Previous month:
August 2011
Next month:
October 2011

curb your enthusiasm, season finale

I’ll make this short, because I’m working at the moment, and because it’s Sonia’s birthday and this blog shouldn’t be too cluttered on her day.

The finale was terrific, and I liked the season as a whole. I’m not sure which season was the best, but this was a good one. There have been some great season finales … I’m partial to the restaurant opening with the Tourette’s chef, but the final scene of Season 6 is also classic:

I love that they have managed to find a way to keep Leon around. His character, and the way J.B. Smoove plays him, is comedy gold, as I have said more than once.

Mostly, I’m fascinated by the question of why, when I don’t have the patience to stick with even the best sitcoms, when I don’t seem to understand modern film comedy, why do I still love Curb Your Enthusiasm? As far as I am concerned, they are nowhere near the legendary shark, and if Larry David wants to do it, I most definitely will be there for another season. Meanwhile, give Leon his own show!

Grade for finale: A. Grade for season: B+.


what i watched last week

The Heart of the Game (Ward Serrill, 2005). This documentary on a high school girls’ basketball team draws inevitable comparisons to Hoop Dreams, but it lacks the epic nature of the earlier film. The focus is on two fascinating individuals, coach Bill Resler (who instantly became my favorite basketball coach of all time when he announced that the team will not have an offense, other than to run fast), and Darnellia Russell, his best player. Russell’s story makes her interesting (she had a baby, missed a year of high school, went to court to regain her eligibility to play, and made a triumphant return), but while she is photogenic, and a delight to watch when playing ball, Russell doesn’t always warm to the camera (for what I’m guessing are good reasons). Resler, meanwhile, is a ham who chews the scenery without even trying. His motivational techniques are odd, based in the vicious behavior of carnivores, but they seem to work. The film builds to the expected Big Game at the end, which can’t fail to excite. Still, the movie feels somehow unformed, as if Serrill gave everything equal importance (while apparently leaving out parts that might have changed our perspective). Still, The Heart of the Game is a very strong entry in the sports documentary genre. Phil had it at #13 on his Facebook Fave Fifty list; I’ll go with 8/10.

Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957). Kubrick’s anti-war film is actually less about war than you might remember. The real targets of Kubrick’s attention are the highest-ranking officers of the French army. His takedown of the way the institution forces those officers to treat the soldiers under their command as cannon fodder is clinical. (David Simon has said the novel Paths of Glory was a big influence on The Wire.) There isn’t a wasted moment in the entire film (if, that is, you buy into the coda at the end with the German singer), and the tracking camerawork is a marvel. Those of us who think Kubrick did all of his best work by his mid-30s (he was 29 when he directed Paths of Glory) will scratch our heads in wonder. Can the man who created such perfection as Paths of Glory really be the same person who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut? #192 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972/1974). My choices for #1 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #5 and #15, respectively, on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10, 10/10.


true blood, season 4 finale

Well, True Blood gets stupider every season, but I must say, they went out with a bang this time around. In Season 4, the guilty pleasures the series offers moved beyond “this show is silly, but it’s got vampires, and look, little Anna Paquin is nekkid!” to “if Mystery Science Theater was still on, they could make a lot of fun of this show.” I only read the first of the Sookie Stackhouse books, so I can’t compare, but as I understand it, a lot of the things that the TV series has introduced took much longer to appear in the books. Whatever the case, Season 4 was overflowing, and not really in a good way. It started with fairies, but outside of giving half an explanation for Sookie’s powers, the entire fairy subplot kinda disappeared. Not to worry, though, because there were lots more werewolves and shapeshifters, along with wiccans and old-school witches, possessed babies, mediums, and brujo magic. I’m sure I’ve left something out. There was too much going on, which means that many of the individual scenes offered over-the-top entertainment, but I gave up trying to make sense of any of it long before the season ended.

