Monthly Archives: August 2009

Actor: Humphrey Bogart

Bogart and Bacall together. Uploaded by doctormacro1.info.

Bogart and Bacall together. Uploaded by doctormacro1.info.

Humphrey Bogart had a decade of acting in Hollywood before he got his statuette. No, I don’t mean Oscar – I’m talking about the Maltese Falcon. After performing mostly supporting parts in 40 films over 11 years, Bogart’s true breakthrough role came in1941 after George Raft turned down the role of Sam Spade.

Then the following year – Casablanca. Movie magic. Bogart was nominated for Best Actor, but lost to some guy named Paul Lukas for a movie called Watch on the Rhine. Yeah, whatever. Still, Bogart was established as an A-list star, and the roles offered by the studio improved significantly.

Doesn't he make you want to wear a hat? Uploaded to Photobucket by PandaPaw08.

Doesn't he make you want to wear a hat? Uploaded to Photobucket by PandaPaw08.

And you can’t remember Bogart without discussing Lauren Bacall. They met during the production of To Have and Have Not in 1944 when she was just 19 and he was a married man of 45. Their relationship grew during the making of their second film together, The Big Sleep. After his divorce, the couple was married in 1945 and remained in love until Bogart’s premature death from cancer at age 57.

If you enjoy old movies, you’ll recognize this roster of excellent films Bogie made. The Big SleepThe Treasure of the Sierra MadreKey LargoThe African Queen (for which he finally won that Oscar)…and my favorite, The Caine Mutiny. Bogart’s portrayal of Captain Queeg as a paranoid, unstable and unsympathetic man is one of the wonderful performances of any era.

Today’s video highlights the climactic scene in The Caine Mutiny when Bogart displays Queeg’s madness with exquisite subtlety:

The Arts: Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams captures the power of the landscape with startling clarity. Uploaded by strongphotography.wordpress.com.

Ansel Adams captures the power of the landscape with startling clarity. Uploaded by strongphotography.wordpress.com.

It’s easy to appreciate the wonderful nature photography of Ansel Adams, its crisp focus, perfect contrast, and balanced composition. What it takes some effort to properly assess in the 21st century is how Adams almost singlehandedly brought this discipline to the medium of photography.

As a youth, Adams found that he had a natural musical talent, and he practiced with the intent of becoming a concert pianist. Then his family took a trip to Yosemite. Adams said later, “The splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious… One wonder after another descended upon us… There was light everywhere… A new era began for me.”

Ansel Adams. Uploaded by history.sandiego.edu.

Ansel Adams. Uploaded by history.sandiego.edu.

He started taking pictures with a Kodak Brownie box camera. For the next ten years he pursued the dual tracks of music and photography, learning darkroom techniques while also purchasing a grand piano and practicing diligently. He finally realized his greatest skill was with the camera rather than the keyboard, and he, uh, “focused” on photography.

Adams had his first museum show at the Smithsonian when he was just 29 years old, but knew better than to think he’d reached his limits. He emphasized “pure photography,” not allowing his photos to be derivative of any other art form. Even so, he did commercial projects to pay the bills, including work for Fortune Magazine, Pacific Gas & Electric, and AT&T.

In his latter years, Adams continued his lifelong commitment to preserving our national parks and wilderness. He was especially concerned with the Big Sur region of California and preventing the over-use of Yosemite. Here’s a wonderful interview with the master shortly before his death at age 82:

Food: Fried Chicken

Now that's some fine-lookin' chicken from Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans. Uploaded on Flickr by jasonperlow.

Now that's some fine-lookin' chicken from Willie Mae's Scotch House in New Orleans. Uploaded on Flickr by jasonperlow.

Don’t even start with me on nutrition and the health perils of fried foods. I’m not saying you should eat fried foods every meal, every day, or even every week. But when you want some good food, especially good chicken, nothing beats it good and crispy fried.

Those of you who live outside the South can just save your breath telling me how good your fried chicken is in Indiana or one of those square states out West. Fried chicken is a Southern dish. It’s meant to be eaten with potatoes, maybe mashed or even potato salad. And sweet tea. But then, that’s a separate Great American Thing all its own.

Willie Mae's was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but has been rebuilt. Photo uploaded to Flickr by kaszeta.

Willie Mae's was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but has been rebuilt. Photo uploaded to Flickr by kaszeta.

The South has many fried chicken meccas, but one that’s often considered the best is Willie Mae’s Scotch House in New Orleans. The restaurant was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but reopened a couple of years ago and is by all accounts as good as ever. Reading a couple of the five-star reviews on the dining site Yelp.com tells all you need to know:

“Hands down the best fried chicken EVER.”…”The chicken was divine. The batter so light and crispy. The meat so moist and tender.”…”The BEST FRIED CHICKEN IN AMERICA. If you are planning a trip to The Big Easy, this should be numero uno for your dining destinations.”

