Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sarah Palin vs. The NHL

I can’t help but being irked by the people championing Sarah Palin because she’s a hockey mom. As a long time hockey fan I’ve spent years being mocked and chided for loving hockey. I’ve come to begrudgingly accept the fact that 99% of Americans don’t give half a sh*t about hockey. It was fashionable to like the NHL for a minute or two in the 90s as Gretzky took his show to LA and then NYC. But increasingly crappy league management, horrible tv contracts (so long ESPN and good luck seeing the Stanley Cup on broadcast), and an entire season work stoppage later, the NHL has lost its status as a top 4 sport in most people’s minds.

So the fact that Sarah Palin’s parental duties as a hockey mom are being used to tout her credibility as a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working American is laughable. People are acting like being a hockey mom is as American as hot dogs, apple pie, and baseball. Come on. Who are we kidding? Hell, this is a sport championed by Canadians and…gasp…Russians! The only time anyone in America ever cares about hockey is when some unlucky sap is nearly beaten to death on the ice, when a spectator is killed by an errant puck, or when a player drops dead at the rink from a medical condition. Oh wait…didn’t that happen last week in Russia. If Palin was such a great hockey mom, maybe she could have saved that young Ruskie, after all, I’m sure she could have seen the incident from her house.

And does being a parent who attends your kid’s sporting events necessarily make you a good parent? There are constant reports of abusive parents berating referees and kids alike at the pee wee sports level. Even in San Francisco (home of San Francisco Values), the youth soccer league requires a mandatory meeting for parents at the start of the season where parents are told not to behave like lunatics. The meeting is called because every year there are multiple incidents of parent-generated sideline lunacy. Now I’m not saying Palin would be one of these nutbag parents, but honestly do you think she would more likely be the type of parent who, after a game, would a) buy the team slurpees or b) try to get a referee fired for making a questionable hooking call against her child?

And finally on the parental note, are her kids any good at playing hockey? If they were good, we could ascertain that she was a good hockey mom. She’s certainly birthed enough kids, but it’s not like any of her brood are tearing up the NHL like the Staals, Sutters, Mahovolichs or Howes. Heck, they’re probably not as good as the Koivu or Michalek clans. Now that’s a list of hockey moms that should be celebrated.

Trying to goose her party’s chances in November, Palin has been making the rounds of NHL rinks in key battleground states. Right now, it’s looking like this tactic may backfire. The other night in St. Louis, Palin dropped the ceremonial first puck at a Blues' game. Shortly thereafter, Blues starting netminder Manny Legace tripped over the ceremonial red carpet and had to leave the game with a “lower body injury”. The Blues will be fighting for that 8th playoff spot in the always tough Western Conference. Without Legace they don’t stand much of a chance. Here’s hoping that Blues’ fans will keep that in mind when they vote on November 4. And remember, since 1904, Missouri has always voted for the eventual winner of the Presidential election with the exception of 1956.

Several weeks back she dropped the ceremonial first puck in Philadelphia and the boo birds were out in force at the Spectrum (or whatever the hell the name of that arena is now). Some wags have been laying the blame on the Flyers slow start as a Palin curse. I don’t see it that way. The Flyers defense just sucks right now. But that said, imagine if Daniel Briere had tripped on the red carpet and had left the ice with a "lower body injury". Palin would have been lucky to escape alive. Minimally, some of the Philly faithful would have chucked a couple of battery-filled snowballs at her head. Her $20,000 hairdo would sure to have been mussed.

There's about 15 months left in the interminable NHL season but only about a 10 days left until the election. I'm not sure if Palin is planning on taking in a Panther or Lightning game, but at the rate she's going, I'm hoping maybe she'll stop by to work the corners in the Sunshine State.

A Post In Which I Admit To Liking The New Coen Brothers Movie

I’m a skeptical man when it comes to the Coen Brothers. I’m the old crank at the party who starts pooh-poohing their efforts while others wax enthusiastically. Sorry I just don’t think they’re that funny. Their brand of humor seems aimed at Stanford Professorial-types or really smart high school kids. Nothing wrong with that but I like my comedy a bit more biting and a hint less “wacky”. That said, they’ve made a boatload of films and occasionally hit one out of the park. No question Fargo is one of the all time great screwball dramadeys. Razor-sharp writing with fantastic performances from Buscemi, McDormand and Macy. Few films straddle the line between comedy and drama so well. I've always wished more of their stuff was like this one.

Whenever a new Coen Brothers movie comes out it seems like you can’t escape the cocktail party conversation about it. No Country For Old Men came down a few pegs for me just based on the number of times people asked me if I thought it was brilliant. My answer was “It was really good, but not as good as 3:10 To Yuma which covered similar territory but in a much more complex and subtle fashion”. Whatever.

