Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Month That Was - October 2007: October was not only busy as all get out, but it was especially busy at the very end, which made for some madness. At the tail end of the month I got simultaneous hammered at work (yes, I have a day job), and with the football column resuming full speed, and with the wedding of a good friend in St. John, USVI. A perfect storm of deadlines. As always, you can keep up on the football columns over at Blogcritics. The St. John write up is going to have to wait until next month.

This month we have a heavy focus on film and video. Next month I'll try to have more on the written word -- I should have finished On The Road and I'll have lots to say. Also, no technical difficulties this month. How cool is that?

One last thing. If you are a user of a newsreader (which I am, they are super-convenient) note the Atom feed link available just under the site title. No need to keep checking each month for my updates anymore.

Florida Gulf trip
Tube Notes
Movie Round-up
In the Gulf: Early in the month I managed to squeeze in a short family visit down to Sarasota, including a not entirely planned stay slightly north in St. Petersburg. Sarasota remains quite lovely, and also quite busy. I stayed at a terrific place right out on Lido Beach called (not surprisingly) Lido Beach Resort. Big suites, two pools, koi garden, tiki bar, and walking distance to St. Armand's circle where they have my all time favorite chain restaurant, Tommy Bahamas.

I spent an interesting evening their in the thrall of a Rainman-type character who was amazing everyone at the bar with his ability to identify the day of the week of everyone's birthday in between pontificating about the need to apply probability curves to universal constants to resolve metaphysical dilemmas. He was faily entertaining until he got so drunk on chocolate martinis that the bartender had to cut him off and he staggered away.

Lido beach itself has a great reputation but I don't think it's all that. It's a bit seaweedy for my taste. The Gulf beaches are better further south, in Sanibel or Naples, but there is no arguing with the sunset views.

The "new adventure" for this trip was a lunchtime cruise around Sarasota Bay on the Marina Jack cruise boat. It's a bit of a disappointment food-wise, but Sarasota Bay is a sparklingly beautiful setting, and cruising along within about 20 yards of the super-expensive mansions on Bird Key and under the picturesque Ringling Causeway makes up for the bland fare.

Up north across the Sunshine Bridge live the sister cities of Tampa and St. Pete. Tampa is the serious sister; the serious commercial center. St. Pete is the prettier sister who gets all the longing looks. I had never been to St. Pete before and it's a decent place. There are bits of college town, bits of historic village, and bits of tourist center on display.

St. Pete is situated on a peninsula that reaches south, meaning one side of the city faces the Gulf and the other faces a Tampa Bay and looks across into the city of Tampa. Interestingly, most of the commercial area is on the bay side. St. Pete is quite large and very affected by its big city relationship with Tampa, so there are only hints of seaside community here. But the Mediterranean style architecture stands out, and there are sweet little touches, like the trolley that will take you throughout the city for a quarter, including narrated history.

The Pier is a center of tourist activity. Here you can sit by the bay and eat and drink to your heart's content. You can rent watersports equipment, you can feed the pelicans. There is unpretentious little public aquarium on the top that only costs $5 (and that price is about right). Nice place to hang out on a sunny day.

The artsy gem is the Dali Museum. Highly recommended should you be in the area. Dali is not always considered a serious artist, because of the commercial appeal and bombastic nature of his work. Dali was also refreshingly non-self-destructive and more than a little religious, which also probably kept him on the outs the elites of the salons. I think some of his work is absolutely mesmerizing. Specifically, the Hallucinogenic Toreador is one of my favorites. The displays are nicely done and correspond to Dali's life in roughly chronological order. Excellent doyens. Getting in on the (free) tour is worth it here.

St. Pete wouldn't be my first choice but I could certain hang there for a while and there is a good deal of exploring left to do there. Might be a nice gateway for an extended South Florida trip. As far as the Florida Gulf Coast goes, Sarasota remains my favorite city, but I prefer the beaches further south, Naples in particular, although that might change if I took some time to do some serious beach trolling on Siesta or Longboat Keys. Oh, well. It's not like I won't be back.

Oh, I almost forgot: pics.

Sunset on Lido Beach
Bridge over Sarasota Bay
Flower at Lido Beach Resort
Pelicans on the St. Pete Pier
Why they hang around
Architecture snippet
Get funky; get purple
Tube Notes: HBO is in the doldrums. The Wire doesn't start until January, but checl out the teaser at YouTube. More Deadwood is less likely every day. But there is new stuff coming.

True Blood, a series based on the Southern Vampire books written by Charlaine Harris, should work well with Alan Ball (Six Feet under) as the head cheese behind it. I read the first book in the series in anticipation. It was entertaining escapism, think of them as a wry, ironic take on Ann Rice themes. It should work well as an HBO series.

In Treatment, in from Mark Wahlberg, who was behind the fast failing Entourage. It's a riff on an Israeli series with stories told from varying points of view between therapists and patients. I'm dubious on this one. One wrong move and it turns in to a dramatic version of "Oprah." We'll see.

Anatomy of Hope is a series about cancer patients and their battles. It is going to have to tread a thin line to avoid becoming a sentimental weepfest. Strangely, this is coming from none other than J.J. Abrams of "Lost" and "Alias" fame. Maybe the cancer patients get involved in a conspiratorial organization far more secret than the CIA. Or something.

