Sunday, February 27, 2011

On The Red Carpet

I like watching the Oscars, but damn, all the ass-kissing and sucking up on the red carpet is almost enough to turn the whole damn thing off.


I helped coach a championship team last year at UWM. It was the time of my life and I love that team like I've loved no other job. That's the funny part. It was my job to show up and be friends with them, coach them, make them faster, yell at them on occasion and swim with them every once in a while. It was my job to make them better and they got better. I never dreaded going to work. Work was exciting. To call it work, that's just an insult. It was a little slice of heaven and winning a championship with them was a dream come true.

Well, last night, these guys did it again. Going into the last night of competition in second place, UWM pulled ahead early on and had an unbelievable night of racing, finishing in first by 27 points. I had to watch the meet streaming over the internet and as painful and somewhat tear-jerking as that was, I am thankful that I could view it somehow. But there is no substitute for the real thing and my heart ached at times, even questioning decisions I have made in the past. But I wasn't questioning how much UWM deserved another championship. They work harder than anyone else. They have a head coach working harder than anyone else. And they have something common in all great championship teams, especially those back to back championship teams. It was printed in bold on their conference t-shirts: UNITY.

They couldn't have picked a better word. Congratulations, Milwaukee!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscar Predictions 2011

Last year I made a prediction for every Oscar category. It was a lot of guesswork and sort of a waste of time trying to guess who would win Best Sound Mixing or Best Short Documentary when I know nothing about what qualifies a movie to win Best Sound Mixing and when I hadn’t seen any one of the short documentaries nominated. This doesn’t mean I won’t take a stab at either one of those this year, but we’ll see.

I don’t think it has ever been easier to predict best actor and actress in a leading role than this year. Watch, I get those completely wrong. Here are the predictions…

Writing (Original Screenplay): The King’s Speech – This is a great story and an amazing screenplay. Even the story of writing the screenplay is fascinating. Did you see the 60 Minutes piece last week? I still haven’t seen The Fighter or The Kids Are All Right, but both of those are also strong contenders.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Social Network – I hate to say it, but this movie will probably win. After first seeing it, I thought it should win because it was a good movie and fairly accurate from what I hear and adapted from what was probably a boring book. However, after seeing parts of the original True Grit and listening to the Coen Brothers on Fresh Air, I realized two things. One, the original True Grit really sucks. It is awfully bad. Embarrassing to a point. Two, the Coens stuck to the original language of Charles Portis’ novel, but still made a relevant movie at times both serious and hilarious. They made a Western in 2010 that was popular. That is award worthy.

Visual Effects: Inception – Whatever you thought about this movie, it’s visuals were hands down the best of the year. Nothing even compares to it. Harry Potter? Iron Man 2? Are you kidding me? Inception’s cinematography paired with the visual effects is a combination that cannot be matched.

Music (Original Song): Toy Story 3 – “We Belong Together” by Randy Newman – I haven’t heard all the nominated songs, but I know this one is great and I know that no matter what, Gwyneth Paltrow will probably sing the nominated song from Country Strong, but please don’t give that song the Oscar.

Music (Original Score): The Social Network – I almost skipped this category, but I found the music from the SN to be compelling throughout the entire movie. It really contributed to the feel of the movie. High-strung, tension-filled, the music brought more anxiety to the legal proceedings and more mystery to the goings-on in Zuckerberg’s head as he is hammering away on the keyboard.

Foreign Language Film: Biutiful – Honestly, I haven’t seen any of these, but the buzz for Biutiful and Javier Bardem’s performance is enough to make a slightly educated guess here.

Film Editing: The King’s Speech – I can’t remember a scene from the movie that I would want arranged in a different way. Of course, as viewers, we don’t know what was left out or cut from the movie, but The King’s Speech was so complete and strong it seems like they made all the right cuts and selections.

