Friday, November 26, 2010

Strolling the Fine Pleasures of New Orleans

In the the eleven-and-a-half years since I moved from the St. Louis area to D.C., I haven't seen my core crew of high-school buddies in many places outside of the Lake of the Ozarks for our annual summer Fantasy Football Draft.

That's why it was so nice to see ET, Dewey, Scoots, and their wives for three days this month in New Orleans. We rented a cute row house in the bohemian area of town just east of the French Quarter called Marigny (that's ET's wife, Carie Riess-Terry and I in front of the house in the photo to the right). It is one of Michael Stipe of R.E.M.'s favorite areas and he even referenced it in the Murmur classic "West of the Fields," as in, Elysian Fields, a main road though the neighborhood. Frenchman Street, in particular, has lots of great restaurants and bars that give visitors the feel of a truly different city without all the drunken nonsense of Bourbon Street.

We, of course, hit Bourbon as well. But I definitely couldn't take it as much as when I visited at younger ages. Pat O'Brien's served as some good crawfish etoufee and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was a weekend highlight. We also got debris po' boys at Mother's, drank Pimm's at Napoleon House, drank chocory coffee and ate beignets at Cafe du Mond, ate delicious muffalettas, devoured a pricey and succulent Peppered Lamb Loin with Goat Cheese and Zinfandel Reduction Sauce at Bayona, enjoyed lots of Abita, and strolled the artist-lined Jackson Square (see the photo below).

New Orleans is a great place to meet up with friends. There is plenty more we could have done, but leisurely walking around town, down back streets, and along the Mississippi River walk is a highly recommended way to spend a late fall weekend in The Big Easy. Oh, and having an easy-going, late-night boxing showdown in the courtyard behind our rowhouse with Scoots isn't too bad either.

Facebook as Classic on Big Screen as on Your Computer Screen

Considering that Mark Zuckerberg is no more than an unlikable kid who has no talents other than computer-programming skills, it's amazing The Social Network is so captivating and classic.

Then again, the film is directed by one of my favorites, David Fincher (Fight Club, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Seven). And Jesse Eisenberg (The Squid and the Whale and Adventureland), playing the Facebook founder, is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors.

While we all know the story of Facebook's success, the movie nicely digs into the inner workings of Zuckerberg's world of business associates (including a surprisingly fine performance from Justin Timberlake as Napster co-founder Sean Parker) and the various lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg and his questionable ethics.

The Social Network has one of the highest critical scores ever on Metacritic. It will be interesting to see how well screenwriter Aaaron Sorkin, Eisenberg, Fincher, and the movie itslef do come Oscar time. Best movie I've seen all year.

***** out of ***** stars

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Get Him to the Greek a Non-stop Sex, Drug, Rock Comedy Ride

The follow-up to the uproarious Forgetting Sarah Marshall is also, while not quite as funny, pretty darn enjoyable.

Russell Brand is contagious in Get Him to the Greek. When his roving tongue should gross out, it's endearing. Same for his womanizing, heroin intake, and rock animalism cheese.

Jonah Hill really takes a big step in this film. He has been very good in several recent classic comedies, but his human side and likability are on display here more than ever, as he tries to get the unmanageable rocker Aldous Snow (Brand) to revive his career by getting off his rump in England to play a quickly-approaching concert in L.A. It probably helps that Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men plays his sweet and friendly girlfriend.

Brand does not think linearly, and the side trips this movie takes are the highlights, especially the hilarious reunion fight scene in Vegas with his nightclub-bum father. Sean "Puffy" Combs also shows off his comedic chops pretty nicely.

I love stories of unlikely dudes or kids being befriended by rock stars, and this one works in that "Almost Famous" genre. The formula still has yet to be perfected, which is what I'm hoping to do with my novel, in progress here at the blog.

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

Photo courtesy of

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Eric Stoltz's 13 Best Performances

So you doubted why I think Eric Stoltz is one of the finer actors of my generation? Just take a look at this powerhouse list of films he's starred in.

This isn't a list that ranks these films. It simply ranks his best performances.

13. Singles (1992)
12. Lionheart (1987)
11. Say Anything (1989)
10. Jerry Maguire (1996)
09. Little Women (1994)
08. Kicking and Screaming (1995)
07. Caprica (2010)
06. Pulp Fiction (1994)
05. Mask (1985)
04. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1978)
03. Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)
02. Killing Zoe (1994)
01. Mr. Jealousy (1997)

Some Kind of Wonderful One of John Hughes' Best

Widely considered the least-known of legendary director John Hughes' 1980s high-school movies, Some Kind of Wonderful is anchored by the three-way of strong characters played by Eric Stoltz, Mary Stuart Masterson, and Lea Thompson.

It is essentially the same story as Hughes' more-often-praised Pretty in Pink. But I like this one better, perhaps mostly because of Stoltz (one of my very favorite actors) and Masterson, who plays a tomboy hoping to win Stoltz over from popular-girl Thompson.

Although Thompson is the weakest link in this love triangle, it's probably a good thing Molly Ringwald didn't get the part. She was supposed to get it, but Hughes went with Thompson. It would have been too indistinguishable from Pretty in Pink with Ringwald, although it probably would have been more popular.

Hughes actually wrote the plot with Stoltz in mind for lead character Keith. And Hughes is not subtle with his rock 'n roll ways: the three lead characters have Rolling Stones' references in their names. Keith for Stoltz, Watts (the Stones' drummer) for Masterson, and Amanda Jones (the name of one of their songs) for Thompson.

**** out of ***** stars

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Spoiler Alert! I Finished Watching Lost

Only seven months after the finale ran on ABC (and about six months after I accidentally erased several shows from my DVR), Lost is in the books.

The first season, way back in 2004, was easily one of the top 5 single seasons for a TV drama in history. And there was plenty of fun in subsequent seasons. But I can't help but feel let down by the way it ended tonight.

Jack's dad, named Christian Shepard (no subtlety there), brings the original plane-crash survivors together in a church, serving as the proverbial heaven, to facilitate their look back at the time they spent on the lost island, a time that was clearly the "best time of their lives."

Although the theme of science versus faith is certainly interesting, it's also the oldest story in the book and feels a little lazy and uncreative. These wandering lost souls, or disciples, end up dead but in a great place. Meanwhile, the Dharma Initiative and the scientific experiments that were being performed on the island have been rendered obsolete.

That's a frightening parable for our time, when so many people have their heads in the sands of faith rather than, in addition to faith (which isn't such a bad thing), trusting human scientific ability to predict the ways our crazy world works.

All that said, the mythology the writers were able to build up over six seasons, even if it didn't end up leading to much of anywhere other than smoke monsters and tropical polar bears, was an impressive feat. Although much of Lost meant absolutely nothing, the brilliance in such a ploy is that it makes us all think, at least for a short while, that it actually does mean something. The frustrating thing is that we'll never know what that "something" is.

The ending: **1/2 out of ***** stars
The entire six seasons: ****1/2 out of ***** stars