Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How I finally landed in the 21st century

Well, it seems I blinked and have landed smack dab in the middle of the 21st century.

Hope you and yours had a Merry Christmas. Mine was fantastic. Even got some snow. OK, so I got a migraine, too. Nothing is perfect.

But back to this new century business. I guess I got the ball rolling by asking for -- and receiving -- an Amazon Kindle as a Christmas present. I had hesitated for a long while, waiting to see where eBooks were headed, saw a demonstration and decided I wanted one. Jennifer bought it for me.

Early verdict: I love it.

After a few pages you forget you're holding an electronic device. The screen's font isn't like a computer's. Think back to the Etch-A-Sketch. No glare in sunlight, either.

It's lightweight. It holds a ton of stuff. Purchases are backed up on the Internet. Books can be yours in less than a minute.

I am also trying out the New York Times free for two months. That is especially handy given that finding a copy of The Paper of Record in Halls is a bit like finding an atheist in a foxhole. It ain't easy. I am mulling over giving up my printed version of The New Yorker magazine when it comes due in May in favor of the Kindle edition. We'll see.

Downloaded and read my first book, an excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Yesterday, I found a copy of Gibbon's "History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" for a whopping 88 cents. A bunch of titles, slipped into the public domain, are free or close to it. A nice feature is the ever-present dictionary. All you have to do is move your cursor to the word and, presto. So much for keeping that telephone book-sized college dictionary on the coffee table.

The good news is that the Kindle (and Nook, and iPad, etc.) appears to be complementing, as opposed to replacing, traditional books. Not every novel will appear in Kindle form. Some books you're still going to want to collect, or put on the shelf, or just hold in your hands.

If that weren't enough, pal Dean Harned went overboard and bought me a Blu-Ray player. Still can't believe it.

Bought a documentary on Hawaii that Jenn and I watched over the weekend. It looks stunning. Haven't yet bought a feature-length movie that was originally filmed in HD. But I have to say that "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "Elvis On Tour" both look fantastic -- and even standard DVDs look better on the Blu-Ray.

Then, to beat it all, Jenn brought over the Nintendo Wii that she's yet to take out of the box. Haven't felt like hooking it up yet, but I'm going to get the Wii Fit and try to lose 15 or 20 pounds. Plus, I want to bowl and play baseball, too.

Something old, something new, something borrowed -- but it's made me anything but something blue!

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Nashville' still worth a look

Got a hankering to watch an old favorite, Robert Altman's "Nashville," the other night.

So I dropped it into my Netflix queue and gave it a look. It has aged rather well.

"Nashville" is a brilliant mosaic of a movie. It weaves what at first looks like a big mess into a cohesive narrative that culminates with an infamous conclusion at Nashville's Parthenon. It is Altman's best film and a fine piece of art.

Ostensibly the film examines the country music industry, the rather nasty side of music superstardom, the difficulties of breaking into the business and the coincidental, almost casual, way that that our lives intertwine with others.

Real life Nashville didn't like the movie when it was released in 1975. They didn't like the music. They thought Altman was making fun of them. Altman thinks they were mad because he chose not to use their music in favor of letting the actors compose their own material. This was wise in a lot of ways, first and foremost because it adds an authenticity that otherwise wouldn't be there.

Henry Gibson is picture perfect as the aging star Haven Hamilton, something of a cross between Porter Wagoner and Ernest Tubb. Ronee Blakely, the best singer of the bunch, channels Loretta Lynn even better than Sissy Spacek would do five years later. Keith Carradine as the disgusting womanizer Tom Frank turns in not only a hell of a performance but also the best song of the film, Oscar-winner "I'm Easy."

And Lily Tomlin delivers a performance to remember as a gospel singer and mother caught in a difficult relationship with her husband, played to perfection by Ned Beatty. Her scenes are the most moving of the film, particularly the dinner table moment with her deaf son and the heartbreaking rendezvous with Tom Frank.

On and on I could mention the wonderful performances of the cast -- Keenan Wynn, Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum, Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie's daughter, in a hilarious role), Shelley Duvall, Timothy Brown (doing a dead-on Charley Pride), Karen Black, Barbara Harris -- even Julie Christie and Elliott Gould show up as themselves. One of the most moving characters in the film is Glenn's turn as the Army private with a puppy-love devotion to Blakely's Barbara Jean.

I'm not giving away anything by telling you that there is an assassination at the end of the film. Altman was asked by a reporter after John Lennon's 1980 murder if he felt responsible because of what he had to say about political-like assassinations of entertainers in this film. In an interview included on the special edition DVD, Altman says he told the reporter, "No, but maybe you (and others) should feel responsible because you didn't heed my warning."

