Why I Liked “Sing Street” More than “La La Land”


Granted, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land deserves its big basket of nominations and will probably win the Best Picture Oscar barring a last-minute, anti-Trumpian nod to Moonlight, but I’d like to take a few minutes here to talk about a hardly-seen Irish comedy/musical currently streaming on Netflix.

Sing Street is by Dubliner John Carney, known for two other very fine indy films about music, Once and more recently, Begin Again with Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. He writes witty, likeable characters, completely understands the emotion and power of music, and manages to put you in a good mood using gritty. vulnerable characters we can easily identify with. “Street” does that in spades, telling the tale of Conor (played by newcomer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a sweet, gullible ‘80s lad who wants nothing more than to become a rock musician. Transferred to a tough Dublin boys school by his parents (Maria Doyle Kennedy and Aidan Gillen) and inspired by a local rebel girl he has a crush on named Raphina (Lucy Boynton), he gathers a small gang of goofy misfits together to start a rock band and film a rock video, and the results are hilarious, turbulent, and life-affirming.

Basically, Sing Street has the exact same message La La Land does about listening to and following your creative dreams, but the two films couldn’t be more different in their approach. La La Land, while magical and beautifully staged, is obsessed with being a tribute to Hollywood musicals while it’s poking mild fun at L.A., and in the end, even though there are many things worse than looking at Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling for two hours, I never felt completely connected to their characters. The movie has a perfectly crafted sheen and polish to it, like a hit single by the Eagles, yet it often seems a little too aware of itself at the expense of good storytelling.

Here’s an example. The opening one-shot musical number on the freeway, likely to go down as one of the great filming achievements ever, would have been far more effective if it had happened five or ten minutes into the film, rather than kicking it off. Having just sat down in the theater, I wasn’t prepared for its immediacy, for throwing us into its rekindled genre right out of the box. If Chazelle had set up the two leads for a few minutes and let them drive onto the freeway and get stuck in the slowdown traffic, suddenly turning the scene into a musical number would have been completely magical and delivered the viewers into his musical tribute on a silver platter.

I much preferred Chazelle’s last film, the brilliant, mesmerizing Whiplash, which was just as smart (if not more so) about music and established an unforgettable human conflict between student and teacher. La La Land, while inventive in many ways, feels less organic and more like Chazelle really wanted to win an Oscar. And he no doubt will, but if you prefer some endearing, emotional, unbridled fun with characters more grounded in reality, do not miss Sing Street.

Room with a Rear View


On New Year’s Day night, TCM ran a marathon of classic Hitchcock movies, all in pristine, restored hi-def. Vertigo, Shadow of a Doubt, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Trouble with Harry all made the list, but for its 112 minutes, Rear Window captivated me like it never has before.

The 1954 release is simply a perfect film. In a medium that essentially requires viewers to sit in a dark room and watch other people’s lives, it’s about a man physically trapped in his New York apartment and spends all his time watching other people’s lives. The art direction and Hitchcock’s manipulation of it is beyond brilliant, giving us just enough visuals and sound from all of the apartment courtyard’s mini-dramas to keep us as intrigued as Jimmy Stewart is.

I won’t elaborate on the particulars of the story, seeing most of you have seen the film, but I thought it would be fun to delve deep into the Internet and provide portraits of L.B. Jeffries’ colorful and memorable neighbors, because they’re as much a part of the story as Stewart, snarky Thelma Ritter, evil Raymond Burr and the ravishing Grace Kelly are…


Darcy, who was born in Brooklyn and urged by her mother to become a stripper to “make a fast buck”, studied ballet and worked as a model before appearing as the voluptuous, forever dance-practicing neighbor directly across from Jeffries’ apartment. She was paid just $350 for her work in the film, and had a spotty acting career from then on. In 1962 she played Madge, a “dancing firestorm” in the Chubby Checker movie Don’t Knock the Twist. She had a few TV roles after that, but died of natural causes in Malibu in 2004 at age 68.


JESSLYN FAX (Sculptor with Hearing Aid)
The dotty artist who lived directly below Miss Torso was played by Canadian actress Fax, who was a “short, dumpy, cherubic character actress,” according to Wikipedia, and had small roles in The Music Man and Kiss Me Deadly following her appearance in Hitchcock’s film. She also occasionally served as comic foils to Jack Benny and Lucille Ball. Born in 1893, she died in Hollywood in 1975.