Fried chicken may be a disappearing art, considering the changing dietary preferences of Americans. And I’m sure you’re mama or your grandma made some really good fried chicken. If you can’t enjoy it now, get to one of the vanishing Southern restaurants where it’s still offered. Not KFC, though. Let’s all agree that grilled chicken isn’t what the Colonel had in mind. Take a look behind the scenes of Willie Mae’s in today’s video:

Singer: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has "a voice as if sandpaper could sing." Uploaded by morethings.com.

Bob Dylan has "a voice as if sandpaper could sing." Uploaded by morethings.com.

Bob Dylan recorded his first four albums as a folk singer, becoming hugely influential more for his songwriting than his performances. He didn’t experience much commercial success, and he didn’t really seek it. But several of his songs, notably “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” became anthems for the anti-war and civil rights movements.

Uploaded to Flickr by masseffectkittens.

Uploaded to Flickr by masseffectkittens.

Then in 1965, not coincidentally as the Beatles were becoming an international sensation, Dylan showed up at the staid Newport Folk Festival and created an uproar of his own. You see, he played an electric guitar. Bob Dylan played an electric guitar! He was booed by the crowd, and only played three songs. But he was undeterred, and soon crowds accepted and approved the dramatic change.

In fact, Dylan never has been a huge commercial success, probably because he can’t sing a lick. Joyce Carol Oates described his voice as “frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing.” And she likes him. Many others have had hits with his songs, including “Mr. Tambourine Man” (The Byrds), “It Ain’t Me Babe” (The Turtles), “All Along the Watchtower” (Jimi Hendrix), “Quinn the Eskimo” (Manfred Mann), and 375 different covers of “Blowing in the Wind.”

Dylan, like most artists who’ve enjoyed longevity, has experimented with many styles through his career. He’s ventured into gospel, jazz, Western swing, even rap. He converted to Christianity, and his music continued to reflect the changes of his life.

Bob Dylan has won Grammys and an Academy Award, been inducted into the Rock and Roll and the Songwriters Halls of Fame, and received the Kennedy Center Honors. His song “Like a Rolling Stone” was named number one in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone. (I would have chosen “Tangled Up in Blue.”) And Dylan virtually invented the music video – here he is with his wonderfully playful “Subterranean Homesick Blues”:

Film: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The charmingly deceptive Ferris Bueller. Uploaded by dvdactive.com.

The charmingly deceptive Ferris Bueller. Uploaded by dvdactive.com.

You’ve got to love a film in which a character sings “Danke Schoen” in the shower. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a classic movie that definitely deserves its spot on this list, but the unexpected passing of John Hughes makes this the appropriate timing.

Matthew Broderick was so perfect for this movie. He had just the right combination of innocence and wise-ass charm that made the character believable. Well, mostly believable. No one could have quite the chutzpah he exhibited, but we enjoyed all his pranks on his incredible day.

"Danke Schoen." Uploaded by s2.causes.com.

"Danke Schoen." Uploaded by s2.causes.com.

First, he got his girlfriend Sloane out of school by having Cameron trick principal Ed Rooney into believing her grandmother had died. (“Just roll her old bones over here and I’ll dig up your daughter.”) Then he convinced a sniveling maitre d’ that he was Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago. Finally, Ferris lip synched the Beatles’ Twist and Shout aboard a float in the Von Steuben Day parade.

Probably the thing that made the movie most endearing, if that’s the right word, was that Ferris occasionally broke the rules and spoke directly to us. For example, when he explained how he feigned his illness to get out of school. “The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it… You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.”

This is the place where I’d normally talk about all the awards a movie won. Well, Ferris Bueller didn’t win any. What it won instead was a place in the pantheon of great coming-of-age stories. It’s one of those movies that, when it comes on TV, you have to watch at least till you see one of your favorite scenes. Like this one, the Twist and Shout video. Crank it up!

You’re still here? This post is over. Go home. Go!

Americana: Westminster Dog Show

Don't get excited, sheepdogs. The Herding Group has only won Best in Show once. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

Don't get excited, sheepdogs. The Herding Group has only won Best in Show once. Uploaded by timeinc.net.

It arrives on a Monday and Tuesday in February, when there’s not much on television except wretched American Idol auditions. So, in spite of yourself, you watch – thinking you’ll turn the channel in a minute. A couple of hours later, you’re discussing the merits of the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, and wondering what freaky minds would do that to a poodle.

The exhibition dates all the way back to 1877, when 1,201 dogs were shown. A “Best in Show” award wasn’t presented until 1907. The fee to enter at this time was an amazing $5, and it remained at that price until1947.