Documentary Feature: Inside Job – There are a lot of strong nominees here. Exit through the Gift Shop and Restrepo could also win. I haven’t seen the former yet, and I haven’t seen Restrepo, but I have read the book Sebastian Junger wrote about his time in the Korengal Valley while making Restrepo. That book is called War and it is the best book I’ve read about the Afghanistan front.

Directing: Darren Aronofsky for Black Swan – I could easily be wrong here, but I think this is one of the categories Black Swan will actually win. Some years it seems like the Oscar for Directing is guaranteed to go to the director of the favorite in the feature film category, but maybe not this year.

Animated Feature Film: Toy Story 3 – How could this movie not win? It’s touching and fresh, even for the third revival.

Actress in a Supporting Role: Melissa Leo – The Fighter – She has won most of the awards already, might as well make it a sweep.

Actress in a Leading Role: Natalie Portman – Black Swan – This pick couldn’t be easier. I watched some of the Golden Globes when Portman won her acting award. Her speech was a little long, awkward (nothing new there) but it was that night I discovered Natalie Portman has an annoying laugh. Interesting…

Actor in a Supporting Role: Christian Bale – The Fighter – I think this is another easy prediction. Flawless is most often the description of Bale’s performance in this movie.

Actor in a Leading Role: Colin Firth – The King’s Speech – I think I’ll be offended if he doesn’t win. I won’t cry and I’ll probably keep watching, but when an actor makes a historically accurate film and puts in such a believable, touching performance (especially when the film is about the monarchy, i.e. Helen Mirren in The Queen) they deserve it.

Best Picture: The King’s Speech – I think this movie is in danger of being beaten by The Social Network, but I sure hope that doesn’t happen. Then, I will turn the TV off. Just for the hell of it, I am going to rank the six movies I have seen out of this category. Obviously, The King’s Speech takes the top spot, but second would be True Grit, then The Social Network, Inception, and Toy Story 3. Now, had I seen all of these movies, The Fighter and Winter’s Bone would undoubtedly rank ahead of The Social Network, but I haven’t, so I can only stick with those five.

Free Internet

Starbucks has free internet. Actually, they have had free internet for a long time now. It's great, the free internet and setting up your own personal office in Starbucks. But coming in and using the internet to play World of Warcraft? Really!?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Unnecessary Roughness, err dining

5280’s annual Top of the Town guide to dining is typically a reliable and safe source for finding a great restaurant. Having found Root Down, Lola, and 9th Door through Top of the Town, I couldn’t be happier with the picks from the editors and Denverites. However, a few days after the meal, I still don’t understand why Elway’s is listed as the best steakhouse in Denver.

The name—Elway’s—sets an expectation because Elway is a god in Colorado. Maybe that’s the problem. Can anything branded with that name be second best, maybe even average? It seems that is the case, but, not surprisingly, some Coloradoans pass on critiquing the meal they are having because it is Elway’s. The name hypnotizes the diner into thinking this must be what a high-class steakhouse is supposed to be like.

There is no shortage of steak houses that refer to their interior as elegant, their clientele as sophisticated, and their steaks as the finest cuts available. Among these meat houses, it isn’t unusual to see a selection of steaks in the $40-50 range. It is no small commitment to put a fifty on the table for one steak. However, it is worth restating that there are plenty of restaurants that ask that of their clientele. At these places you are likely to get a good steak. It will be cooked to perfection and to your liking. The service will match the price. And the rest of the menu, from starters to desserts, will also pair well with the selection of cuts. For a steak house to stand out as “the best” or great, it needs to surpass these minimum qualifications. A restaurant that does this is extremely rare. Knowing this, I still expected Elway’s to wow me. It didn’t.

“Our interior is elegant.”

Upon entering Elway’s, one faces a huge, gaudy fountain prominently displaying the name. Aside from serving its purpose…ostentation, the fountain works as a divider for the main dining room and the bar. The interior touches at Elway’s were, actually, elegant. It was dark, although, not dark enough. Dimming the lights would add to the intimacy of each table, helping the diner hone in on their plate. No one wants distractions when they go all out on a dinner, but I thought the lighting was just one of a few encountered throughout the night.