ROSS BAGDASARIAN (Struggling Composer)
Bagdasarian, known for being the friendly acquaintance of Hitchcock in the director’s Rear Window cameo scene, was an actual pretty successful composer who wrote “The Chipmunk Song” for Alvin and Co. and specialized in “catchy, hummable melodies.” As an actor he appeared in 20 films, including Hot Blood, Three Violent People, The Proud and Profane, and The Girls of Pleasure Island. He was just 52 when he died in Beverly Hills in 1972.

FRANK CADY (Sleeping Man on Fire Escape)
Cady, who died in Oregon in 2012 at the age of 96, may have been the most successful of the courtyard’s supporting cast. Most people remember him as Hooterville general store owner Sam Drucker on the twin TV series Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. Before playing the husband who slept with his wife on one of Rear Window’s fire escapes to beat the heat—and later got caught in a rainstorm—he appeared in a whopping 42 other movies, most in uncredited roles, including D.O.A. and The Asphalt Jungle.


SARA BERNER (Sleeping Woman on Fire Escape)
The neighbor with the only true speaking part in the film, Berner was a successful voice actress who worked a lot in the 30s and ‘40s, almost exclusively in animation, and did the voices for cartoon characters Andy Panda, Chilly Willy, as well as the mouse who “danced” with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh. In Rear Window, she lowers her and her husband’s little pet dog in a basket every day, and when Raymond Burr’s character strangles it later in the story, gives a shrill lecture to everyone in the courtyard about human decency that’s virtually the only strained moment in the film. Bernier lived to be 57 and died in Van Nuys, CA in 1969.


JUDITH EVELYN (Miss Lonelyhearts)
Evelyn, who beautifully played the sad single woman in the bottom apartment who restrains herself from overdosing on sleeping pills when she hears the gorgeous piano number played by the single composer upstairs, appeared in a handful of movies after Rear Window, including Giant and The Tingler with Vincent Price, but had a full career of TV work before passing away in New York at age 54.


Harper, the hunk who carried his new wife across their apartment threshold in the first few minutes of the movie, then lowered the window shade for two or three days, was mostly a TV actor who had a recurring role on Sea Hunt with Lloyd Bridges, along with small parts on Perry Mason and Gunsmoke. At 87, he is the only Rear Window resident to still be alive. Davenport only lived to be 42, with parts in just two other films, Scandal Incorporated and A Star is Born. The newlyweds’ late scenes, in which it’s depressingly clear they are threatening to turn into Raymond Burr and his disappeared wife, are deliciously ironic.

Which brings us finally to…

IRENE WINSTON (Mrs. Emma Thorwald)
Lars Thorwald’s unfortunate bedridden wife, who appears to be mocking her husband in a few early scenes before ending up in various parts of the East River, was a New York native with a 1940s career in radio who later wrote for television. Like all of these supporting apartment players, her pantomime from afar was exceptional, and helped create one of the greatest underrated ensembles in cinema history.

And now, as Grace Kelly’s Lisa Fremont might have said as she coyly lowered Jimmy Stewart’s blinds, “Show’s over for tonight…”

Dan & Jim & Enrico & Larry


Over the weekend, I dove headfirst into Uber for the first time. Oh sure, I had put the app on my phone over a year ago after my 21-year-old son had long mastered it, but I had either been too stubborn or anxious to actually use the thing until last Wednesday night. I was taking a red-eye to Charlotte and then Sarasota that was leaving L.A. at one in the morning, so after researching how many drivers were actually available to pick me up late at night, I made the call.

Days later, I am pleased to announce I have a serious crush on Uber. Why anyone would even think of calling a cab when you have this option is beyond me.

Dan showed up first in his Nissan Sentra around 11 p.m., its little grey and black Chiclet moving toward my house from West L.A. on the application’s map. Dan was a nice local guy, the car was spotless, and we talked about family and parents all the way to LAX.

At the small, easy-as-pie Sarasota Airport, I stepped outside with my bag and saw that Uber had its own section of the parking lot directly across the street, with a handful of drivers waiting patiently in their cars for a call.

