Thursday, March 31, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau

There are five or six Alfred Hitchcock films that are better than the rest, and I can safely say that this one is in that distinct group. North by Northwest is more light hearted and fun than some of Hitchcock's other works and was an intentional departure from the dark, moody story that marked his previous film, Vertigo. While this movie is has less symbolism and overt psychological mind games, it is still a suspenseful thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of its seat until the very end.

Madison Avenue advertising executive Roger Thornhill (Grant) is just going about his day when he is mistaken for the unknown George Kaplan and taken by force to the home of diplomat Lester Townshend. There he is interrogated by a mysterious man who turns out to be Philip Vandamm (Mason). When they don't get the information they need from Thornhill they attempt to kill him, but he escapes. The trail then leads Thornhill to the United Nations building and then on the run from the law after he is suspected of murder. While on the run he meets cool blonde Eve Kendall (Marie Saint) on a train, and she helps him piece together the mystery of his mistaken identity.

The plot twists and turns until the audience isn't sure who to trust and Thornhill is asked to play the part of the man he was mistaken for in the beginning in order to help capture the sinister Vandamm. It all ends in a brilliantly shot and choreographed chase/fight atop Mount Rushmore that is one of Hitchcock's most enduring scenes.  Grant is charming as always, and gets off some great lines that keep the mood of the film witty amidst the ever present Cold War suspense and the race for one of his most prevalent MacGuffins. James Mason is a good foil for Grant and exudes charm while maintaining an air of menace, and Eva Marie Saint is the classic Hitchcockian 'cool blonde.'

Film students are asked to study this film because of its iconic scenes, and the use of techniques that Hitchcock honed and made his own. One of the best and most overlooked moments is when the thing that the villains are after is explained in detail, but it cannot be heard by the audience because of the sound of an airplane motor. It is classic Hitchcock all the way. Movies don't get much more fun, thrilling and scenic than this.

Things to watch for-

The Professor
The cool Frank Lloyd Wright-esque house
Watch out for crop dusting planes
The phallic final shot
Hitchcock misses the bus

"Now you listen to me, I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself "slightly" killed."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Nazi Thesis- Part IV

Here is part four in my ongoing series.

As the party gained steam in the late twenties and early thirties, more and more people joined, some disaffected like Hitler, others simply succumbing to the latest political trend. Many joined because they felt like Germany was going in the wrong direction as a result of the Great Depression. Hitler had felt this same way in wake of the First World War, and now Germany was where he had been ten years earlier. Everyone was dissatisfied and wanted a way out of the misery, but there were a select few whose chip was bigger, and they became forever tied to the fate of the party. If there was a mold for the personality of the typical party member of the early years it was Joseph Goebbels. 

Angry, bitter, revenge seeking misanthropes with ambition, like Goebbels, gave the party its backbone. The work of Hitler, Goebbels and the other early members rooted Nazism in racial superiority, German dominance and the seizure of power. Once in power, the Nazis needed a different kind of personality, one that still had the underlying inadequacy and bitterness, but could put forth a smooth, ideal German exterior. Reinhard Heydrich and Hermann Goering were two such men.

Heydrich and Goering were two men who helped give the party legitimacy to Germans who might not have otherwise become affiliated with the movement. Heydrich was in many ways the quintessential German that the Nazis promoted. A talented violinist, and a master fencer, Heydrich’s outward appearance shielded his true nature as one of the worst Nazi criminals. The Fuhrer utilized Heydrich’s skills to carry out his most heinous atrocities, and it was all masked by a lust for power, and the desire to make Germany strong. 

