Back In The Swing
Okay, after too long a layoff from posting, I will try to resume a regular schedule. Here is the cool link of the day.
Okay, after too long a layoff from posting, I will try to resume a regular schedule. Here is the cool link of the day.
My family spent the day in New York City, taking in the matinee performance of Movin' Out, the Twyla Tharp dance performance based on the music of Billy Joel. Since I grew up on Long Island, Billy Joel was to me what Bruce Springsteen was to people in New Jersey: a hometown boy who hit it big. So I knew the music of this production pretty well. One of my cousins has been a member of the company since the show premiered, so we got to have dinner with her after the show. An enjoyable outing in the Big Apple!
It's official: the days are getting longer now (even if it doesn't feel like it yet!).
Merry Christmas, everyone. Okay, I REALLY need to get back to a regular routine of posting to this site. It will be a New Year's resolution, for sure. In the meantime, I will endeavor to assemble a few "Ten Best" lists to send off 2004. Look for these in the course of the next few days.
Anyway, this morning Santa Claus brought me a shelf load of books (and some audio CDs and DVDs), the list of which I am pleased to share with you:
Here, for your consideration is my first Top 10 list of the season. First up: the best in television in the past calendar year. I've limited myself to regularly scheduled programs (no specials, sporting events, wardrobe malfunctions, or presidential debates--"He forgot Poland!")
10. The Simpsons. Because more than fifteen years into its run, the show is still capable of moments of brilliance, even if it is not as consistent as it once was. Moreover, it retains its delightfully subversive sensibility. As in the past, itís the wonderfully detailed second- and third-tier characters that keep this half hour ticking.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm, which we need to see a lot more of. It's more or less an HBO version of Seinfeld focusing on George Costanza living in L.A.
8. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. At its peak in this election year. A spot on send-up of the worlds of politics and the media.
7. The West Wing. Despite the continued absence of a sorely missed scripter Aaron Sorkin, the shake-up in the White House staff following Leoís heart attack, the machinations involved in the forthcoming election to detemine Bartlet's successor, and the presidentís recent battles with his multiple sclerosis have returned this program to "Must See TV" status.
6. The O.C. I know, I know: itís mindless, but a guilty pleasure nonetheless. The snappy dialogue makes up for the tedious soap opera angst.
5. Drawn Together. Little seen show on Comedy Central that features totally warped humor. Itís amazing what they have gotten away with, but I guess the animated format makes it easier for the censors to hold their nose. If The O.C. is a guilty pleasure, then this one's a naughty pleasure.
4. Alias. I was a latecomer to this show, having watched the first three seasons on DVD--which may, in fact, be the best way to watch a serial thriller like this. I'll be watching season four when it returns to the air starting in January.
3. The Sopranos. Hard-hitting season #5 was a welcome return to form. Oh, poor Adriana!
2. Arrested Development. Frigginí hilarious. Hasn't missed a beat in its second season, either. Best comic plotting since Seinfeld.
1. Lost. Heads and shoulders above the field. Not just the best new show on TV, but the best overall right now. This was a surprise to me. I watched the premiere with some wariness, but by the third episode I was totally hooked. There is no more inventive, suspenseful character-driven show on the air.
Near misses and honorable mentions: the third season of 24; HBO's Entourage; the new season of Smallville--the addition of a young Lois Lane to the cast has made this program a bit more interesting; Saturday Night Live, which always seems to find its voice in an election year (the debate send-ups were clever); Everwood--I gave Jack & Bobby a try, but this is the only "family drama" that I see with any regularlity; and The Office special, which wrapped up this terrific British import both sweetly and snarkily.
In presenting my picks for the best DVD releases of 2004, Iíve leaned heavily toward multi-disc collections, which appears the direction into which the industry is moving.
10. The Simpsons, Seasons 4 and 5. The golden age of this animated classic. Some of the episodes in these two collections released in 2004 are absolutely delightful.
