Wednesday, March 31, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL

On some level I have given up on American Idol this year. Ididn't even watch the singing show, and Tivo-ed through the results show quickly. Tonight the person voted off should have been me (after my lackluster performance at school), but instead they voted off one of the better singers, Didi, instead of the other two in the bottom three, both of whom should have gone home weeks ago.

I'm not sure how much longer I can watch. Simon is clearly already checked out mentally, and Ryan is being uncomfortably confrontational with him. I'm not sure this show will survive next year.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

LOST IN LA MANCHA

I've never been a big fan of Terry Gilliam. His best work was in Monty Python, and that was co-directed. I've always suspected that the other Terry (Jones) was the genius in that instance. Of his other films, most are unwatchable, and the few that are passable are very, very highly overrated, especially by film students, who are easily impressed by the techincal. He puts far more emphasis on technique than on the things that really matter, a good story and involving characters.

So I was interested in seeing the documentary made years ago about his attempts to film DON QUIXOTE. I finally got around to watching it on Netflix. It's not a great film, but it does show his failures as a director. He is terrible at dealing with actors, except for Johnny Depp, who appears to direct himself quite well. He is unable to foresee even the simplest of problems, and then cannot deal with them at all. He seems to think that somehow everything will fix itself, and just yells when things go wrong. He certainly seems far from the genius everyone describes.

There certainly appear to be moments of visual interest in his film, but just about everything else about his directing looks terrible. It's an interesting study in how to not direct a film. Oh, and once again, he's trying to get the film off the ground. Oy, vey.

40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN

OK, I'm many years late on seeing this; I finally caught up with it on Netflix. Although I liked the film as a whole, and the cast was fantastic, I was a little let down by the writing. There were a lot of scenes that could have been tighter and better focused. I got the feeling there were entire scenes that were improvised. But Steve Carrell is very likable and brings a lot to the movie.

But it is a good move.

AMERICAN IDOL 10

As a singer, I try to keep up with AMERICAN IDOL but I was out of town last week and only caught the last part of each show. Plus this year's groups seems very weak, there are maybe 3 good singers in the top ten.

The audience had the right bottom three last week. The only surprise is that Tim Urban made it to the top 10, which means he will be on the tour. Even though he's a terrible singer, there is something likable about him. I suspect that's all that saved him. Considering that he wasn't even supposed to make the top 24, that's pretty amazing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Training Baseball Update

Spring Training Baseball Update

Today I completed a 4-day , 5-game whirlwind tour of Cactus League baseball. I’ve been coming for a number of years, and have seen a number of changes in the league. I saw 3 Dodger games, 2 Rockies games, 2 Padres games, the Rangers, the Royals, and the Reds. Two games were in Surprise, one at Glendale Camelback, one in Peoria, and one in Goodyear.

With my visit to the Rangers/Royals stadium in Surprise, I have now been to all of the active fields in Phoenix in the Cactus League. When I first started coming, I focused on the Angels. Born a Red Sox fan, I had been living in LA and had followed them as I saw the Red Sox play them almost annually since I moved from Boston to LA. They had gotten good in 2001 and it was a good way to get my wife interested in baseball, so we both ended up following them for several years. Their park in Tempe is quite nice, as is downtown Tempe. But then I switched to following the Dodgers and ended up getting season tickets.

Last year the Dodgers moved to the Cactus League in a new stadium in Glendale called Camleback Ranch (named after the street it is on). Architecturally it is the nicest of all the stadiums. It is also the biggest, the most expensive for ticket buyers, and has by far the worst parking (although this year it appeared to be free, unless they somehow forgot to charge me). But I also moved to Denver and became a Rockies fan, so I wanted to see Rockies games.

Next year, the two remaining teams playing in Tucson are moving north to Phoenix, including my new team the Rockies. They will have a new stadium in Scottsdale (where the Giants already have a park), which will be designed by the architects who did Camelback, so I have hope that it will be a nice field, although hopefully without the negatives of Camelback. It will be nice to see them here regularly, rather than have to try to schedule my trip around when they are in town. Also moving are the Cubs, who threatened to go to Florida, but who managed to get Phoenix to pay for a new stadium by adding a tax to all tickets sold (essentially forcing fans of other teams to pay for the park!).

