Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Wednesday Video: The Smithereens Do the Beatles, Bobblehead-style

This speaks for itself.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Video: Mr. Magoo, Baseball and Beer

So baseball has started, kind of, which is a great opportunity to run a clip of Mr. Magoo doing beer commercials related to baseball.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bad Movie Experience
I just got back from a pretty disastrous trip to the movies, thanks to the good folks at Regal Cinemas Ballston Commons 12. I know that expecting to see a movie at 2:10 on a holiday is a bad idea, but we thought we'd give it a try. We made it to Ballston Commons at about 1:50, which I knew was a little risky. We would have had no problem getting a ticket if theater management had an amount of ticket sellers that you would expect to have in the middle of a holiday, at a complex with 12 theaters. I'm no expert in these things, but I think this amount is a number higher than one. This feeling was confirmed by the 40 people in line. We usually go to Regal Cinemas Potomac Yard, where you can buy a ticket from an ATM-like machine, that you see as soon as you walk into the building. As we stood in line, it dawned on me that, since it was the same chain, it would make sense that there'd be such a machine here. My girlfriend held our spot in line, and I looked around. I found two machines, tucked around a corner. I would have felt stupid about not finding them sooner, but there were only two people in line (one of the machines didn't work), so I guess we were all stupid. Everybody has ATM cards now, so the only reason to explain the shortness of the line was that people didn't know the machine was there. Which worked out fine for me.

So my girlfriend left the line, and joined me at the machine, and we bought our tickets. The ticket taker very cheerfully took our tickets and said something completely unintelligible. We got in one of the two lines for concessions. Which barely moved at all. I noticed some anger at the front of the line, and I also noticed that people weren't walking away with popcorn. There were about six people working behind the concession counter, including a guy who was apparently some kind of manager who kept speaking into a microphone that was clipped onto his shirt. Clearly he thought that what he was saying into the mike was going straight into someone's ear, and not being broadcast to everyone in the concession area, which it was. Pretty humorously, I might add. I hope he took that off when he went to the bathroom.

As we got closer to the front of the line, more people were realizing there was a popcorn problem. The guy with the mike was asked when popcorn would be available. "When the machine heats up," he not so helpfully responded.

This was kind of a key issue, because people waiting in line for popcorn were wasting their time, and missing the beginning of their movies. Not exactly the perfect movie experience. A woman in a fur coat halfway down the line loudly asked if popcorn was available. "Not yet," said the manager. "Then why don't you make an announcement, so people know that before they wait in line." "I just did," he muttered, still not realizing that everyone could hear him. Then he instructed someone else to make such an announcement. "People waiting for something besides popcorn should step to the front of the line," the announcement-maker shouted, to the confusion of everyone standing in line. By this time, though, I was at the front of the line.

I ordered two nacho combos. They seemed to have nachos, and they seemed to have sodas, although it took about five minutes to retrieve both. I asked for peppers for the nachos, and was told they didn't have them. Which was the last straw for my girlfriend, who, $22 into my two nacho combo commitment, told me that she didn't want nachos without peppers, and then walked away from the line. Which left me at the front of the line, with two hands and two huge sodas and two nachos to carry, seriously rethinking why I even got out of bed this morning. Well, actually, one nachos, as I just left hers on the counter and mumbled something to the cashier. I balanced my nachos on the two cokes (which was impressive to some of the folks behind me in line) and caught up with my girlfriend, who had calmed down and took pity on me, and relieved me of a soda, spill-free.

At this point it was 2:25. We'd be sitting in the first row, I was guessing. As we walked into the movie theater, I prayed a quick one to the god of excessive movie previews. Amazingly, the theater wasn't crowded, which I attribute to the facts that most everybody was still in line, and that, well, word was out about Norbit. So we got a seat. And the movie hadn't started yet. After that, things went as well as could be expected. Thankfully (kind of), Norbit's the kind of movie that you don't have to worry about the plot getting too complicated, which I appreciated an hour into the movie as I leisurely headed out of the theater to check the popcorn situation. Plenty of corn, no lines.

Norbit actually gets better towards the end. Tadcranky says "The pimps are pretty funny in the wedding scene," is what they could put in the ad, if anyone really cared what I thought. You still kind of wonder what Eddie Murray is thinking, with all these movies where he doesn't look like Eddie Murray. As we left the complex, everyone else was turning their cell phones back on as I took my brain out of my pocket and stuck it back in my head. I noticed that there were four people working the ticket sales windows. And nobody in line...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Nick Johnson Status: Bad
This links to a video of Nick Johnson at Nats' spring training. Things get started by an intrepid reporter asking Nick if he feels that it's important for him to be here with his teammates, even though he's, ahem, not quite ready to play. Surprisingly, Nick says yes! What a great revealing moment in sports!

I know that Nick being in camp is the right thing to happen, but I'm sure it's not doing great things for the pysche of Austin Kearns, who was involved in the awful collision. Kearns needs to see Nick playing, not limping around and speculating.