Jim was a retired good ol’ boy from Fort Worth who had moved to Sarasota with his wife some years back. He invited me to sit up front in his shiny white Ford F-150, and the 25-minute ride to my folks’ house couldn’t have been more pleasant. We talked about his job, my job, why we preferred the Gulf side of Florida to its east coast, the tourist trade, the best places for barbeque, and so on. I knew deep in my bones this guy was a Trump voter, but was careful never to bring up politics and even added a subtle twang to my accent by the time I got out of his vehicle. The cost was $22, less than half of what a cab ride would have been.

Enrico was a full 18 minutes away from my parents’ house when he started his pickup drive yesterday morning, so I checked in on his Chiclet every few minutes while my phone was taking a final charge. He had a spotless Chevy Trailblazer, invited me into the front passenger seat, and was an absolutely great guy. A former truck driver from Long Island and a huge Mets fan, we talked baseball and sports the whole way to the airport. He had slicked back grey hair, a certifiable New York accent, and told a hilarious story about delivering a washing machine to some lady’s house once, not even realizing she was Whitey Ford’s wife.

Back in L.A., I had to take an escalator up to the departures level at LAX to meet Larry in his Hyundai. Guess what? He was a super nice guy in a spotless car, and he filled me in on the trouble Uber is having taking people to and from the airport here thanks to the local police and taxicab union. Like the other three drivers on my virgin Uber weekend, Larry was funny and engaged and interested without ever being anything but polite. It was like having four new friends to give you rides.

There are plenty of new technologies I have not been able to warm up to. Periscope was fun for a month and then got creepy and depressing. Siri will never be my friend, or someone I have a need to ever speak to. But Uber? Where do I buy stock?

Angel Annie

This blog was originally going to be about Black Mirror, a scary, ingenious “British Twilight Zone” I just finished binge-watching that plunges the viewer into a quasi-futuristic society where advances in technology alter our social and personal realities for better and often worse.

Then last night’s Election happened (or as I now may call it, Beer Hall Putsch 2.0), and I suddenly don’t feel compelled to write about a dark fictional world when we are really about to live in one.

There’s plenty of anger right now in my many stages of grief, but mostly there’s just all-pervasive sadness. Sad for women, sad for minorities, sad for immigrants, sad for the LGBT community, sad for my young parent neighbors and their children, and mostly sad for America, a beacon of reason and democracy that had a nice 240-year run. If half of the country believes that a lying, ignorant, racist and sexist fascist would make a better President than a qualified career politician, good luck to them. Because I have no plans to ever accept a flaming, unhinged asshole as my President.

anniebBut let’s talk about Annie Boots, our cat. Home alone last night with the election coverage while my wife was on a job up in Washington State—planning a likely Hillary party with her nasty woman workmates—I had little reason not to be optimistic. Trump was ahead 19-3 in electoral votes when I was leaving work but had fallen behind slightly by the time I switched on the TV and began preparing night two of my spinach chicken salad. Then Florida was in trouble. Then Ohio and North Carolina and Virginia were in trouble. Then the entire middle of the country was turning red for Trump like a woman’s whatever.

I switched over to an old Hitchcock movie called Saboteur on TCM, but could barely follow what was happening. Went back to MSNBC for a spell, until new polls closed and new horrific numbers surfaced. I went to a Kings hockey game in Toronto for a short spell, but the noise of the skates sounded like scythe blades. Meanwhile, I was getting text after text from friends, loved ones, all wanting to share their panic.

I killed the TV and retreated to the living room to read through some pages-in-progress for my new novel. Maybe plunging myself into the fictional world in my head would help beat back depression. The problem was that my phone was perched on the arm of the chair I was sitting in. Before long, I was taking Twitter and Facebook breaks, which was like reading dispatches from the end of the world in real time. Couldn’t take that either.

But then Annie Boots pranced into the room and jumped on my lap. She didn’t give two shits about any election, had been happily carousing the driveway for mice in the ivy, drinking the scummy backyard pond water, and pausing for lick breaks. It was also starting to get chilly out, so leaping on my warm jeans and curling up was all that mattered to her. Within minutes she was dozing, purring like a new John Deere, happy to be taken care of while unwittingly comforting her dad to no end.

