Monday, December 31, 2012

Family Movie Night: Whisper of the Heart

Title: Whisper of the Heart
Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Original Release: 1995
Choice: Mine
Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Image via Lights! Camera! Critic!

Whisper of the Heart is one of a long line of high quality films produced by Japan's legendary Studio Ghibli.  The studio's leading light, Hayao Miyazaki, served as screenwriter for this project.  The story is based on a manga, Mimi o Sumaseba (translates literally as "If You Listen Closely").  It is the coming-of-age tale of Shizuku, a junior high school student in western Tokyo.  Typically, late junior high (the 9th grade by American reckoning) is a pivotal moment in Japanese life.  Up until that time, most people go to their neighborhood schools.  In the 9th grade, all students take the notoriously difficult entrance exams for high school.  For better or for worse, one's life path is largely determined by the results.  For the more free-spirited individuals, the moment is ripe for an identity crisis.  That is where we find both our heroine and Seiji, her new love interest.

Whereas most Ghibli films are fantasies, Whisper of the Heart is firmly rooted in the everyday.  For me, it's a trip down memory lane.  As noted in previous posts, I taught English in Yokohama from 1996-98.  As such, the western side of Tokyo is very familiar to me and this movie provides an astonishingly authentic immersion.  The school, the narrow streets and the apartment buildings could all just as easily have been plucked out of my own Yokohama neighborhood.  Even the sounds - buzzing cicadas and train noises - are spot on. 

The authenticity of setting is almost enough for me to give this film a 4 rather than a 3.  The only reason I haven't is that the story does feel a bit long by the end.  I'm not sure I would want to sit through the whole thing again. Regardless, if you're looking for a glimpse of the real Japan, particularly for that time period, you could hardly do better than this.  Consider it a high 3.

Further endearing the film to me is the extensive use of "Country Roads" in the story - one of my all-time favorites and the best homesickness song I know:

Sadly, this was the first and last film directed by Yoshifumi Kondo.  He died of an aneurysm in 1998 at the age of 47.  While this was his only film director credit, his animation resume is extensive.  He served as animation director for many Ghibli projects, most notably Kiki's Delivery Service and Princess Mononoke.
Photo via listal

Multi-generational considerations:
  • While we all enjoyed the film, My Wife and I agree that it would be more meaningful for our daughter (currently 9) when she's older.

On the Coffee Table: Zot!

Title: Zot!
Writer and Artist: Scott McCloud
Image via Multiversity Comics

Scott McCloud has made his biggest splash in the comic book industry with his non-fiction works, all previously reviewed here at The SquidUnderstanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics.  However, he earned his cred in the trenches.  Zot! was his best-known fiction comic.  The series ran for 36 issues total, the first ten in color, the final 26 in black and white.  The collection I just finished includes the black and white issues only, originally published 1987-91.  Issue #11 was essentially a reboot so this volume encompasses a more or less continuous story.

Zot is a teenage superhero from an alternate Earth.  Jenny is his contact in our world.  Their relationship is complicated.  Naturally, that's half the fun of the series.

But there's more - a lot more - to this seemingly simple premise.  The series begins as a reasonably straight-forward, light-hearted exploration of the comparisons between Jenny's and Zot's dimensions.  However, things get a lot more interesting when Zot gets stranded on Jenny's (our own) Earth for a year.  Comic book convention is chucked out the window as McCloud digs into the complicated lives of Jenny's friends.  Their problems are very real, and a few of them still difficult to talk about in some circles two decades later: alcoholic and verbally abusive parents, divorce, confronting racism and homophobia, etc.  For all of the fantastical elements on offer with Zot!, it's these brutally human stories which ultimately make for a memorable, compelling series.

The artwork throughout is outstanding.  McCloud drew inspiration from the Japanese manga aesthetic, especially the work of Osamu Tezuka.  McCloud is a master of the black and white medium, creating lush, detailed panels in a variety of artistic styles.  A worthy example:
Image via Notes from the Playground

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I'm with the Band: Air Force

Band: Air Force Academy Marching Band
University: The United States Air Force Academy
Founded: 1955
Today's Bowl Game: Rice, Armed Forces Bowl, 11:45 a.m., Fort Worth, Texas
Photo via The United States Air Force Academy Band

As with Army and Navy, the Air Force Academy Marching Band is staffed not by students but by professional musicians who are also full-time military personnel.  The Air Force definitely has one of the better military songs around:

Also, just as at the other academies, there are a number of ensembles serving a variety of functions.  Here's the Drum & Bugle Corps covering a halftime show:

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Football Fantasy: James Laurinaitis

College League: won, 88.53-49.98 (finished in 7th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 116.04-90.34 (finished 9th out of 12)
Player of the Week: James Laurinaitis (Linebacker, Rams)
Photo via STLsport

The Rams were my team defense in the college league this week: 13 points allowed, 5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery and 1 touchdown.  Laurinaitis was the star with 11 solo tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 interception and 2 passes defended.  He counted against me, too, as my opponent had him as an IDP.  Laurinaitis's father and two of his uncles were professional wrestlers.