So out comes Burn After Reading and I’m strangely attracted, yet deeply fearful. I took it in last night and I got to say I thought it was pretty awesome. One of the best films of the year at this point. Right up there with there with Fargo. It operates in the same vein of drama meets comedy and finds the perfect balance between the two. The acting was great. Malkovich is brilliant (why doesn’t he make more movies I want to see), McDormand always delivers, Brad Pitt is funny, Swinton does her icy thing and even the loathsome Clooney delivers big time. The wacky level is kept in check and the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m man enough to admit when these guys deliver and this time through, they do.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hit It & Quit It. My week at the Movies

One of the nice things about being a teacher is the occasional mid-semester break. I took full advantage this week by going to the movies…a lot. Here are some quick capsule reviews of the flicks I took in.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Now to be fair, I took my son to this one, but his response was telling. Though he liked the movie, when pressed for his favorite scene, he couldn’t come up with one. I haven’t seen a lot of movies in the theater this year, but I’m going to venture to say you will not see a movie much worse than this one. I was skeptical going in but figured a talking dog movie would have to have some laughs. I was pretty wrong. This movie was amazingly off-kilter--so oddly paced, such mixed messages, some really uncomfortable cult of consumerism mojo. Not even so bad that it was good.

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. I was hooked by the opening strains of Chris Bell’s Speed of Sound. I’m a big fan for movies that take place in the course of one night which this one does. Perhaps this year’s answer to Juno, but thankfully without the snark and the overly written showiness. The film’s energy lags every now and again, but Michael Cera’s charm carries it through. Though the scenes and scenarios are somewhat farfetched in a classic movie way, the interaction and communication between characters strikes a refreshing, honest chord.

Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder may be the most unhinged Studio comedy in ages. The film documents a movie production going off the rails and the movie follows suit. It’s all over the map and bizarre in a great way. Robert Downey Jr. gives a tour de force performance as an academy award-winning actor who gets a skin pigmentation operation in order to play a black man. Brilliant. Ben Stiller also delivers as an actor facing the downside of his career. My man Steve Coogan continues to flatline making me question whether or not he’s a one trick pony. The movie is unhinged and as a result inconsistent at times. Not a big fan of super famous Hollywood actors lampooning the biz. Let’s leave that to borderline outsiders like Robert Altman. Tom Cruise as a ball-busting studio exec is funny, but queasy all at the same time. Still. I laughed a lot.

Happy Go Lucky. Mike Leigh has been consistently turning out great films for almost twenty years. His latest installment Happy Go Lucky a is a good one, but not top shelf in my estimation. It has some fantastic moments including some unforgettable driving lessons and flamenco lessons. But the film struck me as a little flat. Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, the eternal optimist school teacher who refuses to see that perhaps, her life is in a bit of a rut. Can she break through? Does she need to? Will there be an epiphany? A lesson learned? Do such things need to happen in a movie? All this was broached, but perhaps a little to subtly for me. My wife Alison liked it a lot though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Bloody Valentine, Live SF

I promised myself to blog about the My Bloody Valentine show once my ears stopped ringing. A couple of weeks have passed, so now’s the time. As I mentioned previously I greet these reunion/classic album tours with a degree of skepticism. Going to a concert in 2008 to relive the salad days of 1991 causes me a degree of queasiness. Yet, I didn’t hesitate to drop $90 on a pair of tickets to see MBV. The fact that the show was on my birthday might have helped quash the inner cynic and loosen the purse strings. But, what can I say? I love MBV and Loveless is one of those records that has grown in stature over the ages and one that sonically holds up. The balance of savage guitar work and ethereal beauty is a balance few bands have ever managed to capture. Interestingly we saw them on the Loveless tour and I remember being pretty blasé about it. The band was a suckhole of energy and the keyboard mix was so high I questioned what the hell the guitars were even doing. That show ended with a fantastic, 10+ minute, locked-groove drone that was otherworldly. But other than that I was non-plussed. So strangely, 17 years later I was back for more.

The night started out kind of dodgy. I had been fighting off illness for several days and had I not already spent the money the chances that I would willingly go out and stay up past midnight were slim. Basically, the last thing I wanted to do that night was go to a rock show. Also, the show was at a non-conventional rock venue. Doors listed as 7, show 8. Would it really start at 8? Hard to set the rock clock. Plus, we didn’t have a clue if there were openers or not. No info forthcoming even on the internet. So we dutifully got there at 7:45. Suckers. The doors didn’t even open until 8, plus there were two openers. Yikes. Spectrum was one of the bands. And as much as I love the Spacemen 3, one of the worst shows I have ever seen was Sonic Boom’s E.A.R. The most underwhelming 20 minutes of knob twiddling I had ever seen. I was tired, feverish and dubious.

But apparently good things come to those who wait. Spectrum opened with the Spacemen’s Transparent Radiation and proceed to bust through an entire set of Spacemen 3 songs capping it off with Suicide. Holy crap. Now that’s a reunion I would have paid to see. As a surprise bonus experience, it was out of sight. Sadly, almost nobody in the throng seemed to know what was going on, but nuts to them. Their loss.