I shared a final consoling phone call with my wife before retiring and somehow getting five hours of sleep. Annie Boots had gone back out at 10 p.m., around the time the country that I love was going through its death throes, and when I rose about 4:40 am. to use the bathroom she still hadn’t clawed at the bedroom door to come back in. Oh great. Not only has American voted in Satan, but now a coyote has claimed our cat.

I called for her but she never showed up. I tried to fall back asleep and was maybe out for a half hour when Annie’s nails suddenly scratched on the door. After making sure there was no half-dead mouse in her mouth, I slid it open, more happy than ever to see her. Got up, made coffee, and let her sleep on my robe while I sat in the living room again.

When insanity happens, the world shatters, and you’re forced to live one day at a time, maybe love and little furry things are enough to keep you going.

On Floating Anxiety


As many of you are aware, I’m a loyal Red Sox rooter. I am also a Certified Yankee Hater, and get just as much pleasure from seeing them get eliminated from the playoffs as Boston making them. It is not exactly a fair or healthy sentiment, but it is clearly an emotional fact, and it was never more obvious than last night.

In the top of the 8th inning at Yankee Stadium, Boston’s Mookie Betts hit a bouncing double down the line to break a scoreless tie and lead to a 3-0 Red Sox lead. The team needed just one win or a Toronto loss to win the American League East. Minutes later, the Orioles came back and defeated the Blue Jays up north on a dramatic pinch home run to officially give Boston the division pennant. Was I elated? Sure, but there was one more piece of the prize I still needed.

The Yankees’ tragic elimination number was down to one as well, and a Boston win on Bronx turf would not only be especially sweet, but would send my arch enemies to southern golf courses for the winter. What I didn’t count on was Craig Kimbrel taking the mound for the Sox and proceeding to urinate all over their celebration cake. He gave up a leadoff single, then walked three straight guys and was pulled off the mound retiring NO ONE. Poor Joe Kelly was summoned, valiantly set down the next two Yanks before the about-to-retire Mark Teixeira slammed a game-winning grand slam—an event as predictable as the sun rising in Maine. I killed the television before the ball even landed, and was absolutely miserable for the rest of the night. I should have been as elated as the Red Sox players, who I saw video of later, champagne-bathing each other in the clubhouse, but I was so livid from how the game ended it was like they had won nothing.

I admit it: My hatred of all things Yankees is abnormal and possibly pathological. All I know is that unless they’re removed from the postseason, it’s nearly impossible for me to relax and enjoy it. Sure, they can be mathematically dispatched tonight rather easily, but somewhere in the darkest recesses of my mind I can see them hanging on for another day, then sweeping the Orioles at home this weekend and tying them for the final wild card spot. Because until the Yankees are beheaded and entombed in their graves, they just won’t die, and last night’s game was just another one of God’s cruel jokes.

When I was a kid in the early 60s, the Yankees won the pennant every single year, then returned in the mid to late 70s to torment me anew. While I loathed the Steinbrenner Yankees of Jackson, Chambliss, Piniella, Rivers, Nettles and Fuckin’ Bucky, I didn’t feel that way about their players in the late ’90s at all, and especially respected Derek Jeter. By then, though, the Yankee “mystique” and national media obsession with them (which still hasn’t abated despite their current mediocrity) rankled me more than anything.

In the past few weeks, however, even after Boston swept four games from them at Fenway Park, and I delighted in watching the Yankee elimination number drop daily, a new form of floating anxiety was tempering that joy—and I knew exactly what it was. The upcoming first debate between Clinton and Trump was making me very uneasy. Suddenly, the idea of the Yankees making the playoffs was taking a proper back seat to the prospect of an ignorant, racist and sexist Nazi crook making the White House.

Clinton’s performance in the actual debate did a lot to relieve my stress about that, however, meaning the ball field events the next few nights should have been a relaxing walk in the park.

Nope. Not for me. Not with the way that second damn game went down. I felt a little better after ranting to my fellow Red Sox fan Darin on the phone afterwards, but it still wasn’t enough. It was off to Twitter to rant a little more:


Unable to sleep this morning, I was up at five to drink coffee and work on my novel. An hour later, Teixeira’s arcing home run was still haunting me as I sat in morning traffic.

So here I am now, and thanks for listening. Deep down, I know this anxiety will all be over soon.

I think.