Another distraction, and probably my biggest gripe about the interior, was that tables at Elway’s weren’t spread out anymore than they are at the Olive Garden. You know how much I love the Olive Garden, so this didn’t sit well with me. In fact, if you brought the house lights up, got some paint by number frescos of Italian scenery, and nailed up some shutters on either side of a window painted on the wall, this place could really hold its own against the Olive Garden. Spreading the seating out not only gives a restaurant a little more distinction, but it opens up the space in the restaurant, cuts down on noise, and I wouldn’t feel like I am in the middle of someone else’s conversation if I lean back in my chair.

“Our clientele is sophisticated.”

Elway’s dress code is listed as business casual. We dressed appropriately. I wore a dress shirt and sport coat. Part of the enjoyment of dining at a classy restaurant is dressing to par. It heightens expectations, excitement, and emphasizes the special occasion, whether it is a birthday or Valentine’s Day. So when you arrive at said restaurant, you don’t want to see baseball caps, un-tucked shirts, or long sleeve tees. I saw all of these upon entering the restaurant and I let my disappointment show. “Really, a Rockies hat?” I said to my wife.

C’mon. I know this is America and Americans like dressing like slobs. It’s not stylish, but it’s comfortable and easy. But if you are going to have a dress code, live up to it. Like in the movies, I know there are places that ask their patrons to don a sport coat or a collared shirt at minimum if they show up dressed for the football game. These places usually have a few sport coats on hand to give to the needy.

There is nothing wrong with saying your clientele is sophisticated. Just do a little more and make them look that way.

“Our steaks are the finest cuts available.”

Elway’s does serve a good steak. I won’t go as far as calling it great. My rib eye and the filet we had were average for the class of restaurant Elway’s is. While both of us ordered the béarnaise sauce, it was unnecessary. After a few dunks, the sauce sat unused for the rest of the night. That’s a good sign for Elway’s. A steak that doesn’t need a sauce is a solid foundation. But with the meat I was left wanting more. It wasn’t as lean a piece of meat as should have arrived at the table. A good third of it was riddled with gristle.

Sides at Elway’s are typically shared. We went with the standby starch, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes. Let me just preface this. When my wife and I go out to an expensive restaurant we expect to eat something we feel we couldn’t cook at home. Although they were delectable, we didn’t have this feeling about the mashed potatoes. If there were ever a next time (and there won’t be a next time) I would try something else.

As a starter, we shared the lobster cocktail, which was described as having “three large Canadian lobster tails.” We have had lobster enough to know that for $18, these lobster tails weren’t going to be “large”, but one would expect them to be bigger than prawn shrimp, which they weren’t, but they tasted exactly like that. What a pity. If I had known I would have been eating an expensive shrimp substitute I would have ordered the shrimp and saved a couple of bucks.

A quick word about the service: average. Elway’s is much too large to employ swarm service, but for how much you are paying, the restaurant should try their best to emulate this type of service. A few things that would help: hold the chair for the lady as she sits down. Attempt to wipe down the table in between courses. Obsessively top off water. Switch out silverware with every course. Keep an eye on the table like the quality of the whole dining experience rests on your ability to find needs at the table I didn’t know existed.

The consensus as we walked out of the restaurant was, “Well, we’ve been. We won’t be going back.” That consensus hasn’t changed. Inevitably, when one dines out, one draws comparisons to prior experiences at similarly priced restaurants. So, I started thinking about the city we left to come to Denver. It took me less than a minute to think of four steak houses in Milwaukee that I would rate better than Elway’s, not only when it comes to steak, but including atmosphere, clientele, and décor. I was hoping it wouldn’t have been that easy.