The overall interview is certainly not very uplifting. Nick starts out seeming kind of depressed, and he's not very convincing at all when he says he thinks he'll be back by June. I think he's more likely to miss the whole season than to be back by June. Towards the end of the interview, he lightens up a little, which is good. But at the conclusion of the interview, we're given a close-up of him hobbling down the dugout stairs. As I said, not so uplifting.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Endless Highway: The Music of The Band
This is a cd I've been waiting for for a long time. Yesterday, when everyone else in my office was supposedly "snowed in" I had some time to give it a good listen and make some notes. Here goes, track by track:

This Wheel's on Fire, by Guster: Guster is a band that seems to be successful, and gets a lot of attention, for reasons I don't really understand. They continue to leave me unimpressed with their dirge-like version of a song that deserves a lot more life. There are some cool banjo moments, but that's about it. In The Band's version, Levon Helm attacks his snare drum; in this version, the Guster drummer gives some gentle nudges. I prefer the attack.

King Harvest, by Bruce Hornsby: Hornsby bebops his way through an otherwise jam-bandish version of another great song. This also suffers from the lack of the aggressive drumming that contributed to The Band's greatness.

Makes No Difference, by My Morning Jacket: MMJ is a younger band that I like, even though sometimes I get them mixed up with Kings of Leon. I like this version, it does a great job of capturing the spirit of The Band, in part because of the multiple vocalists. This was recorded at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock.

I Shall Be Released, by Jack Johnson: Pretty much the low point, as Jack Johnson whispers his way through a song that I don't think is meant to be whispered through.

The Weight, by Lee Ann Womack: I really can't stand commercial country music, but I like authentic country, and I wasn't quite sure which category Womack fit into, as I know she's a high profile artist. Based on this, she's the real thing, though, as she gives a sweet version of the song. Initially, I was also struck by how great the back-up vocals were. On review, they were provided by Buddy and Julie Miller, which explains the greatness. If you can't have the Staples Singers singing back-up, the Millers are pretty fine.

Chest Fever, by Widespread Panic: Unsurprisingly, this is my favorite track, as it's one of my favorite songs by The Band, and I also love Panic. John Hermann's keyboards are similar to Garth Hudson's originals, with some cool variations. They're joined by a horn section, including Randall Bramblett (who I'm remiss for not having blogged about his most recent great recording, Rich Someday, which has been in heavy rotation for me for about four months), and showcase new gutarist, and former Allman and friend of Phil Lesh, Jimmy Herring. Widespread Panic seems to have the rare ability to put just the right amount of jamming into their songs. Listening to this song, you realize what a great lyricist Robbie Robertson was: She's stoned said the swede, and the moon calf agreed, I'm like a viper in shock, with my eyes on the clock. I don't know what the hell that means, but I know it's great and I want to listen to it over and over.

Up on Cripple Creek, by Gomez: Gomez is a roots band from the UK. I haven't listened to a lot of their music, but everything I've heard I like. And I like this, too.

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, by the Allman Brothers Band: This is recorded live, and I'd heard it live before. As much as I want to really love it, Greg Allman's vocals are a little too world weary. There are some great guitar moments, though, and, unlike some of the other tracks on this collection, the drumming does Levon Helm proud.

Stage Fright, by Steve Reynolds: I'd never heard of Steve Reynolds before. His website describes him as "mercurial," and a "Canadian expat troubadour." Alrighty. Rick Danko firmly established ownership of this song, so this is a tough task, and Reynolds falls short in this raspy, slowed-down version, that doesn't really capture an emotion, unless you consider whininess an emotion. They both may be Canadian, but Reynolds is no Rick Danko.

Raga Mama Rag, by Blues Traveler: Blues Traveler makes this sound like a post-Lowell George Little Feat song, with, surprise, a big harmonica solo. Pass.

Whispering Pines, by Jakob Dylan: This is a beautiful song, and Jakob Dylan does it justice, no doubt helped out by Jim Keltner on guitar and the production of Joe Henry. There are a lot of nice little instrumental things going on, that makes it something you want to listen to often.

Acadian Driftwood, by The Roches: The Roches clearly "get" The Band, and they do a nice version of this song. Lisa Morsberger plays whistles, which adds to the old-timey sound of the track.

The Unfaithful Servant, by Roseanne Cash: On its own, this is a perfectly fine song, but it doesn't hold up well compared to the original. It's a slow song to begin with, and it's slowed down even more, which appears to be a recurring theme throughout the collection.

When I Paint My Masterpiece, by Josh Turner: Like Lee Ann Womack, Josh Turner is apparently a big name in country music, which made me nervous. But this is good, he's got a nice deep, no frills voice. Combine the voice, which sounds similar to Kevin Russell's, and the banjo and mandolin, it almost sounds more like Turner's doing a Gourds version of a song by The Band. But that's OK by me.

