Saturday, March 24, 2012

Madonna's Top 10 Songs Cross My Borderline

I was just listening to Madonna's Immaculate Collection this morning. She truly is one of the best remnants of the 1980s. Those songs have stood the test of time, although I have almost no interest in anything she's produced over the past 20 years.

In honor of this list of Madonna's top 10 songs, please enjoy my lo-fi rendition of "Borderline," which comes in at #1 on my list and is also incidentally a lot of fun to play.

01. Borderline
02. Like a Virgin (her best video, wow!)
03. Crazy for You
04. Holiday
04. Into the Groove
05. Lucky Star
06. Cherish
07. Material Girl
08. Papa Don't Preach
09. Live to Tell
10. La Isla Bonita

Sushi is the Best Food, Now Eat it Right

I was really a deprived child. Growing up in St. Louis, there were not really any options to eat sushi. So I didn't really ever get to eat it until I moved to Washington DC 13 years ago. But since I've been here, I've probably had it more than 1,000 times, all over the world.

It's also my 4-year-old son's favorite food by far. He calls the eel rolls "candy sushi."

I think I've done a good job of building strong manners for eating sushi. But it's funny to see this chart of sushi dos and don'ts, posted by the excellent blog Smart People I Know, which notifies me that I should stop blending my wasabi in the soy sauce. Hmm.

And my son usually bites the nigiri in half, but otherwise his manners are in tact as well.

Top 5 Favorite Sushi:
1. Eel
2. Fatty tuna
3. Salmon
4. Tuna
5. Tie between octopus and yellow tail

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mad Men for Democrats, Modern Family for Republicans

This is an amazing graphic from Buzzfeed.

Glad to see I'm post-partisan. My favorite drama is Mad Men (which Democrats like much more than Republicans ... why?) and my favorite comedy is Modern Family (which Republicans like much more than Democrats ... I can maybe understand that a little more, except the gay couple would seem to conflict a little more with Republican values, right?).

And by the way, has anyone else noticed that Modern Family has taken a serious dive in quality this season? It's like night and day from previous seasons. Anyone have any theories as to why?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Little Boy Stuck in an Elevator

A scary thing happened on Monday night. Jackson, my 4-year-old (you can see his take in the short video below), got stuck by himself in the elevator in our building.

He rides the elevator all the time by himself, so when he and I walked into the lobby, he went left to take the elevator up three flights to see mommy while I went right to put my bike away on the racks. I climbed the stairs to our place, said "hi" to Rachel, and asked her where Jackson was. She hadn't seen him, so I headed back to the elevator. Still no Jackson.

I went back downstairs and it looked like one of the two elevators wasn't working. I called out his name and heard a little whimper behind the elevator door, "I"m in the elevator, daddy."

It was a heartbreaking sound, but I jumped into action pressing every button in the lobby and the other elevator. My neighbor Ed walked around the corner and helped with calling the emergency number in the other elevator while I talked to Jackson through the door.

He said he was OK, that the overhead light was on, and that none of the buttons were working or lighting up. Jackson was beginning to get worked up and clearly scared. He said to me that he was going to pee in his pants. I then told him to take his shorts down and pee in a corner. My finest moment in elevator-emergency coaching!

I then told him to sit tight and ran out into the courtyard to yell up to Rachel to call 911, which seemed even more important since the emergency line in the other elevator had only called the elevator company and they were pretty non-committal on giving an estimated time of arrival.

A sizable group of neighbors had now gathered outside the elevators to lend support, and the fire department arrived in about five minutes. They had some big keys that they used to open the door. I started to tell one of the firemen to watch where he was stepping into the elevator, but I was not quick enough, as his foot went directly into Jackson's substantial pee pool. I figured I'd not mention it to the wet-footed fireman.

More importantly, Jackson stepped right out and was gathered into mommy's arms. He was clearly shaken, after being trapped for about 15 minutes, but was still able to thank the fire people and display his enthusiasm for the cool fire trucks parked out front. All in all, he was rel trooper through the ordeal.

