Saturday, August 25, 2012

Choosing between jewels: 'The Godfather' and 'GoodFellas'

Brando's last great role
Films about the mob have been a staple of entertainment since the earliest days of movie making. For example, the original Scarface was made in the early 1930s and presented a graphic view (for that time) of how Hollywood interpreted a life in crime.

Of course, movies like this are fantasy no matter how realistically they are presented. Still, the world of the Mafia has always been fascinating subject matter that seems like a perfect match for people in Hollywood.
Recently, I came across a crime film marathon presented on one of the movie channels I frequently watch. A few of the films were throwaways, but two of them are among the greatest films ever made. The Godfather and GoodFellas are films that stand up to repeated viewings. In fact, if I am searching channels for something to watch and stumble across one of these two, I drop whatever I am doing and watch them. They are that good.
The Godfather was released in 1972, and it focuses primarily on the inner workings of a Mafia family headed Don Vito Corleone (played by Marlon Brando). The film unfolds and is told only from the viewpoint of the family. 'Honor' is perhaps the most valued trait in this family though it plays itself out mostly in terms of loyalty and not honesty. After all, these guys are big-time thugs so there can only be so much honesty.
However, 'loyalty' is key for them. Traitors appear to be the biggest villains in the film, and as the character Michael (played by Al Pacino) says: "Don't ever take sides against the family."
Brando's character is the moral compass of the film (if it can be called that). For example, he does not have a problem being involved with crimes related to liquor and gambling, but draws the line at drugs. He is more focused on what he considers victimless crimes, according to film critic Roger Ebert. It is an odd form of morality, and director Francis Ford Coppola presents it in a brilliant way.
GoodFellas was released in 1990, and it presents the mob through the eyes of three characters: Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy (Joe Pesci). While The Godfather presents a weird form of morality, GoodFellas is almost totally lacking in morality.
While there is loyalty among those three characters, there is a brutality and ruthlessness throughout the film that takes no prisoners. Don't get me wrong; there is plenty of brutality in The Godfather but at the heart of it was a loyalty to the family. This is not seen in GoodFellas.
The film ends with Hill ratting out everybody else in order to save his own life. He goes into the witness protection program while everybody else goes to prison. It is as if Hill had spent his entire life using people for his own purposes, and by the end, there was nobody else left to stab in the back other than his 'friends.'
Joe Pesci's performance as Tommy so dominated the film that he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He plays a psychopath so tightly wired that people suck up to him to avoid his murderous wrath.
Perhaps the film's most famous scene takes place in a restaurant, and Hill innocently calls Tommy a 'funny guy.' Tommy pretends to take it as an insult and verbally intimidates everybody so completely that everybody is left sitting in stunned, awkward silence. After he reveals he is only joking, Tommy tells Hill that he may fold under questioning someday.
Both films are jewels, but if I had to pick one it would be The Godfather. It feels more like an epic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Neyland's seven maxims key to UT football success in 2012

Listen to Neyland
Much has been written about what it will take for Tennessee to find football success this year. After all the opining, the blueprint for prosperity is really found in the seven maxims (actually, there may have been more) developed by legendary Vol head coach Gen. Robert Neyland.  Like Neyland himself, they are straightforward and unflinching.
The maxims are:
--The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
--Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way:  SCORE.
--If at first the game -- or the breaks -- go against you, don't let up...put on more steam.
--Protect our kickers, our QB, our lead and our ball game.
--Ball, oskie, cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle...for this is the WINNING EDGE.
--Press the kicking game.  Here is where the breaks are made.
--Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.
Last year, UT's commitment to these seven was missing at times (especially in the Kentucky game).  Improved dedication to these principles will equal more wins.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vanderbilt should win six games in 2012 and be bowl bound again

Dynamite year ahead for Vandy?
Vanderbilt football has a spring in its step, and the primary reason is head coach James Franklin. In his first year, he breathed emotion into a program that struggles to consistently win. The result was a six-win season and a Liberty Bowl berth. Despite an offseason that saw a few missteps (insulting comments about women, charges of tampering with players at Maryland), Franklin appears to have his team ready to roll this year. The result should be another six-win season and the first back-to-back bowl berths in school history.