My Player of the Year

Player: Robert Griffin III
Position: Quarterback
Team: Washington Redskins
Photo via

RG3's ascent is the most exciting thing to happen to the Redskins in 20 years.  He is the best (in my very biased opinion) of the greatest trio of rookie quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, along with Andrew Luck (Colts) and Russell Wilson (Seahawks). He was also the steal of my fantasy draft.  I grabbed him in the 7th round.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Family Movie Night: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Title: How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Director: Ron Howard
Original Release: 2000
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Image via Wikipedia

First, I must clarify that my review is of the feature film released in 2000, not the classic 1966 television special.  Secondly, I must assert that, because of the excellence of the TV special, making a feature film was entirely unnecessary.  Thirdly, I must confess that I really don't like this movie.

"So, dear Squid," I hear you cry, "why the 4-star rating if it's so terrible?  Why not the 2 it more reasonably deserves?"

"Well," I reply sheepishly, "it's complicated.  I'll explain more in a bit."

There are a few genuine positives:
  • Jim Carrey is great as the Grinch, his physical comic genius on full display.  I can't imagine a better choice for the role.
  • The film won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Makeup.  In general, the movie is satisfying visually.

The list of gripes is longer:
  • The original book is 69 pages long.  Does the world truly need a 104-minute movie, beyond obvious marketing potential?
  • Songs from the TV special, including "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" and "Welcome Christmas," are featured and that's fine.  However, the rest of the music is just plain awful.  The songs sung by the further developed character of Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) are painful.
  • The original story is wonderfully simple.  The Whos are good.  The Grinch is bad. Through their purity of spirit, the Whos convert the Grinch.  Merriment for all.  The end.  Do we really need a back story for why the Grinch is so sour?  No.  Do we really need a bullying Whoville mayor (Jeffrey Tambor) to inspire more sympathy for the Grinch?  No.  Do we really need a meddling Cindy Lou to drive the plot and sing terrible songs?  No.

I could go on but I expect you get the point.

"So, why the 4, Squid?"

"Well, I have a daughter, you see.
It's a kids' film so it's not all about me."

Rhyming verse is definitely not my forte so I'll quit while I'm ahead.

I do believe that a truly great children's film is enjoyable for parents, too.  But until we entrust Our Girl with her own Netflix profile, I feel I need to look out for her.  To get a 4 from me, a movie has to hold up to repeated viewing.  For me personally, it doesn't.  But for her, it does.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • If you love the story and are inclined to share it with the children in your life, read them the book and watch the TV special with them.  Skip the movie.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I'm with the Band: Washington

Band: University of Washington Husky Marching Band
University: University of Washington
Founded: 1929
Current Director: Dr. J. Brad McDavid
Fight Song: "Bow Down to Washington"
Today's Bowl Game: Boise State at the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas, 12:30 p.m.

The Husky Marching Band is credited, for better or for worse, with inventing The Wave in 1981.

Pre-game show:

Because the world just can't seem to get enough of this one:


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Andre Johnson

College League: won, 79.69-77.88 (advance to 7th place game)
Vermont League: lost, 80.34-58.74 (relegated to 9th place game)
My Player of the Week: Andre Johnson (Wide Receiver, Texans) with 11 receptions for 151 yards and 1 touchdown
Photo via policymic

Johnson has gotten some great press recently for his charity work.  He donated $90,000 for a Toys 'R' Us shopping spree for children in protective services.  He also joined the Houston Police Department in bringing Christmas presents to a local elementary school.

On the Coffee Table: George Plimpton

Title: Paper Lion
Author: George Plimpton
Photo via The Scores Report

George Plimpton's account of his experience with the NFL's Detroit Lions is a seminal work, not only in sports journalism but for embedded non-fiction writing in general. In 1963, the Lions agreed to let Plimpton, a young but already well-regarded journalist, attend pre-season training camp as a quarterback prospect.  His efforts to keep up with the other players as athletes were absurd, of course, but the material he acquired by gaining their trust provided for a wonderfully engaging book.

Photo via Sports Illustrated
For the devoted football fan, Paper Lion is simply a must-read.  The book is a time capsule in print form.  The NFL has come a long way in 49 years.  There were only 14 teams in the league in 1963.  The Super Bowl didn't even exist yet.  Simply based on financial status, the gap between a professional athlete and the average joe was nowhere near as vast as it is now.  I have no doubt that the inner-workings of a pro football team have changed nearly beyond recognition in the past half-century. If you want a glimpse of a simpler time, look no further.

For the non-fan, Paper Lion is, on occasion, extremely funny.  I mean embarrassing-to-read-in-public funny.  My Wife, who hates football, has caught me giggling a couple of times while reading it.  "I'm definitely reading that book when you're done with it!" she claims.  We'll see.

