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Jeff Bridges' singing voice: Then and Now

Can we talk about how nice is Jeff Bridges' singing voice, even after all these years?

Then (The Last Unicorn, 1982): High, sweet tenor, very untrained and a little tonally unsteady, but I think lovely, nonetheless:

Now (Crazy Heart, 2009): Morphed into a Springsteen-esque plaintive yowl, but still a nice, warm, husky tenor (though sometimes he slips into baritone).

The dude's voice abides.

Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons

I just made this lovely thing for a late lunch yesterday. So easy and delicioso! I'm excited for my leftovers for lunch today (and possibly tomorrow).


The strange and forceful shove of nostalgia

I was definitely just socked in the gut with this one. I'm feeling very guilty over the fact that I must have watched this film over and over again, until the point when my family wanted to just strangle me and put themselves out of their own misery.

This next one I also watched, pretty much until the tape broke. But it holds up much more to the cruelty of time. Disney is always good for that. Bonus points because it's narrated and voiced by Sterling Holloway, who was, among many things, Pooh, Kaa from The Jungle Book, and the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland.

(FYI, I still sing both of these songs, but "Lambert the Sheepish Lion" comes out at the oddest times. Just play me a stock noise of a sheep baaing and see if I don't burst into song.)

And honestly, how flippin' cute is baby Lambert? Eeeeeeeeeee!


Favorite Underrated Director

Hi. Do you know who Richard Brooks is off the top of your head? I do. He's one of my favorite American directors. I'd like to introduce you to him. Ready? Watch these, if for some reason you haven't already:

~ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Elizabeth Taylor. Paul Newman. Lots of sweat and alcohol and guilt and repressed emotions, just the way Tennessee would've wanted it.

~ In Cold Blood. Probably one of my favorite movies of all time. And one of the best book to movie adaptations I've ever seen. Brooks adapted it himself from the Capote novel. Ask around - the scene where Blake is in prison and the rain looks like his tears? It's a beauty of a cinematic moment. And, if you need any other reasons to watch, the cinematography is by Conrad L. Hall (he of Cool Hand Luke, American Beauty, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to name a few). How about another reason? Quincy Jones composed the driving, jazzy, jittery score, and it was nominated for an Oscar.

~ The Killers. My favorite film noir. Hands down. And while Brooks did not direct this, he did have a hand in honing the screenplay, based on the Hemingway short stories. Do not mistake this 1946 version with the other 1964 version. '46 is the absolutely excellent one with Burt Lancaster. This is the film where I fell in love Edmond O'Brien.

~ Elmer Gantry. Burt Lancaster again, as an alcoholic con man who disguises himself as a fire and brimstone preacher to get next to Jean Simmons' traveling evangelist.

~ Lord Jim. Peter O'Toole. James Mason. I don't really need to say more, do I?

~ The Professionals. I hated The Wild Bunch (which is similar in theme to Professionals). Self-indulgent, overrated crap. I know you probably disagree with me, and that's fine. I despise Sam Peckinpah. His love of violence confuses and repulses me.

~ Sweet Bird of Youth. Another Tennessee Williams film starring Paul Newman. More repressed emotions.

~ Blackboard Jungle. Stars Glenn Ford, probably my favorite classic film actor of all time, as a freshly minted teacher who is thrust into the world of inner city school systems. The granddaddy of movies like Leon on Me, Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, etc.

Seriously guys. Richard Brooks.

Why everyone should love Stephin Merritt

In an interview about his Lemony Snicket soundtrack:

(Talking about kids liking the Gothic Archies songs)
Reporter: I'm sure they're going to love the music as well.
Merritt: They better.
Reporter: They better, or else.
Merritt: Exactly.
Reporter: Something dark could happen to them.
Merritt: Something dark will happen to them anyway.


Best 2009 Reads

I read many a spectacular book this past year. In looking on my Goodreads site, which I love because it allows me to make nerdy lists and categories for the various things I peruse throughout the year, from 12-page comics to 1200 page doorstops, here are the novels/graphic novels that I rated the highest (4 or 5 stars), in no particular order. I find it very interesting that of everything I read this past year that I loved, only 1 author was female (I discount my reading of "Everything That Rises Must Converge" because I had actually already read every story in there in various separate collections and journals).

1. Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

I'll be the first to admit that I'm completely and utterly biased when it comes to this collection of short stories, because it was written by a friend whom I wish I lived near because I know I would want to see him and his wife every damn day. But the fact that pretty much the entire world agrees that this is one of the best short story collections to come out this past year bolsters my enjoyment of these tales. His writing is fantastically weird and wonderously structured, and sneaks up on the reader from unknown directions. Very reminiscent of Kelly Link and who Owen King (offspring of Stevie) likened him to, Carson McCullers.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Man, can I just tell you that I tried to read this novel when it first came out back in 2004, and had to put it down? I just could not get into the first section of the novel (if I had known the idea behind it, I might've kept going). But, then. Oh, then, I came back to it, determined to push through, and it was like I was a completely different reader (and so I was, 5 years separating my 2004 self from my 2009 self). This novel is an epically frustrating exercise. When one first starts reading, and gets to the end of the first narrative thread, where it abruptly breaks off mid-sentence before the action is even close to resolved, one's brow will furrow, and one may flip ahead to search in vain for the continuation of even that one sentence. Each thread is ruled by a different genre: adventure, comedy, satire, sci-fi, gothic romance, etc. This book rewards the readers tenacity, and I'm sure some will be completely infuriated by the structure and seeming arrogance of Mitchell. But if the reader can get past the unusual progression style, it is a joyous reward to see the way Mitchell plays with the tropes of genre fiction, and is just rip-roaringly fun.

3. A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot

Loved the movie first, and thus desired to read the novel on which it was based. This book pretty much has all of my bullet points for a book I can burn through in under 3 days. War, a missing-person mystery that has a million twists and turns, a pining heroine/protagonist, excellent writing. Even knowing how the story ended, I still loved every second of this. A thoroughly enjoying read.

4. City of Thieves by David Benioff

My mother recommended this to me, and I usually follow through with reading her recs (she was/is an English teacher, after all). The fact that this novel was written by the guy who wrote "The 25th Hour" didn't hurt, either. A vastly engrossing tale of two young Russian men thrown together during the siege of Leningrad who must journey behind enemy lines to search for a dozen eggs for a colonel's daughter's wedding cake, this novel is again something that can be read in a 48-hour period. It moves at a very brisk pace, and is essentially what amounts to a buddy movie, a bromance, if you will, amidst highly unusual (not to mention dire) circumstances. If it's not made into a movie in the next few years, I'll eat my hat (read: I don't wear hats).

5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Another fantastic film (if you haven't seen it, proceed directly to netflix right now) which made me desirous to read the original work, "Rebecca" is gothic romance/thriller at its best. Pretty much defines unreliable narrator, said woman being such a complete ninny. The reader sees almost everything before "The second Mrs. de Winter" sees it. But it's delicious and at times unbelievably creepy watching her come to her realizations about the man she married and the house she married into. And, side note, can I just say that I bet the audio book read by Anna Massey is amazing as well?

6. R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury

Oh, Ray Bradbury. How I love thee. I've read so many of your short stories, and will continue to read everything I can get my hands on. My love affair started when I was but a wee lass, and was introduced to "All Summer in a Day" and "The Electric Grandmother". I give my parents all the credit for letting me watch the creme de la creme of PBS specials and cartoon shorts. The stories in this collection are all sci-fi and space related, and were absolutely stunning, every darn one of them.

7. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

My reading of this novel actually started to turn sour toward the denouement, but everything that leads up to the last third of the book is so startlingly original, it's hard to fault the strange ending. A young boy, a Baron-to-be in 18th century Italy, decides to climb a tree one day, and then makes the further decision that he will never set foot on the ground again in his lifetime. A simple fable that has deep wells of allegorical meaning.

8. Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Whooo boy. This is one hell of a beautiful graphic novel. Told in stark, shaky, gorgeous black and white, Lemire's tale of the inhabitants of the imaginary titular county in Canada is like a mystery saga. One can see the ends of the stories stretched out, but only through reading the entirety of the three novels are those ends brought together into a place one never thought it would go. I can't wait to read his new comic, "Sweet Tooth". Heartrending and full of small-town secrets, Essex County was probably the most visually and emotionally engaging thing I read in 2009.

9. Shadow Country by Peter Matthieson

And here's the 2009 read that was the most challenging, and the rival for the most emotionally draining. I'm often drawn to the epic, as many of you know about me. Shadow Country is part historical fiction (based on the life and myth of Florida sugar cane farmer Edgar J. Watson), part meditation on nature and the wild, part American exploration tale, part mystery. I get lost in the language of this novel. A description of sugar cane can sometimes go on for pages at a time, but it's so engrossing and fascinating that I felt proud when I finished this behemoth, clocking in at just under 1,000 pages. The writing and structure are very difficult, jumping around in time and between characters with nary a notifying sentence, but I felt so close to these characters by the end of it, I wished I could start over again. Nothing short of an American modern masterpiece.

10. The Terror by Dan Simmons

Being me, I have to read several horror stories throughout the year to satisfy my craving for all things terrifying. Usually Steve King provides at least one gigantic helping of that (and did this year, in the underwhelming "Under the Dome"). "The Terror" is a novel that I think about nearly every day. Talk about something staying with you, I still find myself looking up the Northwest Passage, and the true story of the missing exploration ship upon which this horror tale is based. A mystery akin to the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Simmons uses the vague details of the last arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin to weave a tale of starvation and supernatural menace. And the characters do starve, in graphic detail, so the more squeamish reader might consider avoiding this novel, as sailors are ripped in half (by the previously mentioned menace), contract scurvy and dysentery, among many other diseases, and freeze to death out on the ice. Not for the faint of heart, but an immensely rewarding read.

11. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan

Pretty much one of my favorite graphic novels ever. Vaughan now writes for "Lost", and in my mind is one of the reasons for the upswing in the story in the last few seasons. Y is the story of Yorick, the only man to survive a world-wide plague that kills every male (not just human, but animal, save for his pet monkey, Ampersand), and his subsequent quest to save the world and avoid a rainbow of all types of females that want to control him (for wildly different reasons). Yorick is a wry and hilarious character, and he is surrounded by an excellent cast as well, mysterious Agent 355 being the best. The novel does not take the easy way out (nor the happiest) by any means, and it made the completion of the story that much more meaningful.

12. A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

What post-apocalyptic stories should all aspire to. Written during the 50's, this tale of a cloister of monks who worship the author of a shopping list, written some hundreds of years before their time, just before atomic holocaust wipes out much of the world's population and introduces a new age of ignorance, is stellar and bleak, looking at the cyclical nature of the human race, and their singular ability to destroy each other. Steeped in Catholicism and the canonization process, the book was fascinating to me, being a Catholic myself.

13. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

This novel pretty much broke my brain. Difficult to read in an entirely different way than Shadow Country, this story is so foreign in tone, narrative, description, everything, that I felt like an alien. "Kafka on the Shore" is still my favorite Murakami work, but Wind-Up Bird is a stunning and surreal piece of writing.

14. Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

I'm by no means a fan of Mieville's other sci-fi/fantasy works, but if he decides to write another young adult book, I'll be the first in line. Un Lun Dun's style and story is like a combination of Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere", James Thurber's "Thirteen Clocks", and "Alice in Wonderland". Really enjoyable, fast read, full of intelligence and humor, that made me remember how excellent is the world of imagination, especially through a chld's eye.

15. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Imbued with that old Gaiman magic, this story of an orphan boy raised by the ghosts of a graveyard is fun, scary, and I say, better even than "Coraline". A simple metaphor for growing up complicated by ghosts, vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and murderers, the novel is delightful in a macabre way. The "bad guys" and their motivations are somewhat unclear, but I suppose, in a children's book, it's enough just to know that's what they are: bad.