The team's strength is its offensive backfield, specifically its running backs. Zac Stacy and Warren Norman anchor a unit that is among the best in the Southeastern Conference (and that is saying a lot). If quarterback Jordan Rodgers can just be consistent, the offense should be able to control the clock and put numbers on the board.
If there is a major difference compared to last year, it is that the schedule is not as inviting. Last year, the Commodores opened with three home games against beatable foes (Elon, Connecticut, and Ole Miss), which got them off to a hot start.  This year, the schedule is more challenging even though they avoid playing Alabama, LSU and Arkansas.
Here is Vanderbilt's schedule:  Aug. 30 vs. South Carolina, Sept. 8 at Northwestern, Sept. 15 vs. Presbyterian, Sept. 22 at Georgia, Oct. 6 at Missouri, Oct. 13 vs. Florida, Oct. 20 vs. Auburn, Oct. 27 vs. Massachusetts, Nov. 3 at Kentucky, Nov. 10 at Ole Miss, Nov. 17 vs. Tennessee, Nov. 24 at Wake Forest.
The games against Presbyterian and Massachusetts are guaranteed wins for the Commodores so there are two wins right there.  Where will the other four come from?  The season begins at home against ninth-ranked South Carolina. While some have expressed frustration about opening the season with a conference foe that is so good, I think this is good for Vandy. Playing Carolina so early allows them to avoid the wear and tear of the season that usually hurts their depth, which will help in this game. I am picking Carolina to win, but this game should be an interesting measuring stick regarding the program's growth.
The game at Northwestern is a huge swing game if the team is going to return to a bowl. Northwestern is a solid Big 10 program, and both schools face similar challenges when it comes to competing in a power conference.  However, when it comes to SEC/Big 10 matchups, a person should always take the SEC school (even if the game is on the road).  So, Vanderbilt should win this one.
Next, Vandy plays Presbyterian then travels to Georgia. Georgia is the best team in the SEC Eastern Division.  I do not see Vandy winning, but it is another measuring stick game. How far has Vandy's program come?  This is one of those games that tell us.  With a loss here, Vandy ends September with a 2-2 record.
October opens with a trip to Missouri and likely another loss. I am not convinced the Commodores are to the point they can go on the road and beat a big state school (even one new to the conference).  After this, a pivotal three-game homestand begins with games against Florida, Auburn, and Massachusetts. I already stated the Massachusetts game will be a victory.  Both Auburn and Florida should be much improved, but I cannot see Vandy losing both those games at home. I am taking Vandy to beat Auburn and finishing October with a 4-4 record.
November opens with two road games at Kentucky and at Ole Miss.  These are the two weakest teams in the SEC, and Vandy should win both to improve to 6-4. However, I seem them losing their last two. In recent years, the Commodores have played worse against Tennessee at home than in Knoxville.  Also, I know Vandy waxed Wake Forest last year, but the Demon Deacons are too good not to be motivated for revenge for that embarrassment.
So, Vandy will finish 6-6, and that should be good enough for a trip to the Music City, Liberty or Independence bowls.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wisconsin has laughably easy path to Big 10 championship game

As I have written before, I believe the Big 10 is a tremendously overrated conference when it comes to college football.  There are many reasons why I feel this way, but I will not be getting into any of those at this point.  I am going to talk about a team I feel is actually pretty good:  the Wisconsin Badgers.  The program is solid and most of the preseason polls I have seen have them ranked in the top 15.
However, there can be no denying that the Badgers have an incredibly easy path to the Big 10 title game this year.  This is not Wisconsin's fault – they just happen to be in the same division as Ohio State and Penn State.  Both those teams are ineligible for postseason play because they are on NCAA probation. 
So, who does that leave to compete with Wisconsin for the division title?  Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana.  Those three teams had a combined 15-23 record last year.
Like I wrote at the beginning, Wisconsin is a good team. However, they will not be worth the hype they will get as they skate to the title in the Leaders Division.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Women roar at Olympics