This was a particularly good book to read in light of Alex Karras's recent passing.   Karras, now probably better known by most for his acting career, was a star defensive tackle for the Lions for 12 seasons.  He figures prominently in Plimpton's book, somewhat surprising in that he'd been suspended by the league for the '63 season for gambling.
Photo via Wikipedia

Despite his absence, Plimpton devoted an entire chapter to Karras's antics.  He was, to say the least, quite a character and loomed large in the team's clubhouse culture.  In addition to his considerable football talents (he was named to the All-Decade Team for the 1960s), Karras would amuse his teammates with character monologues and tales of past lives, providing glimpses of his future profession.  Plimpton's follow-up book, Mad Ducks and Bears, focused on Karras and teammate John Gordy.  Karras actually named one of his sons after Plimpton.
Photo via Zap2it

Later in life, Karras suffered from dementia and was one of many players to sue the NFL over football-related head injuries.  He passed away on October 10th of this year.  The cause of death was kidney failure.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Now in Theaters: An Unexpected Journey

Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via

Regular visitors already know that I've been looking forward to this movie for quite a long time.  I've been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth since my own childhood and have spent the past year and change getting my daughter up to speed in preparation for Peter Jackson's film.  Our visit to the cinema this weekend felt almost like a pilgrimage.

The film is truly amazing.  Giving it a 5 was tempting but I'm still chewing over a few things.  To be fair, there are going to be


in this reflection if you're planning to see the movie but haven't yet.  We have much to discuss.  Best to get cracking...

Let's start with the positives.  The film is visually stunning.  New Zealand is as breathtaking as ever and Jackson's CGI world building is just as impressive.  (Side note: too many bridges without guardrails in Middle Earth - don't think I could handle it myself)  Early reviewers have criticized the technical aspects of filming - something about the film frame rate - but it certainly didn't bother me.  Overall, the storytelling is highly engaging. 

The music is surprisingly good.  I really enjoyed the song the Dwarves sang around the fire at Bag End: "Misty Mountains." 

I was also pleasantly surprised that Neil Finn (of Crowded House fame) performed the song for the end credits: "Song of the Lonely Mountain."

Gollum is far and away my favorite Tolkien character and the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter is handled masterfully.  Gollum is tragic, terrifying and comical all at once.  Andy Serkis's performance is, as ever, the highlight of the entire film.  I was slightly bothered, however, that the resolution of the "Time" riddle differs slightly from the book.  It still works but Tolkien's way was better. 

I felt the story as told in the film is surprisingly dark - not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.  I think of The Hobbit as being a relatively light-hearted romp compared to The Lord of the Rings but this new movie definitely had a heavy feel.  For the record, My Wife didn't agree with my assessment.  She agreed it was dark but no more so than the later story.

Where the film troubles me is the extra material.  Jackson's film goes far beyond Tolkien's original text.  The story of Radagast the Brown is greatly expanded and we are offered more glimpses of Gandalf's doings when he is away from the Dwarves and Bilbo.  The film provides a fairly thorough back story for Thorin as well.  I simply haven't worked out how I feel about the changes. Part of me is excited for the expansion.  Another part of me, though, is reflexively nervous when filmmakers take liberties with well-beloved source material.  Nothing the screenwriters have added contradicts Tolkien.  Indeed, the author might have approved whole-heartedly.  But one can never know for sure.

On the positive side, this is just the sort of pondering that will lead me to watch the film again and again - probably accompanied by further study of the book, too.  I have no doubt that Peter Jackson loves the original story as much as anyone.  He is a worthy vessel to carry the story forward.

Our Girl was very disappointed when the final credits rolled.  "That's not how it ends!" she yelled, indignant.  I thought we'd adequately explained about the three-installment plan but evidently not.  She did enjoy the film, though.  Now, we'll all look forward to December 2013.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

I'm with the Band: Toledo

Band: Rocket Marching Band
University: University of Toledo
Today's Bowl Game: Utah State at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, 4:30 p.m., Boise, Idaho

Photo via The University of Toledo

A Halloween show:

Awesome drumline performance:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Knowshon Moreno

College League: won, 81.35-70.58 (advance to consolation semis)
Vermont League: bye (advance to consolation semis)
My Player of the Week: Knowshon Moreno (Running Back, Broncos) with 32 rushing attempts for 119 yards and 1 touchdown plus 4 receptions for 48 yards


Moreno's first name is a combination of his father's nickname, Knowledge, and his mother's name, Varashon.  He is New Jersey's all-time scoring leader in high school football.  He was injured for much of this season and was therefore available as a free agent in both of my leagues.  He's been a great get.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Family Movie Night: The Fellowship of the Ring

Title: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Director: Peter Jackson
Original Release: 2001
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Image via Wikipedia

"What about Tom Bombadill?"

Regular visitors know I've been reading Tolkien to our nine-year-old daughter for well over a year in anticipation of Peter Jackson's live action Hobbit films, installment #1 to be released this coming Friday.  The first book (The Hobbit) was my idea, but she requested the next two.  Despite her professed enthusiasm, I occasionally wonder how closely she's paying attention.

This weekend began with a nebulous plan to watch all three of Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.  Our Girl had never seen any of them.  As the hobbits were making their way to Rivendell early in Fellowship, she turned to me and asked the question above, clearly disappointed and echoing the purists' main complaint back when the film was first released.  My Wife and I are both so proud of our little Tolkien scholar.  Sniff...  I guess she's ready.


In the end, we only made it through the first two movies.  The Return of the King will have to wait for another time.  For blog purposes, I shall focus this week's post on the first movie of the trilogy.