The ending is still shocking every time I see it. In some ways, this movie is more relevant today than it was 35 years ago. If you haven't seen "Nashville" do so, and do so quickly. If you love good movie making and good storytelling, you'll love this film.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Last trip to Regas

Took our last trip to Regas yesterday.

Bittersweet. Good meal. Thanks for the memories.

Heard the news about its closing while in Townsend a couple of weekends ago. Knew we had to go back. Jenn and I had enjoyed a special meal there in the summer. It was her first trip.

For me, the memories go back a ways. We used to spend our New Year's Eves there. Dinner and a movie. Just about every year.

If you missed Jack Neely's Metro Pulse piece about Knoxville's oldest restaurant, surf on over to the MP website and check it out. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Good piece, huh? Funny to think that Regas was once a lunch counter. And that the late Dave "Wendy's" Thomas once worked there.

Regas was always the place to go when something special was going down. I'd almost always wear a coat and tie. Always dressed up. Never once received bad service. Not once.

I loved the steak and the Scrod. And the red velvet cake, if I left room.

Didn't feel well at all yesterday. Darn migraine has lasted nearly six days. But such was the pull of the place that we couldn't not go. One more time. For auld lang syne.

Amanda Noel came out of the kitchen to greet us. Hard to believe she's all grown up. Darn good chef, too.

In years past, I saw Jake Butcher, met Howard Baker in the front lobby, dined with mayors, but never ordered lobster.

Now it's leaving us and I think a part of our community is leaving with it. The dress requirements -- sadly -- have long been relaxed. But, for me, Regas will always be synonymous with class, fine dining, good service, great food, coat and tie, special night, New Year's Eve.

Here's to you, for auld lang syne, lest we forget.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Classic game show brings early present

Got an early Christmas present the other night.

My friend, the Giant Rat of Knoxville, called to say that the classic game show "What's My Line?" has returned to the GSN lineup after an absence of a year and a half.


I started watching the series when I had the flu in early 2008 and couldn't sleep. Caught one of the 3 a.m. broadcasts and quickly became hooked. The game was rather simple. What made "What's My Line?" engaging was the show's erudite panel.

For years, the lineup included Hearst Newspapers gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, stage and screen star Arlene Francis and sophisticated book publisher (and Random House co-founder) Bennett Cerf. Guest panelists included former "Tonight Show" host Steve Allen and comedian Fred Allen. The show's host was commentator John Daly, most famous for announcing the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and FDR's death in 1945 on CBS radio.

The best part of the show was the weekly mystery guest, usually an entertainment personality, who would try to stump the (blindfolded) panel. Mystery guests can include everybody from Ted Williams to Eleanor Roosevelt to Ricky Nelson.

What strikes me about the show is the intelligence of the panel. Were it airing today the celebrities would be a bunch of bumbling idiots (just look at the later syndicated version of "What's My Line"). After watching a few episodes you're also reminded just how much we once valued the English language.

Set your DVR some night at 3 a.m. (Eastern) and catch this true gem from yesteryear. Thanks for bringing this back, GSN!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

'Andy Hardy' perfect fodder for foggy night

Nursing a migraine tonight with medicine and MGM's finest.

Yes, I decided last night to set the DVR to record Turner Classic Movies' 24-hour "Andy Hardy" marathon. It's part of TCM's month-long tribute to the great Mickey Rooney, who is 90 years young and still workin'.

It's fluff but perfect fodder for a foggy (in more ways than one) night.

The Hardy pictures were basically a sitcom in the days before television. It was gentle, predictable comedy about a "typical American family" that evolved into a star vehicle for Rooney as his character became more popular. Typical installments portray his misadventures in love. Usually at some point in the picture, Andy finds himself in a jam. A "man to man talk" with his father Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) helps put Andy on the right path.

The series was so popular that it was awarded a special Academy Award in 1943 for representing "the American way of life." Sixteen films were produced from 1937 to 1958, although the first one, "A Family Affair," was merely a one picture deal. But it proved so popular that the Hardy clan returned for a "sequel" -- albeit with an almost completely different cast. Lionel Barrymore played Andy's father the Judge in the first one.

The regular cast also featured Fay Holden, Cecilia Parker and Ann Rutherford. MGM also used the series to promote some of its up and coming actresses, including Judy Garland, Donna Reed, Esther Williams, Lana Turner and Kathryn Grayson.

Production ceased after the 1946 entry, "Love Laughs at Andy Hardy." But some of the cast returned for something of a reunion in 1958's "Andy Hardy Comes Home." It was intended to relaunch the series, but proved to be the final "Andy Hardy" film.

My only complaint -- although that's not the right word -- is that TCM for some reason is showing the films in reverse order. So we get to watch Mickey/Andy grow younger!

I have long admired Rooney, who may be one of the most under appreciated actors in Hollywood history. While watching TCM, I surfed over to the Knox County Public Library's website and placed a hold on Rooney's autobiography, the aptly-titled "Life is too Short."