Uploaded to Flickr by stock411.

Uploaded to Flickr by stock411.

The show is now held in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Naturally, the Terrier Group has won the most Best in Show awards, and I don’t say that because I happen to own a Cairn Terrier. Terriers have taken top honors 44 times, the next most successful being the Sporting Group (19 wins). The Herding Group shows up optimistically each year despite the fact that only once has one of their number won the top prize.

I’m sure if I did enough research, I could understand the incredibly goofy names these purebred dogs have. This year’s winner is “Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee.” They call him “Stump.” If the dog is so great, I’m sure the judges could get past saying, “The distinguished patrons of the oldest Kennel Club in the United States, the revered Westminster Kennel Club, are proud to award our Best in Show to…” (ahem) “STUMP.”

One minor nitpick. Every now and again the TV commentator will talk about “our sport.” Listen, Dog Boy, showing hounds is not a sport. It’s a first-class competition, don’t get me wrong. It’s a lot of fun to watch if you like dogs. But let’s not get carried away. Don’t make me come up there.

Here’s a few moments with the terriers, the best dogs in the world:

TV Show: The Simpsons

The wonderful world of Springfield. Uploaded by behindthehype.com.

The wonderful world of Springfield. Uploaded by behindthehype.com.

Remember the controversy when this show first appeared? Many good parents thought it crossed the line of bad taste, and didn’t let their kids see it. I didn’t take that stand, but I flinched a few times when I was watching it with my boys. I viewed it with a remote in my hand, just in case. But it was so good, so different, so funny, we enjoyed it together.

Besides, the writers let us see that the Simpsons were essentially a strong family. Behind Homer’s foolishness, Bart’s rebellion, and Lisa’s self-righteousness there was – gasp – love. The early seasons were the best, when we were introduced to the pantheon of Springfield’s funny and quirky set of characters.

"We have the Monsterometer, Flipper-finder, Hoax-a-scope which is important for the looking and finding." Uploaded to Flickr by gavin-hill281.

"We have the Monsterometer, Flipper-finder, Hoax-a-scope which is important for the looking and finding." Uploaded to Flickr by gavin-hill281.

One of the great things about the show is the amazing quality of the voice talents used for the characters. While Yeardley Smith (Lisa), Nancy Cartwright (Bart, Ralph Wiggum), and Julie Kavner (Marge, Selma, Patty) do very limited voices, the men have an amazing range. Dan Castelanetta’s characters include Homer, Grampa, Barney, Krusty, and Groundseekper Willie. Harry Shearer does Mr. Burns, Smithers, Ned Flanders, Kent Brockman, Otto, Dr. Hibbert and many others. And perhaps most versatile is Hank Azaria, who voices Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Professor Frink (my favorite character), Cletus, Comic Book Guy, and more.

There’s so much more to say, but so little space to say it. Have to say that The Simpsons is now the longest-running animated show in prime time history, the longest-running sitcom, and the longest-running prime time series in TV history. And it’s already been renewed for two more seasons.

Let me conclude with this: Don’t have a cow, man! Okily dokily! Excellent… Thank you, come again! Ha-ha! Worst. Blog post. Ever. D’oh!

Travel: Grand Canyon

The Skywalk, located on the Hualapai Tribe lands, opened in 2007. Uploaded by grandcanyonskywalk.com.

The Skywalk, located on the Hualapai Tribal lands, opened in 2007. Uploaded by grandcanyonskywalk.com.

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona encompasses more 1.2 million acres. That is some kind of hole in the ground.

“Scientific consensus” is that the Canyon was carved over a period of six million years by the Colorado River. Don’t get me started on “scientific consensus.” Let’s just say that the Grand Canyon is an amazing part of God’s creation that’s unmatched in beauty anywhere in the world.

Teddy Roosevelt, probably America’s greatest naturalist president (not “naturist”, at least as far as we know), visited the Canyon in 1903. He started the movement toward making the Grand Canyon a National Park, though Congress didn’t act until 1919.

Uploaded to Flickr by anadelmann.

Uploaded to Flickr by anadelmann.

Some five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year. They come by car, airplane, helicopter, camper, train, and on foot. One of the latest ways to see the Canyon is the Skywalk, opened in 2007. It costs $70 for admission, and entails a 14-mile ride on unpaved, dusty roads. And you can’t even take your camera onto the Skywalk. But if you have the stomach for it, you’ll be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime view.

Of course, the Canyon can be viewed from several locations that are many miles apart. The South Rim, North Rim, and Grand Canyon West all have multiple viewing sites. This video is a condensed version of a helicopter tour offered daily from Las Vegas and other nearby locations:

Sports: Babe Ruth

This photo of Babe's farewell won the Pulitzer Prize. Uploaded by yale.edu.