I arrived in town Friday night to see the Dodgers play the Padres in Peoria. I had been to Peoria the previous year for a Dodgers-Brewers game. It’s a nice park. My seats were fantastic. I was across the aisle from Dodger GM Ned Colletti. I’ve dealt with enough celebrities in the past to know how much they hate intrusions, so I did not bother him. The game was not great, the first two innings took almost an hour, and by the time it was over, Ned had moved, and I was not feeling well and decided to leave the game early. I did however enjoy seeing Manny strike out with the bases loaded. (God, I hate him.) Kuroda had a poor outing, giving up 3 runs in 4 innings. David Eckstein, now a Padre, still runs full speed to first even when he gets a walk. James MacDonald gave up 6 runs in relief in only 1.1 innings.

Saturday was my double-header day. It started with the Dodgers split-squad playing the Rangers in Surprise, and finished with the Padres playing the other half of the Dodgers again, this time at Camelback. At all games I had excellent tickets behind home plate. That’s one of the great perks in spring training; it’s easy and usually cheap to get great seats I could never afford elsewhere.

Surprise is really removed from Phoenix. Most of the drive is on surface roads, and traffic can be bad. Once you are there, parking is free, which is nice, but there are very few food choices at the park, and they do not take credit cards. The food is what you would expect at a carnival. I got diarrhea and left the game early again. They do allow you to bring your own food, which is what I did the next day. The Dodgers won this one, 5-4, in one of the better-played games of the weekend. Ramon Ortiz pitched 4 good innings for the Dodgers.

Camelback should have been better designed. It was built in the middle of nowhere, so you would have expected entries to parking from all directions. Unfortunately, they did not do this, all traffic comes down Camelback to get in. (The Dodgers also have terrible parking in LA. I’m not sure who designed their parking systems, but he deserves a few centuries in purgatory.) The terrible parking at Camelback did result in an unexpected bonus; I had to drive all the way around the stadium to get to a parking spot. I had gotten the game quite early, and my parking was close to the practice fields, so I got to walk right by Chad Billingsly and Jeff Weaver signing autographs as they finished their workouts. (Weaver is a non-roster invitee; I would doubt the Dodgers have room for him, even in the bullpen.)

The Dodgers got only 2 hits in the Saturday night game. Padilla gave up 4 runs in 5 innings. Belliard’s homer was the lone run for the Dodgers.

Sunday I caught my first Rockies game, playing Kansas City in Surprise. This was quite a game. At the end of the first inning, the score was 5-5 and again the first inning took almost an hour. Both teams batted around the full order in the first. Usually spring games are very short. When you take out the commercial breaks, an MLB game can be played in a little over two hours. But this game took three and a half hours, and ended in an 11-11 tie in 9 innings. (Spring games can end in ties; some managers will go a 10th inning but rules prohibit going any further). I certainly got my money’s worth out of that game!

Chacin pitched poorly for the Rockies. It seems unlikely he will make the starting rotation. Matt Daley looked quite good in one inning of relief. Eric Young Jr. and Seth Smith both looked quite good at the plate for the Rockies. The Royals shortstop Betancourt made two errors in the same play in the 1st, which should have ended the inning. The team had 4 errors, plus a passed ball for 5 unearned runs. The Royals just don’t seem to have a competitive team.

One of the things that I enjoy about baseball is the ability to score along with the game. I’m still using the same scorebook I bought at the end of the 2006 season, appropriately for a Rockies game at Dodger stadium. Spring training games are tough to score because of all the substitutions (and the huge roster, often with players who are not listed, or have the wrong number, or two players have the same number). Sunday’s game had 13 pitchers between the two teams. It is not uncommon for every position player to be switched out during a game, some more than once.

Today’s game was quite good for the Rockies, playing the Reds in Goodyear. Goodyear is a nice park but they are kind of in the middle of nowhere and the drive can be rough if there is traffic. It also seems to be the hottest park, although if you pick your seats carefully it’s easy to be in the shade. Most of the parks have very little shade seating, but the last few rows behind home are usually in the shade. Parking at Goodyear is $5 on a grass lot. I don’t believe there is any street parking.

Clint Barmes hit a 2-run homer in the 3rd, and Brad Elred hit a powerful homer dead center in the 5th. De la Rosa looked great for the Rockies. Matt Daley and Manny Corpas looked good in relief. The Rockies won 9-1, a nice way for me to finish my trip!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MOON

I Netflixed MOON based on recommendations of numerous Facebook friends, but I have to say I was underwhelmed.

If this had been a SyFy original, I'd have been impressed, but overall, it's a long TWILIGHT ZONE episode. The problem with a 97 minute episode is that it gives you way too much time to think, and every "surprise" plot point telegraphed itself far ahead of time.

The saving grace for the film was the fine acting of Sam Rockwell. It's tough to explain without giving away plot details, but suffice it to say that he gets to show a wide range of acting skills.