Despite the omission of one of our favorite characters, Jackson's work is about as faithful to the original text as a near four-hour film (extended version, of course) could be.  There are other discrepancies, of course, but I expect Tolkien himself would have been pleased.  If you've devoted your life to the study of fantasy literature's grand master and have, for whatever crazy reason, avoided Jackson's films to this point, you will at least appreciate the filmmaker's obvious love for the material.  If you're a novice, the movies are every bit as likely to get you hooked as the books are.

So many things to love about Fellowship:
  • Middle Earth is the gold standard for world building in literature.  Jackson's film offers a textured, detailed reality worthy of Tolkien. Settings, casting, costume, makeup, sound - every facet is rich.
  • New Zealand is beautiful - minimal CGI required for the landscape shots.  Has any nation ever received such outstanding PR from a movie franchise?
  • Whenever I have read Fellowship, I have found the Ringwraiths genuinely terrifying and Jackson's treatment is very satisfying.  The bugs and worms that fall out of the first one the hobbits encounter are a great touch.
  • My favorite part of the first book is the affection/crush which Gimli the Dwarf develops for Galadriel, the Elf co-ruler of Lothlorien.  Most specifically, her parting gift to him is especially touching.  I can't remember if it was part of the theatrical version of the film but it's part of the extended version.
If you're curious about my previous Tolkien posts:

Bedtime Stories: The Hobbit
Bedtime Stories: The Fellowship of the Ring
Family Movie Night: The Hobbit

Multi-generational considerations:
  • The PG-13 rating is for violence and scary stuff.  Our Girl doesn't really seem particularly fazed by violence in movies, though she'll ask if a character she likes is going to die.
  • There are definitely scary moments: the aforementioned encounters with the Ringwraiths, of course, and also the face Bilbo makes as he reaches for The Ring on Frodo's necklace.
  • Speaking of characters she likes, she has confessed to me that the Elves are her favorite - especially Legolas.  She got a sheepish grin when I asked why.  She said she'd like to be an Elf herself.  I suspect, though, that there may be an Orlando Bloom crush involved as well.
  • Our Girl has a tendency to giggle during what I think of as tense plot points of movies - battle scenes and the like.  Her mom does it occasionally, too.  At one point during our marathon, I made some snarky comment along the lines of "It would be nice to feel the two of you are taking the story seriously!"  "We are taking it seriously," My Wife replied. "We have to find humor where we can.  It's a very dark story!"
  • To that end:


My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I'm with the Band: Navy

Band: United States Naval Academy Band
University: United States Naval Academy
Founded: 1852
Current Director: Lt. Cmdr. Bruce A. McDonald
Fight Song: "Anchors Aweigh"
Today's Game: Army, 3 p.m., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Just hit "play." Trust me.

As I wrote in last year's post about Army, the academy bands are not like other college bands.  The performers are all professional musicians and all are full-time military personnel.  Therefore, it is no surprise that they're a cut above the ordinary.

The marching band is one of many ensembles who perform under the umbrella of the Academy Band.  The piece above is performed by the concert band.  I am intimately acquainted with the original choral arrangement.  I think I sang it first as part of an amateur choir in NYC.  It is one of those truly magical songs - an absolute privilege to sing.

The following clip is charming for completely different reasons.  It is the original recording of Navy's fight song by the USNA Band of 1920.

It would be wrong not to include at least one video of the band marching.  This is the military we're talking about after all:

The Army-Navy football game was of great national interest once upon a time.  While the luster has dulled for the general public, it's still a very big deal within the military.  I quote Brent Musburger, who did the play-by-play for the game in 1995 (as recounted in John Feinstein's A Civil War): "There is no bowl game at stake here.  There is no coalition poll, no number one ranking.  No Heisman Trophy is at stake either.  This is bigger than all of that."

I have written about the game before.  In addition to last year's Army band post, linked above:

Army-Navy 2010
On the Coffee Table: A Civil War

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Morgan Burnett

College League: lost, 84.57-80.32 (6-7 overall, 10th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: lost, 74.22-70.70 (6-7, 8th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Morgan Burnett (Safety, Packers) with 6 solo tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 2 interceptions and 3 passes defended
Photo via

It was a rough week in both leagues.  In both cases, I lost close matchups when a win would have put me in the playoffs.  In both, it came down to the Monday night game.  In the college league, I had RG3 (QB, Redskins) on my side, in the Vermont league he was against me.  He did well enough to beat me in the one, not well enough for me to win in the other.  Bottom line: ouch.

On the bright side, it's great to see DC so jazzed about its football team again.  RG3 is the Skins' most exciting player since...well...ever.  I love option football and it's great to see my own NFL team playing it.  Clearly, Washington needs a pass rush and also some quality offensive tackles to keep their young stud from getting killed.  But at long last, the future looks very bright.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Family Movie Night: Wreck-It Ralph

Title: Wreck-It Ralph
Director: Rich Moore
Original Release: 2012
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Image via Disney Wiki

Wreck-It Ralph is a strong nostalgic tug for those of us who grew up in the golden age of the video game arcade, imagining a life after-hours for the characters in the games.  The title character is the bad guy in a Donkey Kong-like game.  His desires for greater love and respect lead him on misadventures to the other game cabinets. 