Carnevor Review - Milwaukee, WI

*This is a restaurant review I wrote when I lived in Milwaukee. I thought it was on the blog. It wasn't. Here it is. If you're ever in Milwaukee and want a superb dinner. Go here.*

With no more than twenty-five feet of restaurant façade, Carnevor’s nondescript and dark exterior is not easy to find. In the upper right corner of the restaurant front, ‘Carnevor’ is written in lettering no taller than a foot and no wider than five feet. As I stood outside examining the exterior, its subtleties comforted me. Carnevor lets its reputation, and perhaps the occasional Lamborghini parked in front of its door, speak for itself.

My wife and I were there in search of Milwaukee’s best steaks. It was also my birthday and no employee at Carnevor let us forget it. The host immediately wished me a happy birthday and led us back into the dark, split-level restaurant. Immediately to our right was an orange-lit bar with dark clad employees waiting behind it who nodded to us as if we were regulars. Carnevor’s interior is modern and clever, using arced wood on the ceiling and vertical bamboo to separate the dark pockets of the restaurant. We were led to a secluded corner table on the third level where our waiter took over by handing us menus with ‘Happy Birthday’ printed on them. Not a few seconds later a bar attendant ran down the drink menu and left us to make our first decisions of the night.

If you are anything like me, there is no reason to hold back when you choose to go out to a high-end restaurant. The majority of us are going to be paying maybe up to four times more for a night at Carnevor than compared to our typical fare. So don’t hold back in an attempt to keep it cheap. Trust me, you are already screwed, but read on to find out if it is worth it.

Carnevor’s martinis are reasonably priced at $11. We were served superbly mixed drinks with top shelf liquor that hid its potency under the smoothest of finishes. I ordered the effeminate sounding Bloodytini, which is Carnevor’s Bloody Mary disguised, perhaps, for the purpose of getting more mid-day and evening orders out of a traditional brunch drink. Even though it is served in a martini glass, the Bloodytini still packs a punch with Ketel One vodka and plenty of Tabasco and Worcestershire. My wife ordered the Cosmopolitan, a wise choice, because if a restaurant can’t do the most popular drinks very well it starts us worrying. This wasn’t the case here though. The Cosmo had a beautiful, translucent shade of pink, not too cloudy from too strong a dose of lime or lemon juice.

Bread with herbed butter is complimentary at Carnevor. It was a hint of the delicious appetizers to come. We chose the crab cake ($16), yes singular, and a cup of the special butternut squash soup ($9). Luckily, the crab cake was big, with truly large lump crab served with garlic saffron aioli which we took alternating swipes at to drench the crab. The soup was thicker than expected, but inventive and adorned with a tantalizing heap of beef.

By now we had noticed that servers in Carnevor are, without a doubt, some of the best we have seen, comparing only to the service we once had at Ocean, the now defunct seafood eatery in Denver. The waiters were hiding out in a dark corner of the room, seemingly busy, but never letting an eye leave our table. As soon as we were done with our dishes they would swoop in and clear the table, taking away our silverware and giving us a new set for the next course. Water glasses were never close to empty and at one point I brushed a crumb aside. The waiter must have seen, coming in the next minute to wipe down the entire table. This may all sound like it was distracting to the serenity one might desire while eating out, but it wasn’t at all. It was subtle, but we obviously noticed their attentiveness. But don’t worry; it didn’t speed the dinner up at all.

Appetizers, or as Carnevor calls them, ‘Small Plates’, range from $9 to $16. You are mostly going to find experimental twists on traditional dishes like Panko Calamari ($9), tomato dusted and served with roasted garlic aioli and a cocktail sauce. They have even jumped on the sliders train by serving Steak Tartare Sliders with chives, shallots, Parmigiano-Reggiano, fried quail eggs, mustard oil and mushroom salad on toasted brioche buns.