They don't make 'em like this anymore.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The anonymous social bullying network (and the horse it rode in on...)

This makes me sick.

Just read a Chicago Tribune column about a social network site, the name of which I'm not repeating because I don't want to give them any publicity.

It appears that tweens and teens love to use this site to harass their peers. They especially love it because you can do so anonymously.

Police officer Jim Koch, a school resource officer at Vernon Hills High in Illinois, is quoted as saying he talks with students and parents daily about teens like Alexis Pilkington, 17, from New York, who killed herself after verbal abuse showed up on the site and other online ports of call.

"It's like a bathroom wall," Koch is quoted as saying. "You write whatever you want."

First off, I have no use whatsoever for anonymous comments. It takes absolutely no guts. No guts at all. I have a personal policy to try to respond to anyone who calls or e-mails me about a story or a community issue -- if they leave their name. Unless it's a security issue, or it's a positive comment and you're just being modest, I have no use for Anonymous. I sign my name on every piece I write.

Secondly, to have a site like this that allows teens -- or anybody -- to post this kind of garbage anonymously is pathetic. I have read stories about kids having to face known bullies on various social networking sites. That's bad enough. Anonymous is beyond asinine.

I've noticed a tendency among some (but by no means all) young people -- and this is really nothing new -- to be absolutely awful to one another. Never really have understood it. I think back to stuff I witnessed in high school. Whoever wrote "sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me" never experienced real life. The pen, and the mouth, and now the mouse, are indeed mightier than the sword.

Bullies are a part of life. Standing up to them can be tough -- but can also be one of life's greatest joys!

That doesn't mean we should condone this crap. Cyber bullying may be worse than the real thing because it's 24/7. At least in the old days one could get away from it for awhile after 3:30.

Anonymous hazing is bad enough. Enabling, and I guess profiting, from it is beyond bad.

(If you live in Knoxville, TN, you can read a version of the Tribune piece by Duaa Eldeib in today's [12/14/10] News Sentinel.)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

My love/hate relationship with John Lennon

On this date 30 years ago, a deranged fan named Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon four times in the back as he walked with his wife, Yoko Ono, into the couple's Manhattan apartment building.

Even Howard Cosell broke in on "Monday Night Football" to tell the world that the former Beatle was dead.

I've always had something of a love/hate relationship with Lennon. I entered a serious Beatles phase around 1992 but have always been more of an Elvis kind of guy. I have marveled at many of Lennon's compositions (especially "Imagine," one of the best American pop songs of the 20th century), but didn't care for some of his more bizarre personal and political excesses.

What do I know, but I always blamed Yoko for the Beatles' breakup (as if Lennon and the others had nothing to do with it...). I remember I about had a heart attack when I heard Yoko sing a song called "Woman is the Nigger of the World" on national television, even if I sympathized with its feminist POV.

And I was always a Paul McCartney fan. Paul was solely responsible for what I consider to be the Beatles' best lyric, "Yesterday," and he said on the radio once he hated he had to give Lennon co-credit. But, that was their songwriting deal.

Lennon was a musical genius perhaps both fueled by and a victim of the upheavals of the 1960s. But, together with McCartney, and in one shining solo moment, he made great music. And I was always grateful when, at a moment when it was fashionable to bash him, Lennon said of Presley, "Before Elvis, there was nothing."

Like too many others, Lennon died at the hands of a lunatic. "Imagine" a world without that, indeed.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

Why it's really a wonderful 'Life'

Light snow was spitting from the sky as Jenn and I made our way to the Tennessee Theatre this morning.

The crowd wrapped around the corner before noon. It's the beginning of what hopefully will be a long-time Knoxville tradition -- a free screening of our favorite Christmas flick, Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life," in our favorite movie house, courtesy of Home Federal Bank. Picture perfect. Somebody even started singing "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."

Place was packed. So good to see. Parents brought their kids. Kids brought their parents. Most everybody brought a smile.

After Bill Snyder played tunes on that awesome organ, the curtains parted to present Capracorn in glorious black and white.

No, that's not right. I've always felt that label unfair to the talented director.

Beneath the 1940s monochrome shine lies a powerful study of the classic American struggle -- balancing the needs of the many with the wants of the one. In George Bailey a lot of us see ourselves -- wanting to bust out of our hometowns while feeling the pull of community and responsibility.

Everybody clapped as the final credits rolled. I'd almost forgotten that movies are meant to be seen this way, together, in an opulent place like an old-time movie palace.

Here's hoping the audience took home something more than memories. George learns too, as we all must, that no one who has friends is a failure. Reaching out, loving your neighbor, it's all more than mere words.

Great reminder to remember as Christmas comes a-callin'.

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