The story is set in the present day, allowing video games of all eras to be represented.  The obvious choices like Pac-Man and Frogger are referenced from the '80s.  From later decades, there are cameos by characters from Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, Dance Dance Revolution and on and on.  There's even a glimpse of Pong.

Still jonesing for more retro gaming discussion?  My blogger pal Suze had a fun post about Galaga this past week. 

Multi-generational considerations:
  • If anything, I was eager for stronger nostalgic tugs.  They could have done more with the music, for instance.  Only one '80s song was featured in the soundtrack: "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang.  "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc. is featured in the trailer but not the movie.  Why not some old techno?  "Pac-Man Fever," even just a little snippet of it, seems an obvious choice - but alas, no.

  • Our Girl seemed to enjoy it but I think My Wife and I got a lot more of the jokes.  There is talk of a sequel.  Perhaps by then, they'll work in some Angry Birds jokes for her cohort.
  • If you're looking for a movie to help you reconnect with your '80s arcade rat self, a far better film is The King of Kong - a very enjoyable documentary, not as kid-friendly, though.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

I'm with the Band: Kansas State

Band: Kansas State University Marching Band
University: Kansas State University
Founded: 1887
Current Director: Dr. Frank Tracz
Fight Song: "Wildcat Victory"
Today's Home Game: Texas, 7 p.m.
Image via Wikipedia

A promotional video:

This clip is from a rehearsal, but very nicely shot:

A very thorough pre-game:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Steve Gregory

College League: lost, 97.81-81.23 (6-6 overall, 8th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 116.02-109.50 (6-6, 6th of 12)
My Player of the Week: Steve Gregory (Safety, Patriots)
Photo via New England Patriots

Once again, the New England defense carried the day for me in the Vermont league: 17 points allowed, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 4 fumble recoveries and 2 touchdowns.  Gregory was the star this week.  The interception, 2 of the fumble recoveries and 1 of the touchdowns were all his.

My teams come to the final regular season week with exactly the same record, though they reached it from decidedly different directions.  My Vermont team is hot: five-week winning streak.  My College team, on the other hand, has lost three straight.  In both leagues, it's entirely possible that I could finish with a winning record and still miss the playoffs.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Family Movie Night: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Director: Tim Burton
Original Release: 2005
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl is on a very short list of my favorite books, all-time.  I read it not long ago as part of my 12 Books in 12 Months project: see post here.  As I noted in that post, I prefer this version to the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder.  In my opinion, this later movie is far more faithful to the original story.  The Dahl estate had much broader artistic control this time. 

Even beyond the strong adaptation, Burton's movie is a great piece of work in its own right.  Major selling points for me:
  • I love Johnny Depp's interpretation of Willy Wonka - so much more than merely zany.  Depp brings a detachment that lends a darker edge to the proceedings.  The back story, entirely new, is vintage Burton.
  • The casting of Deep Roy as all of the Oompa-Loompas is a stroke of genius.
  • The squirrels in the nut room are very satisfying.  I can appreciate how the same scene would have been difficult to accomplish with 1971 technology but the golden egg in the Wilder version is a wholly inadequate substitute.
  • All of the children are well-cast - no small feat in the film industry.  All but Charlie are delightfully wretched.  Pressed to pick a favorite, I'd go with AnnaSophia Robb as Violet Bearegarde.  I'm half-convinced that Dahl wrote the book just for the sake of the "Violet, you're turning violet" line.
Multi-generational considerations:
  • We watched with My Mother during our Thanksgiving visit to Washington, DC.   I was amazed to learn that she'd never even read the book before, let alone seen either of the film adaptations.  Published in 1964, the book missed her own childhood.  By the time it came into my life and my sister's, we were old enough to read it by ourselves.  She has read some of Dahl's works for adults, though.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

I'm with the Band: Florida State

Band: Marching Chiefs
University: Florida State University
Founded: 1939
Current Director: Patrick Dunnigan
Fight Song: "FSU Fight Song"
Today's Home Game: Florida, 3:30 p.m.
Photo via Twitter

I won't pretend that I'm entirely comfortable with all of the Native American imagery and symbolism used in American sports and the Tomahawk Chop - made famous by the Atlanta Braves but originated at Florida State - is certainly among the more problematic.  That said, from a purely musical/theatrical standpoint, "Seminole Uprising" is awesome:

A well-established theme in this series, I love it when a band sings.  The song "Hymn of the Garnet and Gold" has a nice story.  The university solicited submissions for a school alma mater and "The Hymn" was among those not accepted.  The marching band, though, has claimed it as its own.  The following clip, with band and fans singing together, is truly lovely:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Aqib Talib

College League: lost, 89.53-66.02 (6-5 overall, 7th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 104.02-65.26 (5-6, 8th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Aqib Talib (Cornerback, Patriots)

Photo via Tampa Bay Times

New England is my team defense in the Vermont league and they had a very big week: 24 points allowed, 1 sack, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 2 defensive touchdowns and 1 return touchdown.  Talib was the star with one of the interceptions and one of the touchdowns.  This was his first game with the Patriots, having been acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Family Movie Night: Coraline

Title: Coraline
Director: Henry Selick
Original Release: 2009
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

This week presented a rare instance in which Our Girl had the advantage: she had read the book Caroline whereas neither of her parents had.  We had to remind her not to give away too much of the story as we were watching.  She waited until afterward to tell us about the differences between book and movie.