The larger appetizers, designed to share at the table, are seriously big portions of Seafood ($45 to $85), Mac & Cheese ($11) and a Wisconsin Cheese Plate Sampler ($9 to $17). The latter two might seem a bit out of place, but not if you live here. It is expected for a restaurant in Wisconsin to offer at least a few dishes that prominently feature cheese, Wisconsin’s pride, second only to the Packers.

On to the good stuff—the meat. That is why we were there after all. Carnevor features two classes of cuts, ‘Carnevor Prime Cuts’ and ‘Reserve Cuts’. I noticed right away the first difference, price. The prime cuts range from $34 for a ‘Barrel’ cut 8-ounce filet mignon to $55 for a bone-in 16-ounce filet. The reserve cuts are priced from $52 for a 14-ounce New York strip to a mind-boggling $160 for a 7-ounce Imported Kobe ‘A-5’ filet mignon (Carnevor being one of a handful of restaurants in the U.S. that serves this Japanese delicacy, they brag) with tosa zu dipping sauce and wagyu beef jus.

Our waiter was very helpful, explaining the difference between the prime cuts and the reserve cuts. All prime cuts are wet-aged, meaning the steak ages for one to four weeks in vacuum-packed plastic where it doesn’t lose any weight. Here it is tenderized, but there is no flavor development as there is in the dry-aged process, which is used on some of the reserve cuts at Carnevor. Also, wet aging is cheaper, thus much more common. Dry aging is when the steak ages in an open-air, refrigerated environment. There it forms a crust that is trimmed away eventually leaving a juicier, tender cut. Dry aging can make a steak lose much of its original weight, not ideal for cost-cutting, mass market steak processing. Thus, it is very hard to find now, reserved only for those who are willing to spend half a week’s wages on one steak dinner. I am not one of those people.

At Carnevor, it is completely up to the diner to pick the toppings and sauces for the steaks. We inquired about ideas for our steaks, which arrived, like all steaks there, sans side dishes. You have to order those separately and you can do no better than the truffled mashed potatoes ($11), which is enough to serve two. Sides range from $7 to $11 and include a variety of vegetables to truffled frites. I went with the 20 oz. ribeye au poivre with béarnaise sauce. My wife, a filet mignon devotee, ordered the barrel cut with two sauces on the side, roasted shallot wine and a shiitake and brandy reduction.

Everything had been good up until the steaks, but that is when the night truly became memorable. The béarnaise complimented my steak wonderfully, calming the somewhat overwhelming and impenetrable peppercorn covering on my ribeye. The steaks were perfectly cooked. Filets are often delivered as damaged, overcooked goods, but not at Carnevor. The steak was served pink throughout and the sauces on the side weren’t necessary, but the shiitake and brandy reduction was our favorite of the two. The roasted shallot wine had a great oniony flavor, but it didn’t pair well with that specific cut.

One must take advantage of the wine list at Carnevor. Featuring glasses of reds, whites and champagnes from $8 to $15, there is something for everyone who doesn’t want a bottle, which at Carnevor is going to cost you quite a bit. The cheapest bottle is $35, and there is only one. After that the prices jump to more than fifty and then sky rocket to an impossibly high $4500 for a DRC La Tache ’05 Burgundy. I opted for a King Estate Pinot Noir ’06 from Oregon. It was smooth, but I admit it may not have been as great if I wasn’t drinking it with the finest steak I had ever been served.

We were served Carnevor’s donuts and dipping sauces (chocolate, raspberry and vanilla) as a birthday bonus. These delicately fried dough balls were a not-too-sweet ending to a memorable meal. You may want to end the night with dessert so ask your waiter for any recent additions, but if you are in the mood for chocolate you can’t go wrong with their torte.

Maybe a Scotch is in order if you want to continue the trend of spending more money on a meal than you ever have before. A modest 10-year Talisker is offered at $13 a glass and, on with tradition, there is a 30-year Macallan for $130 a glass just in case you are determined to have a final bill with four digits left of the decimal point.