Like I say, though, the season finale delivered the goods. Lots of characters died, lots of previously-dead characters came back, Sookie made her Bill/Eric decision, and Deborah Ann Woll came closer than ever to her first real nude scene. (The rules for the female nude scenes on True Blood seem to work like this: Anna Paquin is always ready to drop her top, no other regular on the show will, but women who are on for a season or so make up the difference. It’s an odd combination, but after four seasons, there is clearly a plan to all this.)

They left plenty of loose ends to get us to watch next season, and I guess I haven’t yet reached the point where my eye rolling overcomes the entertainment value. I’ll be there for Season 5, but this ain’t exactly The Wire. Hell, it ain’t even Six Feet Under.

Grade for Season 4 finale: A-.  Grade for Season 4: B.


security

Patrick Smith, from his “Ask the Pilot” column for today:

Pouring billions upon billions of dollars into the maw of the Security Industrial Complex, as I like to call it -- more cameras, fences, more weapons and high-tech surveillance -- does not necessarily make us safer. But it does put our liberties in peril, and it does make certain people, and certain industries, very, very wealthy. Follow the money, as they say. Airport security is a useful example of the greater legacy of 9/11: Its advertised effectiveness is minimal, yet it carries on with a huge budget and a lack of accountability. The public, meanwhile, more or less accepts this. As it did the Iraq war, et al.

As I see it, the real danger to the country isn't coming from the caves of Central Asia, but from our own stout refusal to act rationally, together with a willingness to accept almost anything in the name of security. …

In the long run, a healthier democracy is about the best tribute we could offer to those who perished 10 years ago.


america, family history, and me

I got an email from Ancestry.com telling me they had found some “hints” about possible members of my family tree. I don’t have a membership with them … my sister does, and I think she gave me the link to the research she’s done, and I’m listed somewhere in there, so I got the email. I find this kind of thing interesting, without actually doing anything about it. In my mind, I go back to the turn of the 19th/20th century. My dad’s parents came from Andalucía in the 1910s, he was born and raised in Antioch, went to Cal, and met/married my mom, who was born and raised in Berkeley. Her mom was from Kentucky; I guess I didn’t know where her dad was from (Tennessee, it turns out). Beyond that, who knows? I suppose I thought my mom’s family came to America in the early 1800s or so, but I had no evidence of that.

Well, apparently the accepted evidence goes back two generations before my mom. Her grandparents on her mother’s side were from Kentucky and were born in 1868. That’s what is known.

So, what about these hints the email directed me to examine. I didn’t look real close, partly because I’m lazy, and partly because my access is limited since I’m not a member. But here is where the hint starts. My great-grandfather on my mom’s side, George Claybourne Thompson Cralle, was born in Louisville in 1868. According to the hint, a man named Isaac Shelby Cralle (born in Louisville in 1828) had nine children, one of whom was named George Claybourne Thompson Cralle. That’s a pretty good match, so I’d say they have found my great-great-grandparents on my mom’s side. I’ll skip all of the steps here … I don’t know if they are as clear a match as the one I just detailed … but the hints go back another six generations beyond George Claybourne Thompson Cralle. All the way back to one Robert Cralle, born in England in 1615. There’s not much info about Robert … he married someone named Margaret … but the hints suggest Robert and Margaret had a son, Thomas Cralle, who was born in 1637.

In Rappahannock, Virginia.

I’m not sure how I got to be 58 years old without knowing one side of my family could be traced in America back to 1637. And, of course, the hints may be misleading or even wrong … this isn’t an exact process. But someone has put together enough evidence from those hints to at least be somewhat convincing: Thomas Cralle of Rappahannock, Virginia, was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather (I think I counted right).

1637. The first English settlers came to Virginia in 1607. Wars between settlers and natives took place in Virginia until around 1645. Until today, I never considered the possibility that some ancient relative of mine was there for these events.

1637. Four of the first five presidents came from Virginia, beginning with George Washington. By the time George Washington was born in 1732, Cralles had been here for close to a hundred years. In 1656, Thomas Cralle had a son, John. John died four years before Washington was born. John had a son, John II … he was in his late-30s when Washington was born. John the second and his wife Hannah had a son, Rodham Kenner Cralle. He was born the year before Washington. By the time the first president of the United States was born, Cralles had been in America for five generations (Robert/Thomas/John/John II/Rodham). (I don’t like using the men to designate this stuff, but for the most part, the men are what show up on the Ancestry.com chart.)

