The Functional Hermit

musings from a homebody

Archive for January 2010

LOST returns: An awesome, quick recap

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It’s finally here. The last season of LOST begins this week. Even for the most hardcore fans, it can be hard keeping the sprawling storyline straight. It’s also been a while since it was last on air so if you want a quick refresher, here is this awesome and easy way to get back up to speed.

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Written by the bee dub

January 31, 2010 at 6:12 am

Farewell to the ultimate hermit: J.D. Salinger

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As someone devoted to making the most of life at home, I was sad to read about the passing of author J.D. Salinger. He was a man who wrote one of the most influential book for many generations, yet shunned any attention for it or any attempts to clarify the meaning of his words. The Catcher in the Rye had a profound affect on me. It made me want to find the true meaning of myself and the life I was destined to live. I know I was not alone in that feeling. That’s a very powerful mark to leave on the world.

Salinger was a man who chose his own path, a path that kept him mostly at home. Here’s to Mr. Salinger and the way he went about his business. He shared very remarkable works of art with the world and clearly felt he owed the world little else. About that, he couldn’t be more right.

Written by the bee dub

January 28, 2010 at 7:31 pm

Hermit Cinema: The Player

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Beginning with its eight-minute, opening shot, Robert Altman’s 1992 movie – set among executives’ offices in, of all things, the movie business – is an intelligently barbed satire that spares no one. I saw this movie when it first came out in the theater and was very impressed. Today, I think this movie stands out for its continuing relevance and insight. Like most Altman films, the dialogue and performances are sharp yet natural – the result, no doubt, of Altman’s famed laissez-faire approach to handling actors and scripts.

Here we follow the tale of Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins). Griffin’s a hunted man. As a studio executive charged with handling writers, he sees villains everywhere he looks. There’s Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher), an executive at rival studio Fox, rumored to be taking his place. There’s a writer sending him anonymous, ominous and threatening postcards. There’s Detective Avery (Whoopi Goldberg), hounding Griffin as a suspect for murder. Of course, none of that appears to ruffle his feathers or stop him from ordering a different brand of designer bottled water at every given opportunity.

This ensemble piece comes loaded with cameos and a big cast of characters. Just a few of the cameos include Buck Henry, Malcolm McDowell, Andie McDowell, Bruce Willis, Jeff Goldblum, Harry Belafonte, Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts and Jack Lemmon – all of which lend an authentic feel to this piece.

Rounding out the formidable cast we have David Kahane (a young, angry and barely recognizable Vincent D’Onofrio), the writer Griffin suspects of sending the postcards. June (Greta Scacchi) is Kahane’s girlfriend who replaces a story editor at the studio  as the object of Griffin’s affection. Walter (Fred Ward) is in charge of studio security. You even get Jeremy Piven as a young studio executive which is great foreshadowing for his current role as Ari Gold on Entourage. Dick Mellon (Sydney Pollack) is Griffin’s lawyer. Well, not that kind of lawyer, he’s more like a Hollywood power broker who serves as Griffin’s career counselor. Here’s a great exchange between the two.

Griffin: Larry Levy. Everywhere I look, he’s in my face.

Dick: Larry Levy’s a comer. That’s what comers do, they get in your face. You’re a comer. You can handle it. Stop worrying about it.

Griffin: So the rumors are true?

Dick: Rumors are always true. You know that.

Griffin: Well, I’m always the last to hear about them.

Dick: You’re the last one to believe. I told you that before.

Good stuff, no? This is a Hollywood fable about blind ambition, backstabbing and the repetitive nature of the show business machine. Right from the start we see people pitching movie ideas, ideas for which Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts just happen to be perfectly suited for the starring roles.

The most notable part of this movie is Tim Robbins. This is a real breakout role. Sure, he was great as Nuke Laloush in Bull Durham prior to this film. But following that, this portrayal of a ruthless, conniving, power-hungry studio exec completely defies his physical appearance which makes it all that much more engaging.