This photo of Babe's farewell won the Pulitzer Prize. Uploaded by yale.edu.

Babe Ruth was big. Not just his body, which to modern eyes looks like a shapeless lump perched precariously on fragile legs. The Babe was one of the big personalities of 20th century America. You could say he singlehandedly made baseball the National Pastime. But he was bigger than the game.

He was a fun-loving guy whose career peaked in the 1920s, a fun-loving decade. His enthusiasm for baseball and for life was evident to all, and was contagious. He also changed baseball from what we now call “small ball”, singles and sacrifices and stolen bases, and brought about a fascination with the home run. Consider this, from the Babe Ruth official Web site (yes, of course there’s an official Web site, are you kidding?):

“In 1927, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs accounted for 14% of all home runs in the American League that year. To put that figure in modern perspective, a player would need to hit over 340 home runs in a season to account for 14% of the American League’s total home run output.”

The Babe, uploaded to Flickr by ceetard.

The Babe, uploaded to Flickr by ceetard.

Kids loved the Babe, and he often visited hospitals to see children without anyone knowing. He came from a tough, working-class neighborhood, and he never forgot how far his accomplishments had taken him.

And what accomplishments! Single-season home run record of 60 lasted 34 years. Career total of 714 homers lasted 39 years. The Sporting News ranked him the number one baseball player of all time. The Associated Press named him Athlete of the Century. ESPN Sports Century named him number two, to Michael Jordan. Idiots.

Babe died of throat cancer at the age of 53. Here’s a newsreel of his farewell to the fans, and his fans saying farewell to the Babe.

Actress: Meryl Streep

She sings! She dances! She needs a Brinks truck for her salary! Uploaded by moviewallpaper.net.

She sings! She dances! She needs a Brinks truck for her salary! Uploaded by moviewallpaper.net.

There’s no question that Meryl Streep belongs on a short list of the greatest film actors of all time. And yet, she’s someone that people seem to admire more than love. She gets respect, not adulation. But I suspect she may be just fine with that.

She’s been nominated for a record 15 Academy Awards. If she appears in a film, odds are good the Academy will recognize the excellence of her performance. She’s won two: for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice. She’s also been nominated for more Golden Globe awards than anyone else, a remarkable 23 nominations. She’s won a record-tying six (the above two films plus The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Adaptation, Angels in America, and The Devil Wears Prada).

Meryl Streep, uploaded by reelmovienews.com.

Meryl Streep, uploaded by reelmovienews.com.

In 2008 she surprised me by taking the lead in the fluff musical Mamma Mia, but only because I didn’t know her background. Meryl had voice lessons at an early age, and considered being an opera singer. She became interested in acting while a student at Vassar, and enrolled in the Yale School of Drama after graduation. One of her classmates at Yale was Sigourney Weaver. Yeah, that was a pretty impressive class.

It will be a remarkable thing if Meryl ever gives another performance as emotionally powerful as Sophie Zawistowska in Sophie’s Choice. She employed a flawless Polish accent in that film, a talent which has become one of her trademarks. That role was ranked in 2006 by Premiere Magazine as number three on its list of the 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.

Here’s a delicious bit, with Meryl playing the evil boss so very well in The Devil Wears Prada:

Food: Wendy’s Frosty

Must...resist...must...resist... Uploaded by didntyouhear.com.

Must...resist...must...resist... Uploaded by didntyouhear.com.

Well, let’s be specific: chocolate Frosty. It’s not ice cream. And it’s not a milkshake. So what is it, exactly?

It’s a cold, delicious diet killer is what it is.

Yes, a spoon. Not a straw. Uploaded to Flickr by Alana Elliott.

Yes, a spoon. Not a straw. Uploaded to Flickr by Alana Elliott.

When you buy a Frosty at the drive-thru window (not that I have any personal experience of this, but people talk), they give you a spoon and a straw. A straw. Wendy’s, I love you, but this is a foolish denial of a basic law of physics. I’m not smart enough to know which law, but it has something to do with viscosity, I think.

May I digress a moment and say that you should be able to drink a milkshake? It should be moderately thick, but be able to pass through a straw. It pains me that I even have to write such things, you’d think that the Milkshake Council of America would have set standards by now. Or that Congress, eager as it is to micromanage our lives, would have set up a Federal Iced Drink Commission. (Then restaurants would have to say “Member FIDC”.) Anyway, back to the Frosty.

Looking at the Frosty’s nutritional information reveals that each serving provides all of 8% of the DV of Vitamin A, and an amazing 15% of calcium. Now, that’s what I call nutritious goodness! (I think the calories and stuff were there too, but clearly they pale in significance to all those vitamins.) Not only…Oh, shoot, I’d like to write more, but I have to go get a Frosty.