I worked with the elevator repairman when he showed up about 45 minutes after the elevator company had been called. He spotted the malfunction right away and assured me that Jackson hadn't done anything wrong (Jackson is, after all, a pro elevator operator by now) and that it was the luck of the draw and that the next person to get in would have been stuck, no matter whether it was an adult or child.

Definitely the scariest thing to happen as a parent yet! Although Jackson apparently told a pretty good rendition of the story to his classmates the next day, so at least he got a good story out of the deal. And some candy too, of course.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Harrelson Helps Kunis and Timberlake in Friends With Benefits

Friends With Benefits is a romcom that carried a ton of buzz into its opening. After the trailer was posted on You Tube, it took only 2 days to reach 1 million views. Special video announcements were made for Facebook and Twitter. And two superstars of the social-media generation (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake) were secured to each play their biggest movie roles yet.

The only thing missing was a name. The film was originally called No Strings Attached, but that name was taken by a flick, starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, that beat this one to the punch. I guess that means Topher Grace will be the next That 70s Show star in a formulaic movie about friends falling in love. Friends With Benefits was lucky to get out of the gate with this title as well. An unrelated NBC sitcom with the same name is just about set to launch.

So what of the inspired promotional campaign and the uninspired title? The bottom line is that Kunis and Timberlake tend to force their acting a bit, but end up being believable and likable. I'm inclined to say that the storylines of Timberlake's dad having Alzheimer's and not knowing his wife has left him and Kunis' mom as an over-sexed child of the 70s are too serious for the movie's light tone. But, then again, these stories serve to help us understand why the stars have such a damaged view of relationships.

Kunis is a headhunter who helps Timberlake secure a big-time job as art director at GQ. These two are complemented by Woody Harrelson, who plays GQ's sports editor. He appears sparingly, but when he does, he steals every scene. All his lines are golden.

Harrelson, and the chemistry of the two stars, helps propel Friends With Benefits into a better-than-average romcom.

*** out of ***** stars

Monday, March 12, 2012

Civilization Threatens to Bring Down Woolly Mammoth's Season of Apocalypse

Woolly Mammoth shows are almost always between really good and near-perfect. But Civilization (All You Can Eat), whose run ended last night at the downtown DC venue, is off-the-charts, unexpectedly bad.

I'm not one to hold absurdism against anyone or anything. But this play, which features fine acting performances, simply has a script that prevents the audience from constructing any rationale whatsoever for caring about the characters.

Civilization is about how individuals have odds stacked against them to make it in this world. Sarah Marshall is one of the great regulars of Woolly shows, and here she plays "Big Hog," a fat, all-knowing pig.

The person-conquering mindset of her character, which is creatively costumed, has been done before in classic novels like Animal Farm and Watership Down. It's not clear why we need another riff from this perspective on the cruelty of mankind. I actually think the plot line of Big Hog taking us on the journey to escape the slaughterhouse and make something (or other) of itself could have been quite interesting if something original and exciting resulted from it.

The script by Jason Grote, a writer for NBC's Smash, is just not funny. It's not illuminating in any way. I'm not even sure it's trying to be "deep" in any way. If it is, it fails miserably. The attempt at weirdness in the changeovers is just pathetic and uncomfortable - so absurd that it lacks absurdity. It's certainly clear why the play is 100 minutes with no intermission. At least half the audience would have left, if the comments made all around me were any measure.

A big misstep for Woolly, and one that will hopefully be redeemed with the next show of this season, which, with its theme of the apocalypse, has been otherwise wonderful.

* out of ***** stars

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Greenberg Adds to Ben Stiller's Cast of Classic Character Studies

Greenberg is a slight film, but one entirely worth 90 minutes of your time and a nominee for best picture of the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards. Ben Stiller scales back his usual zaniness to play the titular part of a middle-aged former musician who has been released from a mental facility.

The New Yorker decides to live in his brother's empty house in Los Angeles to "do nothing" for a while. Greta Gerwig plays Florence, who is taking care of the house and Mahler the dog while the family is vacationing in Vietnam. She is the reason this movie is impossible to stop watching.