All of the leaders of the party sought to gain their own area over which they could rule supremely. Heydrich was no exception, and as Heinrich Himmler’s right hand man in the SS he was given the job of administering the Final Solution. Himmler and Heydrich did not have a national post at the time the Nazis took power in 1933, but they soon did all they could to increase their power.  Neither man was content to sit by and let the party overshadow them, and so they began to make the SS the most powerful organization within the Nazi party. Goering, perhaps the most amicable of the top Nazis, displayed a duality in his personality as well.
Hermann Goering

A large, boisterous man with a crude sense of humor, Goering used his military knowledge from World War I to gain advancement within the party. Bitter about the German defeat like so many at the time, Nazism afforded Goering the opportunity to try and salvage German superiority. Aviation was his first love, but as the Prime Minister of Prussia, he fell in love with power. Hitler prized Goering for his vast business contacts in the world of aviation, and rewarded him accordingly. As the number two man in the political arena, Goering was able to swallow up many titles and jobs. To the public Goering was the second most powerful man in the Nazi Reich, and he was loved by the masses. In reality, there was another man who had the second most power in the regime, and he did not need the love of the people for validation. Heinrich Himmler sought only power, and the means to maintain it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book of the Month

This month,


By Robert Bly

This book is a must read for all men who want to learn a bit more about why they are the way they are. Written by poet Robert Bly, the book analyzes the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, Iron John, to find and explore lessons and ideas that relate specifically to the lives of men. Bly's deep knowledge of literature, and the Iron John story in particular, really fleshes out some topics that might go otherwise unnoticed in a cursory reading of the story.

The story is of a powerful, hairy wildman who is captured and then set free by the young prince of the king who imprisoned him. Once free, he mentors the young prince and helps him to discover himself. It isn't hard to see why this story would lend itself to the discussion of the nature of man, but Bly goes so far in depth, and relates everything he discusses to even the most mundane and modern parts of a man's life. The use of mythology to explain psychology and human nature has been done many times, (the work of Joseph Campbell springs to mind) but Bly makes the old story relevant in today's world, and creates out of the Iron John myth a lens to view the world of modern men.

Having never really explored what it meant to be a man, I was completely engrossed by this book and saw in it explanations and insights as to who I am. Not everything will apply to all men who read it, but there are plenty of nuggets of wisdom that will be beneficial. Those who read it will have to be honest with themselves and willing to look deep inside, or it will be a waste of time. The book came out in 1990 and helped to give rise to what was known as the men's movement, but even twenty years later it still has large implications for all 21st Century men.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolpho Celi, Bernard Lee

The fourth installment in the James Bond film series was the most lavish and complicated one up to that point. Following on the heels of the smash hit, Goldfinger, producers Broccoli and Saltzman picked Thunderball because of its spectacle, and success as a novel. A legal battle over the rights to the story meant that Ian Fleming's former collaborator, Kevin McClory was made a producer of the film and reserved the right to make a future Bond film of his own, based on Thunderball. (He did in 1983 with Never Say Never Again.)  However, legal issues weren't the only hurdle in the making of Thunderball, as the producers and veteran director, Terence Young struggled with how to film the plethora of underwater sequences in the script. By bringing in skilled divers and stunt performers, they were able to do for scuba action what On Her Majesty's Secret Service did for skiing.

Differing only slightly from the source material, the film follows 007 as he tracks SPECTRE to Nassau in the Bahamas in order to thwart their plot to hold NATO ransom after hijacking two atomic bombs. The villain this time around is suave, cruel and cycloptic Emilio Largo whose plan involves keeping 007 and his allies unaware while he hides the nuclear weapons aboard his yacht- the Disco Volante. The plot is almost too straightforward, but the overwhelming sense of urgency keeps you in suspense as Bond races against the clock to stop Largo's nefarious plans. Complicating matters are two women, Largo's innocent kept woman, Domino and the sultry killer, Fiona Volpe. With all due respect to Claudine Auger's Domino, it is busty redhead Lucianna Paluzzi who steals the show as Fiona. Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewellyn and Lois Maxwell are great in their usual roles, and add some nice humor to the goings on.

While some of the underwater action gets a bit convoluted and tiresome, Thunderball is a very exciting and fun Bond film. Sean Connery was at the hight of his powers as 007, and this would mark the last time that he really looks as if he cares in the series. Much of what was done in this film was far ahead of its time, and there is little debate among Bond scholars that Thunderball ranks as one of the more complete outings. The villain, women, locales and action are all top notch- and even if there are a few more cartoonish elements here than in say, From Russia With Love, the series had not yet jumped the shark. That would unhappily occur in the next film, You Only Live Twice.