Far From the Crowded Madness

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-11-55-11-amSorry that I’ve been out of the blogging loop for a while. I have my reasons. Too much work, or travel, or baseball to watch, or baseball to play, or currently a new novel to work on. There’s also been this three-ring shit storm of a national election that never seems to end and fill my time—time that would be better spent folding my T-shirts if I wasn’t seriously trying to help prevent a lying, racist, misogynist madman from being elected President.

My friend Lou advises me to just turn off the noise and do something else: read a novel, take a hike, get a massage, take a bike ride, read another novel, sing at a karaoke bar, write software code, spend a day with old family photographs, play with your pet—basically do anything except follow the soul-sucking election news.

So I’m pleased to announce I’ve discovered the perfect escape: the Yorkshire Shepherdess.  Amanda Owen runs a 2,000-acre farm in Swaledale, one of the most remote regions of the North Yorkshire Moors. She has a husband Clive and seven children, and regularly posts pictures of them, their locale, and their 900 sheep on her glorious Twitter account (@AmandaOwen8) that puts me in a good mood every time I see a new post and photo. Describing herself as a “shepherdess/hill farmer/mother/teamaker, general all round dogsbody,” her Twitter feed has over 20,000 followers.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-2-38-23-pmRavenseat, Owen’s working farm, also has a “Shepherd’s Hut” available for nightly rent, and to virtually transport you there, I’ll just reprint her delightful welcome message from the farm’s Web site (ravenseat.com)…

A working farm, specialising in Swaledale sheep, it offers a welcome break from trudging through peatbogs, whether you just want a cuppa, a cream tea with freshly home-baked scones, or you’d like to rest a little longer with an overnight stay in our Shepherd’s Hut, restored by our very own Shepherdess!

You could wake to the sound of sheep, cows, hens, dogs, tractors and free-range children and enjoy a traditional cooked breakfast in the comfort of the hut or, weather permitting, outside on the riverbank with a view of the waterfall.

Cream Teas are available from May to September, although opening hours are variable due to the nature of farming and the location. If travelling a distance it would be advisable to telephone beforehand to avoid disappointment.

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-2-36-11-pmOwen also had a book published a few years back called, unsurprisingly, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, about her journey leaving city life to achieve the dream of raising a “family and a flock”. In the book, according to its Amazon UK blurb, “Amanda…evokes the peace of winter, when they can be cut off by snow without electricity or running water, the happiness of spring and the lambing season, and the backbreaking tasks of summertime – haymaking and sheepshearing – inspiring us all to look at the countryside and those who work there with new appreciation.”

Indeed, in these days of all-encompassing anxiety and click bait, it’s just comforting to know that a peaceful, civilized corner of the world is reachable at any time via the Internet, or in person, via jet, rental car and possibly lorry.

Thanks, Amanda!

For the Love of Albert

1401x788-albert-brooks-1Albert Brooks, the funnier, just as neurotic, but less creepy Woody Allen, has seven of his movies streaming on Netflix beginning tomorrow. This is fantastic news, and I do believe a full-on Brooks Binge is on my upcoming calendar.

Brooks, a vastly under-appreciated comedy filmmaker, is a master of dry wit and satire, and the characters he plays in every film are full of Jewish angst, but it’s a more subtle concoction that manages to comment on modern relationships (and the self-involved inhabitants of L.A.) without beating you over the head with directly-emoted feelings like Sir Woody is prone to do. Brooks is also regularly hilarious on Twitter, and I heartily recommend following him there.

Directly off Netflix’s press release, here are the seven movies you will be able to stream:

• “Defending Your Life” (1991): A man who dies and arrives in the afterlife only to find that he must stand trial and justify his lifelong fears in order to advance to the next phase of existence; or be sent back to earth to do it again. The film stars Albert Brooks, Meryl Streep and Rip Torn.
• “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World” (2006): To improve its relations with Muslim countries, the United States government sends comedian Albert Brooks to south Asia to write a report on what makes followers of Islam laugh. The film stars Albert Brooks, Sheetal Sheth and John Carroll Lynch.
• “Lost in America” (1985): A 30-something married couple, inspired by the film Easy Rider, decide to drop out, quit their jobs, sell their home and travel across America in a Winnebago. The film stars Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty.
• “Modern Romance” (1981): A successful film editor with far too many issues affects the relationship between him and his remarkably patient girlfriend. The film stars Albert Brooks, Kathryn Harrold, Bruno Kirby and George Kennedy.
• “Mother”: A neurotic successful sci-fi writer is finalizing his second divorce, and is perplexed by the issues he has with women. He decides to initiate a project that will help him understand what went wrong in his relationships — he moves back in with his mother. The film stars Albert Brooks and Debbie Reynolds.
• “The Muse” (1999): A Hollywood screenwriter seemingly has it all, but he’s hit an artistic dry patch, so his writer friend recommends the services of a woman he swears is a veritable muse. Steven takes her on and is suddenly more inspired to create. Her services, however, come at a very steep price and Steven becomes suspicious about who Sarah really is and what she wants. The film stars Albert Brooks, Sharon Stone, Jeff Bridges and Andie MacDowell.
• “Real Life” (1979): Brooks, in this spoof of 1973 reality TV program “An American Family,” portrays a documentary filmmaker who attempts to live with and film a dysfunctional family for one full year. Also stars Charles Grodin, Frances Lee McCain, J.A. Preston and Matthew Tobin.

I have seen all of these except Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, and boy am I ever curious to see that one now. Real Life, Brooks’ first film, was vastly ahead of its time, a spoof of reality shows inspired by PBS’ documentary series about the Loud family of Santa Barbara.  Modern Romance, still my favorite Brooks, is an hysterical depiction of an L.A. film editor’s on-off-on-off-on etc. relationship with his girlfriend, co-stars the late and great Bruno Kirby as his supportive best friend, and contains one of the funniest drug-taking scenes ever put on film, when Brooks slips a few quaaludes alone in his apartment and slowly loses his mind. It also features Brooks’ real-life brother, “Super Dave Osborne” in this great scene in a running store…

Lost In America is also a classic, containing one of the funniest losing-your-job scenes ever put on film, with Julie Hagerty of Airplane! and What About Bob? fame turning in her greatest performance as Brooks’ gambling-addicted wife. Defending Your Life is just a brilliant concept, and features a funny and sweet Meryl Streep and excellent Rip Torn. Mother and The Muse are less perfect films, but compared to the routine bromantic slop Hollywood tries to pass for comedy these days, are more than worth your time—and Mother stars legendary Debbie Reynolds in the title role!

Anyway, enough of my yappin’. Crank up the old iPad this holiday and enjoy!!

Spring Gleaning

PolBooksSorry I haven’t posted much lately. Been working in my spare time on a new baseball-free novel (hard to believe, I know). Also, bloggy inspirations have been few and far between, or maybe our toxic and frightening political climate has just pulverized them all into dust. Whatever, I have a flurry of writerly happenings on the near horizon, so thought I would share…

TUESDAY, APRIL 5th, 11 a.m.
I will be a return guest on Rick Flores’ great radio show, “Wasteland of the Free”, KFCF, 88.1 FM in Fresno, to discuss the new baseball season and my latest replay novel Twinbill. Rick’s a great guy with exceptional musical/cultural tastes, and I’ll do my best to post a link after the fact.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20th, 7 p.m.
I’ll be part of a Baseball Reliquary panel discussion called “Making it Personal: Baseball as Creative Inspiration”, along with artists Pat Riot and Greg Jezewski, in the Mortenson Auditorium at the Arcadia Public Library in Arcadia, CA. I’ll talk about the unique “fictionalizing” process that has led to my four novels, and there will be a book signing afterwards, so stop by if you’re able!

I’ll be reading from Mystery Ball ’58 and Twinbill and discussing my work at the Avid Reader bookstore at Tower, 1600 Broadway in Sacramento.

In case you missed them, I’ve also started writing pieces for a couple of online ventures, Crooked Scoreboard and Baseball Magazine. If you have a hankering to read about a man obsessed with ’60s Astros catcher John Bateman or a random Giants/Phillies doubleheader in 1943, look no further.

Only 17 days till Opening Day, peoples!

Leave the Gun, Set Your DVRs

Picture+8Back in October of 1990, Francis Ford Coppola released a special re-cut VHS boxed set of Godfathers I and II (the only Godfather films that truly exist) entitled The Godfather Epic (1902-1959). The three nicely-packaged tapes totaled over seven hours in length and included a handful of extra scenes not found in the originals. I was never a big fan of the disjointed time-jumping in Godfather II, but the Epic solved that problem by beautifully re-cutting the entire story in chronological order, so that Vito Corleone’s escape from Sicily is followed by his immigration, followed by the Little Italy De Niro scenes, etc.