Do yourself a favor. Put aside any smirks or condescension you may have regarding the characters’ wardrobes and other dated visual cues. If you give this movie a chance, it’ll stay with you.

I give this an A-minus.

NFL Conference Championship Menu: Time to hit the bar

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A short, quick entry here. I didn’t cook any grub for one of the greatest football days of the year because my friend Moe and I hit a bar to watch the first game instead. This is a big deal for Moe since he’s got a kid and any time he can make a jailbreak he’s using up precious marriage currency – not a decision to be taken lightly.

We’re so old and lame we had a lot of back and forth deciding where to go. We ended up at the nearest sports bar/wing place. We watched the Jets put up one hell of a fight while downing a huge plate of nachos loaded with cheese, token veggies and chili. Then we watched Peyton Manning put on a surgical performance to put the Jets away while gnawing on some awesome wings. Then I went home and planted myself on the couch for the Saints victory.

Now let the Super Bowl hype begin. Sad to see the season end, but it always does…

Written by the bee dub

January 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

Posted in Daily Happenings

A great take on Mark McGwire and steroids

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I’m a baseball fan. I’m not hard core or crazed. I don’t have a fantasy or rotisserie league (though I love saying the term ‘rotisserie league’). I can’t recite endless stats on demand. But I do follow my teams (the NY Yankees and my adopted team, the Atlanta Braves) and catch as many games as I can on TV.

I’m lucky in that my most impressionable years as a fan took place in the 70’s and early 80’s, during my childhood and early teens. In other words, baseball’s biggest impact on me occurred prior to what is now and will forever be called the Steroid Era.

Like many fans I enjoyed baseball’s resurgence in the post-strike years as well as McGwire’s & Sosa’s chase of the home run record. Their feats didn’t seem natural but like many people, I was able to put that aside and marvel at the sheer athletic prowess of their efforts. In the back of my mind, things seemed fishy. After all, there were plenty of players who never hit more than 25 – 30 homers a year suddenly flirting with 50. Many suddenly looked like they belonged on Muscle Beach more than in a baseball uniform, overnight.

I’m as disappointed as anyone in how the whole thing turned out, especially McGwire’s attempt to apologize but refute any real culpability. But I’d have a hard time articulating anything in a way that contributes anything new to the discussion.

Doug Glanville is a former Major League player who enjoyed a fine career and retired just a few years ago. He is now an occasional contributor to the NY Times and has written several great pieces. Recently one appeared about his take on playing with and against players who were clearly juiced. It’s a great piece and one well worth reading. (Check out his other entries too for a very intelligent perspective from a former player.)

Check it out here.

Written by the bee dub

January 22, 2010 at 11:26 am

Hermit Cinema: Inglourious Basterds

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The problem with Quentin Tarantino movies, and it’s a nice problem to have mind you, is that people view them more as a cultural event than a movie. So let’s take a step back for a moment and take an overall look at Tarantino’s catalog for a moment.

His feature-length directing career seems to divide itself into two phases. There’s what I’ll call his Elmore Leonard Phase: Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. These all take place in a criminal underworld that the straitlaced only suspects, profiling happenings and relationships with their own rules, rituals and language.

Then, for a lack of a better term, there is what I’ll call his Modern Hipster Western Phase: Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2 and now Inglourious Basterds. These are cultural reference-laden movies steeped in undeniable cool, utilizing plot elements  often found in traditional Westerns.

His first phase was responsible for his breakthrough and a lot of folks wish he’d never grow beyond it. The non-linear storytelling coupled with some of the best dialogue ever written made for some unforgettable scenes. The movies were like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Fact is he, more than any other director, is directly responsible for the maturation and mainstreaming of the ‘independent’ movie movement. These were great films. Though if he kept making them, I think he’d become a respected but ultimately irrelevant figure.

The second phase is in my opinion more mature and more challenging as he’s confined within a more conventional storytelling format. This is a good development for Tarantino. It limits his self-indulgent tendencies. But enough of my wannabe-film-professor analysis and let’s get to the film itself.