9. Looney Tunes Golden Collection, Volume 2. A priceless assortment of 60 cartoons restored to their full glory. A worthy successor to the excellent Volume 1.
8. The Office, Seasons 1 and 2 and Special. Bloody brilliant British comedy with a perfect cast. Hilarious.
7. Live Aid. This gem on four discs is a time capsule of pop music in the summer of 1985. The Live Aid double concert in the U.S. and the U.K. was equivalent of Woodstock for the MTV generation. I missed seeing the original broadcast, as I was far from a television set, immersed in my first teaching job on the campus of St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, but later that summer I wore through a VCR cassette of the action in Wembley and Philadelphia. The clear highlight for me: U2ís breakthrough performance.
6. Da Ali G Show: The Complete First Season. I stumbled on this show in the late spring almost by accident. A friend had loaned me a bootleg copy of the first season shows on HBO before the disc had been commercially released. It sat next to my TV for a couple of months before I started to feel guilty I hadn't given it back to her. So I popped it in the DVD player on a quiet weekend night while on duty in the dorm. After fifteen minutes in which I was trying to figure out what this was all about, the laughs came: fall out of the chair, gasping for air, deep belly laughs. At their best moments, Sasha Baron Cohenís characters--Ali G, Borat, and Bruno--made me laugh as hard as I've ever laughed.
5. Alias, Seasons 1, 2, and 3. This is a bit of a cheat to lump all three seasons together as one item on my list, especially as not all were released in 2004. But I watched them all this past year and 2004 is when I got hooked on the series. Season 1 was a February obsession, Season 2 took up more of my spring break than I'd care to admit, and then I got up to date with the release of the third set in September.
4. Seinfeld, Seasons 1 & 2 and Season 3. I went for the collector's set, with the Monk's Cafť salt and pepper shakers and the annotated script. I usually steer clear of these fancy packages, but I this case it seemed like the cheapest way to get all three season at once from Amazon. I got to watch a slew of Season 3 episodes with some colleagues while we traveled to a school function on a bus and was reminded just how very funny this show was at its peak.
3. Freaks And Geeks: The Complete Series, Deluxe Edition. This package, delivered in a replica of a high school yearbook, wonderfully captures my days as a teenager. The setting of the show lines up nearly perfectly with my era. And the deluxe set has just loads of material. What a terrific soundtrack, too. I missed the show when it originally aired, but it's a treat to see it in this wonderfully complete DVD package.
Tie, 2. Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogy boxed sets. These offerings from Lucasfilm contain some of my all-time favorite movies plus a bunch of nifty behind-the-scenes extras. They look and sound great. The DVD versions were well worth the wait. But they could have slid into the top slot, had (a) we been offered the original theatrical releases of the Star Wars flicks (we know Greedo did NOT shoot first!); and/or (b) Spielberg had broken down to give us director's commentaries on the Indy movies.
1. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Extended Version). The conclusion to Peter Jackson's magnum opus winds up at the top of my list in part because the original film was so well made, but more because Jackson shows the rest of the film industry just how good the DVD format can be in presenting a film. The extended versions of all three LOTR movies reflect tremendous care in their assembly and probably will be regarded as the "definitive" versions of the these films in years to come. When put together, the three extended version packages comprise an epic that spans almost 12 hours of film. And it's all utterly gorgeous. But what makes these collections so exquisite is the sheer volume of extras. The additional materials reflect the same sort of attention to detail that was typical of the movies themselves. An A+ release.
Honorable mentions and near misses: Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seasons 1 and 2, if for nothing else than for the "Beloved Aunt" episode; The West Wing, Seasons 2 and 3: the good old days of Aaron Sorkin dialogue, snappily delivered by one of televisionís best ensemble casts; and Spider-Man 2, a movie that was deservedly a box office smash in the summer.
The human tragedy in South Asia has been getting widespread news coverage. It seems each hour the body count from the deadly tsunami climbs horrifyingly higher. It gives one pause in this holiday season to count his blessings. It also reminds us, fragile residents of this planet that we are, of the power of nature in a world that we often fool ourselves into thinking we have tamed with our technology.