As you can imagine, Carnevor’s clientele is unique. We saw a few groups of businessmen and businesswomen clearly spending on the company credit card. Besides those groups, there are many patrons celebrating special occasions and a few couples who were eating so casually that you just knew they were regulars. Little known to this diner, there is actually a celebrity watch site for Carnevor and other eateries on Milwaukee Street. Celebrities, in Milwaukee? Yes, at least celebrities to upper Midwesterners. The Brewers, Bucks, and Packers have all frequented Carnevor. If you are in town and have the need to be seen and to spend a lot of money, this is the place to go. But my wife and I weren’t itching to spend this much on a dinner. This clearly wasn’t the case with most people inside. We just were in search of Milwaukee’s best steaks. We found them. You will too.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Problem With Getting Jacked Up

With gift subscriptions to The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Travel and Leisure, and Cooks Illustrated, there is never a lack of reading material in my apartment. With all these publications covering tables, desks, and bedside tables it is sometimes hard to find a book to read. This household went from having zero subscriptions I was interested in to five in the span of a few weeks. All this reading material has been a bit overwhelming and lately I haven’t been doing the best on keeping up with it. As an example of that, I was reading a New Yorker issue from late January last night.

The article (available online here) was written by Ben McGrath and titled “Does Football Have A Future?” It was well researched and informative in a good, addicting kind of way—the way all magazine writing should be. McGrath covers a lot of ground in this article, which addresses a topic sports fans have heard a lot about in the last year, concussions. I think what a lot of sports fans or parents of footballers aren’t terribly aware of are the repercussions from a career in football. And I’m just not talking about NFL football; I’m talking about junior high football to the NFL. And, to be fair, McGrath does point out that concussions occur in sports other than football, but the focus here was football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which occurs in an alarmingly high number of football players. Detailed in the article are current and former players who admit to having memory problems and some who fear the side effects of a hit (not the hit itself) so much that they leave the sport altogether. I read about a 40 year-old brain resembling a brain from an 80 year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer.

I thought this quote about the parents who encourage or don’t mind the thought of their kids having a career in football rang true.

“Any parent who has let their child play football in the past fifty years and claimed never to have understood the risks involved was either kidding himself or an idiot,” Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights,” wrote last week in the Daily Beast.

A few lines down, the author poses a question:

How many of the men on the field in the Super Bowl will be playing with incipient dementia? “To me, twenty percent seems conservative,” Nowinski said.

A conservative estimate? 20%? Ouch.

Right off the bat, this article addresses the issue of reporting on the concussion crisis and being attacked as anti-football, which translates for some to mean anti-fun, wussy, etc. And I understand that attack. People don’t like to find out that what they’ve been doing or what they want someone else to be doing is life threatening and certainly life-impairing. It’s like millions of people who must have been in denial for so long once people were coming out about the dangers of smoking and saying, surprise, smoking isn’t good for your health. Look, it makes your lungs look like this and they don’t work so well when they look like that.

I suspect, for many, knowing what we now know about concussions won’t be enough for them to step off the field or guide a son or daughter away from a sport which could make them a vegetable by 60, if they even live that long. We pick and choose the risks we are willing to take. I didn’t have this decision to make, but if I did, I hope I wouldn’t sacrifice the second half of my life for incredible material wealth during my 20s.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Need Your Help

I got a tip from my grandma that the Denver Post is having a contest. The paper is looking for op-ed columnists. Anything like this peaks my attention and interest so I did some research. The Denver Post is asking for each contestant to send in two 650-700-word columns by February 22nd. I want to enter, but I need your help (if you are willing to give it) in selecting the writing I should send in. As far as I can tell, the writing samples don't have to be exclusively about living in Colorado, but it won't hurt if they are. So, let me know your favorite pieces of writing from this blog. There are over five years of writing on here. Pick out the stuff that stood out to you, stuff that you think you could be reading in a magazine or newspaper. If you find anything like that, email me at and let me know what piece you like. If you don't find anything, email me anyway...I like emails. Or leave a comment on this post with any ideas.