Things to watch for-

Feisty widows
Jet pack
Octopus rings
The Mink glove
A suped up scuba tank, courtesy of Q
Tom Jones' killer title song

"I thought I saw a Spectre at your shoulder."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Birthday Buddy

I share my birthday, March 20th, with some pretty awesome people. I am endeavoring to profile one of my birthday buddies each year here on the old blog. This year I will profile my neighbor and yours- Mr. Rogers.

Fred Rogers was not only just the beloved host of a classic children's show, but also a Presbyterian minister, a songwriter and an outspoken advocate for education. I was just a small boy when I was introduced to Mr. Rogers, but I was hooked from the first time I saw him put on that famous sweater. I even had a sweater of my own that my Grandma made for me, and let me tell you- I wore it a lot.

Unlike some of the other frantic, in-your-face kid's shows, Mr. Rogers crafted his to be a calm, earnest and engaging program that made every child who watched it feel comforted and respected. Many joked that he was cheesy, but I always found the way he spoke to be sincere and caring. I always felt a closeness to him, and like he was talking to me and me alone. It was this closeness that made me want to write him a birthday card when I found out that we shared a birthday. It was very exciting when I received a letter from him (complete with signature) thanking me for the card and wishing me a happy birthday.

I now return the favor, and say that without Mr. Rogers my childhood would have had a large void. As an only child I had some lonely times, and thanks to Mr. Rogers, I was able to have a good friend at hand who liked me for who I was, and taught me valuable lessons along the way.

Thanks, Fred and Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

One of my favorite holidays is National Drinking Day, or as it is also known, St. Patrick's day. I was actually supposed to be born on March 17th, but I was fashionably late and born on the 20th. Nevertheless, I have always felt a connection to the day of Shamrocks, Leprechauns and Guinness. Here now is the prescription for how to spend the perfect St. Patrick's Day.

7:00 AM- Wake up. Sneak to the shower and hope not to be pinched since you'll be naked while you bathe. I use a green towel just to protect myself from any opportunistic pinchers who want to get me on my way to and from the shower.

8:00 AM- Dressed in a generous amount of green (I look great in green, by the way) sit down for a big bowl of Lucky Charms...and a Guinness.

9:00 AM- Drive to work. Make sure that you've got some Clancy Brothers or Dubliners playing on the old car stereo.

10:00 AM- Pinch the crap out of any co-workers not wearing green. Kiss any good looking co-workers that have 'Kiss Me I'm Irish' buttons or shirts on. Probably not this guy.

11:00 AM- Have a potato for a snack and Google 'blarney.'

11:45 AM- Take an early lunch and go to a pub for some traditional Irish fare.

1:30 PM- Call in sick to work after a few pints of Guinness and a few shots of Jameson.

4:40 PM- Head home from the pub. Try to avoid fighting your brother-in-law as you make your way through town.

6:00 PM- Sit down to a nice plate of corned beef and cabbage and watch The Leprechaun, followed by Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

9:00 PM- Fall asleep mumbling some U2 lyrics.

If you're lucky you'll have a St. Patrick's Day to remember, just like this one.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger

In the mold of classic film noir, L.A. Confidential is a dark, sticky, aggressive look at the underbelly of 1950's Los Angeles. Penned originally as a book by noir master James Ellroy, the film takes strong characters and puts them in a world of violence, sex and cops. It's your typical Hollywood story. The characters in question are three LAPD officers, who have little in common and must join forces to smoke out a deadly adversary that is trying to monopolize organized crime in L.A. Edmund Exley (Pearce) is an uptight, by-the-book, wannabe hero who scoffs at unorthodox methods. His polar opposite is Bud White (Crowe) who excels as a brutal enforcer with his own code of ethics, and serving as the middle man is the suave celebrity cop, Jack Vincennes (Spacey) who is more concerned with publicity than police work.

Complicating this cop triangle is a beautiful Veronica Lake lookalike played by Kim Basinger who has her own agenda, and the slimy Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito) who tries to use the goings on as fodder for his gossip magazine, Hush-Hush. The filmmakers expertly use classic noir techniques found in films made in the era depicted in L.A. Confidential. Tension and humor trade off as the mystery slowly unfolds amid steamy subplots and violent confrontations. The best of which comes when Exley and White finally have it out in a window and knuckle breaking brawl.