It has become the only way I like to watch the movies.

Alas, we only have one VHS player in the house now, a pint-sized portable TV out in my wife’s studio, and there’s no way in hell I’m re-watching those tapes again on that. Enter HBO, otherwise known as Cable Drama Network of the Gods. This Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern and 2 Pacific, they are showing—uninterrupted—all seven hours and ten minutes of The Godfather Saga, which is the same thing as the Epic, except this time in restored high-definition quality with no tape-changing required. It may not have hit my eye like a big pizza pie, but I am over the moon.

Not only is The Godfather story better when you can follow Vito’s journey from penniless orphan to crime boss in its rightful order, but the transition from De Niro’s last scene straight into Brando’s first is a revelation, and makes you realize how amazingly De Niro inhabited Brando’s character. Also, the extra scenes help embellish the story and characters, particularly in Little Italy, and never feel irrelevant like some of the previously-deleted moments Coppola included in his Apocalypse Now Redux.

Of course, there’s playoff football on this Sunday, but this, my friends, is why they invented DVRs. HBO is providing us with a New Year’s gift we really can’t refuse.


The Hour of Living Dangerously

ChipotleI ate at a Chipotle for lunch earlier this week. I am still here.

I didn’t do this on a dare or a death wish. It just so happens it’s an easy walk from the Barnes and Noble I had to visit on my lunch hour, and didn’t even think about the recent food poisoning incidents until I was already inside the place and about to order.

I swear, it was only a year ago that I stood in the line that was out the front door at this very same Chipotle and texted my wife to say “Let’s buy stock in this company. Today!” On this recent visit, I had apparently entered the E. Coli Twilight Zone. There was one person in line in front of me. One person. Thankfully this gave me a few moments to check Google on my phone for a Chipotle food poisoning update, and there were plenty of stories. Cases had just been reported reaching Illinois after a flurry of them in the Pacific Northwest. A few days later, more poisoning would hit some college students in Boston, and I caught a few minutes of the thin, mild-mannered company CEO Steve Ells on CBS This Morning, apologizing and insisting changes were being made to make Chipotle the “safest place to eat.”

“Can I help you, sir?”

I looked up from my phone. The young Latino counter person was ready for me. I lowered my voice just a little bit.

“Which meat is safest right now?”

She gave me the glimmer of a smile. “Oh, they’re all safe. What can I get you?”

I paused. Ran some junk stats through my head about actual chance of contamination, similar to the ones that measure your chance of being booked on a doomed Princess Cruise, then took the plunge. They had my favorite item, shredded carnitas, at this particular store; most of the ones near my house hadn’t had carnitas for months for unspecified reasons. I talked her and the server beside her through my order, which as usual, they completed at rapid speed, added a bag of chips and bottled water, and helped myself to one of at least fifteen empty tables.

I ate a little slower than I was accustomed, spearing each pork morsel with my plastic fork before carefully inspecting it. The food was as delicious as it usually was, yet even though it was the busiest hour—between noon and one—there were never more than a dozen other people in the place. More than anything, this made me deeply sad.

I can’t vouch for what it’s like to work at a Chipotle, and this store had obviously let a few people go of late, but as a customer, it’s been one of my favorite franchises for years. Their fare has always seemed healthier than what you find at other “fast food” eateries, they’re extremely upfront with their ingredients and calorie counts, and despite occasional reminders to keep my fingers off the counter glass and a need to catch them before drowning my order in a small lake of hot salsa, the efficiency of their ordering system never fails to amaze.

I wouldn’t wish E. coli on anyone, but why did this have to happen to a new, successful and downright likable franchise like Chipotle, as opposed to an Arby’s, Shakey’s, or a homophobic Chick-fil-A? My wife heard my sadness the other day and said, “Don’t worry, they’ll be back.” and I saw their stocks just rose again after another encouraging public statement by  Steve Ells. I’ve shown my support by braving their front door this week, so now I feel I can kick back for a little while. You know, at least until I notice their line getting long again. I can certainly be adventurous at times, but hell, no sense pushing my luck.