There are many individual moments that can be taken from the Olympics that ended earlier this week. The opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular as London got a chance to showcase itself to the world.
Additionally, there were specific performances that grabbed our attention. The men’s basketball team sent a message to the world that the United States is still the dominant nation when it comes to this sport. Swimmer Michael Phelps climaxed his career by staking claim to the title of most prolific athlete in Olympic history. Jamaican runner Usain Bolt also reminded us that he remains the baddest man on the planet when it comes to the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
However, the biggest story (from an American point of view) has to be the performance of the women representing the United States. Women won two-thirds of the gold medals our nation brought home and were the primary reason our country won the most medals.
If it was not for the women, where would we be? Of course, it has not always been this way. Title IX legislation in the 1970s paved the way for women to get more equitable treatment when it came to sports. True, there were women’s sports before that, but their options were more limited.
Women's basketball did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1976 games in Montreal. The women’s marathon did not come until eight years later in Los Angeles. Those are two sports we take for granted now, but the opportunities were not there a generation ago.
Because of this growth, women provided some of the most memorable moments of the London games. The soccer team provided thrills by beating Canada in a controversial semi-final and then gained a measure of revenge against Japan who beat them a year before in the World Cup.
The women's basketball team was as dominant as the men's. The only negative comment I can think of regarding them is that they were coached by Connecticut head coach Geno Auriemma (as a Tennessee grad, he is a little hard to swallow).
And, of course, there were the individual performances. Seventeen-year-old Missy Franklin appears on her way to becoming the new face of American swimming. She won four gold medals and one bronze. With her bubbly personality and unique style, she will likely reap a lot of publicity as the media looks for a new swimming focal point now that Michael Phelps is leaving.
Also, Gabby Douglas caught the world’s attention by becoming the first African-American to win the all-around gold medal in gymnastics. Like Franklin, stardom awaits her.
The emergence of women on the global Olympic stage showed itself in other ways. As hard as this may be to believe, this is the first time all competing nations sent female athletes. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei sent women athletes for the first time. For those who believe that progress is slow in the United States, consider what the women there must be going through.
We can only imagine where women in those countries could be in 40 years if their nations start showing a commitment to providing athletic opportunities for them. As stated earlier, some Olympic sports that seem common place now were put in place for women only 30 years ago.
For further perspective, I can remember going to basketball games when I was a boy and the girls still were playing the old six-on-six format. Basically, it was a three-on-three format at each end of the court. Looking back, it seems pretty weird, but that was the way it was.
Progress is being shown so let’s continue to encourage the girls and women in our communities.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Washington Nationals emerging as team to beat in National League

The Nats are kickin' tail right now.
Oh, how things can change in only a few weeks in baseball. Back on May 15, I posted a story about the National League in which I pointed out that there was no clear frontrunner to win the pennant. I focused mostly on the Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, and Los Angeles Dodgers because they were leading their divisions and playing good baseball. Despite this, I left the door open because the season was still young and others could emerge. All three of those teams continue to do well, but two other teams have really kicked it into high gear.

The Washington Nationals currently have the best record in baseball (72-44) and are blossoming right before our eyes. After years of struggling since relocating from Montreal, they appear set to be a good team for several years. Through June and July, they played well, and I kept expecting them to fade. However, that has not happened (27-11 record since July 1) primarily because of excellent pitching led by Stephen Strasburg (13-5 record, 2.90 ERA, 166 strikeouts). Much has been made of the fact that the Nationals will likely shut him down once he hits the 160 innings pitched level. He had Tommy John surgery in late 2010 and the team does not want him pitching too much as he builds his elbow strength. He should hit that level in mid-September, which is near the end of the regular season. If the team continues on its current winning pace, it should have no problem securing a playoff berth (though his absence could be problematic after that). Still, the Nats are far from a one-man team. The pitching rotation is solid, and the team can score. The Braves remain hot on their heels (5.5 games behind) so the race for the Eastern Division crown should remain a tense one for weeks to come.
The other team emerging is the Cincinnati Reds. Despite losing their best player Joey Votto for several weeks, the team has been red hot since the all-star break. The Reds have one of the best bullpens in the National League, and if their starters can just get to the seventh inning with a lead, then the team is in the enviable position of having several fine relievers. The bullpen is anchored by closer Aroldis Chapman who brings it at 100 mph most nights. Right now, he has 28 saves and an ERA slightly above one. As Votto prepares to return, the offense will be getting a significant jolt just as we are entering the homestretch of the regular season. The Pirates and Cardinals are chasing the Reds in the Central Division, but it appears to be the Reds to lose at this point. Of course, a lot can still happen, but even with the Reds in control, the Pirates and Cardinals are in the thick of the race for the NL’s two wildcard berths.
In the Western Division, the San Francisco Giants and the Dodgers are slugging it out. The Giants have great starting pitching, while the Dodgers made several moves before the trade deadline to solidify their position. The Arizona Diamondbacks have made some noise about joining the race, but they get hot then fade.
The Nationals and Reds will be fun to watch as the season winds down. Can they hold it together? Maybe, but there is a lot of good baseball being played in the National League right now. At this point, the Nationals look like the strongest team. It is all coming together for them as we head down the homestretch.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rangers still team to beat in the American League? Maybe...maybe not...