She falls almost immediately for Roger Greenberg, and their relationship goes through a series of hiccups that would typically spell the end of any affair if not for her duties at the house bringing her back again and again to the eccentric Greenberg.

Gerwig complements Stiller perfectly. And this is actually one of Stiller's best-ever characters, although the movie as a whole doesn't measure up to his high-bar-setting classics Reality Bites, Happy Gilmore, There's Something About Mary, Meet the Parents, Keeping the Faith, The Royal Tenenbaums, Zoolander, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and Tropic Thunder.

***1/2 out of ***** stars

Thursday, March 1, 2012

R.I.P. Davy Jones: Some Monkees Memories From Our Archives

Davy Jones has died of a heart attack at the too-young age of 66. He always looked too young, which is probably part of the reason why this is such a surprise. I would argue that The Monkees and The Archies (seriously, check out their back catalogue, which is far deeper than that of Jones' band) are the two greatest bubblegum bands of all time.

I recently listed the top 10 Monkees' songs here. Agree?

And here is my review from last summer of a new biography of the band:

In Monkey Business: The Revolutionary Made-for-TV Band, the Monkees are described just as I remember from all the after-school TV-watching of my youth: "a kind of visual LSD for the Kool-Aid set."

The author, Eric Lefcowitz, interestingly describes how he forgot about the band throughout the 1970s. But at the start of the next decade, he heard "a bizarre cover" of "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" by the Sex Pistols. Despite being a fan of dark and political acts like Joy Division, The Clash, Dead Kennedys, and Black Flag, Lefcowitz found himself a few days later buying a Monkees album.

I similarly feel that there will always be some "music purists who never get the Monkees, who don't care that the Beatles, themselves, were fans." Or that some of the Monkees' songs were penned by legends like Harry Nilsson, Neil Diamond, and Carole King. Or that their TV show used "cutting-edge techniques" and band member Michael Nesmith, "for all intents and purposes [along with the Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night], invented the revolutionary music video format that would later become MTV."

Other interesting tidbids from this book about a space in time that endlessly fascinates me:
- Urban legend has it that mass-murderer Charles Manson auditioned for the band, but that was later proven false.
- Stephen Stills, later of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, actually did audition, but he lost out "due to a receding hairline and a recessed tooth."

Classic Reads: The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe Takes a Basic, Slightly Boring Road to Fantasyland

Other "classic reads" can be found in the Books section.

The first of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. At a country house outside of London during World War II, Lucy Pevensie and her three siblings are visiting a house that takes them away from the urban bombings and find a magical wardrobe that leads to another world.

With fur coats in the wardrobe somehow turning into trees, a half-man and half-goat invites Lucy to tea. But her brother Edmund comes face-to-face with the White Witch, who feeds him "the sweetest and best candy in the world, Turkish Delight." The witch is interested in knowing he is one of four siblings, and promises Edmund that, if he brings them all to the castle, he will get more Turkish Delight.

All the kids do eventually end up in Narnia and find a note that says Mr. Tumnus, the goat-man, has been arrested by the queen for high treason and turned into a stone statue at the palace of the White Witch. The children then find a beaver who tells them where they can find the statue, and also tells them about a legend of four children who would sit on four thrones and end the rein of the White Witch.

The witch kidnaps Edmund, and as the kids are traveling along a frozen river, they encounter Father Christmas, who gives Peter a sword and shield, Susan a bow and horn, and Lucy a magic elixir that will heal any wounds. The children recruit the lion Aslan to help them, and he enters negotiations with the witch to spare Edmund's life. She, in turn, stabs a "razor-sharp knife" into Aslan, but he miraculously heals. The children are able to save Edmund, defeat the witch, and rule Narnia for many years, until they stumble back into the wardrobe and into the house, where no time has passed at all.

The story is a little silly and basic, and a little too-hastily wrapped up, but it's fun enough if you're not expecting as much as most classics.