Worth a rental for real sci-fi fans, but otherwise forgettable.

AMERICAN IDOL TOP 12: RESULTS

The only shock was that Tim was safe and Lacie is going home. There were probably four singers worse than her last night, but being forgettable is a pretty bad flaw on this show.

If you believe DialIdol.com, Lee is the runaway winner right now.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL TOP 12

I really think the show would be better if they kept the boys and girls separate until the top two. A two-hour show at this point is impossible to sit through, even with the help of Tivo.

Tonight's comments from the judges were pretty good for the most part. My comments, in order of appearance:

Michael Lynch is by far the best of the guys and will make it to the top few (although DialIdol.com disagrees).

Didi was better than expected again. She's not my choice by a long shot, but is safe for at least another 3 weeks.

Casey was better this week, but I'm not sure how long he will last. His song choice was not right for him.

I like Lacey but her performance was lackluster. Otherwise I think she's safe too.

Andrew has completely lost it. He was not as bad as some of the comments from the judges seemed to indicate, but he is not a winner by any means.

Katie is really awful. Amazingly, there were worse performances after her, though, so she's still safe.

Tonight Tim Urban reminded everyone why he doesn't belong there, after redeeming himself last week. His voice was shaky throughout. Unlike the judges, I think it was a good choice to switch it up and do reggae, but he clearly has no confidence in himself and could not pull it off.

Simon had excellent comments for Siobhan. Her intro was actually terrible, but the rest of the song was great. However, if she keeps doing "the scream" she will be seen as a one-trick pony, and I suspect already that some people will hate her for that. I like her, though.

Lee is not DeWyze one when he sings such a low-key performance. He runs the risk of losing simply by being forgettable, like Lilly last week.

Paige is truly awful. I admire her for doing so well with laryngitis, but the judges were too kind to her.

Aaron gave the strangest rendition of "Angie" imaginable, I thought it was open mike night at the Holiday Inn, but the judges were awful nice to him.

Crystal did not Blowmysox off, but she is safe as could be.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

IT MIGHT GET LOUD

I really wanted to like IT MIGHT GET LOUD, but I couldn't even get through it the whole way.

I like movies. I like music. I like documentaries especially, and a doc about music should have been a sure thing. Director Davis Guggenheim gave us AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, one of the most important documentaries of all time, but this is not a documentary. It is a love letter to three guitarists that the director clearly worships. There is no real analysis of them as individuals or human beings, let alone as performing musicians.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that he treats them all the same, even though Jimmie Page is clearly a seminal, influential guitarist across generations, The Edge is an important rock guitarist with U2 has who been performing for decades, and the White Stripes guy is just an obnoxious kid who thinks he's a lot more talented than he really is. He's not in the same league and does not even belong in this movie.

In addition, picking three guitarists from threee eras with three different styles does not make for a coherent movie. It's a shame, it had potential, but this movie just doesn't pull it off.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL 16: Results

Big shock tonight, I can't believe Katie is coming back. America definitely made the wrong choice. Lilly picked a weird song and gave a weak performance, but was infinitely stronger than Katie, who will almost certainly be the next to go.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL 16: Guys

I was shocked tonight; the worst of the guys were all much better than I had ever thought they could be.

Aaron Kelly and Andrew Garcia were probably the weakest of the night. Casey James was surprisingly weak as well.

Alex Lambert, Lee Dewyze, Tim Urban, and Toddrick Hall were much better than they had ever been. Tim Urban is currently VoteForTheWorst's choice, but he was not the worst tonight.

Michael Lynch is still the man to beat at this point. He's a pro compared to everyone else.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL 16: Girls

It's interesting to watch the development of AMERICAN IDOL singers as we approach the top 12. This year there is a clear bent towards indie-sounding voices rather than the pop idols they have leaned towards in the past.

Without question, the two worst were Katie Stevens and Paige Miles. Katie should have gone last week, and Paige was so nervous she seemed far out of her league.

Siobhan was nowhere near as good as the judges thought, but much better than last week, and like her, so I hope she continues to grow. Lilly was much worse than the judges thought, she looked awkward strumming her mandolin and sang with a nervous voice, but I think she deserves to stick around again.

Lacie and Katelyn were also good but not great. Didi really stunned me, she was like a different person this week and sang extremely well. She may have revived her chances entirely.

As Simon says, Crystal Bowersox is the one to beat, she seems like a pro already and does not even belong in the competition.