Three straight AL crowns for Texas?
The Major League Baseball season is a marathon and not a sprint.  Even the best teams have struggles that can last for weeks.  Back on May 14, I posted a message stating that I thought the Texas Rangers were the team to beat in the American League. Since then, they have remained in first place in their division and have the second best record in the league, but they have wobbled some.

At this point, the Rangers lead the Western Division by 6.5 games and have withstood serious surges from the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics. After a slow start, Albert Pujols (24 home runs, 76 RBI) has been scorching for the Angels, plus the emergence of rookie phenom Mike Trout (.344 average, 21 home runs, 36 stolen bases) has made them an exciting team to watch. Couple that with the A’s remarkable run in July that saw them go from having a losing record to being in the thick of the wild card race and the division has become hotly contested. Also, during this time, the Rangers struggled some. Their inconsistency was mirrored by the sputtering of their best player Josh Hamilton. After a strong start that saw him land on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Hamilton cooled off in June and July.  He hit below .200 during that time, but now appears to be breaking out of his funk. Though the Rangers still are the team to beat in the division, expect it to be quite saucy going down the stretch.
As I mentioned back on May 14, I bought into the Detroit Tigers in the preseason. With their pitching and sluggers Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, the pieces appeared to be in place. The pieces are still there, but they remain slightly behind the Chicago White Sox in the Central Division. I still believe the Tigers will win this division. There is just too much firepower there. However, both the Tigers and White Sox will make the playoffs.  The second place team will nab one of the American League's two wildcard berths.
In the Eastern Division, the New York Yankees continue to lead, and I do not foresee anybody getting in their way. Yes, I understand the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays continue to hang around. The Yankees have actually struggled somewhat since July 1 (20-16 record), but I do not see a Red Sox/Braves type collapse heading down the stretch.  Simply too much offense for the Pinstripers.
So, are the Rangers still the team to beat in the American League?  I think so, but not as strongly as I felt in May. I cannot shake my Tigers' fixation.  I am sticking with the Rangers right now, but I could flip flop at any time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Social media frustrates as well as enlightens