Just a few hours away from a flight to Puerto Rico. I am looking forward to escaping from the sub-freezing temperatures of the Northeast!
I have arrived in Puerto Rico. It's warm but rainier than I had hoped. But I'll be here through Sunday, so ideally I'll have some time to craft a tan that will make everyone at home envious!
For those too young to remember, the picture above is from a TV show called "The Flying Nun" (I couldn't make this up!) that aired from 1967 until 1970. The premise was a novice nun--played by Sally Field--found that her light weight, the shape of her nun's habit, and the winds of San Juan combined to allow her to soar over the city. Really. For three seasons on network television. (Who thought this one up?)
In middle of the parking lot of my Condado Beach hotel here in San Juan, I found lying on the ground the CD boxed set of the first four U.S. releases. This is something I could never imagine spending money on, as I already have all the music on other discs, but it's sure nice to have drop into my lap!
I visted the Bacardi factory across the bay from Old San Juan this afternoon. Getting there reminded me of my time in Sydney in 1998: the ferry and the pier were reminiscent of the ferries from Circular Quay down under. And the Bacardi tour was better than the one I had in the Bahamas in 1989 (I remember riding a scooter all the way to the south side of Nassau just to get there).
Okay, I admit my pop music tastes have not developed much since 1990, but for better or worse, here's what earned my top ratings for the past calendar year:
7. The acoustic versions of Seal's songs on Best: 1991-2004, especially "Kiss From A Rose."
6. Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits. A great collection of Mellencamp's work over the course of twenty-five years.
5. Five For Fighting, "100 Years." I really like this song.
4. Scissor Sisters, Scissor Sisters. Because I'm a sucker for a group that channels early 1970s Elton John in such a captivating fashion (check out "Take Your Mama"). The strange cover of "Comfortably Numb"--hands down, one of my favorite songs of all time--is beguilingly catchy.
3. Elton John, Peachtree Road. Sir Elton still has a knack for melody and this collection of tracks picks up where Songs From the West Coast left off--a fine assemblage of tunes worthy of comparison to the singer's early 1970s work.
2. The Complete U2. This exclusive iTunes release was significant for me less because of the music it included--I had the majority of the material on CD already, though there were some nice unreleased, rare, and live performance cuts included in the mix--than because of the ground-breaking concept of a digital box set. I can think of a dozen artists for whom I'd part with money to get something similar.
1. U2, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. The Irish quartet prove they are still the most important band in the world. 'Nuff said.
I confess to having seen precious few movies in the theater this year. I've missed many of the picks on critics' best 10 lists, in particular. So the following group consists mostly of popcorn flicks that I enjoyed in 2004; I have not ranked them 1-10, so in no particular order:
Hero. A tremendous visual spectacle. Stunningly gorgeous.
Kill Bill, Volume 2. Far from perfect, but visceral when at its best. The scene of Uma Thurman being buried alive still gives me chills.
Farenheit 9/11. There surely are valid criticisms of Michael Moore's presentation, but but controversy aside, this stands as a fine piece of film-making.
The Passion Of The Christ. There surely are valid criticisms of Mel Gibson's presentation, but controversy aside, this stands as a fine piece of film-making.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Alfonso Cuaron's sure-handed direction raises the bar in the latest installment of this Warner Bros. franchise.
Super Size Me. An effective documentary in the best muck-raking tradition.
Spider-Man 2. This sequel successfully captured the spirit of Stan Lee's Marvel Comics in the 1960s.
The Incredibles. Like Spider-Man 2, this manages to be a lot of fun while making some thoughtful points. Terrific animated film.
Collateral. The best movie I saw this year. Great script, tremendous acting, excellent direction from Michael Mann.
Honorable mention: Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. An underrated movie that does amazing things with digital technology. A throwback to the "B" movies of sixty years ago.