Seriously, I would appreciate your help on this. Whenever there is a writing contest or a job to apply to that requires a writing sample I have a hard time picking out the piece of writing that most accurately shows promise or talent. Here is a link to a column about the contest and details.

Made My Day

When I was leaving work last week I pulled in behind a car with a bumper sticker on it. I read it and then started scrambling around for a pen and paper. I got my pen and I found an old receipt from Target and I wrote it down. The message stung a little, but damn, I haven’t read something so honest on a bumper sticker in a very long time.

“Show me someone with a deep loathing for all mankind and I’ll show you someone who works in retail.”


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Laramie Days

Kate and I were in Wyoming over the weekend. We ate out at a couple of our favorite Laramie establishments, one of which was host to our first date. We caught a swim meet (Wyoming vs. Air Force). The men and the women won. It was an exciting meet on the men's side and I spent some time on the pool deck trying to get good pictures of swimming, which isn't an easy task. I got a few, but to really capture the speed and to keep the noise down in pictures I would need a much more powerful lens than I currently have. In the meantime, I've never been able to capture shots like this with any camera I have had so I am happy with them.

Go Cowboys!

Friday, February 04, 2011


Kate gave me the entire Lost series on DVD for my birthday. 38 Discs. Time to get Lost...again.

And I took a hand-held self portrait on the day I turned 28.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Oscar Contenders

Despite what happens later this month at the Oscars, The King’s Speech (the KS from now on) deserves the best picture award. If you watch any TV, you’ve probably seen a spot for the movie, especially since the Oscar nominations were announced. Admittedly, the spots are a bit annoying because they use some of the best scenes in the movie and when I see them over and over again it sort of cheapens that particular scene, like I can’t take pleasure in watching it anymore. That’s a shame. However, the movie is excellent and there are no comparisons to The Social Network (the SN from now on) to be drawn.

Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are seasoned professionals and when you watch them in the KS you are witness to their dedication and talent. I am sure I didn’t feel that about anyone in the SN. While the acting in the SN was good enough to sustain the movie, it was the writing that pushed the story and made it interesting. Thus, I feel the SN is a better contender for adapted screenplay than it is for best picture. That award should go to a film with outstanding performances from the people on screen and behind the camera, in music, in special effects, etc. As we know, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the movie goes to the most controversial film or the most groundbreaking or the most scandalous. But the KS satisfies more of these categories than any other movie I have seen this year.

True Grit

Dry, witty, at times both despairingly hopeless and funny, the True Grit remake had many marks of a Coen Brother’s film. And from what I have seen on AMC in the last couple of weeks, the remake greatly improved on the original. Why? At the risk of sounding ignorant and unappreciative of older films, the remake looks better, the film seems less scripted, the acting is better, and when the film ends, you are sort of left in limbo, a classic finish of some Coen Bros. films. Our protagonist (Mattie Ross) is victorious, but (SPOILER ALERT) she lost an arm and she never marries and when she tries to track down Rooster Cogburn she is told he recently passed away. In the end the exuberance and youth is drained out of Ross even though her words are still poignant and sharp. You can’t help but feel for her as she stands on the horizon with a lone tree, wondering how harsh the rest of her life was, that life after she fell into the snake pit and the life after the adventure with Rooster and LaBoeuf came to an end. It must have been a life of continuous trials and tribulations because Ross is hardened and seems to no longer understand much of the world she lives in. It reminded me of the end of No Country For Old Men, when Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones, sits at his kitchen table relating a dream to his wife:

…It was like we was both back in older times and I was on horseback going through the mountains…It was cold and snowin…He [his father] rode past me and kept on goin. Never said nothin goin by. He just rode on past and he had his blanket wrapped around him and his head down...And when he rode past I seen he was carryin fire in a horn the way people used to do and I could see the horn from the light inside of it…And in the dream I knew that he was goin on ahead and that he was fixin to make a fire somewhere out there in all that dark and all that cold, and I knew that whenever I got there he would be there.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Did you say skiing?