Virginia was a slave state, and part of the Confederacy. Kentucky, where the Cralles start turning up in the 1820s, was a border state. Depending on the socio-economic status of the Cralles, it is likely my ancestors on my mother’s side of the family were slave owners. (My mother’s father was from Tennessee, as were his parents. I don’t see anything before that time, so I don’t know for sure there were Harrisons in Tennessee before 1868. But I’d guess there were, and so again, if they had the money, the Harrisons were also likely slave owners.)

To find out that my family has probably been in America for more than 350 years is both exciting and creepy. It is also interesting, in that my father’s parents were born in another country, making me half-Spanish, 350 years or no 350 years. I wonder how my mother’s family and my father’s family ever came together at all.


music friday: bruce springsteen, "into the fire" and sleater-kinney, "sympathy"

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love

I know I come to you only when in need
I’m not the best believer, not the most deserving
but all I have, all I am, all I can … for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

Precious baby, is your life hanging by a thread?
A thread I’m standing on, praying on today
all I have, all I am, all I can… for him
I’d beg you on bended knees for him

I’ve got this curse in my hands
all I touch fades to black
turns to dust, turns to sand
I’ve got this curse on my tongue
all I taste is the rust
this decay in my blood

I don’t like the doctor with the deep long face
only wants to give us the very worst case
I’d rather shout out and shake him and do anything for him
well I’d, I’d beg you on bended knees for him

I’ve got this curse in my hands
all I touch fades to black
turns to dust, turns to sand
I’ve got this curse on my tongue
all I taste is the rust
this decay in my blood

when the moment strikes
it takes you by surprise and
leaves you naked in the face of death and life
there is no righteousness in your darkest moment
we’re all equal in the face of what we’re most afraid of
and I’m so sorry
for those who didn’t make it
for the mommies who are left with their hearts breaking

I search for meaning in sores
the sentences they might form
it’s the grammar of skin
peel it back, let me in
look for hope in the dark
the shadow cast by your heart
it’s the grammar of faith
no more rules, no restraint

How angry I would be if you’d taken him away
I wish I was wiser but instead I’ll be grateful, I’ll say
thanks for the love, for the joy, for the smile on his face
’cause I would beg you on bended knees for him
I would beg you on bended knee   


movies you should see

As we get to the final days of our Facebook group devoted to our fifty favorite films, we are all offering nostalgic paeans to the recent past, and wondering what could possibly be next. In response to one such comment, I wrote, “Here's something I think would be fun: Top 50 movies (or 25, or 10) that you think other people should watch.” Of course, I think everyone should watch The Godfather, but everyone already has, so there’s no point in recommending it.

So, here are ten movies I think you should watch. Maybe some day I’ll follow up on this with some longer entries (descriptions taken from Wikipedia):

The Anniversary Party (2001): “Sally Nash and Joe Therrian are a Hollywood couple celebrating their sixth wedding anniversary shortly after reconciling following a period of separation. He is a novelist who is about to direct the screen adaptation of his most recent bestseller; she is an actress he has opted not to cast in the lead role, despite the fact it's partly based on her, because he feels she's too old for the part.”

Chop Shop (2007): “The film tells the story of a twelve-year-old street orphan living and working in Willets Point, an area in Queens, New York filled with automobile repair shops, scrapyards and garbage dumps.”

Dead Presidents (1995): “The film chronicles the life of Anthony Curtis, focusing on his teenage years as a high school graduate and his experiences during the Vietnam War. As he returns to his hometown in The Bronx, Curtis finds himself struggling to support himself and his family, eventually turning to a life of crime.”

Freeway (1996): “Freeway is a … crime film written and directed by Matthew Bright, starring Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon and Brooke Shields. The plot of this film resembles the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood.”