16. Thorgal by Grzegorz Rosiński

A far different graphic novel/comic than both Y and Essex County, "Thorgal" was recommended (and done so with a giddy enthusiasm) by my Polish friend, who remembered Thorgal from his childhood (the series is illustrated by a Polish artist). It's a hugely enjoyable adventure fantasy, full of vikings, space voyagers, gnomes, evil fairies, and selfish deities. Plus, the art is awesome. Classic illustrations (think Prince Valiant) mixed with dizzying vistas and fairly innovative page layouts (I wish I could find one of favorite pages, featuring Thorgal diving off a high Castle wall, drawn in slivers of long vertical slants). I can't wait to read the rest of this.


First I make a stone of my head

I woke up this morning and felt as if someone had turned my body to stone. And it wasn't unpleasant. It was that weighty lethargy that comes from a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, I don't think my body had finished sleeping yet, so it was nigh on impossible to rouse myself from the cocoony warmth of my deliriously comfortable bed. I ended up sleeping a half hour more, and then raced to the BART so I wouldn't be too late to work. Managed to arrive at my desk only 8 minutes after 8am, so I consider my morning a success. Especially since I've been feeling sick off and on for the last two months, and finally feel like myself again these past few days (with a lingering, rattling, occasional chest cough).

Last night I drove to San Jose to have dinner with my sister-in-law, Amy, who was on the West Coast for only a few days to meet with her cross-country cyber-coworkers from Cisco (try saying that three times fast). I watched her toss off some mysterious acronyms and then we went to a nice Mexican place where they did the whole make-the-guacamole-at-the-table thing. Afterwords Amy and I made a flip video for the girls (and Geoff) while standing in front of a Pinkberry, that the East Coast edition of Team Lewii would be opening upon their waking this morning. I would post it now, but it somehow didn't make it to me via email. I'll put it up later.

I had the opportunity to drive on a few roads I'd yet to try, which I always enjoy, even when said roads are fraught with rush hour traffic. The drive home, however, was a model of hassle-less driving, and I arrived back in my apartment only 40 minutes from when I left Amy's hotel, whereas the drive down had taken me around an hour and 15 minutes.

Random amusing comment just now from one of the vascular surgeons. The Chief is on a conference call and another doctor, who always makes me laugh, said, "How come I'm never on a conference call? I never get to have good calls." Hah.

The magic of Richard Adams

I'm usually, at least once a day, gripped by some remembered line from one of Richard Adams' books (I had been thinking of "Shardik" a lot recently, because reading a Stephen King novel always does that to me, and also recently reading Dan Timmons's "The Terror", about a God-like, vicious Polar Bear). Today it was "Plague Dogs", being that I had a strange dream just before waking this morning, and it put me in mind of this absolutely excellent excerpt from the novel:

"Some say that deep sleep is dreamless and that we dream only in the moments before awakening, experiencing during seconds the imagined occurrences of minutes or hours. Other have surmised that dreaming is continuous as long as we are asleep, just as sensation and experience must needs continue as long as we are awake; but that we recall – when we recall at all – only those margins and fragments which concluded the whole range of our imagining during sleep; as though one who at night was able to walk alive through the depths of the sea, upon his return could remember only those light-filtering, green-lit slopes up which he had clambered back at last to the sands of morning.

Others again believe that in deep sleep, when the gaoler nods unawares and the doors fall open upon those age-old, mysterious caverns of the mind where none ever did anything so new-fangled as read a book or say a prayer, the obscure forces, sore labour’s bath, that flow forth to cleanse and renew, are of their nature inexpressible – and invisible, therefore, to dreaming eyes – in any terms or symbols comprehensible to the mind of one alive, though we may know more when we are dead. Some of these, however (so runs the theory), floating upwards from psychic depths far below those of the individual mind, attract to themselves concordant splinters and sympathetic remnants from the individual dreamer’s memory – much as, they say, the fairies, poor wisps of nothing, used to glean and deck themselves with such scraps and snippets of finery as humans might have discarded for their finding. Dreams, then, are bubbles, insubstantial globes of waking matter, by their nature rising buoyant through the enveloping elements of sleep; and for all we know, too numerous to be marked and remembered by the sleeper, who upon awakening catches only one here or there, as a child in autumn may catch a falling leaf out of all the myriad twirling past him.