I have mixed feelings about Neil Gaiman, the book's author.  On the one hand, he is the screenwriter for one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes: "The Doctor's Wife," a deserving Hugo winner.  On the other hand, he first made his name in the comic book world, especially The Sandman series.  I tried the first collected volume of Sandman, entitled Preludes & Nocturnes.  While I certainly appreciated the novelty and invention, the story is, frankly, a bit gross at times.  I'm alright with creepy or even scary.  I really don't go in for gross.

Coraline is far from gross.  Instead, it is a dark but ultimately sweet and redeeming tale with a very believable title character.  Coraline, a young, I'd say pre-teen, girl moves to a new house with her parents.  She's bored.  She feels unappreciated.  She finds a portal to an alternate world with a seemingly better family.  Choices must be made but not all is as it seems.

The stop-action animation is lovely, my favorite a Van Gogh Starry Night-inspired sequence towards the end.  The pacing is interesting with a relatively slow initial development for a children's movie - not necessarily a bad thing but unusual.  I am genuinely curious about the book now.  Our Girl enjoyed both.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • A strong female-lead - a definite plus at our house.
  • A relatively sophisticated story for a children's film but still more formulaic than the average Miyazaki offering.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I'm with the Band: Penn State

Band: Penn State Blue Band
University: Pennsylvania State University
Founded: 1899
Current Director: O. Richard Bundy
Fight Song: "Fight On, State"
Today's Home Game: Indiana, 12 p.m.

There's no getting around the fact that it's been a horrible year in State College.  I won't dwell on it too much because this post really is about the band.  State College is near and dear to my heart as my family has spent a decent portion of the summer months in the area for over 30 years.  Without question, football has reached a dangerous level of importance in that community.  The same can be said in plenty of other American college towns: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Lincoln, Nebraska; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Austin, Texas; Gainesville, Florida and so forth.  What happened at Penn State is the most terrifying example of what can transpire in such a state of affairs. 

Thank goodness, there is life beyond football.  There are students, faculty, staff and town residents who are not fans of the team.  Many people associated with the community are every bit as disgusted by what has happened as the rest of the country at-large. They know all too well that the entire institution has been painted with the same brush.  It will take a long time for the university to recover.  Let it be a meaningful cautionary tale to the rest of the nation as well.

Penn State loves the Blue Band.  As the university community recovers from the trauma of the Sandusky crimes and their fallout, highlighting the more positive aspects of college football culture will be important.
Image via Penn State Blue Band

The tailgate show:

"Defying Gravity":

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Rivers Again

College League: lost, 91.95-56.64 (6-4 overall, 4th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 81.18 (4-6, 9th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Philip Rivers (Quarterback, Chargers) with 337 yards passing, 2 interceptions, 3 touchdowns and 5 yards rushing

Photo via Angels Foster Family Network

On the Coffee Table: Anne of the Island

Title: Anne of the Island
Author: L.M. Montgomery
Image via BetterWorldBooks

Anne Shirley has charmed me once again.  Anne of the Island is the third in Montgomery's classic Anne of Green Gables series, covering Anne's Redmond College years.  Just as charming as the story's heroine is the exuberant cadence of Montgomery's prose.

Readers of previous posts may recall that we went on a family vacation to Prince Edward Island this past summer.  Montgomery's loving portrait inspires a longing to return to the Maritimes.  Much of the story this time takes place in Nova Scotia, rather than PEI.  Sadly, while there is a Kingsport in Nova Scotia, the one exquisitely described in the book is entirely fictional, combining elements of Halifax and Annapolis Royal. 

Now, I must decide if I want to continue with the series - I've read three of the eight so far.  I'm going to give a mild spoiler alert here but this book has been in publication for 97 years - past the statute of limitations, I think.  While I knew, from reading the synopses of future books in the series, that Anne ends up with Gilbert Blythe, I had to see it happen.  At the end of Anne of the Island, they finally pledge their love to one another.  I think I can move on, at least for now.

If you're interested, here are my previous Anne and PEI posts:

12 Books in 12 Months: Your Mom/Dad/Sister/Brother's Favorite Book
On the Coffee Table: L.M. Montgomery
On the Road: Prince Edward Island

Monday, November 12, 2012

Family Movie Night: The Hobbit

Title: The Hobbit
Director: Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr.
Original Release: 1977
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via Lord of the Rings Fanatics Site

We've been in Hobbit-prep mode for over a year at our house.  The first installment of Peter Jackson's three-part live action interpretation opens on December 14th.  In anticipation, I've been reading Tolkien to my daughter since last summer.  Here are my write-ups so far:

Bedtime Stories: The Hobbit
Bedtime Stories: The Fellowship of the Ring

My own Tolkien adventures began with the made-for-TV animated film of 1977.  In fact, I think it may have been one of my very first video rentals.  The production team of Rankin/Bass are best-known for their Christmas specials, most notably Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.  The animation work for The Hobbit was done by Topcraft, a precursor to Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. 