Kiss Me Deadly (1955): “Kiss Me Deadly is a … film noir drama produced and directed by Robert Aldrich starring Ralph Meeker. The screenplay was written by A.I. Bezzerides, based on the Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer mystery novel Kiss Me, Deadly. Kiss Me Deadly is often considered a classic of the noir genre.”

Lantana (2001): “Lantana is set in suburban Sydney and focuses on the complex relationships between the characters in the film. The central event of the film is the disappearance and death of a woman whose body is shown at the start of the film, but whose identity is not revealed until later. The film's name derives from the plant Lantana, a weed prevalent in suburban Sydney.”

The Long Good Friday (1980): “The storyline weaves together events and concerns of the late 1970s, including low-level political and police corruption, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gun-running, the displacement of traditional British industry by property development, Britain's membership of the EEC (later the European Union) and the free market economy - the latter was strongly in the ascendant at the time the film was made, in the first year of the Thatcher government.”

Sullivan's Travels (1941): “It is a satire about a movie director, played by Joel McCrea, who longs to make a socially relevant drama, but eventually learns that comedies are his more valuable contribution to society. The film features one of Veronica Lake's first leading roles.”

Three Kings (1999): “Three Kings is a … satirical war dramedy written and directed by David O. Russell from a story by John Ridley about a gold heist that takes place during the 1991 Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein following the end of the first Persian Gulf War.”

Time Out (2001): “The film tells the story of Vincent, a middle-aged man who is laid off after having spent more than 11 years working for a prestigious consulting firm. Unable to admit to his family that he has been fired, the unemployed executive continues to pretend he is going to the office every day. In reality, Vincent spends his time aimlessly driving the highways of France and Switzerland, reading papers, or sleeping in his car.”


giving poop a bad name

I’m listening to a playlist of songs that made the Billboard Top 100 in the 1980s. I have a lot of fond memories of the music of the 80s, but so far, those memories are being overrun by some real crap. Holy moley!

I’ve heard Juice Newton, Warrant, Rupert Holmes, Pablo Cruise, Billy Squier, Mr. Mister … I’m going to have to turn it off, because looking ahead, I see Don McLean and Leo Sayer.

I could just remove all the dreck from the playlist before I listened, but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it? Not to say insulting to the person who took the time to make this enormous playlist of close to 1000 songs. Of course, it’s probably even more insulting to write here about how awful the selections are. But it’s not like he picked them. Blame it on the people who guided these artists to the top of the charts.


sons of anarchy, season 4 premiere

It's been long enough since Sons of Anarchy debuted that I can barely remember which Shakespeare play it resembled ... Macbeth, I think. Now? Well, at first I thought I was feeling the effects of having watched the first two Godfather movies recently, but the opening episode of the new season of SOA certainly had its Godfather moments, with the final montage, combining the wedding of one of the Sons and some seriously brutal murders committed by other Sons, being the capper.

Series creator Kurt Sutter famously removed himself from Twitter recently, disappointing those who find his lack of filters entrancing. But he sure got his payback tonight. First, the vicious acts on the show were done by the characters we’re supposed to care about the most, really rubbing our collective faces into our implied participation as the audience. Second, the most hard-to-watch scene of all came when Sutter, who plays a minor character in the show, performed a revenge killing by sticking a knife through the ear and into the brain of his victim, while the soon-to-be-dead bad guy screamed in horrific pain. It was as if Sutter was saying, “You think I’m bad on Twitter? Check this out!”

Paris Barclay, one of TV’s finest directors during a time when show runners are where the action is at, gave the episode a cinematic feel, by which I mean not only that it looked good in creative ways, but also that it seemed as if time was taken to get all of the visuals right, which rarely happens even in the best shows thanks to the hurried nature of television production.

And all of the great cast are back, with the incomparable Katey Sagal a standout but with everyone doing their part. Two new characters look to be interesting, and this first episode did a good job of laying the parameters for the season. It looks to be a good one, and when Sons of Anarchy is good, there’s not much better.