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE

THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE is a documentary about Vogue magazine putting together their largest issue ever. I was a little surprised by the film, I expected everyone to be as cutthroat as THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (the lead character in that film is based on the subject of this doc) or at least UGLY BETTY. Although there are certainly moments of conflict, it was not as unfriendly as I expected. The film is quite interesting; so much of the success of the issue is based on photography, which I find very interesting. It's not an earth-shattering doc like FOOD INC or THE COVE, but it is an interesting way to pass the time. The biggest negative about the film was the sound mix, which betrays the low budget of the film.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

ANDRE WATTS

Last night my wife and I celebrated our 9th anniversary (a few days early, she will be out of town on the actual day), by having an excellent dinner at Panzano, followed by a concert at the CSO featuring Andre Watts as guest erformer on the Grieg piano concerto. Even though we are both under the weather, it was a great night!

The concert opened with The Moldau by Smetana. A theme of the evening, as explained by conductor Jeffrey Kahane, was the use of music to express national pride. The orchestra gave a very good read of this piece. I'm not sure it was a great opener, there was still a lot of noise of people entering their seats as the quiet piece began.

That was followed by three pieces by Sibelius. One of course had to be Finlandia, practically the national anthem of Finland, and a favorite of audiences everywhere. I love the piece, and to me its heroic horn theme always seems like it would be patriotic no matter what country you are from. The other two pieces were Lemmink√§inen’s Return and Swan of Tuonela, lesser-known but equally moving pieces.

The highlight of the concert was after the break when Andre Watts took the stage. The audience was pretty good, but the house was not sold out, somewhat odd for an artist of his stature. I'd never seen him perform live before, it was interesting. He puts all of his energy into his performing, almost to the point of seeming labored, but the music was wonderful. He has the odd habit of humming along while playing, mostly "Bum-bum-bum," which from a distance, makes him look like the Muppet Beaker while performing. He puts his whole body into the performance, including stomping his feet on the floor at climaxes. It was quite entertaining, with the Grieg concerto being a great showcase piece. My only criticism was that his technical skills were not perfect, but nonetheless he was an incredible performer. Also, even though he took three bows, he did not perform an encore.

It was a great anniversary.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL

The title alone of ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL alone should tell you how funny it is. Amazingly, this is not a mock documentary, like SPINAL TAP, this is the real deal, a documentary about a heavy metal rock band. The parallels to the fictional band are uncanny. Lead guitar "Lips" is very similar to Nigel Tufnel, they go to Stonehenge, they have an amp that goes to 11, and they have a completely screwed up tour. In fact, if you were to write a cliched movie about a band, this script hits every major point: the fallout between band members, the relationship that breaks up the band, the big chances suddenly appearing, and the predictable failures of a band full of people in their 50s trying be rock stars.

Every music student should see this film. I can't recommend this movie enough. It's not just one of the best documentaries I've seen in a while (it won the International Documentary Association award for best doc) it's one of the best films of the year. The film was not nominated for an Oscar, strangely, but the IDA award is just as important for docs. It's not an "issue" film like FOOD INC. or THE COVE, but it's a great film nonetheless. Of those three, I'd say FOOD INC. is probably the best-made film, but this film is great in its own way. The characters are very involving, full or real emotions. I can't believe how much they opened up for the film. Not only are they funny, they are very charming and sympathetic. You will really care about these people after only 90 minutes with them.

Please see this film.

AMERICAN IDOL 20: Results

My predictions were mostly right, especially with the guys. Haeley may have been the VoteForTheWorst choice, but she still got voted off, thankfully, but I did like Michelle, even though last night she was one of the weaker voices.

There are still a lot of weak voices left on the show.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL 20: Girls

The ladies were significantly better tonight, but there were still several karaoke performances that might get people voted off.

Crysta Bowersox returned from the hospital (still unexplained) and gave a fantastic performance, immediately followed by at atrocity against music by Haeley Vaughn. I don't think VoteForTheWorst.com can save her, she's terrible. Katie Stevens was probably the next-to-worst singer of the evening, but she's well liked and may stick around.

Lilly Scott of Littleton is also great, and I think has a big career ahead of her. Sioban Magnus of Mass. is also very good, even though she picked an almost impossible song and was weak to start off.

It will be interesting to see who the two voted off tomorrow are.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

AMERICAN IDOL 20: Guys

Some surprises tonight in the performances. VoteForTheWorst.com's choice of Tim Urban was nowhere near the worst. In fact he was better than passable.

Todrick Hall and John Park were by far the worst. Jermaine Sellars was very close though.

Tomorrow night, the girls.