished and had the pleasure of spending several hours there – I mean I have been in that tourista crowd mingling before the Mona Lisa as they say. Been there done that. So I was very much looking forward to what this tome may provide – and a trip down memory lane.

After the first few pages I had a revelation – this guy can’t write! This murder action was written worse than a comic book! This swill sold 50 million! Jesus Christ!

But soon our hero Langdon is brought in and it starts to read pretty good (Hey Dan work on your intro buddy). And then you start to notice as it goes along – this is written like a movie! I mean the chapters are all of six pages long and he cuts to varying plot lines like a Tom Clancy novel, er, I mean movie. So as I am reading this in preparation for the movie I am anticipating the film to be great. It has my alter ego Tom Hanks is in it and I can see him playing Langdon, but where did they come up with this French chick – hmm, I don’t think so. Where was Juliette Binoche?

I thought the book ended badly – all this build-up for what? I dunno – do you? I kept looking for the other pages. I checked Deborah’s hardcopy for the other pages. What was it? Bones? Is this all we get?

Anyone who lives in airports can attest to all of the ancillary Da Vinci books that are out there. While wiling the way in Oakland or somewhere I picked up Fodor’s Guide to the Da Vinci Code. Anybody who travels know Fodor’s knows best. This edition debunks most of the Code in a very friendly conversational way – while showing you all of the works of art and places in the book. I wanted to see what this Madonna on the Rocks deal was big time – and it doesn’t really come down as it was portrayed in the book. And yeah John the Baptist looks like a girl - hey back then who didn't? Duh?

Meanwhile I think the historical and religious conversation is great. Hope it doesn’t tank Hanks’ and director Ron Howard’s career though – two of this H-town’s nice guys. It’s amazing to me what can look like a slam dunk in Hollywood can be something else. Bonfire of the Vanities anyone?

I didn’t finish that book either.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pet Peeves #1

It was a soggy foggy Monday morning here today in LA. June Gloom is upon us such that fog and hazy days roll into SoCal at a time when you wouldn't think it. LA weather is a conundrum to many people - why is it so cold? I thought it was supposed to be sunny here! It happens all of the time.

But meanwhile during morning drive time I'm asking this question:

"Why don't all of you mutherfuckers have your lights on?!!!"

Yes - Pet Peeve Numero Uno is "Please put your headlights on" when 1) its foggy or rainy outside; 2) it's dusk or early morning or 3) you're in a parking garage.

Headlights on your car are NOT JUST for you to see in front of you - they are for US to SEE YOU!. Why doesn't everybody get this?

I roll off a hill in San Pedro everyday that is usually clouded in the early morning by what is commonally known as the "marine layer" - and meanwhile people are driving around in huge trucks with no lights at all.

I don't get it. A simple flick of a gadget on the dashboard or the steering column will enable you to "drive friendly" as we say in Texas. Why do people not afford themselves this non-evasive affordable low-maintenance safety luxury?

Personally, I am offended to no end about people driving about in the rain, in an early morning fog or at late dusk with no lights on. I'm not going to tell you what I scream at them given the opportunity.

The incongruity hit me many years ago when my father and I went on a quick "bidness " trip to Brenham from H-town. It was raining and we stopped to gas up. He agreed for me to drive his car, which in itself was a monumental event. I turned the lights on (and it was probably noon) - but a perfect drab grey Texas sky with drizzles all around (one of my favorite things).

And Dad says "you have the lights on".

And I go "It's raining Dad".

My Dad is probably one of the most conservative buttoned-up guys you will ever meet. But even he eschewed putting his lights on in the rain. The outrage!

The apple can fall far.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Its Cinco de Mayo. It's also the weekend of the Kentucky Derby. And its the day Alan Shepard first went into space in 1962 or something like that.

It's also my birthday.

Growing up I loved the symmetry of my date of birth - 5/5. It was also always spring and beautiful with scent of blooming flowers in the air. It seemed every year every b-day was beautiful to no end. It was almost always the best spring day and usually with just a week or two of school left. Jasmines in the air - I mean really - my b-day was always the best spring day of all - no matter where I lived - that is my total childhood and adolescent memory. Which is saying alot.

And then last year is was 05/05/05. Wow. When does that ever happen? Not often I guess.

With all of that said I have very interesting birthday imagery. Since I was born in Kentucky (because my Dad was in the Army at that time) I have that heritage (only for 11 months). So the chicken would always come out from Mom - as she cast a wistful eye to the stars. Just because Kentucky Fried Chicken is named as it is we would have that almost every birthday. What chicken has really to do with Kentucky I don't know. Or with me.

Then comes the "feats of strength" - oh sorry, wrong tradition. Then comes the recital about how Alan Shepard was the first man in space on my birthday. My mother has the radio account embedded in her brain. The fact that Shephard got up and did a diddy around the globe on my b-day always sticks with me (for you young'ns you might remember he later hit the golf ball on the moon). I grew up a huge space and astronomy buff.

And then there is the Derby. I can't tell you the number of different places I have seen the Derby while celebrating by b-day weekend (well I can but it not that impressive outside some elegant San Francisco bars, a jack-up in the Arabian Gulf, McSorley's Bar in Greenwich Village, Camden Yards, Rio de Janiero, 405 Aston....) but that would be just showing off. Catching the Derby is a must even if it interupts whatever other fun we must have.

And of course right around when I was graduating from college the beer companies decided to make my birthday a national drinking holiday - and growing up in H-town that meant something - so everyone remembers it. And I mean everyone. A guy in Houston who once made me custom shirts at a time I needed to be well-dressed calls me all the time. He even called my Dad today and said "hey did you know what you were doing 48 years ago?" My Dad appreciated that because apparently he losing track as the number increases.

So its always been a mix of space travel, chicken, horses, tequila and glorious spring days that has made up my b-day. Quite the fight card there.

Thus it was sort of wierd when my brother called me on the way to work today to say Happy Birthday old man that I was driving through a typical SoCal marine-layer haze along Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach. I mean I can see the water. What happened to my pretty day? What happened to my beautiful wife? How did I get here?

It'll burn off. The marine layer that is.

Deborah's birthday is April 30 - so we pretty much have several weeks of doing what we want to do. Thus our combining bidness with pleasure in SF two weeks ago. Stay tuned for pics. I'm getting dragged to some play in downtown LA tomorrow.

Hopefully they'll have a bar with a TV playing the Derby.

Postscript: No shit I tell you. So right after I posted this, standing in the kitchen at my laptop like I always do, Deborah comes home and asked me if I want to go down to the mexican restaurant at the harbor for Cinco de Mayo. "No, let's just relax - I got something to do here for work and basketball is on - just get some chicken tenders at Von's." (We have that stupid play to go to tomorrow - I'm thinking.)

She comes back and says all of the grocery stores are wiped out of chicken - so she ha
d to go elsewhere.

Yup. Just like I said. She showed up with a bucket. From the Colonel. (And she really had no idea of this past family stuff).

Symmetry I tell you.