Despite popular belief, there is no skiing in Wisconsin and there is no boating in Colorado. We moved to Milwaukee three and a half years ago. It was late in that first fall when I first heard people talking about skiing.

“I’m sorry,” I interjected. “Did you say skiing?”

“Yes,” they would answer.

“Going to Colorado?”

“No, here, in Wisconsin.”

I was never very good at hiding my puzzlement or containing my laughter. “There’s no skiing in Wisconsin,” I stated as fact.

They went on to tell me that, in fact, there is skiing in America’s Dairy Land. Later that year, I would drive by one of these so-called ski resorts. It reminded me of a giant landfill doused in just enough snow that you couldn’t see you were on trash. Really, that’s all there is to a Wisconsin ski resort. Wisconsin has enough snow to ski on, but there are no mountains, no hills even, at least by Colorado standards. I discovered that year that I was a ski snob and I don’t even ski.

And now, three and a half years later, I am in Colorado and I’ve discovered I am a boat snob and I don’t even go boating. People say things like, “Oh yeah, I ski all winter long and as soon as spring hits I start boating.”

“I’m sorry, did you say boating?”

“Yes,” they answer.

“On what body of water?”

They give me a name, but it doesn’t matter. In my head I see only Lake Michigan and its glassy surface extending out as far as I can see north, east, and south, challenging my definition of a sea. Like I said earlier, I’ve never been good at containing my laughter. You know how this ends.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

SoTU Thoughts

Firstly, the State of the Union always seems too long. I suggest future presidents shorten them by taking out puffy, wasteful phrases, which do not tell us anything about the direction of the country and the current administration’s plans.

Obama’s speech was moderate. For those looking for words about gun control, disappointingly moderate. I would classify myself as being disappointed with the speech in this regard. After the shooting in Tucson, the State of the Union would have been an appropriate time to suggest the tightening of gun laws and regulating the industry as much as the toy industry. A simple suggestion of reinstating the assault weapons ban or suggesting there is no need for a Glock to hold 20 plus rounds would have been good enough, but Obama ignored the issue. He, like many Dems, is afraid of the gun lobby and what they can do to future election prospects. I think, if positioned confidently, a suggestion to make it harder for people to buy a gun would be widely accepted. A gun gives anyone the power to kill. I don’t understand why, in America, that power is so easy to come by.

The unique seating arrangement, which the media made a huge deal about in the days leading up to the speech, made for more interesting TV, but it was only an artificial show of unity between the two parties. I am sure the next day leading politicians in both parties went back to pointing the finger across the aisle. Either way, I think it should be required for politicians in one party to be seated with their opposing politicians. It is wishful thinking, but maybe the forced amalgamation of the two parties would start to be something greater than a show.

The Republican response was as expected. Let me paraphrase: The country is screwed if you and I, the decent Americans in this country, don’t stop Obama before it is too late. We will overcome this deficit by never asking for you or your company to give more money to the government than you currently do. Even though we have an unsustainable budget, what we need is not more money. We need to cut spending where we can, but overlook the biggest military and defense spending in the world. And raising taxes on households that make more than $250,000 a year would be too big of a burden for those homes to bear. Paraphrase over. Really, this response came as no surprise.

Did I watch the Tea Party response? Hell no, but I did see clips of its awfulness. Michelle Bachman didn’t look at the camera and it looked like her whole face had been injected with botox just a couple minutes before she stepped in front of the camera.

A couple highlights for me:

Watching Boehner fighting back the tears when Obama congratulated him, twice, at the beginning and end of his speech.

The teacher, Kathy Proctor, who was mentioned in the speech, turning to people on either side of her and saying, “That’s me.” The Daily Show did a hilarious couple minutes about this last Wednesday.