The movie opens with an extended, gripping scene that introduces us to the movie’s villan: Nazi SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). From that point on, he chews up every scene he’s in; more so than anyone else in the film. That’s really saying something because American Lieutenant Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) and his Tennessee twang do a lot of chewing as well.

Landa is an evil man, prowling France looking for Jews to exterminate. Raine and his gang of Jewish-American soldiers (the Basterds) prowl the countryside dressed as civilians, looking for Nazi’s to exterminate. Actually exterminate is an understatement. Their mission is to exterminate and dismember with a level of extreme prejudice that spreads fear within the Nazi ranks.

Meanwhile, there’s the covertly Jewish woman (Mélanie Laurent) operating a Parisian movie theater. She gets co-opted into premiering a propaganda film for Nazi VIPs including ol’ Adolph himself. Double agent and German movie star Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) is tasked with getting Allied operatives into the premiere to wreak havoc.

This movie has two of the best scenes in recent memory: the aforementioned opening and a tense scene that takes place in a basement tavern. Both are remarkable for their length. The scenes go on and on but are handled so deftly you’re drawn to the edge of your seat and kept there. They are the true mark of a master. I also like the way he approaches the historical setting. That is, he ignores history altogether. That’s a fresh approach, one that seems so obvious yet untried until now.

The weak point of the movie for me is the ending. It gets a bit cartoonish, but not in an unforgivable way. It’s too bad the whole movie doesn’t hold together or work as well as the two standout segments, but that’s understandable. It’s Tarantino. The dialogue is razor sharp. There isn’t a bad performance anywhere to be found. And you get his standard foot fetish close-up.

You’ll find flaws in this movie. But a movie this ambitious cannot be free of them. If you built a thousand-story skyscraper, it wouldn’t be a surprise to find a bathroom on the 837th floor where the air conditioning didn’t work so well. But good gravy man, just enjoy the view.

I give this DVD an A-minus.

Written by the bee dub

January 20, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Hermit Cinema: The Hurt Locker

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This movie opens with a scene that is edge-of-your-seat  suspenseful for the viewer but is  just another day for the men down range in 2004 Iraq. From there, the movie hardly lets up. A movie that arrived in my mailbox along with a ton of high expectations and critical reviews, I’m glad to say Kathryn Bigelow’s film delivers.

The focus of the movie revolves around a three-man team of the Army’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Unit. Sgt. Will James (Jeremy Renner) is the new team leader. He’s the one who dons the protective suit and disarms complicated bombs while Sgt. JT Sanborn (the underrated and underused Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) provide cover and backup. Also appearing are Guy Pearce, David Morse and Ralph Fiennes who make what amount to be cameo appearances but are very well done. Evangeline Lilly (of LOST fame) appears but isn’t given much room to maneuver.

As a team leader, James is a wildcard. In this role, Renner’s performance is a revelation. Fueled by adrenaline and machismo, James’ approach seems to revolve around approaching each bomb as a personal insult. This tunnel-vision is what allows him to disarm bomb after bomb. To the tightly-controlled Sanborn this approach comes across as reckless. Sanborn resents the unnecessary risk.

Unlike many films, here there are no moral judgments. It’s a boots-on-the-ground view of the soldiers’ lives, not a take on foreign policy implications. The physical, mental and psychic cost of war reveals itself in non-cliché ways, which was refreshing for a war film. All the men live under the stress of constant threat with no ability to differentiate citizen from enemy. Surprisingly, the toll is a price James seemingly cannot live without.

I like that this movie didn’t follow the usual template of most war movies; action into extended character exposition then alternating between the two, ultimately leading to the big battle finale. For the most part, this movie dives right into the action and rarely lets up. There are more personal forays but they are spare and I didn’t miss what wasn’t there. Most of what I needed or wanted to know about the characters reveals itself through their conduct under fire.

I give this movie a solid A. Bravo to Kathryn Bigelow and I’m looking forward to checking out whatever she does next. It’ll be hard to live up to this film. But what a great problem to have.

Written by the bee dub

January 19, 2010 at 10:24 am

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