Be this as it may, how terrible, to some, can be the return from those dark sea-caves! We stagger up through the surf and collapse upon the sand, behind us the memory of our visions and before us the prospect of a desert shore or a land peopled by savages. Or again, we are dragged by the waves over coral, our landfall a torment from which, if only it would harbour us, we would fly back into the ocean. For indeed, when asleep we are like amphibious creatures, breathing another element, which reciprocates our own final act of waking by itself casting us out and closing the door upon all hope of immediate return. The caddis larva crawls upon the bottom of the pond, secure within its house of fragments, until in due time there comes upon it, whether it will or no, that strange and fatal hour when it must leave its frail safety and begin to crawl, helpless and exposed, towards the surface. What dangers gather about it then, in this last hour of its water-life – rending, devouring, swallowing into the belly of the great fish! And this hazard it can by no means evade, but only trust to survive.

What follows? Emergence into the no-less terrible world of air, with the prospect of the mayfly’s short life, defenceless among the rising trout and pouncing sparrows. We crawl upwards towards Monday morning; to the cheque book and the boss; to the dismal recollection of guilt, of advancing illness, of imminent death in battle or the onset of disgrace or ruin. “I must be up betimes,” said King Charles, awakening for the last time upon that bitter dawn in January long ago, “for I have a great work to do today.” A noble gentleman, he shed no tears for himself. Yet who would not weep for him, emerging courageous, obstinate and alone upon that desolate shore whither sleep had cast him up to confront his unjust death?"
Two years ago I listed my top 10 Christmas movies of all time. I think I still pretty much agree with my choices. Actually, I'm sure I do. Though the one film I can't really believe I left off is that classic Muppet staple, "Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas". I would include this excellent Christmas special along with The '66 Grinch and "The Snowman" as my favorite childhood holiday indulgences. My appointment TV, if you will.

It's everything a good Muppet movie should be: musically perfect, sad and touching, uproariously funny, and technically superb. Plus, with an evil rival like "The River Bottom Nightmare Band", you know it has to be quite a showdown. I love the Battle of the Bands.

I still sing "Barbecue" all the time. One will be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding jug band. I like to think of Jim Henson and Joss Whedon as being cut from the same cloth when it comes to making surprisingly beautiful songs out of very simple ideas (I dare you not to cry when you hear the Otters sing "When the River Meets the Sea" - especially since it was sung at Henson's memorial service).

When you meet somebody that don't like soul food
They still got a soul
And it don't mean that you got no rhythm
If you don't like rock 'n roll
But if your tastes are like mine
You like cider not wine
And your very favorite thing to do
Is get a perty girl dancin' to jug-band music
And a mess of mama's barbecue

Barbecue lifts my spirit
I swear that it never fails
And the sauce mama makes just stays there forever
If you dare to get it under your nails
Well you maybe poor with a wolf at your door
But money isn't everything
You still got your song and a river full of fun
And you'll always have a song to sing

So get the frown off your face
We're gonna replace it with a grin and a dream come true
With a perty girl dancin' to jug-band music
And a mess of mama's barbecue

Barbecue lifts my spirit
I swear that it never fails
And the sauce mama makes just stays there forever
If you dare to get it under your nails
So get the frown off your face
We're gonna replace it with a grin and a dream come true
With a perty girl dancin' to jug-band music
And a mess of mama's barbecue

That's a perty girl dancin' to jug-band music
And a mess of mama's barbe-
Mess of mama's barbe-
Mess of mama's barbecue!

A mess of mama's barbecue

The harder they what?

I'm sad that the Buffy animated series never got off the ground. Maybe now that Twilight and Trueblood and Vampire Diaries are all ridiculously popular, they could find some network willing to buy it?! I vote for Cartoon Network!

The 3 minute promo pilot is awesome. I love Willow's line about panicking out loud, and Giles quite poorly mocking teenage slang.


Dark Tower door
Caged Wisdom

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