During the last decade or so, there can be no debating the impact of social media. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter have given us the ability to reach out to each other in ways that were not even imagined a generation ago.
While I am sure there can be a debate as to whether this is totally a good thing, it does provide us the opportunity. If I want to tell people that I had a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, then theoretically I can let hundreds of my friends know that within seconds of it happening.
Though Facebook and Twitter are the hottest forms of social media right now, it manifests itself in many ways. These ways can include just about any forum that allows people to share information.  Any web site with a message board can host comments from people around the globe, and it allows people to cross paths that might not otherwise meet.
Personally, I do not use Twitter. I am sure it has merit, but it lacks appeal. Since I have a tendency to latch on to fads just as they are winding down, I may use it at some point after everybody has already moved on to the next big thing.
I do use Facebook. For the most part, it is an effective way to communicate to the people in my orbit. It has also provided me the opportunity to reconnect with people I had not spoken to in years. What could be wrong with that?
However, like most communication tools, Facebook has become a reservoir for misinformation and outright ignorance in some cases.
Do not get me wrong: I am grateful for the first amendment, and Facebook certainly is a great tool for free speech. The problem is that information that is presented on Facebook by many as fact often is way off base when it comes to accuracy.
In some respects, Facebook can be one big gossip chain where one person presents some incorrect information. Then, another person takes that incorrect information and passes it on to somebody else. And then the process repeats itself thousands of times until a whole lot of people get a whole lot of bad information.
This can happen on any topic. Politics can be the worst offender. I repeatedly see people present the positions of our elected officials incorrectly or taken out of context. This applies to people of both political parties. I know people mean well, but I wish we would be a little more careful about how we present the words of other people. It really is not too difficult to spend some time researching to see if what we are presenting is actually true or not.
Religion is another area. If I had a hundred dollars for every time I have seen people misrepresent what is in the Bible, I would be walking around with pockets stuffed with Benjamins. I do not claim to be a biblical scholar, but even a person of average intelligence like me can tell when somebody is completely off base. The internet is a notoriously difficult place to discuss religion (and politics, for that matter), and Facebook is another forum that demonstrates this.
I want to be clear that Facebook can be an effective forum for things like politics and religion. When Facebook is used responsibly, it can have a tremendous impact on people’s lives in a positive way.
Because of this, it is important to use the resource as responsibly as possible. The internet is the wild, wild west in many bad ways.
Let's not live down to the negative aspects of the internet. Let’s not abuse our freedom.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Jose Canseco is today's cautionary tale

I found this note on page 20 of the August 13, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated: "$20,850 -- Assets listed in court last week by former slugger Jose Canseco, who filed for bankruptcy, claiming $1.7 million in debt."

During the prime of his career, Canseco made millions of dollars a year.  Now, he is worth less than me financially.  If that note is correct, he only has assets totaling $20,000 with debts nearing $2 million.  I do not mean to make light of his situation, but it is hard to fathom how somebody who had so much money can have so little.  I know this happens frequently, but I guess he is a cautionary tale of what can happen.  It can happen to all us (even those of us who never had all the money Canseco did).
Back when his whole future was in front of him...

Monday, August 6, 2012

Who made Notre Dame's football schedule this year?

"Why are we playing Oklahoma this year?" asks the leprechaun.

Year in and year out, we hear a lot of propaganda about Notre Dame's football team playing the toughest schedule in the country.  Many years, that is overblown, but not this year.  The schedule maker did not do the team any favors because the Fighting Irish play some whopper games this year.  At least one preseason publication rates their schedule as the toughest in the nation.
Notre Dame plays:  Sept. 1 vs. Navy (in Ireland), Sept. 8 vs. Purdue, Sept. 15 at Michigan State, Sept. 22 vs. Michigan, Oct. 6 vs. Miami, Fla., (in Chicago), Oct. 13 vs. Stanford, Oct. 20 vs. Brigham Young, Oct. 27 at Oklahoma, Nov. 3 vs. Pittsburgh, Nov. 10 at Boston College, Nov. 17 vs. Wake Forest, Nov. 24 at USC.
In Notre Dame's favor is that they only play four true road games.  Another two are on neutral fields though those should be considered home games.  Seriously, can anyone argue with a straight face that playing Navy in Ireland is a neutral site for both teams?  Additionally, playing Miami in Chicago is like playing in their own backyard.  Chicago is Notre Dame country and Miami does not bring a lot of fans on the road (or at home for that matter).
Still, there are no games that can be considered 'gimmies' on the schedule. September tests include a road game at Michigan State and at home against Michigan.  The Big 10 is consistently the most overrated conference in the nation. However, both those teams are formable foes.  October's highlights include a home game against Stanford and a road game at Oklahoma. Stanford has been highly ranked the last two seasons, but may see a slight drop off this year.  Oklahoma is consistently one of the top programs in the nation.
Notre Dame closes out the regular season at USC.  The Trojans are considered by many to be the top team in the nation and are ranked third in the preseason coaches' poll.
From top to bottom, this is a strong schedule.  The only minor criticism is that they play no teams from the Southeastern Conference.  It is difficult to consider their schedule the toughest in the nation if they do not play any teams from the toughest conference.  Still, there is no way to know if that was Notre Dame's choice or that no SEC teams would play them.
Based on this schedule, getting to 10 wins would have to be considered a tremendous accomplishment for Notre Dame.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Tennessee Volunteers football likely to go 8-4 in 2012