As for My Bloody Valentine, what can I say? Their set ruled. I had been warned how loud the tour was, and no joke, it was blistering. Maybe the loudest show I’ve ever heard. I’m not one for earplugs. Dampens the experience. But 3 songs in, the plugs were in my ear holes. This time through there was no mistaking the power of the guitars. They were hot and heavy in the mix. The band is still somewhat of a vacuum on stage, but 17 years later, with more money to mount a stage show they could pull it off. With a big flashing light show, trippy video projection behind them and a massive wall of sound to envelop you, there was no problem getting sucked in. They sounded great. More savagery than beauty than on the records, but that’s the way it should be for a live show. They also pulled heavily from Isn’t Anything which has subsequently been in heavy rotation in my house. As for the finale? This time it was a gargantuan, 20 minute ear-shattering slog . A slow, sonically brutal endurance test for the ages.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Out of Print Up For Big Award. Vote For Me!

Ironically, given its subject, Out of Print is up for another internet award from MetaFest, the folks who run the on-line movie service MetaCafe. 1,000 contestants down to 26 finalists. The top vote getter wins $1,000. If you have a minute, go over to their site and give me a rating. You may have to sign up for an account to vote. I’m not sure. I apologize if you do, but I’m sure it will only take a minute. If you could vote, it would be a big help to me. I’ll love you forever. Also, the films will be screening at the Roxie Theater in SF on Nov. 13. If you’re in the area, come on down and check it out.
To vote: Click Here!

Out of Print

Back in December I entered a film contest for filmmakers with a body of work. I was just about to release my dvd compilation Warts & All, so it was no brainer of a contest to enter. All I had to do was pop a dvd-r in the mail. I figured I’d be on the short list of finalists, because regardless of what anyone thought of the films, the dvd-r was a hell of a package. Bonus materials, stills, audio commentary. Plus the contest was for a site calling themselves Underground Film. And let’s face it, underground is my milieu.

I was pleasantly surprised when I got the call in the first week of January that I was indeed one of 12 finalists vying for a hefty grand prize. However, I quickly realized I had not read any of the fine print on the contest rules. If picked as a finalist I would be required to make two short films in under a month for a shot at the grand prize. I had not counted on that. The first film had a theme--a short film on the current state of counter culture. I cringed. In my younger days, I’d have that wrapped up in a heartbeat. But today? What the hell does that mean to me? As a forty-something parent, living in the urban/suburban section of San Francisco, I can’t say that I have my finger on the pulse. Sure, I have some idea of what the kids dig. I read some blogs, check out some podcasts, but who am I kidding? Trying to intelligently talk about the current state of counter culture seemed like walking into some horrid trap. At least a recipe for being mocked by some hip 24 year old.

So I decided to just run with the idea of counterculture and talk about what I do know. The late 80s, and early 90s. An era of zine making, cassette trading, vhs dubbing, rare book hunting and underground movies screening in bars, squats and cafes, as opposed to being disseminated on YouTube. A marginalized sub-culture that in large part I think will be overlooked and relegated to the dustbins of history. Maybe. Maybe not. But here’s the film I made.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Making Stuff With Your Kids: The Day After Halloween

It’s an interesting thing being a parent and an artist. It can be a tough balance. Working a straight job, finding time to do your thing and making time to be there for your kid. It’s not always an easy balance. But I think keeping your art strong is a good thing, Your kids like seeing you enthused about life and about your work. For me, I like making movies. It’s what I do. I don’t always get paid, but when I’m in the filmmaking zone, I’m a happy camper.

My son and I have made our share of goofy videos. Slapstick inspired homages to Buster Keaton, bizarre travelogues, obsession-based animations and the like. He’s into it. Recently I was tapped to make a music video for my wife’s psychedelic kid rock band The Sippy Cups. The song is a wistful little number called The Day After Halloween, about a post-Halloween world where a kid reminisces about the autumnal joy of Halloween. After hearing the song once, an image stuck in my head. A kid unwilling to take his costume off once Halloween was over and not wanting to give up the total awesomeness that is Halloween when you’re a kid. I saw a kid playing soccer in his ghost costume, while the rest of his team was in their uniformed finery. A concept was born.

In two short weeks me and my son banged out this video. He’s the star and worked his butt off. About 10 hours of shooting, take after take, sweaty ghost costume and all. Long discussions about comic acting, playing it straight, and the need to dress sets and wait for the light to be just right. He also made excellent editing suggestions (the placement of the pool and slide scenes for comic and lyrical timing), learned how to rock certain Final Cut shortcuts and I found out his love of watching footage capture. Now if I could teach him how to capture, deal with timecode breaks and color correct, I’d have it made.

Enjoy the video. If you got kids, feel free to share and go comment and give it some ratings over at :

YouTube (be sure to watch in high quality)