An unofficial trailer:

Watching the film again all these years later, what's most interesting to me is the pace.  By Tolkien standards, this one really whips along.  Despite the short length (only 77 minutes), Rankin and Bass were able to squeeze in a fair amount of the book.  As such, there isn't much dawdling allowed.  Most gratifying is the fact that so much of Tolkien's original language was preserved, including Thorin's farewell speech to Bilbo - my own favorite passage.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • This is definitely a film for kids.  The pacing is less satisfying for an adult who knows the full story.  That said, considering the time and resources available, this film is admirable work.
  • The music is definitely hokey.  I remember thinking "The Greatest Adventure" was a great song when I was a kid.  Now it just seems silly.
  • I'm glad that my daughter was exposed to the book before the movie.  She was disappointed that things were left out.  I'm very proud of our Tolkien snob in-training.
  • Our excitement for the Jackson film has only been hightened.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm with the Band: Alabama

Band: Million Dollar Band
University: The University of Alabama
Founded: 1912
Current Director: Dr. Kenneth Ozzello
Fight Song: "Yea Alabama"
Today's Home Game: Texas A&M, 2:30 p.m.

This year mark's the Million Dollar Band's 100th anniversary.  The following promotional video is very nicely done, especially fun for all of the old footage:

It's my blog so I get to indulge my inner geek, right?  The following videos are of the same song but filmed from two different sections of the band.  Green Day's "Basket Case":

Friday, November 9, 2012

Double Barrel #6

Title: Double Barrel
Issue: #6
Release: November 2012
Writers: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
Artists: Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon
Image via Double Barrel

In the Cannons' latest, Hector and Elliott have a dramatic encounter with Geryon (he's the guy with the big purple head on this month's cover) in Zander's Heck.  In Kevin's Crater XV, Pravda's memory has returned.  She now remembers Army from her childhood.  For anyone with curiosity about the technical aspects of comics, Kevin's use of word balloons is really interesting.  Extras this month are Kevin's Penny from the Front, Zander's Here Me Is! and How To: This final section, in which the creators provide insights into their process, has become my favorite part of Double Barrel.  In this installment, Zander offers reflections on his experiences as a freelance layout artist.

In other exciting Cannon-related news, Kevin is the cover artist for this week's Village Voice.

Double Barrel can be purchased wherever eBooks and web comics are sold.  I got mine at ComiXology.  I hope you'll join me in supporting this engaging work.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Lavonte David

College League: won, 74.20-66.54 (6-3 overall, 4th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 113.40-88.52 (3-6, 9th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Lavonte David (Linebacker, Buccaneers) with 14 solo tackles and 2 assisted tackles

Photo via Tampa Bay Times

For the second week in a row, my star was a rookie linebacker.  David is a native Floridian but went to college at Fort Scott Community College (Kansas), then Nebraska.  He set the Huskers' single-season record for tackles in his senior year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Family Movie Night: Mary Poppins

Title: Mary Poppins
Director: Robert Stevenson
Original Release: 1964
Choice: Our Girl's
My Overall Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Image via Wikipedia

Mary Poppins is, of course, a film classic.  It's become an important story for our family as well.  The audiobook of the original P.L. Travers novel, charmingly narrated by Sophie Thompson, has been a favorite on road trips.  Also, Our Girl's dance studio used the story as its central theme for a recital a few years back.  Our Girl was one of the dancing penguin waiters.  She knows the movie well enough to know when "her part" is coming up.

Mary Poppins is also an essential chapter in one of the great career-launch stories.  Julie Andrews was already a Broadway legend by the time she made her film debut as Mary.  However, the only reason she was available was that she'd been passed over for the role of Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady, the very part which had carried her to stardom on stage.  The producers at Warner Bros. felt she wouldn't be a big enough draw.  They cast Audrey Hepburn instead with Marni Nixon dubbing the songs.  While both films were enormously successful, Andrews surely had the last laugh.  She won the Oscar for Best Actress and Poppins was Disney's biggest box office hit to that point.  The following year, she starred as Maria in The Sound of Music, cementing her place as ruling queen of the Hollywood musical pantheon.

Multi-generational considerations
  • Our Girl claims to like the film version better but I prefer the book and I'm pretty sure My Wife does, too.  If anything, the book has enhanced my appreciation for the movie.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Look! I've Been Tagged!

Photo via Hawaii Kawaii Blog

My blogger pal, Suze, has tagged me in a game.  She explains the concept thusly:

For this tag, participants are charged with reproducing a scrap of a manuscript in which the word, 'look,' first appears and then passing the baton onto five other bloggers. I'd like to tag

L. Diane Wolfe
Michael Offutt
L.G. Smith
Charles the Reader
Heather Murphy

Participate only if you want to, make it as lengthy or brief as you like.  I look forward to your offerings. 