Life is a Carnival, by Trevor Hall: Hall, a 19-year old from South Carolina, provides another minimalist version of a song that was made great by it's intricacies. His voice is what they say is full of character, which in this case isn't really a good thing.

Look Out Cleveland, by Jackie Greene: This is an earnest effort, I guess, and it sticks pretty close to the original. If you tied one of Levon Helm's arms behind his back.

Rockin' Chair, by Death Cab for Cutie: I've never really gotten this band, and the only word I can come up with to describe this version is "sleepy." There's really nothing special about it, I don't even know why they bothered. The cleverness of having unusually long pauses at the end of phrases eludes me.

There you have it. So there are six songs I really don't like, and a couple that I can take or leave. And some great ones. As a set, it shows how great The Band was, just a rare combination of great songwriting and overall musicianship. Their retirement seemed heroic at the time, but in its aftermath, it just seems sad. Richard Manuel and Rick Danko, whose post-Last Waltz recordings with Eric Andersen and Jonas Fjeld were great, are both gone. Garth Hudson is 70 years old, and presumably still making some keyboards sing somewhere. And Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson hate each other. That hurts.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Wednesday Video: HBO's Extras

This is a clip from Ricky Gervais' HBO series Extras. This particular clip is about the funniest thing I've seen on TV since episode 4 of the original (BBC) The Office, which was also by Ricky Gervais. In this clip, three dorks showcase their womanizing skills. Be patient, things peak during the seltzer water incident.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mooninites Killed Anna Nicole

While the official word is that the autopsy of Anna Nicole Smith, by the Florida firm I Can't Believe I'm a Medical Examiner, doesn't give any clues as to the gold-digging reality star's demise, fingers are starting to point at the two Mooninites -- Ignigknot, the haughty, green one, and Err, the smaller, purple, irascible one -- who recently held the city of Boston hostage. The Mooninites are one-dimensional cartoon characters from the Moon, convinced of the superiority of their people, and determined to establish world domination. To further this goal, sources say that they wanted to procreate with a multi-dimensional being, to create a new race with the intellect of the Mooninites, yet with some more meat on their backsides. The buxom Anna Nicole Smith was selected to be the mother of this new generation, and sources say that Ignigknot was the father of her baby.

The unstable and highly irritable Err, it is reported, grew despondent over the relationship between Ignigknot and Smith, a despondency that reached it's peak on Thurday, when he exclaimed "Eat this," and shot Smith with a Mooninite death ray. In all previous cases, targets of the slow-moving death ray have been able to avoid harm by just stepping away from it. But the heavily medicated Smith did not notice the ray, and took a full-on hit. This would explain why, when the lifeless Smith was discovered, there was no "physical injury, such as blunt force trauma, gunshot wound, stab wounds or asphyxia," according to the medical examiner, who also said that no illegal drugs were found in her room, only Valium and antibiotics. Nor were pills "visible to the naked eye" found in her body. There were "weird track marks" on the carpeting in her room, which were probably from the space ship that Err used to flee the scene. The whereabouts of Err and Ignigknot are unknown.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Travels with Dummy
It was 8:00AM on Friday, and my girlfriend and I had just gotten out of a cab at Reagan, and were giving our bags to a curbside attendant, in plenty of time for our 10:00AM flight. I noticed the attendant gave me a funny look when I told him our ultimate destination was San Diego. He looked at my Expedia print-out, circled something, gave it back to me and pronounced that our flight left from Dulles. Oops.

We hustled to the lower level, and got in the cab line, always a mystery to me. We told the attendant our destination, then about 10 cabs later a cab was waved over that was considered worthy of driving us to Dulles. I told the driver our plight, and I admitted to being stupid. He said we'd make it, no problem. He zoomed down the parkway, to the exit to the beltway. And we hit a standstill. At this point, the driver was as agitated as I was, as I mentally considered our options, and the price of each, if we miss the flight. Then the much anticipated "wintry mix" started. Great. Fortunately, it amounted to about five minutes of freezing rain. (Another nice job, weather folks!) About the time the rain stopped, the traffic broke up, and we soon zoomed past an Acura that looked like it had caught fire. And I thought I was having a bad morning.

By the time we got to the toll road, we were cruising along, the cabbie was up to about 80. At 9:00AM, I saw a sign that said we were eight miles from the airport, and I figured we were OK. Unless something else dumb occurred. We made it the eight miles pretty fast, thanked and tipped our cabbie profusely, and went through cubside checkout, this time without a hitch. The security lines were reasonable, and neither of us got selected for special attention. We shuttled to our gate. It was 9:30AM. We had time to grab some pretzels, and then boarded, wedging ourselves into our seats on the crowded plane. I remember when I used to travel, pretty often I'd be on a plane that was less than half-full. That doesn't happen anymore.

So we made it. I mentally calculated the money I had saved by not missing the plane, and tried to take a nap. Six hours later and a quick stop in Chicago, we were in San Diego. Another crisis averted.