The Power 'T'

There is a lot of optimism surrounding the University of Tennessee's football team as it begins practice, and it is refreshing to hear. After all, if a team cannot be optimistic in August, then the season will likely be a death march without success. So, at least for now, heads are being held high in the land of Tennessee football.
Even though I am trying to be optimistic, I cannot help but think about the state of Volunteer football the last time I saw it.  Who can forget?  It was last November as the team lost to Kentucky for the first time since 1984.  It was an improbable and sickening loss that cost the Volunteers a bowl berth.
Nine months later, we look forward. There are many things to like about the team.  It has a ton of experience.  The coaching staff has done a good job upgrading the depth of talent.  Plus, the schedule is more accommodating compared to last year.  I have been thinking long and hard about how this season will shake out.  I am doing my best not to be overly optimistic and stay as realistic as possible.
When reviewing the schedule, I feel like it can be divided into three chapters that include four games each.  The first four games could provide the springboard to a lot of happiness.  The second four games include the meat of the schedule.  The final four games could provide momentum for postseason play.
Chapter 1:  Aug. 31 vs. North Carolina State (in Atlanta), Sept. 8 vs. Georgia State, Sept. 15 vs. Florida, and Sept. 22 vs. Akron.
Obviously, the two games against Georgia State and Akron are guaranteed wins.  If they are not, then this season will be a disaster of historic proportions.  This leaves the North Carolina State and Florida games as key swing tilts when it comes to having a successful season.  Both are winnable, but like I wrote earlier, I will not let my optimism get the best of me.
North Carolina State is a solid team, but if Tennessee's head is screwed on straight, we should win. I hope it does not come down to a last-second kick because I have zero confidence in our special teams right now. Despite this, I am picking us to win. Unfortunately, I do not see us beating Florida.  Admittedly, they are coming off their worst season in more than 20 years, but they have more talent.  This means Tennessee will exit this portion of the schedule with a 3-1 record.
Chapter 2:  Sept. 29 at Georgia, Oct. 13 at Mississippi State, Oct. 20 vs. Alabama, and Oct. 27 at South Carolina.
Three of the four games in this chapter are on the road, which is bad news for a team that has not had a big SEC road win in years.  Georgia will win the SEC Eastern Division again this year because they have a ton of talent and do not play LSU, Alabama, or Arkansas again.  Who makes their schedule?  They will be too much for Tennessee, but the Vols should play them much closer than we did down there in 2010.
After that Tennessee has a bye week before a trip to Mississippi State.  I am a big believer in bye weeks once October starts.  Much will be riding on this game as the heat will be on Derek Dooley to get his biggest SEC road win to this point.  The Bulldogs have a history of dealing Tennessee crushing blows (remember 1986 and 1994?), but we should be ready for them.  This win ups the record to 4-2.
Alabama visits Knoxville the following week. Though Alabama will win, this will be an interesting measuring stick game for the Vols. The last two years the Tide has beaten Tennessee by a combined score of 78-16.  We will not win, but it is time to start closing the gap.
After that we visit South Carolina. Too much talent for the Gamecocks plus it is on their field.  We end this chapter of the season with a 4-4 record.
Chapter 3:  Nov. 3 vs. Troy, Nov. 10 vs. Missouri, Nov. 17 at Vanderbilt, and Nov. 24 vs. Kentucky.
Well, if you read the headline, then you know I am picking Tennessee to win all four.  The win against Troy is automatic.  The Missouri game will be interesting because of the newness of it.  It is hard to believe we have never played them before, but since it is at home, we will win.  Vanderbilt's James Franklin is doing good things building their program, but I see a Big Orange win.  Finally, if there is one game I am going to attend in person, it is the Kentucky game.  I want this one bad.
So, we will go 8-4.  Many have quoted '8' as the magic number for Derek Dooley to keep his job.  I do not know about magic numbers, but I believe he has done a pretty good job cleaning up the mess he was given.
But that is one man's opinion.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Marx Brothers remain funny after all these years

From top: Chico, Harpo, Groucho, and Zeppo Marx

For better or worse, it takes a lot to make me laugh. I do not understand why, but it has always seemed that way.
I have a very particular sense of humor. It usually is not mainstream, and it can border on the eccentric. Because of this, most of what passes for humor in movies or television these days does not interest me. I do not necessarily consider it bad, but it does not tickle my fancy.