DeVito and Basinger (who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar) are great in their supporting roles, but the real kudos must go to James Cromwell as the avuncular Capt. Dudley Smith, who manages to be the one touchstone for all of the three protagonists. Each cop, including Capt. Smith, is likable and yet unlikable at the same time. Each is deeply flawed- Exley in his smug ambition, White in his thuggish brutality, and Vincennes in his vanity, but they all find ways to overcome these issues to be the cops they are capable of being.

Even though I have seen the film many times, I still can watch it because of the way in which the plot meanders and keeps you guessing up until the very end. While it may just be a modern day knockoff of the old noir thrillers, it is a smart and sexy update of a great genre. I've been waiting to see if another film can revive a forgotten genre like this film did, but I've been disappointed every year since 1997.

Things to watch for-

Johnny Stampanato
Fleur De Lis- Whatever you desire
Dragnet knockoff- Badge of Honor
Rollo Tamasi
The Nite Owl

"Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Audio Vaudeville

I have started a bi-weekly podcast with my good friend Ryan Shattuck. Ryan is the author of Revolutions for Fun and Profit, as well as a former writer for The Regal Seagull. My talents have been well documented on this blog, so there's no need to go through them again. By activating some sort of latent Wondertwin powers, we have come together to bring the world what it needs now more than ever- another podcast. Audio Vaudeville has produced five episodes so far, ranging in topics from relationships to the Oscars. I am hoping that if you enjoy this blog, you will hop on over to iTunes and give our podcast a try. We describe it in much the same way I would describe my blog- a topical, current affairs, pop culture, comedy, tragedy, news, sketch, interview program...with jokes.

Here are the links you'll need to hear the show.

Some Bests

I've been a bit busy this week, so you'll have to forgive my lack of blog posts. With that said, prepare to be amazed.

Here are some things/people that are the best in a particular category. This list is legally binding.

Best Jedi- Yoda

Best Bumper Sticker Slogan-
"If it's petty don't sweat it and if it's sweaty don't pet it."

Best Month- March

Best Fifth Beatle- Billy Preston

Best Police Academy Film- Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol

Best Entertaining Nerd- Ira Glass

Best Greek Food in Salt Lake- Greek Souvlaki

Best Beer in Salt Lake- Epic

Best Unelected President- Gerald Ford

Best Stand-up Comic- TIE- Patton Oswalt/Gallagher

Best Wife- Mine, duh!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- John Cusack, Jack Black, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Robbins

The first time I saw this movie, I hated it. However, I watched it again, and again and found that it was actually a very funny and charming film. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, the story follows record store owner, Rob Gordon (Cusack) as he tries to come to terms with the breakup of his most recent relationship. He spends his days in the record store with his two music geek friends/employees, Dick and Barry, discussing films, music and making Top Five lists. Rob is also caught up trying to figure out why he is doomed to be a failure in love- recounting his Top Five Breakups and reconnecting with his ex-girlfriends.

High Fidelity at its core is about the transition into real adulthood, and participating in life rather than just observing it from the sidelines. Rob is just an appreciator, who has never really produced anything of his own, and that is what he must deal with if he is to stop repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The supporting cast is what takes this film up a notch, with Jack Black as Barry and Tim Robbins as Ian, standing out among the rest. The showdown with Ian in the record shop is a slice of comedy gold, as Rob once again fails to fight for his love.

The film has many memorable moments that are laced with good tunes and music trivia. Sadly, some of the best songs featured did not make it to the soundtrack album. Cusack is always watchable as a rain-soaked, rumpled leading man, and as I said, the supporting cast is stacked with strong performances, but there is one weak spot in this movie- the leading lady. Iben Hjejle is very unimpressive as Laura. It's kind of difficult to believe that Rob would go to such lengths to get her back. Even though you're happy to see the main character change his ways and get the girl in the end, you wish that the girl was Catherine Zeta-Jones instead. It's far from a perfect film, but for audiophiles who like to laugh, High Fidelity will fit the bill. Once you're done with the movie, sit down and make yourself a kick ass mix tape- just make sure to follow Rob's rules.