The thing is, I don't exactly have loads of manuscripts sitting around unfinished.  For the most part, blogging suits my writing style just fine - simple ideas in short spurts.  That said, I would like to publish one book before I ride off into the sunset.  As such, I am taking Suze's tag as a kick in the pants to get to work.  Perhaps this is the beginning, the middle or maybe a false start.  Time will tell.  For now, I plug my nose and jump in...

“How do I look?” she asks, self-assessing in the mirror.

“That’s a completely unfair question, you realize,” I respond, reclining on her bed.

“I know, every man’s nightmare dilemma – no possible answer that won’t get you in heaps of trouble.  Don’t worry.  I won’t ask if I look fat.”  We both laugh.  “I’m serious.  What do you think of them?”

“Think of what?”

“These blue hair clips.  I picked them up in Harajuku this afternoon.  I thought they looked cool.”  Cool.  It’s a word I barely understand. 

“Why do you care what I think?”

“You’re the one who’s going to be seen with me.  You’re a man.  You have opinions.  You must have some sense of style.”  We both know perfectly well that I don’t.

“You’re just going to ignore what I say and do what you want.”

She grins at that.  “Possibly.  I still want to know what you think.  Come on, we need to get going.”

What do I think?  I take in the whole presentation.  Soccer sneakers even though she doesn’t play.  Jeans that are non-descript to my eyes but probably exactly the right fit, cut, color, whatever.  The sort of soccer-style jersey I used to get as a hand-me-down in the 1970s but is somehow the height of fashion for teenage girls in Tokyo 20 years later.  Or maybe in London?  Both?  Neither?  She’s all woman underneath. But the outward projection is tending in a different direction.  She’s pursuing an ideal that even she seems to know she’ll never attain.  The hair clips, a translucent, junky plastic, are only part of the problem.  But that’s not what I say.

“You look like you’re about eight years old.”

“Okay,” she says.  In one swift motion, the clips come off, set on the dresser and already forgotten.  Was I too honest?  Is she hurt?  Offended?  Apparently not.  As soon as she got the answer she needed, it was as if the entire conversation had never happened. 

“Let’s go.”

I'm with the Band: Auburn

Band: Auburn University Marching Band
University: Auburn University
Founded: 1897
Director: Dr. Corey Spurlin
Fight Songs: "War Eagle" and "Glory to Ole Auburn"
Today's Home Game: New Mexico State at 11:30 a.m.

Photo via Auburn

Pre-game, outside the stadium:

2010 SEC Championship Pre-Game:

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Football Fantasy: Jerrell Freeman

College League: won, 66.61-66.56 (5-3 overall, 5th place out of 12 teams)
Vermont League: won, 66.06-50.26 (2-6, 11th of 12)
My Player of the Week: Jerrell Freeman (Linebacker, Colts) with 11 solo tackles and 3 assisted tackles

Image via Indianapolis Colts

Freeman's route to the NFL was highly unusual.  He went to Mary Hardin-Baylor for college, a Division III school in Texas.  He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans but was released before the regular season.  He has spent the last three seasons in Canada with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  He was the CFL's leading tackler last year.

Monday, October 29, 2012

October Baseball: The Age of Giants


Photo via The Big Lead

Money isn't everything.  Six Major League teams had payrolls higher than the Giants on opening day.  Four of those teams (Phillies, Red Sox, Angels and Marlins) didn't even make the playoffs.

Power isn't everything.  Pablo Sandobal made well-deserved headlines after hitting three dingers in Game 1 but this is not a team built around the long ball.  The Giants are masters at keeping innings alive: few strikeouts, loads of two-out hits. 

I was pulling for the Tigers but if this is the future of baseball, I'm all for it.

Photo via Fun Cheap

Family Movie Night: A Great Day in Harlem

Title: A Great Day in Harlem
Director: Jean Bach
Original Release: 1994
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Bach's documentary tells the story of one of the 20th century's greatest photographs:

Photo via DAFLAND
(the photo is only being used for informational purposes)

On August 12, 1958, freelance photographer Art Kane managed to gather 57 titans of the New York jazz world for a photo shoot.  The men and women in the photograph represent multiple jazz generations.  Among those assembled were established veterans like Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.  Slightly younger but very much in their prime were Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Thelonious Monk (best music name EVER).  Sonny Rollins was among the legends on the rise. 

The film is a lot of fun, telling the story of the day and how extraordinary it was just to get that many jazz musicians up by 10 a.m., let alone smiling for the camera.  Enough of the participants were still alive during the documentary's filming for the musicians to tell their own stories about one another, expanding upon the personalities revealed in the picture.  Now, 18 years later, all but four of the musicians in the photograph are gone.  There are loads of film clips of their performances as well, though one can't help wishing there were more.

Included with the DVD is Bach's documentary short, The Spitball Story.  There are long-standing legends about the pranks Gillespie used to play as a young musician in Cab Calloway's band, including the one about the spitball that got him fired.  In the film, Gillespie tells his side of the story.

Multi-generational considerations:
  • I don't know if Our Girl was too interested in the first film.  The stories the musicians tell are a lot of fun but the pacing is not the best for a kid.  On the other hand, she loved The Spitball Story.  She's a big Cab Calloway fan and he is among the notably absent in A Great Day in Harlem.

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.