However, if an artist does stroke my funny bone, I typically will stick with them through thick and thin. When looking back through the history of films, the Marx Brothers made endearing films that were ahead of their time.  I have watched them since I was a boy, and they still make me laugh.
Film critic Roger Ebert said of them: "The brothers broke the classical structure of movie comedy and glued it back again haphazardly, and nothing was ever the same."
The Marx Brothers were vaudeville and Broadway stars who did not make their first movie until relatively late in their careers in 1929. This is understandable because talking movies did not begin until two years before that and an important part of their humor relied on the use of language.
Obviously, there was a lot of physical humor in their act. As part of the act, Harpo Marx did not speak so his humor had to be communicated in a physical way. He was a genius at it, and as a boy, he was my favorite of the brothers.
It was Groucho who understood how to use language, and as I have aged, he has become the one I have gravitated toward the most. His preposterous greasepaint mustache could distract some listeners from grasping the bite and intelligence of his humor. As Ebert also pointed out, the greasepaint was not makeup so much as a mask.
Groucho knew how to turn a phrase, and some of them are catch phrases that we still hear today if we will take the time to listen. Just ‘google’ his name, and I am sure numerous quotes will appear that most of us know.
Their early movies are my favorite, and if I had to pick one, it would be Duck Soup. Made in 1933, it looks dated in some respects. However, any film almost 80 years old will appear dated in some way, but that does not mean it is not great.
In the film, Groucho plays 'Rufus T. Firefly' who becomes dictator of the nation of Fredonia. Rival country Sylvania wishes to overtake Fredonia, and because of this, Firefly brings in Harpo and Chico (another of the brothers) as spies.
The premise is pretty lightweight, but it provides the brothers ample elbow room to do their thing. Groucho fills the movie with double entendres and puns, while Harpo and Chico handle the physical comedy. In one inspired sequence, they perform a three-hat sequence with one of the supporting actors in which the hats move as quickly and effortlessly as cards being dealt in a card game.
As for the absurd title, it really has nothing to do with the plot. As critic Tim Dirks wrote: "It is claimed that Groucho provided the following recipe: 'Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you’ll duck soup the rest of your life.'"
I have no idea if Groucho actually said that, but it does sum up the absurdist approach of the Marx Brothers. Keep in mind, absurdist humor can be quite intelligent, and the brothers definitely fall into that category.
Seek out their work.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises' should be on your list of movies to see

I recently caught The Dark Knight Rises, and I was impressed.  It began a little slowly, but the middle and ending were strong.  I thought the filmmakers missed an opportunity to make a strong statement about personal sacrifice by how they ended the movie, but I understand why they went with a more uplifting ending.  I will not be any more specific than that for those who have not seen it yet, but do not let that comment detract from the overall quality of the movie.  It is really strong.  I do not know if it is as good as The Dark Knight.  I may watch that one again so I can more accurately compare the two.  Still, go ahead and see The Dark Knight Rises.  It is really good.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Good eating last weekend at Irish picnic in McEwen

I like good food, and I do not mind traveling to track it down.  This was the case last weekend when a couple of friends and I went to the Irish Picnic and Homecoming in McEwen.  The event is a fundraiser for St. Patrick's school there, but my focus for attending was barbecue (and lots of it).  The photo below is a sample of a plate lunch that you could have had for only seven dollars.  It included barbecue, green beans, potato salad, slaw, and bread.  Also included was a drink and dessert (I had chocolate cake).  It is on my calendar to return next year.  I suggest you do the same.
The image is a little messed up but you get the picture.