Things to watch for-

Walking on Sunshine
Cosby Sweater
Sonic Death Monkey
I haven't seen Evil Dead II yet

"How does an average guy like me become the number one lover-man in his particular postal district? He's grumpy, he's broke, he hangs out with the musical moron twins..."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Nazi Thesis- Part III

Here's part three of my undergraduate thesis on the Nazi personality.

Like Hitler, those who joined the party in the early 1920’s were social outcasts, many of whom had fought in World War I and felt the sting of defeat like Hitler. Angry and lost, many ex-soldiers had no direction following Germany’s humiliating loss, and in the Nazi party they found structure and a forum in which to vent their frustrations. Hitler, as the leader of the party, was able to appeal to the discontent of the masses, and tapped into their anger to fuel the Nazi ideology.

The ideas that Hitler promoted were to enable the German people to right the wrongs that World War I inflicted on them. Even though the Weimar Republic was doing well prior to the Great Depression, the Nazis had a grander vision of the German nation, and Hitler was the master of the plan. In the early days the plan was only known to a small number of angry workers and veterans.
Joseph Goebbels

A man who saw eye to eye with Hitler and the ideas he promoted was Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels, first seeing Hitler at his trial in 1924, identified with him and saw the person that he believed could make his idea of a “just world” a reality. Like many of his generation, including Adolf Hitler, Goebbels was tormented by the loss of the war, but as he investigated the Nazi party, he began to see a ray of hope for himself and the German people. Born as a proud Prussian, Goebbels, like Hitler, felt he had something to prove all his life, and sought to vent his frustrations outwardly. Although the chip on his shoulder was different than Hitler’s, Goebbels had one nonetheless. Born with a deformed foot, and always seen as a sickly boy, Joseph’s misfortunes were seen by his parents as a punishment from God. His deformity, the source of ridicule and pity, Goebbels was a withdrawn sad youth who loved to read and write, and be alone with his thoughts.

Unlike Hitler, Goebbels did find some success prior to joining the party. Goebbels received a doctorate after writing a dissertation which included such themes as, “love of the Fatherland,” “spiritual greatness,” and “enthusiasm.” All of these ideas would be used by Goebbels in his eventual role as the Nazi’s chief propagandist. Neither Hitler nor Goebbels knew what they were creating as they joined forces, but each sought to find success in a world that had tried to keep them down in various ways. 

Over time, Goebbels used his skills to get himself as close to Hitler as possible, seeing him as the unquestioned force behind the party. In effect, Goebbels had become what Hitler had originally thought for himself, and now it was Goebbels’ job to pave the way for Hitler and soak up as much reflected glory as possible. The 1920’s were a period in which the party was gaining momentum, with Hitler speaking and Goebbels creating propaganda. 

The Depression made the people of Germany more receptive to radical ideas, and at the same time the Nazis hoped to become more mainstream, in order to gain power in the government. All of the party’s work paid off in 1930, as the Nazis won 107 seats in the Reichstag, becoming the nation’s second largest political party. The Nazis were now officially on the map, and men, like Hitler and Goebbels, who had been marginalized were now being taken seriously and gaining popular support. There were now others who had been left out in the cold that were coming to warm themselves in the glow of Nazism.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Remember When?

Despite my best efforts to blot out certain memories, I do recall things. Here are some of my recollections.

Remember when Charlie Sheen was known for being seemingly talented (Wall Street, Major League, Platoon) and not for being a notorious sleaze?

Remember when I wrongly poo pooed shows like Dexter and Mad Men? I admit when I am wrong, and was on both counts.

Remember when the Utah Jazz were known as one of the most stable, consistent franchises in the league? Not anymore. Bye, Jerry and Deron.

Remember getting those wax tubes filled with that sweet, colored juice in your Easter basket, and then chewing on the flavored wax after you drank the juice? That was some good stuff.

Remember when NPR and PBS and other public broadcasting didn't have to fight to be funded? I'm sick about this and this everyone needs to fire off some calls and emails to the jerks in Washington who want to take away our All Things Considered and Sesame Street.

Remember when there weren't so many brands/types of gum to choose from? I go to the store now and there's so many kinds of gum in the checkout area that I get overwhelmed and need to sit down.

Remember when Saturday Night Live was funny? I do. It isn't now.