12 Miles of Bad Roads, about a large, wealthy, eccentric Dallas family has comedy potential, and star power. But a "portrait of eccentrics," while nice as a one shot deal, can't sustain a series. They'll need a direction and an ultimate goal to avoid going soapy.

Whitney is sad. A Sex and the City rehash with the four promiscuous women in Miami instead of NYC.

So of the known new series I am truly optimistic about one, and reservedly optimistic about another. Not good.

On the bright side, David Milch appears to be moving on from the mess that was John from Cincinnati back to the cop genre and is working on a show set in the 1970s about the Knapp Commission that looked into police corruption and begat Serpico. That could be cool. And David Simon is looking into setting his next series in New Orleans, focusing on musicians. So there is reason to hope.

One more HBO thing. The last word on The Sopranos comes from an interview with David Chase. He strongly indicates that Tony was killed in the diner and also said it doesn't matter, which I was right about. He is less pessimistic about the fate of Meadow and A.J. claiming that, while they are certainly messed up because of their father and his criminality, at least they didn't fall into it. They may suffer throughout their lives because of it, but at least they are out.

Over at AMC, Mad Men came to a close. The finale was a mixed bag. Don's uncertainty about the fate of his marriage worked well. Peggy's pregnancy did not. But I am extremely optimistic for next season. I really get the sense this show will hit its stride. The character of Don Draper is one of the most complex on TV. I also hope that they are already contemplating how to end the series because as I have pointed out before, having the end in mind is what stops you from meandering into mediocrity.

Meanwhile, in January AMC is going to give us Breaking Bad a dark comedy in which, "a high school chemistry teacher takes a match to his straight-laced existence - turning a used Winnebago into a rolling meth lab." Ha! Bring it!
Movie Roundup: More movies that I happened to see on the nine million movie channels I get.

Capote -- The buzz around this was Phillip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of the title character. He most certainly nailed it but that's not a surprise, the dude is unquestionably one of the best actors alive. His Capote is an effeminate, snooty troll who sticks out like a sore thumb anytime he steps outside his Manhattan milieu. Yet, Capote does not take offense or degrade the work-a-day types he engages in the course of his investigations for In Cold Blood, he unselfconsciously uses his alienation as a bridge to understanding the alienation of others, specifically the murderer Perry Edward Smith.

Over the course of research into the murders, we follow Capote as he gets himself more deeply intertwined with Smith. Capote is so overwhelmed by the emotional conflict of his sympathy for the regretful outsider Smith and his repulsion at the savage killing of a family of innocents and perhaps a bit of shame as the way he is going to benefit from the situation, that he suffers a breakdown. In real life, Capote did little else of value after In Cold Blood. He got involved in jet set celebrity jackassery and, of course, drugs.

If Capote has a failing, it is that it is too narrow a slice. It is a brief portrait of a particularly emotional time in the life a Truman Capote, but we lose the larger context. Hoffman portrays Capote's conflicts exceptionally, but the script allows us no insight into where they come from or what the personal consequences might take.

Brick -- Movie like this are one of the reasons I am glad I have nine million movie channels. Near as I can tell, this won a ton of festival awards but only had a limited theatrical release last year. But I guarantee you it is better than 97% of the clap trap you saw last year.

Brick is a real film noir, hard-boiled detective story -- the kind you would expect to star Humphrey Bogart -- but it is transposed to a modern day high school. The dialog is amazing and the young actors readily slip into the metre of the old school Raymond Chandler worthy script. Everything is pitch perfect form the camera angles to the pacing to the sound. Just a great movie.

It is not, however, High School Musical, there is a real darkness to it, and despite the youthful cast and the high school setting, it is more appropriate for adults. Do watch it. Its reputation can only grow in the upcoming years.

Gothic -- a Ken Russell psychotropic drugfest horror (horror as in the horror genre, not as in horrible). Ostensibly about a night of laudanum induced hallucinations with Lord Bryon, Percy Shelley, and Mary Godwin (who would become Mary Shelley) that eventually led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein. It also served as the germ of another horror story called The Vampyre to be written by one of the other guests, Dr. Pollodori. Thus this one extended acid trip had far reaching literary consequences.

(Interestingly, to me anyway, part of the impetus for this was the weather. This all occurred in "the year without a summer," 1816, when Mount Tambora erupted and filled the atmosphere with enough dust that there was frost and cold all through the summer in Europe. Since it was too cold to spend much time outside, this group hung around in indoors, bored, and thus turned to drugs for recreation.)

There is some good insight about creations of any sort reflecting the flaws and evil in their creator, but it is predominately about the hallucinations, petty cruelties and emotional games played among the characters. It also gives director Ken Russell a nice backdrop for all the freaky and salacious visuals he can think of. But the characters are utterly pretentious and a bit on the superficial side, and their portrayal is grotesquely overwrought. It's a better choice for a horror flick than any ten slasher films or formulaic serial killer flicks, so it might be worth a look for something different.

Eragon -- Fantasy epic tripe. A lame riff on Lord of the Rings or some such. Without heart or soul. I gave it 45 minutes, which was more than I should have.

The Big Lebowski -- Yeah, yeah, I know. I've seen it a dozen times but it still holds up. There have been few better acting turns than the one Jeff Bridges took in this film. He should have won an Oscar. I'd like to see that happen, just once: someone get an Oscar for some absurd, farcical, comedic role, instead of some dire character that they had to gain fifty pounds to play. The Dude abides.